Talking TEC with Georgiana Mureșan, Head of Cashless Payment Systems – UNTOLD

Ahead of this year’s record breaking UNTOLD festival, where over 360.000 guests attended over 4 days, we caught up with Georgiana Muresan, Head of Cashless Payment Systems for UNTOLD. In this latest edition of Talking TEC, Georgiana talks about how they have used different technologies to capture data and improve their customers experience, and how these same technologies enabled them to bring the event back safely after the restrictions of COVID.

Hi Gina, thank you so much for being a part of our new Talking TEC series! In your time at UNTOLD, how has technology transformed the different elements of the attendee’s experience, particularly thinking about the different elements of the events that you oversee?

Technology has been an important part of our journey as an event organiser and how we understand and improve the experience for our customers. When we first hosted UNTOLD in 2015, we opted for a simple cashless payment system, with the access via a ticket scan – you received the festival wristband and that was it.  

In 2017, when Neversea was first staged, we implemented an access control and accreditation system that allowed us to capture more customer data each time we scanned their tickets, giving us greater insights into their preferences; where are they from? what are their interests during the festival? and so on..

The next step was to develop our own online check-in platform and online top-up capability so that our consumers could enter the event more quickly and easily. These initiatives significantly reduced the amount of time festival attendees had to wait in lines, which was a big improvement for us. Everything went much more smoothly because we already had all the information and simply uploaded it to their wristband. 

We also developed our own ticketing platform which incorporates all the features our customers need, from the initial purchase to the online check-in, the online top-up services etc. – the platform gave customers the opportunity to customize their profiles, while also giving us the important data we need to improve their experience at the festival. 

New for this year, we implemented a wristband delivery service so you can order your wristband in advance and get it sent to your home, so when you arrive at the festival, you’re ready to go!  

Thinking about the pandemic, how did you seek to mitigate the impact of COVID on your guests and for UNTOLD as a business? And how did you use technology in that approach? 

Of course, it was a big blow to everything we did. In the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty – nobody really knew what was going on. We were asked questions we didn’t have answers for, because so much depended on what the authorities were thinking and what measures they were taking.  

After it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to host the events, we wanted to do something to repay the loyalty of our customers. We created something new, something we called the Anytime Voucher, which gave customers who had already bought a ticket the opportunity to redeem it at their choice of future events, without costing extra money and without any extra checks. 

This was our way of telling our customers they mattered to us, that we want them to be with us no matter what. We understood that there were hard times for everybody. We have a lot of customers that are coming from abroad so they wouldn’t be able to travel because of the restrictions. 

With this scheme, we were delighted to see that over 90% of our customers chose to keep their tickets and to change it into an anytime voucher. We were able to do this directly in their online check-in account, so when they logged in, they had the chance to switch to an anytime toucher in just a few clicks, so our checking platform really, really helped us in implementing this.  

Thinking about the pandemic as a whole, what has been your biggest learning from the impact of COVID on UNTOLD and how has it changed the way you look to deliver your events now?

Our biggest learning was the importance of adaptability. Being part of an industry that is constantly changing, it is mandatory to be able to adapt to every circumstance. We’ve been doing this ever since the beginning, but 2021 was more than that.  We wanted to have our fans close and give back to the community, so we did dedicated streams, and special TV productions, and also launched the UNITED initiative – a campaign that brought together authorities, the most important Romanian and multinational companies, the largest media trusts in Romania, as well as opinion leaders, artists, and influencers, with the purpose of lessening the effect the pandemic had over the Romanian community.

I think it also made us realise just how important the event is to all of us. Of course, so much has happened that put everything into perspective, but in 2020, when it got to August and we couldn’t host the event, it was so sad for us. It meant that 2021 was extra special – it was such a big accomplishment to be able to put on UNTOLD that year, with all the different restrictions and safety procedures, and it was quite emotional for us – I remember colleagues crying when we opened the gates to let people back in! 

The digitization of ticketing has brought many benefits for event organisers, not least the ability to combat ticket fraud – what systems has hold UNTOLD put in place to track and validate attendance and how have they benefitted the event?

Like I mentioned earlier, when we first started, festival entry was just done on a simple ticket scan. We found that in some cases we had people coming with the same ticket that had already been scanned up to 20 times before!  

So, stopping fraud like this was one of the main reasons we decided to work with TEC, to implement a better access control system that would give us information about the customer in advance.  

With the new system, if someone bought the ticket and tried to resell it, we could see who the original customer was. Each purchase was linked to personal information like an email address, so it was a lot easier to spot fraud. Obviously sometimes, people need to buy tickets for friends or family and need to be able to transfer them, so we developed our online check-in platform to allow this as well.  

Which do you think will have a bigger impact on the evolution of live event ticketing in attendance, blockchain technologies or 5g and mobile technologies?

If we look at the Romanian market right now, blockchain is not that mainstream but it’s something we’re looking into. For example, we had a NFT collection launched at UNTOLD, and we gave our customers the chance to pay for their tickets with cryptocurrency.  

I think the possibilities offered by blockchain technologies are endless, particularly around the experiences you can offer fans. 

With 5G, the benefits it can offer, in terms of improved connectivity at our events, are huge but right now the costs associated are too high in Romania and there is a low stock of 5G devices. 

Thinking about the future of the industry, what other technologies and innovations do you think will help shape customer experience around live events? 

I think it’s hard to pinpoint a specific technology because, the way the market is evolving, there are so many new innovations and technologies being introduced that improve different aspects of the customer’s experience but one thing which I think is very important, which is central to a lot of these innovations, is the use of customer data. We are focusing a lot on how we collect and keep our customers data secure as I think it is something people feel strongly about and something that any new technology must have at its core. People want to know that their data is kept safe. 

Also, something else which I think is important to bear in mind is that the innovations that impact the industry tend to be innovations that impact wider society – their availability and adoption at events depend on how available they are in other areas of life. For example, cryptocurrencies won’t be able to offer their full potential until they are part of mainstream life.   

Your career in events has evolved from working in Marketing & PR to taking responsibility for different technical products and projects – what made you change paths and how have you found the experience?

Oh, this is a fun question! I started working in PR & Marketing because of the degree I was doing at university, but I went on to do a master’s degree in mechanical engineering as well. I have always been very practical and had a wide range of interests. 

I started doing the Marketing and PR for some small events, some student parties, some small music and arts festivals, that sort of thing but, after doing this for a while, I started to get involved in the actual implementation of these festivals. So, this is where I discovered that I really liked the operational part. 

The company was very supportive – they were so open and willing to give you the chance to learn about different parts of the business and try things besides your job. 

I started working with the team that was setting up the new cashless part of UNTOLD and Nerversea. I had a small role at the beginning and, as each year passed, I started to have more responsibilities within the team until I became the project manager! A lot of time has passed since then, like any job, it has its ups and downs, but I really enjoy it and I still feel I have a lot to learn – you realise that you cannot always be in control and that things are always evolving, and it is how you adapt in these situations that counts.  

At the end of the day, there is something special about the job – when you get to the festival and you see a stadium full of people that are singing and dancing, smiling, enjoying themselves, you look at them and say “I had a small role in doing this”. 

What advice would you give to someone considering working in live events like UNTOLD?

If you get the opportunity, you should definitely try it!! Of course, there are going to be sleepless nights and a lot of arguments, but you get to connect with your colleagues and build a relationship with them that is only possible in this sort of environment; one where you really understand you’re working towards the same goal and the feeling that you get, knowing that you had a small role in doing this, helping to have thousands of people have fun and enjoying themselves, I don’t think words can explain what it really feels like. It’s definitely not a “normal” job!

How has TEC helped UNTOLD on its digital journey and how has the relationship helped to contribute towards the events growth?

TEC has been with us pretty much from the beginning! They have helped us develop our ticketing platform, our online check-in system and our top-up platform so really, we have TEC to thank for everything! 

I think it would be unfair to call our relationship just a simple collaboration because we are more than that. Over the years we’ve become friends. Marius, the Project Manager from TEC, is the person that taught me everything I know about how an IT business works and what the procedures are, and what needs to be thought about; I want to do this, but what’s the end game? 

It has been so great to learn, discover and develop new things with him. He’s always the one who’s the most excited about everything we are proposing but he’s also the one who is always questioning us, asking why do you want to do it?  

Our friendship with TEC has really helped us a lot – it’s been fundamental to how we’ve grown as a business and how we plan to go forward.