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Creating an Access Culture #AMAconf

Sally McGrath from Supercool gives us 5 top tips in creating an Access culture for your digital marketing team.

So here’s an interesting thing: everybody says they want their arts organisation to be accessible. Venues put a lot of time and money into building ramps and creating wonderful adapted performances. But almost nobody has an equally accessible website.

Digital access takes time, money, and thought. We have to make space in our working day to do new things, and old things in new ways, and this means we have to create a culture that:

  1. Recognises digital access as important
  2. Makes time and space to get it right
  3. Values and rewards progress towards concrete, agreed goals

Here are five tips to getting solid, practical changes made in your organisation, by creating an Access Culture.

1. Advocate for your user

Who is this website for?

When commissioning a website, you’re the client; and if you are adding things to the website every day, you are one kind of user. But you’re the most unusual kind! Most users are not in the room; they’re not part of the conversation when we decide how to spend time and money developing a website. Make it your job to keep asking: who’s missing from our user stories? Notice whose perspective may be lost.

2. Make it visible

Out of sight, out of mind? It’s easy to miss what you’ve never been shown in the first place! We tend to use computers by ourselves, not in groups, so it’s easy to confuse our way of doing things with the way of doing things. Part of building your access culture is experiencing alternative ways of accessing the web yourself. Use these free, simple tools to get a better understanding of web accessibility:

  1. NoCoffee
  2. Chromevox
  3. Audit your page with Lighthouse

3. Connect it to business goals

The more people can use your website and book tickets at your venue, the better, but is it smart to spend so much more time and money on edge cases?

Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some users that may seem challenging to include are actually super solvers: meeting their needs meets the needs of many other users too. It may be a hard problem to deliver full access to a screenreader, but if you can do it, you also get performance, SEO, most keyboarding, and much more, for free.

This is true in many areas: pavement kerb cuts are essential for wheelchair users, but they are also a great help to parents with buggies. Video captions are crucial for D/deaf people, but they are also hugely useful to people with English as a second language, and to the search index (SEO) as transcripts are indexed and scanned for keywords.

Don’t be afraid to look for the business case for web access; you will often find one!

4. Deliver wins

Set small, achievable goals and include everybody who works on the website. Not everybody will be running Lighthouse Audits* or requiring a WCAG conformance level* in their next tender. But we can all:

  1. Describe images with alt text. Can everybody describe ten images a month? Win!
  2. Edit pages using the Simple Wikipedia guidelines or the free Hemingway app. Can all the core pages on your website be written to a lower secondary education level? Win!
  3. Reword link text so it makes sense out of context. Can everybody find one example of “click here” and reword it? Win!
  4. Can your web developers improve your Lighthouse score by 20%? Win!
  5. Support and notice when our coworkers do this well. Who are your access heroes at work?

5. Assume good intent

When people with a clearly inaccessible website say they want their website to be accessible, it’s helpful to believe them! Mainly everyone wants to do better, so part of creating an access culture is creating an environment of positive, productive action, not guilt or blame. Everybody is busy and access can be hard.

  1. Assume good intent
  2. Set out clearly what success looks like
  3. Budget actual time, space, and money to improve

Creating an access culture that runs right through your organisation must include your digital marketing team. It’s worth doing, and you can start today!


Supercool are hosting an AMA Connect Pod at AMA conference 2019 – Rewire: Culture, Audiences and You.

Image: Universal Access to Information symbol.

Arts marketing copy — three unlikely champions

Ahead of Copywriting Day 2019 putting words in their place, trainer Jon Hawkins explains how taking inspiration from unlikely sources can improve the effectiveness of our copy.

You work in marketing for an arts or cultural organisation. You write marketing, comms, PR, social. Everything. The worst part may well be convincing your producer, curator or leader of the value of simple and clear copy. Demoralising, isn’t it? So if you’re struggling to get your programme copy or event invitation signed off, here are three unlikely champions you can wheel out all flying the flag for arts marketing copy.

Warren Buffet — investor

Warren Buffet is one of the most successful businesspeople in the world. He’s a finance whizz, understands the power of brands and is a great writer too. In fact, when he writes the annual report for his company, Berkshire Hathaway, he pretends he’s talking to his sisters Doris and Bertie.

“Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed.”

If your producer, curator or leader is guilty of ‘going native’ with their language and using words their readers won’t understand, tell them to think of Doris and Bertie.


Image of Daniel OppenheimerDaniel Oppenheimer — psychologist

The Princeton University professor explored the intellectual impression our words leave on our readers. To do that he took one piece of content and rewrote it in five ways – starting short and clear, with the language getting ever more complex and verbose. Next he held a series of focus groups. He asked everyone to read all five pieces (he didn’t tell them he’d written all of them) and answer a question: which writer do you think is the most intelligent?

Overwhelmingly people picked the level one, straightforward writer. Why? Because we instinctively trust and respect writers who explain things simply. So don’t let your producer, curator or leader make your copy more complicated.

(If you’d like to read the full report, Oppenheimer called his paper: “Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly.” Which, as academic jokes go, is pretty funny.)


Image of Maya AngelouMaya Angelou — poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist

Maya Angelou knew a thing or three about how language generates an emotional response. That’s what your writing should do too.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Arts organisations can end up sounding quite abstract and academic. If your producer, curator or leader wants to take away any personal, emotional touches from your copy, try Maya on them for size. And always try to make your copy connect with your readers’ feelings.

So now you don’t have to go it alone trying to get that e-newsletter or webpage signed-off. You can call on science, literature and the corporate world for back-up.


Image of Jon Hawkins


Jon Hawkins is the trainer at Copywriting Day — putting words in their place, in London on 21 March 2019 and Leeds on 28 March 2019.



All images supplied by Jon Hawkins.

Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium round up

The AMA’s first Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium took place on 11 and 12 February in Birmingham, It was developed as part of the AMA’s commitment to realising a diverse and inclusive cultural sector.

Image of a tweet from a delegate at the Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium


93% of delegates rated the overall impression of the Symposium as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

89% of delegates rated the relevance of the keynotes ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

86% of delegates rated the usefulness of the day to their work ‘good’ or ‘very good’.


Cath Hume, the AMA’s CEO says,

“We would like to see a future where culture is a part of everybody’s life. Currently – within what is thought of as the ‘cultural sector’ – inequality is built into our structures, the way we do the big and little things every day. There is a lot to do to change this.

We are working hard as an organisation to have a diverse staff team, board and membership as we know that being inclusive in our workforce is key to realising our vision. As well as looking internally we are always thinking about how we can help our members create change. The Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium is just one part of our programme in which we are committed to doing this.

The aim was to bring together people thinking about inclusion in a strategic way and those delivering the activity within their organisations. We wanted them to be challenged and inspired and given real practical steps to move forward. From the powerful list of aims and action points gathered from delegates through our feedback, we can see that we achieved this.

We also wanted to create a safe space where people can talk about a subject that is vital but can sometimes feel uncomfortable discussing. There were lots of successes from this day but there’s still lots to do.”


Image of a tweet from a delegate at the Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium


Image of a tweet from a delegate at the Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium


Some of our delegates said:

“Honest and thought provoking”

“This really felt like it would be impactful for non-marketing staff to hear. Brilliantly honest and practical.”

“I have a real fire under me now to get things done, and there are some clear routes into working more inclusively.”


The AMA plans to hold another Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium. This will sit more closely alongside the longstanding Audience Diversity Academy programme, which is currently running with its third cohort of participants.

If you are interested in attending the next Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium, please register your interest with the AMA team.


Statistics and quotes taken from delegates who completed the feedback form.


To build a bridge you have to start on both shores

“I am writing to thank you and everyone at CPT for giving us a chance to see ourselves through Dream of Home. It was the first time in my life that I saw people who looked like me, spoke in a language I hear at home, and danced to music I danced to growing up, performing our stories on a stage. Representation matters!”

This quote is from an email to Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) following our premiere performance of the Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi project, and I cannot fully understand it.

Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director, explains…

It’s not the first time I’ve received such an email, but this one struck me so deeply. I knew this emailer was in the audience the night before they hit the send button. They were there as applause burst out during the opening scene when the cast, standing in a single line, simply turned to face the audience — that simple act of standing on stage was enough. I was there and I was one of the creators of the play, but I can only imagine what the writer of this email experienced. Years before, I remember watching an audience member in tears in the first minutes of a play. After the show, I asked him about his experience and he said, “It’s the language, just hearing it.” “But don’t you hear it every day?” “Yes, but to hear it on stage!”

I grew up with theatre. I saw hundreds of plays before I ever saw a play NOT in English. I was in Romania participating in an international festival and saw an Italian play for children about mortality! I felt I understood. I was thrilled by the performance and invigorated by the effort I had to make to listen in so many other ways. This curiosity, this desire to work on artistic bridge-building is at the core of the process that can result in an email like the above and lay the foundation for a long path.

Cleveland Public Theatre

The mission of Cleveland Public Theatre is to nurture compassion and raise consciousness through groundbreaking performance and life-changing education programmes. Beyond launching new works by local and national writers, featuring a majority of works by women and playwrights of colour, we decided to undertake an effort to build culturally specific theatres under our umbrella. Our first efforts resulted in Teatro Público de Cleveland, now six years old, which has produced four original, devised plays in Spanish and English, four regional premieres of Spanish language plays, and many short performances and staged readings. Three years ago, we began the community organising work that ultimately led to the launch of Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi. Each of these projects has sold out houses from an expansive demographic. Many of the audience members do not go to the theatre, and a few have never been to the theatre as adults. Both Teatro Público de Cleveland and Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi include seasoned and first-time actors – artists taking the stage together at various levels of experience sharing personal stories with packed houses.

Diverse audiences

This work has accomplished what many arts organisations talk about — larger and more diverse audiences — but if we had set out solely with this end in mind, we would not have been successful. And we have seen this across the country: theatres doing specific work to connect to audiences for specific plays that sprout relationships but have no real trajectory. They present at conferences and get media attention, but when you come back three years later, are they fundamentally changed? Where are those relationships now? How have they grown? (Isn’t that a big part of why we started this endeavor of art, to be transformed?) Cleveland Public Theatre could have easily presented a theatre group that speaks Arabic, but we would not have been changed, and the results would have been short-term and relatively shallow. We also could have presented parties and concerts with the Latino community, which is what many suggested, but the community would not have been changed, and we would not have given a gift we value. It’s a two-way street, this bridge we build.

For us, we were not just doing something to attract audiences or even to serve our community (a sentiment that is both noble and disquieting). We were also doing this from a natural artistic drive — a yearning to connect in real and lasting ways. We were not doing this purely to further our agenda and the art we were already making. We were doing this with an essential intent of being changed — having our art changed, our agenda changed. And every time our aesthetic notion of “artistic excellence” has been challenged! Not because of a lack of quality but because of different values. We have learned authenticity can outweigh articulation. We learned some moments we thought were “too sentimental” or “ridiculously fakey” actually resonated deeply. We also were affirmed that storytelling can bring out new truths even for the teller and that our own craft can stand up cross-culturally. And I am reminded that in my growth as a professional I must cling to my amateurishness — the desire to do it for the love. And why is that word “love” used so little in discussions of our passionate craft? And can we speak with ambition about the spirit and the spiritual and interconnectedness that hooked our hearts and dragged us along in our pursuit of great art?

I asked Faye Hargate, my CPT collaborator on both Teatro Público and Masrah Al-Arabi and Director of Community Ensembles, about how this work has changed her art. She said, “How do you measure how your life is changed when you meet someone new and a year later you have become close friends, or when your friend has a baby, or when your heart is opened by someone sharing a secret?” Yes, they are with you as you move on to new projects because you know you will be with them tomorrow.

Attracting theatre to new people

We are building a bridge and for every moment of “community organising” we undertake, there is also a step forward, a leaning in to listen and be changed. Yes, this is about attracting new people to the theatre, but it is also about attracting theatre to new people. This is about fundamental change — a bridge across. And we must bring ourselves to this work, our whole selves. We must bring our best artistry to this work. Audience engagement, audience building, diversity, inclusion… these stock phrases… for me it all ultimately leads to one thing. It all leads back to the practice of our craft, to the fundamentals of our art, a return to those things that set us on this journey and have inspired us along the way. It is a return to our mission of compassion and consciousness. This is hard work, filled with doubt and challenge and mistrust, but it is also joyful work with affirmation and awakening and new depths of trust. And gratitude.

Gratitude: I cannot say it enough — my thanks and praise and honour to the incredible artists who have made this journey, who took a risk and built this bridge, these intertwined bridges that are still growing and multiplying and branching off. We cannot build bridges alone and the purpose of any bridge is to traverse — and the gift of any bridge is not just to cross but to walk it with eyes wide and an openness to the worlds.

Raymond Bobgan, Executive Artistic Director, Cleveland Public Theatre will be speaking at the AMA’s Inclusivity and Audiences Symposium on 11 February in Birmingham.


There are many resources on AMAculturehive designed to build your knowledge of current research on keeping inclusion – in its broadest sense – at the heart of your work. You’ll find practical guides, case studies and videos offering a range of perspectives on how working inclusively can enhance your organisation.


Image: Raymond Bobgan by Laura Ruth Bidwell

Six Degrees podcast

AMAculturehive Editor, Carol Jones, introduces our new podcast series.

Over at AMAculturehive we’ve been inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation – that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other – so listen in as we follow a trail of six podcasts starting with me interviewing the AMA’s CEO, Cath Hume.

In this first episode we reveal our early arts experiences and our passion for connecting arts with audiences. Warning: this includes me singing (badly) a snippet from an operetta…

And it’s party time as we celebrate 25 years of the AMA so I ask Cath what changes during that time stand out for her. Cath also tells me what she thinks are the key challenges facing the sector and how the AMA will help meet those challenges.

I don’t give Cath a luxury item and the choice of a piece of music to take to a desert island but I do give her a magic wand to make a wish for the next 25 years of the AMA.

In true tag-team talk show style I’ve now handed over the baton to Cath to choose someone that she wants to interview as our 2nd degree of separation and the chain will lead from there. I can’t wait to find out who it is and where we end up.

Carol Jones, Editor AMAculturehive

1st degree: Carol Jones interviewing Cath Hume


Check out all the stories we’re telling as we celebrate the AMA turning 25.

Sector Support Organisations

Sector Support Organisations (SSO) are a new category within Arts Council England’s National Portfolio. The AMA is proud to be a SSO.

SSO’s play a vital role in supporting the cultural sector, but don’t directly deliver or produce content themselves. Instead, they aim to support the wider cultural sector in the following ways: 

  • Talent development and artistic innovation 
  • Understanding and growth of audiences  
  • Creating a more skilled and diverse workforce  
  • Creating a more resilient cultural sector 
  • Embedding better provision and access for children and young people.  

SSO’s are a diverse range of organisations working across all art forms supported by Arts Council England. Some focus on regional support, others work nationally. Some are large organisations, others small. 

They include Bridge organisations, Museum Development providers, umbrella and networking organisations, strategic library and museum partnership bodies and organisations that work in other ways. 

As part of a range of projects highlighting exciting innovations in the sector in the AMA’s 25th anniversary year, AMAculturehive is launching an ongoing series of interviews with SSO’s working right across the board. 

Find out more about the organisations that are working to support you in reaching audiences old and new. 


Check out all the stories we’re telling as the AMA turns 25.


Image courtesy of Midlands Arts Centre – MAC beyond windrush opening74 Copyright Greg Milner.

My 10th year at Digital Marketing Day

Jack Bazeley-Harris, Head of Digital at Cog Design, tells us what he’s most looking forward to about this year’s Digital Marketing Day — Future Now. 

This year will be the 10th year I’ve been to Digital Marketing Day. As you might imagine the idea of what digital is has changed quite a bit over those 10 years, but the idea of Digital Marketing Day hasn’t. It’s a chance for us, as cultural marketers, to explore how we can use digital to connect with our audiences.

Ten years ago we were starting to use social media, getting to grips with how we could use it, often writing in the third person and feeling like we were shouting into a void. At the time, social media was a big part of digital innovation so it was right that the day focussed on speakers sharing their insights about that.

Fast forward to more recent years and the conversations at Digital Marketing Day are still about innovation and how we can connect with our audiences, but the technology that we’re talking about is much different. We know how to use our digital communications’ channels so it’s focussed on how digital fits much more broadly within our organisations and projects.

Last year we heard about DCMS’s Culture is Digital project, Artsadmin’s experience of creating a CRM that helped them to understand the people behind their data, and how the National Holocaust Centre and Museum created a 3D interactive programme to capture the stories of holocaust survivors. And that’s just three of the sessions from a packed day.

Digital Marketing Day is very quickly added to my go-to list of conferences and events each year. It always raises lots of interesting ideas, sparks conversations and gives us great insight into how we’re using digital across the sector.

I’m really looking forward to hearing from this year’s speakers, catching up with lots of familiar faces, and as always, meeting some new ones too. It’ll be exciting to see how the day is shared between London and Glasgow as well.


Join Jack and hundreds of other cultural professionals at Digital Marketing Day — Future Now on 5 December, tickets are still available but going quickly.

Sponsor a story

The AMA turns 25 this year! We’ll be celebrating with 25 stories to celebrate the past, present and future of the cultural sector.

We’re excited to celebrate our 25th birthday with our members and those working across the cultural sector. Over the coming year (until July 2019) we’ll be creating and producing 25 stories to highlight where the AMA has come from, what’s happening in the sector now and what the future of culture might look like.

These stories will be in a variety of formats. Some will take the form of training resources to support those working within the cultural sector in roles such as ticketing, fundraising, marketing and leadership. We anticipate that these stories and resources will be shared widely across the sector.

If you are interested in sponsoring one of our birthday stories, please get in touch with Fiona to find out more.



Image courtesy of Creative Foundation © Lou Johnson Photography — Normal? Festival of the Brain 2016, The Happiness

Frank conversations at Shared Ambition

Zoë Walker, Head of Development, and Liam Verity, Senior Marketing Manager, at Northern Ballet, recently attended the Shared Ambition — fundraising and marketing together residential programme in Leeds. Here they reflect on their learning.

Image of Zoe Walker from Northern BalletImage of Liam Verity from Northern Ballet









Going on a residential in your home city is an odd feeling! We weren’t really sure what to expect, but as it turned out two and a half days away from the office was exactly what we needed. The course started at 4pm on Monday afternoon and by 5pm we were already thinking big and bold about what we wanted to achieve by that time on Wednesday.

In amongst all our big ideas, everything we discussed over the residential somehow came back round to the idea of the customer experience and how we could work together as teams to create a real journey of engagement that was mutually beneficial. As a touring company that doesn’t sell our own tickets this is no mean feat — we had already talked between ourselves about the need for a new CRM system, but the key thing we took away from the programme was really how vital this business case is and how soon it needs to be done!

It was really valuable for us to have the time away from the office to think creatively about what we want to achieve together, and to be supported in planning how to do this. It’s very rare that we have so much time for forward-thinking and one key takeaway from the programme is the importance of making this time to plan ahead together, rather than in our separate teams. Just the few days at the residential have opened our eyes more to how each department works and how we can both benefit from each other. We also had some amazingly frank conversations (which we probably wouldn’t have had in the office), and think we can honestly say we left feeling more able to challenge each other.

We now have a very clear timeline of actions to follow before our next call with Julie Aldridge (one of the trainers on the programme) at the end of November. We’ve already set up various meetings with CRM providers and have started on our business case. Our next step is to bring together our teams to get everyone thinking about how we can work together more effectively and set some shared targets – a first for Northern Ballet!

Two locations — Digital Marketing Day 2018

For the first time ever, Digital Marketing Day will be held in two locations at the same time. We’re delighted to be holding concurrent events at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow and the British Museum in London.

The experience at each location will be unique but equally as impactful for your learning. There’ll be a keynote speaker at each venue and the one not directly in front of you will be streamed live. Glasgow will call London and London will call Glasgow. (We promise this will be the only element of Eurovision making an appearance on the day!)

Whichever location you join us in, you’ll experience a full day of learning, a choice of breakout sessions and plenty of networking opportunities. Expert speakers will present their work, ideas and fill you with inspiration for the possibilities of the future of digital. You’ll hear from speakers from within the cultural sector, as well as those working in other professions.

The theme of the day — Future Now — will allow you to explore what’s happening now, the immediate opportunities for digital and what might occur in the future. Are you curious about how your budget can be best utilised right now? Do you want to know what’s achievable in the next couple of years? Are you excited by the future possibilities for digital and its use across the cultural sector?

  • You’ll leave with practical insights into how to better use and understand digital.
  • You’ll feel inspired to take forward exciting digital ideas and have the practical know-how to implement them.
  • You’ll broaden your understanding of the digital landscape and how cultural organisations fit within it.

Some AMA members have already snapped up their Early Bird tickets.

“We’re always keen to keep up with trends and future developments in the digital sphere here at the Tron and were delighted to see that the AMA’s Digital Marketing Day was coming to Glasgow this year. We like to take advantage wherever we can of training that is local to our theatre — it’s better for the environment and the budget! What’s not to love about that?”
Lindsay Mitchell, Press and Marketing Manager, Tron Theatre


Digital Marketing Day 2017 delegates said: 

“Overall brilliant day. Left brimming with ideas and buzzing to go!!”

“My first digital marketing day (I’m a conference regular) and I enjoyed it a lot.”

“Really good day, well organised. Would definitely attend again.”


Interested? Digital Marketing Day takes place on Wednesday 5 December at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and the British Museum, London. Book your place now.


Image: AMA Digital Marketing Day 2017 © Photographer Eleanor Howarth

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