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AMA Conference 2012: connect engage inspire 7

Relationship management and the creation of shared value

Unless you are a hermit you will be in a range of relationships, whether personal or professional. And in fact they are such an embedded element of all we do, it's easy to ignore what they involve.

It's not something that the participants of London 2012 failed to mention, with participants attributing a great deal to partners, families, coaches, funders or whoever. The less 'successful' talked about 'letting people down' while proud medallists thanked people continuously, including the thousands of people who had been cheering them on. Affirmative appreciation seems to be a key part of maintaining and strengthening relationships - just one of the ways they can be managed to the benefit of all parties.

Copeland and Sitch

Team GB rowing medallists Will Sitch and Kat Copeland in relationship affirmation at Hyde Park Live, (picture J.Goodacre).

The management of relationships was an important theme of the conference; not a surprise really, given its role in connecting and engaging. Racheal Easton, from Purple Seven, at The Ticketing Institute's fringe session before the conference generously showed how she had failed (in a previous job) to develop customer relationships by sending out condoms to the audience in the post (we've all been there). Ryan French, at the conference 'proper' spoke of the way in which the Walker Center (USA) had moved from an emphasis on engagement with audiences which had been 'transactional' to one which is 'relational'. This included using the open area next to their building to make a space for engagement with the local community, emphasising the way that a space can be managed for the development of ongoing relationships.

Relationships and Networks

These examples largely focus on relationships with customers but while I was at the conference it struck me how little business to business (b2b) marketing is discussed in our arts marketing world. It's a hidden yet rather vital element of bringing the arts and audiences together. Consider consultancies pitching to organisations, suppliers tendering for work, companies distributing print, conference organisers selling exhibition spaces, agencies providing training, arts institutions linking with sponsors, venues and companies working together or theatres selling space in brochures. 

This huge network of b2b relationships is crucial in the success of our sector and of delivering well to our audiences. For example, Erica Whyman from Northern Stage, demonstrated how the alliance of Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues together with theatre companies and the Morris Hargreaves McIntyre consultancy were able to raise awareness of the cultural offer in the North East and at the same time enable each institution to understand its own relationships with the audience. The wider network was an important contributing factor in delivering effectively.

Having taught b2b marketing recently I've been looking at some of the theory behind this topic. Especially significant recently, has been the slightly dull sounding (especially for we arty types) Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Group (IMP group). It may sound like something from another world but they have much of relevance for us, as they show how businesses, while appearing to be in competition are actually tied together in an interactive network of collaborative relationships. There are a number of interesting knock-on points from this, such as their argument that a traditional marketing idea of an 'active seller' and a 'passive buyer' does not accurately reflect what is happening. Instead, b2b relationships are about two active parties involved in trying to attain mutual goals.

I don't want to water down complex ideas in a few sentences, so a look at their papers is recommended. They're mostly free, downloadable and good reads (I think!) so Ford, Gadde, Hakansson and Snehota's paper on Managing Networks will ring true for many, even though it's based on IKEA. And if you think this isn't relevant to the arts, it might be worth having a look at Shaw, Grant and Wilson's paper on a network within the arts world. They use it as an example of the way that best use of resources can be made through a well managed network. Once again, the cultural sector is held up in the business world as a good case study.

Singing in the Rain

… back to the AMA Conference and a few people, knowing that I am now working with The Audience Agency, approached me during the breaks, in the bar or at the socials; not, it seemed, because they were on the lookout for a new relationship but because they wanted to talk about the long-running, nay notorious, issue of the sharing of audience data between venues and touring companies. Personally, I think these issues have been quite adequately dealt with in Tim Baker and Roger Tomlinson's 2008 paper for ADUK, Data Ownership Guidelines and a number of companies and venues (in particular) would benefit from reviewing their practices having read this document.

Nevertheless, I would like to bring this back to the theories of the IMP Group which show that in b2b relationships, value is created through the process of interaction itself. Most computers can't operate without an Intel processor and you can't do much with an Intel processor on its own. Alex Fleetwood and James McVeigh demonstrated this nicely with their New Year Games example at the conference; art and audience being created jointly by Hide&Seek and Festivals Edinburgh.

Likewise, not only does a company need a venue to put on its work but a venue needs the company to have some work to show. And in this process are they not developing both art and an audience together? If we can appreciate that this audience has been jointly brought together and the data is a representation of this audience, why all this talk about '3rd parties'? I look forward to hearing your disagreement in the comments box below.

None of this necessarily rules out healthy competition. No-one is denying that several suppliers might be bidding for one contract or that an institution can only appoint one consultancy for its project but many of these relationships enable competition and collaboration to happen at the same time. The relationship links are at different levels of the network.

Anyway, with this blog post, I'm 'handing over' the reins of AMA Commons into the capable hands of Taras Young at the AMA. He will be very pleased to hear from you with your comments, suggestions and offers of guest blogs. Meanwhile, I'm off in search of some new relationships.

And in celebration of this fine British summer I will leave you with this flash mob at Glasgow Inernational Airport. The first person to identify the key link between this event and the IMP Group mentioned above will get a DVD of Singing In The Rain as a special prize from me.


Jonathan Goodacre


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