Sian Hughes from Freshwater Theatre Company attended the CultureHive Small-Scale Development Programme (SSDP) in May 2018. Here she answers a few questions about the programme and what she got out of it.
What made you decide to take part in the Small-Scale Development Programme?
I was new to my role and had just got my bearings in the company and begun to understand what was what, and a little about what the company directors wanted to achieve. I felt a little bit out of my depth (which turned out to be a confidence issue rather than a knowledge/experience issue) I hadn’t performed a specific marketing role before and within such a small organisation we don’t have the skills or experience to give me a direct mentor. My manager said I should look out for training or mentoring and that there was a small budget to do so.
I was pretty disappointed because the budget turned out to be really small, the training budget per person is only really enough to cover half a day or 1 day of study in London. But then I was speaking to a friend of mine Sairah Rehman — who is coincidentally the AMA member rep for the West Midlands and she said the AMA must do something that would work for me.
So I had a look on the website and found the SSDP, it seemed too good to be true! I looked at last year’s course content which seemed amazing, the price fitted within my very small budget, and the timing, at the end of the week and in a central location, really fitted with when my company could spare me. Essentially I booked on because of the course programme/content based on last year, and the price. I therefore had mixed expectations before I arrived, but every encounter with the AMA and especially the SSDP has completely exceeded my expectations.
What was the best thing about taking part in this programme?
The variety of attendees and how willing everyone was to participate, learn from one another, and be accepting of one another. When I say it like that it sounds like that would be a coincidence and a thing that would potentially change in future courses. I don’t think it would, as an attendee I can confidently say that the AMA staff and the speakers facilitate such a nurturing environment that all participants feel confident to say and try anything. There is a ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ rule from the start, so you aren’t concerned talking in depth about professional relationships or finances within your company. This is really necessary, because the course is all about overcoming obstacles that stop your company from growing, or reaching new audiences, or being totally on brand, or having the most creative impact. So I guess the best thing is the learning environment created for the duration of the residential — it is so empowering, freeing and inspiring.
What 3 things did you take away from the programme?
- I learnt that I knew more than I thought I did — I gained confidence in what I already knew, and a way to put it into practice
- Tools not rules — Everything we learned could be used in one way or another and we were specifically encouraged to think how everything would apply to our own organisation
- You can’t market in a vacuum — even if you have a killer marketing strategy and an amazing brand, you need the involvement of your whole organisation, the input of the top directors, and insight or advice from your audience to be the best that you can be
What impact has the programme had on your work / organisation?
I feel like I know what I’m doing now. I did actually know before of course, but the SSDP has given me so much confidence to implement what I know. I had picked up most of the fundamentals of arts marketing throughout my career but didn’t have the on-paper experience (specific job titles etc) so I now feel like I have experience and authority behind the ideas I contribute and the decisions that I make.
In terms of the impact on my organisation — we were looking to update our marketing strategy anyway — it hasn’t been looked at since 2014. Now though, I know that we can make it really good. I have the knowledge and strength of conviction (from the AMA programme) to develop and put into place the kind of marketing strategy that could actually be shown as a good example to other organisations similar to us.
Would you recommend the programme to others?
I would absolutely recommend the SSDP to others. I learnt more in three days than I have throughout my career, consolidated everything I was unsure of, gained extremely lovely friends and contacts, and began to develop a strategy that could be the best thing my company has ever had for marketing direction.
I don’t want to keep coming back to cost — but the bottom line is so important to many struggling arts organisations. If you’re on the fence about whether to do this, I would say that it is the best value thing that you could possibly do to improve the success of your organisation. Send someone on the course who is open minded and has the correct position to be able to influence or implement strategy, make sure you have the resources to dedicate to digesting and using what they have learnt afterwards — and this course will totally change the future of your organisation for the better.
The next Small-Scale Development Programme will run in Leicester on 17-19 October 2018. Find out more about the programme.
Image: AMA event photography by Leo Cinicolo.