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Science, art and naked mole rats

I recently joined around 600 arts marketers at the annual AMA (Arts Marketing Association) Conference, this year held across joint venues Colston Hall and Watershed in Bristol.

There was a lot to take in over the two days, but one of the more intriguing sessions was Lessons From The Science Side: Innovation and Engagement. I went along to find out what it was all about and discovered a panel of experts from the science world discussing how they work with, and engage, audiences …

Peter Linett of audience research agency Slover Linett discussed how our traditional 20th century view of stuffy museums and 'men in white coats' science is being transformed into a more subjective, democratic presentation of the subject. In particular he highlighted Zooniverse who actively use their audience as part of their research, allowing thousands of people to contribute data; "We make citizen science websites so that everyone can be part of real research online."


Image: Guerilla Science

Jen Wong from Guerilla Science spoke about bringing science to festivals, and other surprisingly non-scientific places, showing that it's a part of culture rather than separate from it. And their projects do feel more like performance art; disrupting the norm and catching people unawares with a bit of science when they're not expecting it.

Finally Steve Cross, who day-to-day is Head of Public Engagement at University College London, talked through his extra-curricular role hosting and promoting Science Showoff – a regular stand-up night which encourages anybody and everybody to make jokes at the expense of science.

This 'loosening-up' isn't new or science-specific – along with science we’ve seen growing democratisation of other sectors such as business, journalism and politics. This ability for people to not only observe and learn, but to increasingly participate in and share undoubtedly owes some thanks to the internet and social media.

But a hundred years ago the art world had post-modernism which, in many ways, I think this openness and playfulness mirrors – it also allowed the audience in. Things like poetry slams, flash mobs and Instagram are continuing to blur that line between the audience and the stage.

The marketing of arts, however, may have a bit of catching up to do – it was suggested that the promotion of the art doesn't always accurately reflect the art itself. For example, if your performance involves the audience, perhaps your marketing should too? If you’re an exciting, off-the-wall organisation, shouldn't your approach to marketing reflect that and be just as edgy; risky even? Using the work itself as an integral part of marketing may sound conventional to those who work in visual arts, but it could produce some really special  results for art forms more focused on performance, for example. If science can do it, the arts can do it … maybe even better?

Steve Cross made the point that, as far as he's concerned, marketing and product can be the same thing – using the Twitter account @TehNakedMoleRat as an example of an entity that promotes itself by simply doing its thing. Although this won't be true for everyone it's an interesting thought; and ties-in with several other discussions throughout the week. The sense that roles and boundaries are becoming less and less defined was a recurring theme; suggesting there are plenty of interesting and unexpected opportunities which arts marketing can seize.

Give me a minute …

Categories: Silly, Useful/interesting

One Minute Briefs logo

For the past few weeks I've been taking part in a daily Twitter-based thing called One Minute Briefs (OMB).

The idea is simple: every weekday morning @OneMinuteBriefs tweets a 'thing' to advertise, and folks're invited to spend 60 seconds (give or take) coming up with a way of promoting that 'thing'. (We're not talking slick and polished designs here; it's all about the idea.) At the end of the day, all entries are compiled and the winner or winners are decided using a mix of votes and the organisers' favourite/s.

One day you could be tasked with advertising restraining orders, the next it'll be the World Cup, and another day cold sore treatment; it's a mixed bag and no mistake.

Explained more succinctly using their tagline, One Rule. One Minute. Create An Ad – One Minute Briefs is the brainchild of Nick Entwistle and James Clancy, a creative team working at McCann Manchester. I have tonnes of respect for these guys running a daily competition alongside their day job; thinking of a new topic, retweeting all the entries, compiling them into a blog post and then picking a winner every single day must be pretty time-consuming. Hats-off to them.

The concept reminds me of the one-day briefs we used to be given at university. They were always the most fun, frustrating and productive projects – when every second counts, it's an excellent way to get your brain thinking quickly and laterally.

It's pretty interesting to see how other people tackle the same problem too; and there's a really nice sense of community about the whole thing. People are always ready with a compliment for the best solutions; the OMBLEs* are a good bunch.

I tend to use OMB as a little bit of 'punctuation' between projects at work. It acts as a nice, neat break to separate tasks but keeps my brain working in the right way for solving design problems. Plus it's really good fun! Perfect. Mostly a win is purely for the glory but every now and then there are prizes too. (I've won a ticket to a fancy awards shindig, and my design printed on a t-shirt; get me!)

If you're a designer, advertiser, copywriter, or just like coming up with quick-fire ideas, OMB is a fine way to spend a minute (or so) of your day.

*Anyone and everyone who takes part in a One Minute Brief is an OMBLE.

Some of my OMB entries so far …

A selection of my entries for One Minute Briefs

Red all about it

Categories: Our work, Useful/interesting

If you've been anywhere near Birmingham city centre recently, you can't fail to have noticed the abundance of – very red – promotional bits and pieces we've designed for International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014.

It really does appear that IDFB's painted the town red – handy really, as one part of the festival is a participatory strand cunningly named Paint The Town Red.

We also did the promo for the previous IDFB in 2012, but this year is a whole new kettle of fish (red snapper?), what with IDFB being the 'signature festival' of the city council's new Festivals Birmingham initiative. There're posters, flags, banners, planter boards, scrolls, bus 'supersides', digital screens, airport toblerones, phone boxes …

I've been out and about taking photos of various ads, as well as being sent pics by other folks – here are a few of 'em:

Photos of various bits of IDFB outdoor promotion – flag, poster, banner, bus, train, phonebox

Keep an eye out for all the other stuff – and have a browse of the festival website to find out what's on: idfb.co.uk/whats-on

(IDFB 2014 runs from today until 25 May.)