Yesterday’s blog, Making Arts For All For ALL, had loads of response on facebook and twitter, and provoked some brilliant public (and private!) discussions. Not all of it in total agreement with me (who’d’ve thought?!) and all good.

This morning, the brilliant Dan King, Marketing Manager (until very recently) for both The Albany and for our pilot year of Fun Palaces left an extremely thoughtful response on my facebook page, I asked if I could share it here and he said of course.

So here you go, the marketing person’s response.
Dan has, among other things, made me think I will be more careful around some of the language I use in response to what I see as marketing masquerading as engagement. This is exactly what I feel the whole ten quid ticket thing is, ie, too often calling itself engagement but actually just smart marketing, as it turns out the majority of those who buy £10 tickets would buy them at £25 anyway, so actually, no one wins – except those who ALREADY care about theatre and get cheaper tickets. This is not at all a bad thing per se, of course not, but it’s not ‘engagement’ – and is all too often talked about as if it is. I think the two things are different, and I REALLY agree with Dan that we need to be doing more joined-up engagement, participation AND marketing. If I were The Invisible Dot, where Dan is about to start as Head of Marketing and Sales, I’d jump on this suggestion, get him to create that joined-up concept there, then they can teach the rest of us …

It’s very difficult working in marketing and communications in a resource-low venue to talk to everyone all of time; teams work around the clock, weekends, evenings and holidays to chip away little by little to talk to established and new audiences. At the Albany I put in place schemes that try and help with price point (£1 tickets), I go and talk to the young people in our theatre and music programmes, I go on to Deptford Market and talk to local people, we open up free performances for Meet me at the Albany, we do added-value things like post show discussions, I send our print and brochures to 4000 of the most local addresses (to those NOT on the postal mailing list, because I care that they come). I’m not the only one doing this either, there are hundreds of us in marketing and communications at venues all over the country chipping away bit by bit – we all meet up in our free time to discuss and research best practice too. Yet in comes the criticism – you’re not doing enough! (Obviously, I shall not paint a wholly rose-tinted view, there are those apathetic arts administrators who spend the majority of the day discussing the latest herbal tea too).

Your example is a very specific one and you’re right it’s not good enough, but resource-low venues can only do so much to talk to specific individuals. If your niece’s husband is living 90-120 minutes away by train, unfortunately he probably doesn’t fall into the venue’s geographic catchment area as a priority. However, you do make an interesting point that venues could look a little closer at their fuller ecology and invite those who we may not immediately think of. Also, I agree, this is particularly important for those working on the building of theatre buildings (a point I’m sure that Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood would agree with too, obviously).

The problem at its core is likely this: traditional marketing channels, the ones venues mainly have to stick too because of limited resources (other than where we’ve time to push ourselves, as per the first para): the season brochure, the e-mailing list, the social and print media are usually reliant on the reader or potential attendee doing something, which in itself can be quite prohibitive, for example signing up to the mailing list. What marketeers therefore often do by the nature of the way they work is ask people to make a choice to engage – is this enough? As you say, no it isn’t always. What may improve this situation (apart from thousands of pounds of advertising), most likely, is a move away from thinking about marketing and communications as discrete disciplines with standard channels and for there to be a more joined-up conversation between those who run ‘engagement’ projects about how it is possible to ‘convert’ (and sustain conversion) participants of engagement projects into more regular arts attendees – events like Fun Palaces are a superb example of where this could happen and where this does happen (though they shouldn’t just be seen as a vehicle serving a main stage) – some venues obviously already try and do this of course, working at it day-to-day, but perhaps more action-led research into best practice would help.

Venues don’t necessarily need to be implored to talk to different people, the question they may need advice on is HOW to talk to those specific people. I sit in meeting after meeting where people say, ‘networks’, ‘conversations’, ‘reaching out’ but when I say ‘HOW?’ people fall silent. What is required is more tangible, good advice and examples of holistic practice. I imagine that this would look like a strong marketing mix running alongside good quality engagement projects (Fun Palaces), but it’s iterative-inductive, it’s about learning and changing.

As resources are low across all arts areas, it’s important that people already engaged with the arts, like ourselves, don’t just rely on venues’ marketing and we do try and help less engaged people understand that arts and culture are for everyone – quite simply, we all pay for it, so why not!

My hope is, as someone who works hard for a venue, that people do look deeply at what is happening at specific venues and evaluate their limited resources fairly. Although in the case of this specific blog, arguably the theatre in question has adequate resources – it can afford a new venue – it is not those in marketing, those who talk to the audience/participants day-to-day, who set the budgets and priorities. It is important in the arts – as they are fragile – that we all try to think clearly and positively about what IS happening, as well as what could change, and importantly how it could change.