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Time to think clearly about the bigger picture – Retreat 1

Sam Morton, Marketing Manager at The London Library, shares her thoughts and learning from Retreat 1.

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It’s rare in the course of day-to-day life, let alone in a busy workplace, that we have a chance to really reflect on what it is we do, how we do it and why. But a few weeks ago I had a perfect opportunity to do this, at the AMA’s Retreat 1 for new marketing managers. For three days me and 20 or so other arts marketers at a similar career stage were closeted away at the Moller Centre in Cambridge, talking about arts marketing. Our days were divided between practical sessions and time for reflection, all interspersed with frankly ridiculous quantities of coffee and biscuits.

The practical sessions were thorough and easy to understand. Trainers Carol Jones of The Audience Agency, Jo Taylor of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre and consultant Roger Tomlinson took us through the process of marketing campaign planning. Setting objectives, applying segmentation, measuring ROI, budgeting, timetabling and strategising were all on the agenda. We put this all into practice in a case study, worked in groups and presented at the end of the retreat. Working like this gave everyone a chance to properly digest each session and talk through what we’d learnt. In amongst this Alastair Cant led ‘management masterclass’ sessions, encouraging us to think about how we could communicate more effectively with colleagues, how we could influence our organisations and what kind of leaders we could be.

Reflection sets offered a chance to think about what we’d learnt in the context of our own organisations, and talk through work quandaries with an understanding group (Chatham House rules, of course). Having got fully in to the ‘retreat’ mentality by Wednesday morning there was a little bit of group therapy going on as well at times, but we kept it professional. What would we be putting in to practice when we got back to work? How would we address challenges in new ways? How quickly could we put our new ideas into action? Why couldn’t all working groups be so supportive?!

By the end of Thursday afternoon I fully understood why this course is called a ‘retreat’. At that point fully institutionalised at the lovely Moller Centre, I felt I’d been given the time to think clearly about the bigger picture in terms of my organisation’s marketing, and my career more broadly. With such an intensive programme to focus on, and such engaging conversations happening around it, it just wasn’t possible to be distracted by everyday emails and to do lists. I felt I had been through a transformative experience with a fantastic group of people.

Leaving the retreat, I felt full of enthusiasm to put what I’d learned into practice, and to keep learning. It was an intense few days, it was at times strangely emotional, and it was extremely bad for the waistline, but it was so very valuable in terms of professional development. I learned something from every single person there and would recommend it to anyone embarking on the next stage of their career in arts marketing.

SMART objectives here I come! Retreat 1

Hannah Thomas, Marketing and Communications Manager at The Foundling Museum, discusses her time at Retreat 1.

Image of Hannah Thomas

I’ve been asked to write a post about my experience of AMA’s Retreat 1, which I attended with the generous support of a bursary. This was my first experience of a residential training course and the thought of spending three days immersed in arts marketing was exciting. Who would I meet? What would I learn? And most importantly, how would I put it all into practice? As a new marketing manager in a busy Museum there are lots of opportunities to get my teeth into and I was hoping the Retreat would answer my many questions. The course certainly lived up to expectations….

After a quick train journey to beautiful Cambridge, I arrived at the Moller Centre, checked into my room and headed downstairs to meet the other eager participants all absorbing their Retreat folder and wondering what lay ahead. From reading the delegate list it was exciting to see people from a range of organisations, from small regional museums to large London-based theatres and opera companies. The retreat kicked off with warm welcomes from the AMA team and an introductory session on influencing (that key skill for any new manager!), then it was off to dinner to get to know the other delegates.

The retreat continued with three days of carefully structured sessions covering everything needed to get a marketing plan off the ground – from setting objectives, segmenting audiences, analysing the environment, developing strategies, and budgeting and timetabling. These were led by dynamic duo Carol Jones and Roger Tomlinson, and the ever-enthusiastic Jo Taylor. There was so much to learn from these sessions. Despite knowing that a lot of these strategic approaches were out there, it was incredibly useful to see how each element linked together. Who knew that TOWS (not those things at the end of your feet) could lead to the answer to a clearly defined marketing campaign! At the end of the retreat I certainly felt I had come away with an invaluable toolkit that I can now apply to my work. SMART objectives here I come!

Despite the copious note-taking there were also practical sessions to keep everyone on their toes (yes these are the ones you’re thinking of). Having digested a case study for a fictional festival, we were put into groups and tasked with developing a marketing campaign which we would later present to a board. Despite the daunting task ahead, this was an excellent opportunity to learn from one another and get to grips with the Retreat’s content, testing out the learning for ourselves. We all became quite attached to our fictional line manager which my group had affectionately named Vez!  I certainly picked up some great tips from my peers and …..

To complement the practical sessions we were led through a series of management masterclasses by Alasdair Cant – probably the calmest man you will ever meet. In my new role I’ve found that balancing the everyday workload and looking after my team is one of the key skills of being a manager, and these sessions were very useful in thinking about my approach. As Alasdair explained, managing is about balance and a good manager has the wisdom to know when to take control and when to take a hands-off approach, and when democratic discussion is needed.

Peppered throughout the days were reflection sets which provided a space in which to share learning, thoughts and questions. It was refreshing to hear that other marketers also share the same concerns and hurdles, and having the opportunity to sit back and discuss these with others was invaluable.

I took lots of notes during the three days and am still going through them, sharing information and learning with colleagues. SMART objectives for our next campaign have been put together, a SWOT analysis has been completed and I’m feeling excited about the strategic, focused path ahead. The event proved to be a great experience and I have come away with renewed energy, lots of ideas, and some great contacts in the world of marketing. We are all guilty of getting caught up in the everyday but the Retreat offered the opportunity to take a step back and assess….as well as consume a LOT of cake.

Digital Marketing Academy 3.0 applications now open

Volker Kuchelmeister, Jill Bennett, Dennis Del Favero, Amnesia Atlas, 2014, installation at FACT

Image of girl looking through VR headset

After the success of the first two cohorts of Digital Marketing Academy Fellows, we are now excited to open the applications for 20 new Fellows to take part in this unique online programme.

The Digital Marketing Academy (DMA) enables digital innovation across the arts, culture and heritage sector by equipping participants with the knowledge, advice and support to develop digital experiments within their organisations. Fellows devise and test digital marketing experiments on real audiences in real organisations; the results, impact and learning are then shared across the sector.

Previous outcomes of the programme have included:

  • the development of a new online platform bringing teachers and arts organisations together
  • extensive experiments on audience segmentation
  • breakthroughs in the use of Google Analytics
  • reimagining the online customer journey
  • testing different content on social media
  • gamification and its application to loyalty programmes
  • a unique 360 video created as a ‘drop in’ experience for visitors.

The experiments are developed on real audiences in order to trial and adopt good practice, and achieve new ambitions and perspectives in digital marketing. Fellows are supported by international Mentors with incredible digital expertise, they also have access to online training tailored for the programme, and take part in Action Learning Sets with other Fellows to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.

If you’ve got a digital idea you’re keen to test, would value the advice of a digital Mentor to help progress your current digital marketing, or believe that your organisation could become more resilient through digital experimentation, you should apply to become a DMA 3.0 Fellow.

Jess Thomas, Marketing Officer at Gulbenkian, took part in DMA 2.0 and says,
“What can I say about DMA?  It is an incredible opportunity to focus on your project with fantastic support from an amazing Mentor and with the chance to share practice with the other Fellows – invaluable!  I not only increased my learning but had fun doing it and participating in this has spurred on so many other new projects for our organisation. If you are considering applying – my advice – do it!”


More information and the application forms can be found on the Digital Marketing Academy 3.0 website.

Please download the application form and return completed forms to Verity Sanderson, Programme Producer, by 12pm on Tuesday 26 April.

Image: Volker Kuchelmeister, Jill Bennett, Dennis Del Favero, Amnesia Atlas, 2014, installation at FACT. Image by Brian Slater.

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Peaks of intensity – Retreat 1

Crayg Ward, Audience Development and Marketing Officer at Pentabus, shares his thoughts on Retreat 1.

Image of Crayg Ward

In October I applied for the CultureHive bursary that would enable me to attend AMA’s Retreat 1. I knew that it would be just what I needed – a valuable and intense learning retreat where everything would be about marketing. Having four full days dedicated to marketing is not something that ever seems possible in my daily working life. Obviously, I do ‘marketing’ every day, but it is always surrounded by the other things. The office life, the productions, the shifting priorities, the firefighting, the admin.

Image of banner for Retreat 1

Upon arrival, I instantly felt welcome for the first session at 5pm; a Management Masterclass on Influencing – sounds full-on… It was the best way to begin the Retreat and it put me in the right frame of mind to take everything on over the next 3 days. This is something that will stay with me and something that was developed throughout the Retreat – the right frame of mind. I developed a confidence in what I was already doing, knowing that I was on the right path and this was built alongside learning tips and skills to enhance my future strategies.

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Retreat 1 is crammed full of information, from Audience Segmentation to Managerial skills and budgeting. It’s also full of acronyms (SMART, SWOT, TOWS; to name a few) that I had come across before, but never given them my full attention, which is what they need. AMA have tailored this retreat to benefit senior officers & new/emerging managers – but whatever level you’re at, however large or small your organisation, I’m sure you would walk away with something vital.

It was a perfectly balanced course of intense learning, reflection, sharing and socialising. At times, it felt like my brain was going to explode with information; add to that the looming case study presentation; but just at the right moment, there was a mind massage (that’s not an official title, just a way to represent how it felt). There would either be a break in which we were fed heartily (quick big-up to the excellent and varied food from The Moller Centre – there is literally no amount of marketing cramming that can’t be eased with tea, cake and great food), or there would be a programmed ‘Reflection Set’. The Reflection Sets were essential. They were the troughs to the peaks of intensity and they actually helped me realise that time should be allotted in my weekly working life to reflect on what I’m doing and how that fits in with the rest of the team.

I learnt just as much from the other delegates as I did from the coaches. Pentabus are based in rural Shropshire and we’re a long journey from major arts networks and creative hubs, so we don’t often get the opportunity to immerse ourselves in such a diverse range of experience across multiple artforms. It was great just to chat to others about what they do (and what they don’t do), their challenges and successes and also, as we’re a touring company I got so much from being able to talk to venues and see things from their perspective.

The case study itself was great fun – in hindsight. At certain moments, we were drowning in detail and most of the case study sessions were the peaks of intensity, but that’s what it’s all about. We were using all our knowledge, new skills and tips and forming a strategic marketing plan for a brilliantly detailed fictional event. This process was, as expected, my biggest learning curve in terms of using the strategies and skills.

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I may sound like I’m selling the AMA Retreat 1, but it comes from my honest gratitude of having the opportunity to attend. For that I must thank CultureHive for awarding me the bursary, AMA for all their hard work, the coaches for their expertise and support and the other delegates for sharing their experiences so openly. Oh yeah, and The Moller Centre for excellent food and a refreshingly breezy rooftop-bar.


I am more than ready – Retreat 1

Rhian Lewis, Communications Officer at National Theatre Wales gives us her thoughts on attending Retreat 1.

Image of Rhian Lewis

I’m writing this blog after allowing myself a while to let the Retreat sink in. My main thought now is that while I know I still have a long way to go before I achieve my full potential, I’m pretty sure the Retreat has pushed me a little closer.

I’m at that point in my career where I’m starting to question everything about my choices so far, and considering what happens next. Before and throughout the Retreat, I bounced between questions such as; what is it that I actually want? Where do I want to end up? Do I even want to work in marketing? Am I a marketer? This can be unsettling to say the least, and potentially quite a lonely place to be.

The Retreat seemed like an ideal opportunity to figure out where I was at, and who I want to be. If you know the MHM Culture segments, I am ‘Expression’ through and through, meaning I like to talk, I like to discuss, I like to be a part of something…  and I’m quiet emotional! Stepping away from my day job and taking the time to invest in myself is a luxury, and this was a perfect chance for me.

As marketers we answer to a lot of people, we feel as though we have to know all the information, and are constantly having to think on our feet. To me, there is a distinct difference between truly knowing the information and saying what someone wants to hear, just to buy yourself some time! So, I wanted to know if I was doing the right things in the role I’m delivering, and how I can do it better. Despite walking away completely fried, I can honestly say it did just that and more.

The mix of interactive sessions, practical tasks and actually being told the detail – along with the perfect tools involved in campaign planning – suited me perfectly. I was allowed the time to practise, to question and to interact with my peers. Being able to talk to 23 other marketing professionals at a similar level to me was invaluable, and prevented any loneliness as I questioned myself. The group shared my frustrations, and my passions, and understood what I was saying.

I do feel like I’ve come away from the course with confidence. Specifically confidence in who I am as a professional marketer, and confidence I 100% know what I’m doing. I’d heard of these tools before, I’d done courses before, but the retreat allowed me to move from feeling almost like a child in this huge industry to a fully-fledged adult who deserves to be here. I now feel as though when I open my mouth to express an idea, I speak with knowledge that is reinforced by the week I spent at the Retreat.

The only negative that I feel I’ve put on myself, is I’m not completely sure how I implement or introduce all this learning into an established department where I am not in a position of power. There are things I want to do, and methods I want to introduce, which I am sure I can do over time with discussion, but I am hovering on a cliff edge with knowing my role and how much I can influence holding me back. The sessions with Alistair Cant have helped me to consider this more fully, and given me tools to start implementing my learning. I’m going to start working on this.

Despite the one negative, I do know I can write a campaign from its early seeds through to evaluation with confidence. I know I can look at my audience data and understand what it means. I know I can use the data effectively, using it to inform my relationship with our audience.

Taking the chance and applying for the residency was the best professional decision I’ve made in a while. I genuinely believe it has changed my outlook on marketing and communications, and refocused my efforts onto what I actually want to do. The knowledge that was always lurking in me somewhere now feels more alive and more real than ever, and I am more than ready to use it.

What did you think? Retreat 1

Patricia Vallis has been the Development Officer for Ballet Cymru since 2008. Here, she shares her thoughts on each element of Retreat 1, which took place in March 2016.

Image of Patricia Vallis
Patricia Vallis (image credit: Sian Trenberth)

I was thrilled and very grateful to have received a bursary from the Arts Council of Wales to attend my first Arts Marketing Association retreat. The arts marketing experts delivered inspiring sessions, exploring the latest practices in targeting, branding, segmentation and management techniques. It was also a fantastic opportunity to exchange ideas with peers and discover new ways to deal with challenges in creating the ultimate marketing campaigns. I left completely energised and stimulated, ready to implement the practical tools and skills I learned during the four days into Ballet Cymru’s marketing strategy.

Day 1
7 March 2016

I was very impressed from the moment I arrived at the Moller Centre. It was such a beautiful, clean space. I thought this would be helpful to have a clear brain, ready for soaking up useful information and learning new skills.

The first Management Masterclass with Alasdair Cant about ‘Influencing’ was a perfect introduction to the retreat as it made you question your own attitudes and habits in the workplace. We had a funny task of ‘not listening’ as someone was telling you something important.

The evening meal took place in the magical tower restaurant. It was a superb way to get to know some of the other participants.

Day 2
8 March 2016

The morning session, Module 1 – Marketing Objectives, with Carol Jones, held crucial information for the case study but also for revisiting the marketing objectives of our own organisations. The most useful part of this session was sharing our experiences from our own organisation with the other retreat participants.

Module 2 – The Audience Context, with Jo Taylor, was the most interesting and surprising session. The concept of segmenting audiences in this unique way for the arts is fantastic and seems like it is such a positive tool for an arts organisation to have access to.

Module 3 – Measuring ROI, with Carol Jones and Roger Tomlinson, was a very practical session for the case study and for our organisations.

Working Groups – Marketing Strategy was the most challenging part of the whole retreat. Trying to find a way to work together as a team and to prioritize what would be included in the strategy for the presentation was not quite so straightforward but a great learning experience.

Reflection Sets was one of the most positive parts of the retreat as you could exchange ideas and experiences in a non-confrontational way. The group members were so helpful and respectful that I really looked forward to this session every day.

Day 3
9 March 2016

Module 4 – Adapting the Communications Strategy, with Jo Taylor, was one of the most useful for my work at Ballet Cymru as I deal with our communications strategies. This was a revelation on the importance of content in the messages you send to your audiences. The subtle difference between the messages you send to the different target groups is crucial to make the biggest impact and engage most effectively with your audiences.

The second Working Groups session flowed more easily, as we knew what we had to do and we just got on with it.

Module 4 – Adapting the Communications Strategy (con’t) was a fantastic session, again with Jo Taylor, looking at the importance of the various channels and timings of the messages you send in your marketing campaigns.

Module 5 – Budgeting and Timetabling, with Carol Jones, was a useful session and one I will definitely use for my marketing campaign. The Gantt chart is such a useful tool and I intend never to part from it!

We continued after dinner with the Working Groups. The marketing plan for the case study presentation was coming into shape.

Day 4
10 March 2016 

Module 6 – The Emerging Manager’s Toolkit, with Alasdair Cant, included personal challenges some of the retreat participants were facing at work and how to deal with them. I loved the idea of challenging the ‘limited belief’ we all have at some point and the amusing task of cutting a hole in an A4 sheet of paper to let through an adult on a bicycle. Yes it is possible!

After we practiced our presentation and tweaked the content and timings with our Working Groups, we had the Marketing Planning Presentations. This was a brilliant experience in improving our presentation skills and confidence when facing similar situations in the future.

The Summary with Cath Hume was quite an emotional session, with everyone expressing the impact this retreat had on us personally and our future working practice.

Image of two ballet dancers

Ballet Cymru’s Romeo & Juliet 
image credit: Sleepy Robot

Every Word Really Does Count

Stephen Sheldrake, Press and Marketing Assistant at Worthing Theatres, tells us what he learnt at Online Copywriting Day: Every Word Counts.

Image of Stephen Sheldrake

Last month I had the pleasure of attending my first Arts Marketing Association event, Online Copywriting Day: Every Word Counts. Firstly, the location at London Southbank was ideal for marketing folk travelling from across the UK, having come from Worthing it was a very simple hour and a half train ride on a very sunny day!

The day was a really nice opportunity to network with other people in the arts industry, and I was really impressed with speaker Catherine Toole, who founded Sticky Content and has built up the company over 20 years. Her talk for me was really the most effective. She went into great detail about copywriting across multiple platforms such as websites, emails and social media.

Some of the statistics she provided were a real insight into just how every word really can have a huge impact. I found it hugely inspiring and wished I had had this insight the first day I had started my marketing career.

The second half of the day touched on copywriting for social media, with Tim Fidgeon and David Levin. It was really important to me as that’s part of my remit at Worthing Theatres. It was quite a broad breakdown of many platforms, which were interesting; however I would have liked more specialised depth into Facebook and Twitter for businesses. They were both very fun and exciting speakers, and it was easy to engage with what they were saying. I would have liked to see more practical examples of arts companies using this effectively.

Overall, it was a fantastic day; I would recommend this sort of training for anyone working within the arts regardless of what role they are in. The things I learnt have proved really useful in my marketing arsenal.


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