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Julie Aldridge to step down as Director

Image of Julie Aldridge

Julie Aldridge to step down as Arts Marketing Association Executive Director

After 17 years with the Arts Marketing Association, including 11 as Executive Director, Julie Aldridge announced today that she will be leaving the organisation at the end of 2016.

The AMA is a membership organisation that helps the arts, culture and heritage sectors make better connections with the public. Under Julie’s leadership, the organisation has grown to be the UK’s leading provider of professional development for people working in cultural marketing and management.

The AMA today has nearly 2,000 members, working at all levels for organisations in the UK and beyond, and attracts over 600 delegates to its annual conference. In recent years it has successfully realised several major projects funded by the UK’s Arts Councils, including the CultureHive website for sharing best practice, and the Future Proof Museums programme, building resilience in the museums sector. Initiatives including the pioneering use of online training, the Retreats programme of intensive training and the Digital Marketing Academy have all had wide-reaching impact and acclaim in the arts profession.

Julie will continue to work with arts and cultural organisations as a freelance trainer and consultant focusing on strategy for business, marketing, membership and organisational development. The AMA has begun the process of recruiting a new Chief Executive.

Julie Aldridge said today:
“I love the AMA and it has been a great privilege to serve as its director. I feel lucky to be leaving on a real high and proud of what the team has achieved during my time with the organisation. I have to thank staff past and present, board members, speakers, trainers, mentors, ambassadors, member reps, sponsors, funders, partners, exhibitors, and each and every one of our members. I have learnt so much from working alongside them all. I will always remain one of the AMA’s strongest champions – it plays a vital role in helping the arts to thrive, and in supporting members to reach and engage audiences and visitors across the whole of society.”

Jo Taylor, Chair of the AMA, said:
“It is impossible to overstate the contribution that Julie has made to the AMA. She is directly responsible for an incredible period of sustained innovation and success. This has made a huge difference within the sector, for our members, their organisations – and ultimately audiences. Julie is an inspiration and a joy, and I wish her every success in her exciting new venture.”

The Social Curators #DMA

Rachel Williams at the Barbican is currently a Joint Fellow at Digital Marketing Academy 3.0 with her colleague Ryan Nelson. Read on to discover how their social media experiment is developing.

As Summer (theoretically) comes to a close, so did our summer exhibition, the UK’s first major retrospective of the Icelandic performance artist, Ragnar Kjartansson.

With film, painting, sculpture, music and live performance, it was a wonderfully diverse exhibition that brought our Art Gallery space to life. It made for a playful campaign, allowing us to bring out the artist’s personality and themes in his work.

But perhaps, most importantly for us in digital marketing, photography was allowed.

As such, our job was to communicate the message of ‘Photography is allowed’ as ‘Photography is encouraged’.

First, we needed a hashtag. Usually this is some short derivative of the exhibition title but for this eponymous exhibition, #RagnarKjartansson was a given. Intuitive enough for people to know what to use; thought not so much for people knowing how to spell it… But contrary to our fears, the hashtag – correctly spelled – was a success and was heavily used by visitors throughout the exhibition. Let’s put it down to Iceland’s surprise Euros success making people accustomed to Icelandic spelling…

Another reason for its assimilation could be that we ensured it had a visible profile alongside our other marketing materials – print, gallery vinyl signage, front of house signage by the main entrance to the building, plasma screens around the Centre, plus our social channels.

Our audiences responded with a fantastic range of tweets and Instagram posts sharing their experiences, videos and photos from the exhibition. Over 6,000 of them in fact. Not only did this give us great content to use in the digital campaign but it also allowed us to see which works our audiences were connecting with the most and learn more about their experience in the gallery. The next decision would be how we can use the content our audiences were sharing.

By the main entrance in our Foyers, you may have noticed a projector screen that shows visitor tweets responding to events we have at that time in the Centre. Here, we curated visitor tweets to display on the screen, letting visitors to the Centre see what others had been saying, to encourage them to visit too.

We selected some of our favourite posts and curated them into a blog post. This format is one we’d like to continue by sharing more regular posts showcasing our visitors’ photography – either of events or the Barbican itself. In doing so, we’d like to start engaging more directly with followers on Instagram, letting them know their photo has been featured on our blog and commenting on their photos.

One idea we didn’t get chance to try was to dig deeper into the people who were posting about the exhibition to learn more about them and their interests. In doing so, we could look to establish a network of ‘tastemakers’ amongst our followers to help us seed content to new audiences. This is certainly something we will be considering for future campaigns, particularly those that require more audience participation, such as our What London Watches cinema season.

From this experiment, we’ve developed a strong template for what a digital/social campaign should look like for our exhibitions – and one that can be adapted for our performance events too. By openly encouraging content sharing with our visitors, and reciprocating by showcasing their work and experiences across our channels, we hope to continue to develop our digital platforms as spaces for open engagement and also celebration of both our programme and those who enjoy our programme.

Hats and Hashtags #DMA

Alison Hilton at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), is currently a Fellow at Digital Marketing Academy 3.0 (DMA). Here she describes the learning from her first experiment.

I applied to take part in the DMA because, at the MERL we’re at a key stage of a £3m redevelopment project, preparing to reopen in October. I was keen to experiment with digital marketing ideas to help plan ways of attracting new, especially younger, audiences, though I didn’t have a clear idea of what we wanted to try.

I was delighted to be paired with Sara Devine from Brooklyn Museum as my Mentor, and really enjoyed her webinar on Agile projects, as it immediately struck a chord. As she talked about coming up with an initial idea, testing it in as simple a way as possible, analysing results and iterating until you end up with a successful final result, I recognised this as pretty much the opposite of my usual approach! I usually like everything to be ‘just so’ before taking a single step – resulting in months of talking about doing something and often never actually taking action. This was going to be a challenge!

After an initial Google hangout with Sara, I decided to work on an experiment focussing on 18-25 year-old ‘metroculturals’: those looking for interesting, quirky cultural experiences, but wouldn’t think of looking for them at the MERL. As a short term marketing goal, I wanted to find a way of engaging with this audience digitally, to try and build up a buzz before the museum reopens. Long term, I’d like to think about how we can use what we learn to get all visitors to engage and respond digitally to their experience at the new museum.

I decided I would go out and find the elusive audience, and take an activity or some quirky objects and see if I could get them to take selfies or post a response on social media, mentioning @TheMERL or using a hashtag.

In fact, the first opportunity that arose was to test the activity with a completely different audience. Based on our plan to have a ‘hat trail’ through the new galleries to draw attention to the featured ‘People Stories’ I took a selection of hats for people to try on at our stand at a local festival. I didn’t have much time to prepare, and just made a quick sign that encouraged people to use the hashtag #HatTagMERL and post a picture straight to Twitter or Facebook. I took a display of archive pictures of people wearing similar hats, to make the connection between the activity and the new galleries. (I also made an alternative poster with the hashtag #MERLhats in case our first idea didn’t work!) I devised a quick tick sheet to record the results and that was it.

As a test, it actually worked a treat. The only people missing were the 18-25 year olds! Lots of people came to the stand and loved trying on the hats. Many were keen to hear the stories of the people who would have worn them too, and were also interested in our plans to include them in the new displays.

I recorded the number of conversations, how long they lasted, whether people engaged with the stories, and finally whether they took pictures, posted to social media, or allowed us to take and post pictures for them. We found that it was easy to track use of the hashtag on Twitter, but harder on Facebook, as many people said they would ‘do it later’. We were pleased to see some pictures appear on Twitter, but were amazed at how many people, including families, were happy for us to take pictures with our phones and post the pictures straight to Twitter. So as it happened, most of the hashtag posts were by us! There must be something we can learn about this; maybe photo booths where people can authorise a picture to be uploaded would work in the museum?

The best result was that following this quick test, I felt confident reassuring the Interactives Team that the hat trail would work in the galleries. On seeing the pictures, the designer, who had been reluctant, agreed to let us hang hats in the galleries, and to simply stitch a label with #HatTagMERL inside!

So although this first experiment wasn’t quite what I had planned, I learnt that this kind of agile testing could be used in future to test other ideas which others (internally) are perhaps not so sure about.

Image: MERL

Cutting Edge Digital Strategies for Increasing Online Revenue

Soap Media, one of our networking sponsors at this year’s AMA conference, give us the lowdown on how they helped The Grand Theatre in Blackpool bring new life to their website.

With our web design and development skills, we like to think we know how to put on a spectacular online show. Digital is a multifaceted process – by implementing state of the art technology, we’ve been helping theatres to measurably increase their ticket sales.

This is an era of HTML5, WordPress, mobile-friendly web design, and white hat SEO. In this post, we’ll detail how we transformed one theatre with an outdated site into the cutting edge talk of the town, and how you can achieve the same results.

The Grand Theatre – Developing a Strategy

The theatre’s website was outdated, making it the ideal opportunity for it to take a bold new approach. We wanted to capture the atmosphere of the venue and merge its history with a state of the art digital design in order to launch the company into a new era.

Our focus was to develop relevant user personas to create realistic representations of key audience segments. By understanding the motivations of the Grand’s audience and how this dovetails to touchpoints off-site with user journeys, we could set about ensuring the company achieved ROI.

Tools such as Hotjar helped us map the user journey of customers across the site. When matched with data from Google Analytics, we discovered what was important to users and shaped the development of the site based on this information.

Web Design and Development

Theatre is an emotive and visual product, so the new site had to feature considerable wow factor. We wanted visitors to be a part of the Grand experience and developed an intuitive user interface.

It takes the faceted approach of an eCommerce site and refines the ways in which customers filter by multiple categories and date ranges – an innovative approach no one else has considered. We added flexible options which prioritised key onscreen elements, such as the Grand’s calendar.

There’s also an ASOS style shopping experience, the show pages are striking, and social media is integrated into the site. From there, we tailored the experience based on cookies and watched micro transactions to capture data earlier in the lifecycle.

Responsive Web Design

65% of the Grand’s traffic comes from mobile devices (amounting to 50% of its revenue), so it was essential the site was mobile-friendly and fully responsive across multiple devices.

For customers on their mobiles, data costs are precious – we implemented design features such as blocking automatic streaming videos to place loading times at a premium. To complement these speeds, we developed large icons for effortless navigation across the site.

Event Management

For the Grand’s ticket management, we went with the brilliant Spektrix. This is user-friendly and intuitive software.

The company builds its features with “usability in mind”. It’s also scalable, so it can manage major sale increases efficiently. Additionally, other features include the choice to segment audiences into relevant fields, which is essential for an industry with diverse demographics.

Digital Marketing Strategies

This is all about stealing an advantage over competitors. With the right strategy, a target demographic can be reached on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Google Display Network, Twitter, and Instagram.

Tactics such as geo-fencing can also be useful. The local Blackpool Pleasure Beach resort draws in many punters, who subsequently see the Grand’s location on their smartphones, which draws in more customers.

Much of digital marketing offers immediate results, but brands must also consider the long-term impact of SEO, where white hat tactics can earn important search engine ranking positions.


For theatres, modernising a site shouldn’t be seen as an annoyance. It’s a golden opportunity to launch a product which will win over customers and secure more ticket sales.

It’s a case of merging all the right components alongside innovative and expertly managed tactics. In order to reach your online audience, your web design, development, digital marketing, and SEO must all work in tandem. It’s a lot of effort, but the end result is worth it.

Our advice to theatres is simple: make sure you’re cutting edge and don’t be afraid to make a grand, theatrical online statement. If you wow your audience, your digital presence (and ticket sales) will grow naturally as a result.

Image: The Grand Blackpool

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