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AMA Conference 2012: connect engage inspire 6

Rebecca Davis, AMA Member Rep for East Scotland and Festivals and Projects Manager at Puppet Animation Scotland reflects on the AMA Conference nearly two weeks on.

Becoming a pro-networker

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since the AMA Conference. What have I been doing in the post conference glow since I’ve returned to the office?

Well I think the key thing I am being is practical. Although I relished the mental stimulation of the conference, what I really found useful this year was taking away tangible elements such as contacts.

I found this year’s venue really conducive to good networking. There was a lovely through flow of people and as usual all the arts marketers were chatty and approachable. This year however, did see me make a conscious shift in my networking approach. It was brilliant to catch up with old friends, colleagues, AMA reps and retreat alumni, as well as making new friends; however I also had my strategic head on.

In seminars and during the keynotes I was jotting down people I should speak to, and then after the sessions and in the breaks I made a bee line for them. Now anyone who knows me also knows I’m pretty chatty. I have never been entirely comfortable however in approaching people uninvited in a professional context. This is particularly true of keynote speakers as it makes me feel like some kind of groupie.

Maybe it was the fact that I am new in my current post, maybe it’s because I just had new business cards printed, but this year I decided to suck it up and the results were worth it. I collected lots of business cards, met important contacts for me in Scotland and sparked face to face relationships. It’s so much easier to pick up the phone or send an email if you can say, ‘do you remember that chat we were having in Brighton….’

Although my pro networking skills were slightly undermined by me leaving half my business cards behind (thanks to the AMA team for posting those on) I was determined to maintain momentum back in the office. As such, last week I sent out what felt like a squillion emails to people I had met, to contacts from business cards I’d collected, or even those who eluded my strategic advances and I had to google (I really hope this doesn’t sound too creepy!).  

Already, some of this contact has proved fruitful. I set up some meetings, I’ve been invited to present at an upcoming event, and I have a new festival contact in France. I didn’t expect all these emails and contacts to be so rewarding, but I put the effort in and I achieved results, and really tangible things that support my organisation going forward.

I continue to witness how important networks are and how worthwhile it is to invest in developing them. They can provide opportunities as well as support. I will certainly be emailing some AMA contacts for advice in the coming weeks as I plan our current marketing campaign. That kind of professional support is invaluable.

Brighton Museum

I would really recommend anyone attending next year’s conference to suck it up when it comes to networking and be a bit strategic. Arts Marketers are genuinely a friendly and approachable bunch, and you never know what opportunities, support and even friendship might come from it.

Photo: Brighton Museum, by Rebecca Davis

AMA conference 2012: connect engage inspire 5

William Norris from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is back in the office …

Stripped for the core

Ok, time for blog post No.2.

I’ll admit there is some avoidance of the harsh reality of being back in the office here. So many ideas from AMA conference 2012 yet so much routine stuff to be done now I’m back in the saddle. Plus, I don’t even understand some of the things I wrote on my 'to do' list before I went to the conference …

So I thought I’d procrastinate and write my next blog. This time inspired by Keynote Speaker No.2, Erica Whyman, from Northern Stage. At the start of her talk she said something controversial:

'Is the way we communicate with audiences doing more harm than good?'

My instant thought was – sometimes, yes.

She then went on to talk about how we super-serve some audiences and then don’t serve others. If someone attends regularly we mail them more and more. We end up thinking ‘who might tolerate more marketing?’

I do think there is an issue here. And I think a lot of us are guilty of it to some extent. I think we often super-serve, perhaps over-serve one part of our audience, and often ignore everyone else. By that I mean that we gear all our communications to our most core audience. Those coming maybe 2+ times a year. Not only do we communicate with them a lot but our materials are also geared towards them.

But do they need it? Often these audiences are the most knowledgeable. In my field that means that they will make their decisions as to what concerts to attend based on the repertoire and artists. They’re unlikely to need much guidance or persuasion from the brochure.

So increasingly, our Season Brochure is not targeted at these people. Instead it's targeted at the much larger pool of people who are irregular attenders and yes, who might need a bit of guidance selecting a concert. Sometimes we get a bit of flak because our copy etc is a bit too ‘simplistic’, but we have to remember that the vast majority of our potential audience are not aficionados. And talking to them in dry language and assuming way too much knowledge, plus including tons of pictures of artists that mean nothing to them, may well have the opposite of the intended effect.

So how do we communicate with the core audience? We surely can’t afford two brochures? Well, no. But we do two things. Our core audience are sent our season on a plain word document. This is partly because our season brochure is never quite ready in time. But also it gives the audience that feeling of being a bit ahead of everyone else.

Sales haven’t suffered at all from this. All this audience needs is what we’re playing, when, and with whom. They can make their decisions based on this. Later on they get a slightly ‘enhanced’ version of the brochure. We add in 8 extra pages, with updates on our education work, a message from the CEO and so on. We exclude this information from the main print run because the casual classical goer really isn’t interested in wading through all this. But our Friends and subscribers are, and it makes them feel special to receive a slightly different brochure to everyone else.

So it’s nothing radical. But I think we’re all a little bit too afraid of offending or losing our core audience. We should have more confidence in ourselves. Our core love us for what we put on stage, and they’re not going to be put off by copy that’s too simplistic for them, or some imagery that’s perhaps too lively for their tastes.

Let’s stop over-serving a tiny sector of our audience and think about that huge potential audience instead.

AMA Conference 2012: connect engage inspire 4

Rebecca Davis, AMA member rep for East Scotland, continues our series of guest posts from AMA conference 2012: connect, engage, inspire. Previously, she worked in arts development in Somerset before moving to Scotland to support craft communities. This involved a range of projects, from partnership exhibitions with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to the development of a craft trail App for visually impaired people. She is now Festivals and Projects Manager at Puppet Animation Scotland.


Shake, rattle and roll

The first day of the AMA conference normally sees me in a daze, grasping a herbal tea and enviously comparing breakout sessions with fellow delegates. This year was no exception, especially after a less than early night at the previous evening’s reception in our rather fabulous venues in Brighton.

It was with my regular conference daze then that I entered the Dome auditorium to be awoken by our first keynote from Andy Mckim. Andy’s presentation was a fabulous start to the conference with valuable insight into the inspirational, vision led, Theate Passe Muraille.

I often find the AMA conferences give me a metaphorical shake, serving as a poignant reminder of what I ‘should’ be doing. Andy certainly contributed to this ‘shake’ emphasising the power and value of engaging with our audiences and linking our communities of staff, artist and audience alike. I was inspired by his open minded approach to ideas to engage new audiences such as their Ryan Gosling inspired meme and ‘clothes optional’ performances. This underpinned Andy’s further emphasis on the importance of listening and responding rather than broadcasting at audiences – the skill being in the listening. By the end of this inspiring keynote, my ears were certainly open and ready to listen to what the rest of the conference had in store.

Despite my envious glances at others’ seminar schedules I was treated to a fascinating day, from conceptual behavioural economics (not as scary as it sounds) to the more practical applications of word-of-mouth marketing.

My session with Hetan Shah – Learning from behavioural economics, presented the seven principles of behavioural economics and challenged us to consider their possible applications in arts marketing.

This form of economics, considers the general public to be more than purely rational beings, who actually use behavioural shortcuts to make their daily decisions. These include looking around to see what everyone else is doing, our inherent habits and being loss adverse. These impact on our behaviours in both psychological and physiological ways. For example, you will gain more pleasure from drinking a wine purchased at a reduced £3.99 than if you drank the same wine purchased at a ‘normal’ price of £3.99.

We discussed these fascinating principles and their influence on areas such as pricing and donations. I particularly liked Chapter Arts Centre’s club points system, where they offer double points to users who will try riskier shows.

Coming down from my conceptual morning, Jessie Hunt’s session was a practical one on creating buzz around the British Museum’s recent Grayson Perry curated exhibition. Jessie took us on a really valuable journey through her strategy development for the exhibition campaign. This included her practical application of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Culture Segments. It was really useful to see how these could and had actually been applied to campaigns. Jessie’s session prompted me to write ‘must start planning’ in my notebook, as it really inspired me to think creatively and strategically about marketing our up and coming Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival. I may also now be brave enough to try using the culture segments – watch this space.

IMAG0020Jessie’s approach included a stunt bear competition and a Twitter craft debate (which I actually participated in) and had hugely positive results for her organisation, as well as some surprises she was happy to share.

So on Day One, I wasn’t just motivated by the conference programme, but also the generous community I feel so proud to be part of each time I attend one of these fantastic events.

Rebecca Davis, Festivals and Projects Manager, Puppet Animation Scotland @rdavis_creative

AMA conference 2012: connect engage inspire 3

Tim Roberts is principal consultant of ARTS Australia, and is well known internationally for his expertise in CRM, ticketing and arts marketing. He is well-known in the UK as co-author, with Roger Tomlinson of Full House, Turning Data into Audiences. This year he is visiting the UK for the first time in a few years, and so is able to play the part of time traveller ..


Fully booked?


On flying into Heathrow from Australia at some ungodly hour on Monday morning I collected my case and got through customs to join the morning commute on the Picadilly and District Lines before catching a train to Brighton for the AMA conference.


I visit the UK once every few years and I always find it interesting to so see a snapshot of the UK and its population. This snapshot is in effect an intermittent and random sample in which it is interesting to observe the changes. 


One change I noticed that concerned me was the decline in the number of commuters on the train reading books during their journey.


Yes, there were people still annoying travellers on either side of them as they struggled to turn pages on broadsheet newspapers.


There were still people escaping the journey via music with earphones affixed and attached to an MP3 player or previously a CD player or in the dim dark past a Walkman


However, the main change I noticed was the number of people texting, reading emails etc on a mobile device whether a mobile, smartphone or similar.


The main casualty of this newer behaviour (remember my recent snapshots were 2011, 2006, 2003, 1999 etc) is book reading on the tube or train.


I could see some book readers still and even some kindles and the like, which of course is a newer iteration.


But overall there did seem to be less reading happening on these daily journeys.


Given the regular nature of commutes, it always intrigued me the number of people that took the opportunity to minimise the frustrations of boredom and proximity by escaping into the welcoming and engaging embrace of a good book.


I worry that these newer behaviours risk the arts losing a cohort of readers who enjoy the written word. What impact will this have on theatre? It may be a gross simplification, but what is theatre other than the written word brought to life on the stage?


I have always considered regular reading as a form of preparation for theatre, even a tendril of audience development and at the very least a good indicator of the propensity to attend theatre.


As has been questioned by other commentators, are these new devices breaking down our attention span and distracting us from literature? 



Is the wealth of content available online via a mobile combined with self curation distracting potential audiences from paths of preparation to the written word whether delivered on the page or the stage?


I wonder, what do other arts marketers think?



AMA Conference 2012: connect engage inspire 2

Tim Wood_1Tim Wood is our second guest poster on the AMA blog, providing a few thoughts and reactions to the AMA Conference.  He is Director of Communications at The Place, a board member of the AMA and has worked in arts marketing for 16 years.



The death of the arts marketer?

The first day of the AMA conference in Brighton and some themes resonated across a set of rallying keynote speeches: that organisations can and should change; that the job of developing public engagement requires much more than traditional promotion of product through publicity materials and activity; that some of that material and activity may be redundant.

This last point was to the fore in Erica Whyman’s playfully provocative challenge for us to question whether the way that we (traditionally) communicate our cultural offerings may do more harm than good. She singled out the venue brochure as something which can pander to a narrow community, who we hound in the hope that they may increase their already frequent attendance, and is inaccessible or irrelevant to everyone else.

For the day’s two speakers from North America, the path to deeper engagement with their communities has begun with reorganising their staff. Ryan French from Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis talked about how they looked for ‘open minded and broad-skilled staff’ who develop the programme, facilities and audiences of the venue as one process. Everyone who works with Andy McKim at Theatre Passe Muraillle in Toronto has the job title Associate Producer, and a producer’s responsibilities for one of their productions.

The last session of the day for me was a panel discussion with Claire Doherty from Situations, Alex Fleetwood from Hide and Seek, and Kate McGrath from Fuel  – three buoyant organisations producing a range of arts projects that have succeeded in engaging all sorts of publics in profound and transformative ways. Scanning their websites, I saw no staff members listed with Marketing in their job titles. (Situations, echoing TPM’s approach, have an Assistant Curator: Engagement).

I heard from Chief Executives and Artistic Directors today claiming responsibility for audiences in ways I may not have a few years ago. The idea that public engagement cannot be silo-ed in a marketing department but needs to be spread across everyone who works in the organisation is, it seems to me, becoming more and more established.

What then, I wonder, will become of our marketing departments as organisations free themselves from the bind of producing inaccessible, irrelevant brochures? And what, in turn, will become of the Arts Marketing Association, and its conference?

(Note: the idea for this blog, like so many of my better ideas, was actually the original  idea of Sam Scott Wood)


AMA conference 2012; connect, engage, inspire

The AMA conference 2012 is now in full swing and on AMA Commons we have the reactions of a variety of attenders in a series of guest blog posts. William Norris of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provides the first.

Will is the communications director at the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a member of Spitalfields Music’s Programme Advisory Group and is co-chair of the Association of British Orchestras Marketing Manager meetings. He was speaking at the conference about ‘Connecting marketing and programming to engage audiences’ but here he reflects on the first keynote presentation at the start of the day.


Measuring up

When I volunteered to be an AMA blogger this year I did have one small niggling doubt. Would I find anything to write about?

I needn't have worried. This morning's keynote alone threw up lots of ideas, and I'm now wondering whether I might actually end up writing three posts…

Anyway. This morning's keynote speaker, Andy McKim (from Theatre Passe Muraille) quoted playwright Mark Ravenhill, who proposed that arts institutions perhaps needed to work together a bit more and stop acting like competing businesses:

"Marketing is based on the assumption that each arts organisation is an independent business unit competing against other arts organisations for customers. The message of the marketing department is: 'Buy my product, not theirs.'"

I have some sympathy with this…but not a lot. Of course, working together is good. The afternoon's keynote which looked at how organisations in Newcastle are working together proves that, as is the orchestral consortium in London.

But I think competition is a good thing. I don't really think there is much actual competition between arts organisations for customers, because really, the biggest competition is coming from other leisure activities for our customers time, or from the appealing prospect of having a quiet evening in in front of the tv.

Some professional rivalry is a good thing. Of course, I want my organisation's marketing to be better than that of my peers. I want us to do well, I believe in what we do. It's part of what motivates me and gets me out of bed (admittedly often slowly) in the morning. It's natural to want to be the best at what you do. Surely the same extends to the stage. Every performance should strive to be the best, and to measure up to, if not beat, the competition.

So I think a bit of competition (or perhaps healthy rivalry) is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes, keeps us alert, sharp and alert to new ideas. Plus I think it's only a good thing that arts organisations are a least a little bit business minded. Measuring up to your competitors is part of this.

If you don't want to be the best then surely something is wrong?

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