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Fun for all the family?

Categories: Events, Learning things, Useful/interesting

Supercool postcard – sponsors fo Family Arts Conference 2017

Last Wednesday we went along to the bi-annual Family Arts Conference, this year held at St George’s Bristol and sponsored by our good selves along with Spektrix.

Billed as an exploration of age, diversity and inclusion in Family Arts, it seemed a good fit for us, as for many of our clients their family-focused activity is an important way of expanding audiences.

I guess it's a similar principle to MacDonald’s having Happy Meals, minus any grease or guilt – introducing people to something (in this case 'the arts', rather than salty, extruded potato) at a young age helps build a habit; engraining cultural activity as a regular part of everyday life, and so encouraging a lifelong love of – and support for – the arts.

The conference's opening keynote was great – Estella Tincknel, Deputy Mayor of Bristol and an enviably strong advocate for arts and culture in the city, told us all about Bristol (without glossing over its less impressive side, which was refreshing) and the huge role the arts plays within it.

She proposed that art and culture are important catalysts for change, for challenging what needs to be challenged, and for renewing social cohesion; with families cited as being a key part of this.

Further reinforcing the importance of family audiences, members of the Bristol Family Arts Network relayed some research showing that, although turnout for specifically-labelled ‘family’ events can be lower (initially), engagement is consistently much deeper.

Another stand-out talk was from Kate Organ, who referenced a comment someone had made about – I’m paraphrasing here – local arts attendance being made up of a lot of old, grey-haired people … and their parents.

Rather than this being seen as a problem to be overcome, Kate suggested that arts organisations should be embracing older people. Within the next 20 years 1 in 3 adults will be ‘an older person’, so there are economic – as well as ethical – reasons to engage with all ages.

Thinking about this as a designer, appealing to something as wide as a ‘family audience’ is a challenge – there’s a tendency for briefs about family events to automatically assume promotions should look very child-focused when, in fact, it’s parents who’ll be planning a trip or buying the ticket, not the kids. And mightn't child-like styling be putting off families who don’t include younger people but would still be able to enjoy an event? There’s no easy answer.

In terms of making digital things family-friendly, however, it’s a lot simpler as this essentially means making sure everything’s built to be as accessible as possible (i.e. well-built).

Websites need to be quick to load and to navigate, and work on any device – whether it's being used by a busy parent trying to browse a mobile web page on a rubbish 3G connection with one hand while wrangling an irritable infant with the other; or a Baby Boomer looking for an event that’ll be suitable both for their grandchildren and an elderly parent.

Much of the discussion at the conference centred around what actually constitutes a ‘family’ – with the conclusion being that it covers myriad relationships and age-groups.

We have, however, noticed one common thread that runs through all family-focused arts and cultural events – and that's a very clear and unmistakable focus on encouraging people to experience the arts with others; conveying the arts as a sociable activity which creates shared experiences – and shared memories.

As poet, essayist and visual artist Etel Adnan told the conference – via a recorded message stood in front of a big screen, which was then projected onto another a big screen; INCEPTION! – "The need for human company is and shall continue to be essential. Theatre [indeed, the arts in general] can play a significant role in this area.”

AMA keynote notes: Andy Jasper, Eden Project

Categories: Events, Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

The importance of continuous experimentation was the theme from Head of Evaluation & Research at the Eden Project, Andy Jasper.

In basic terms, this seems to follow something of a cycle:

Stage 1: Flex your product to meet your customer/audience's needs.
Stage 2: Evaluate the changes you made.
Stage 3: Make changes based on evaluation findings.
Stage 4: Do not rest! Go back to Stage 1.

By means of example, Andy discussed Eden's collaboration with NoFit State, a contemporary circus company, during the summers of 2011 and 2012.

The thinking behind the collaboration being that Eden would be an amazing backdrop for NoFit State to create and then show a brand new production, expanding Eden's audience and giving previous visitors (including locals) a reason to come back to experience something new.

That was Stage 1: Flex your product. On to Stage 2: Evaluation. And the findings were … interesting.

In 2011 NoFit State performances of Labyrinth were a sell-out; despite happening on week nights rather than weekends. There was a whopping 35% increase in new visitors while the circus was in town – and annual visits were up 7% that year. So they did it again the following year.

Where the Bianco company lived in Eden – by Emily Morgan (Producer, NoFit State)

In 2012, during the Bianco show, having the circus there actually resulted in a loss of revenue for the venue. There were several reasons for this, none of which are related to the quality or popularity of the show itself …

a. As a contrast to the previous year, 2012's performances happened on Friday nights and weekends – because more people go out at the weekend, right? In this case; wrong.

Tourist's changeover days are more-often-than-not on a weekend therefore, more-often-than-not, people holidaying in the area – the mainstay of Eden's income – choose to visit attractions during the week (perhaps also mistakenly assuming it'll be quieter then). Likewise, the locals assume the place will be chock-full of tourists at the weekend so're more likely to attend during the week.

b. The second thing that Andy suggested was a major factor in the drop in visitors/revenue was that Bianco tickets were sold separately from regular Eden Project tickets; meaning that anyone buying tickets for the show couldn't explore the gardens without paying extra, and vice-versa. The result was more people buying tickets for the show … to the detriment of regular ticket sales.

c. With this drop-off in regular day ticket sales, related sales such as food, drink and merchandise also decreased dramatically. (After an evening of circus, it seems people don't want to buy plants or a sandwich.)

So with the evaluation complete, time for Stage 3: Make change. The biggest thing Andy feels they've learnt from this is to allow people to buy a single ticket for entrance to Eden and 'Event XYZ'. (Adding just a few pounds to the price of tickets would cover costs for shows such as Labyrinth or Bianco.)

Another nod towards keeping it simple: a single ticket is easier for everyone – and should ultimately be more profitable. WIN!

The Eden Project is clearly adaptable to change, willing to take risks, and right from its inception the place has had, as Andy puts it, a spirit of experimentation.

===

As an aside – completely unrelated to the 'continuously experiment' theme – it was fantastic to hear what an enormous impact the NoFit State residency (literally, as they lived on-site) had on Eden Project staff. Andy was so enthusiastic talking about the strong bonds formed between NoFit State and Eden's staff. It's clear he genuinely cares very much about this. And a place which values its staff, and truly cares about their experience just as much as that of customers/audience? That's a place to admire.

AMA keynote notes: Owen Hughes, Wolff Olins

Categories: Events, Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

Being a newbie to the AMA Conference, surrounded by people who all work in the same field – one very different from mine – meant I was a wee bit daunted, but this keynote could not’ve been more comforting.

Owen Hughes of Wolff Olins talked to us about what makes a game-changing brand.

Quote from the Wolff Olins website.

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A sustained relationship with your audience comes from honest and open communication.

Long gone are the days of the hard sell. (People just don’t accept or respond to this anymore. More on this at the * …)

Brands must:
be clear about their purpose
be relevant to stakeholders
be shareable
be transparent
be a helpful guide

KNOW YOUR PURPOSE. [I’ve deliberately ‘shouted’ that bit as it’s super important. And, as with all the best advice, it’s simple.]

Understand how your stakeholders experience your organisation.

DISRUPT! [Yes, another important one. And familiar to us, with our branding and web work with Droplet.]

Be nimble; be unconventional; take risks.

*There’s a new mainstream, and these people are:
more connected
more demanding
more active
less acquisitive
less predictable

Apparently there are currently more over 50s than under 30s using social networks. I know! Whodathunk? [I don’t have the source for this stat.]

People want relevance; usefulness. And they no longer trust institutions. (Zoiks.)

People want platforms for self-expression and tools for sharing.

There’s no longer one way to do things, but as many ways as there are people in the audience.

People want the things they want, when they want them. Importantly; not when you want them to want them.

Brands need to move away from communications being ‘summoning’ to a more fluid
approach. From voice to visual. From synchronous to asynchronous. People want, and expect, things now.

People want to be able to change things themselves – and inventiveness thrives in difficult times.

People have changed – audience segmentation needs a re-think.

===

Owen talked us through several case studies, the clearest and I think most appropriate of which was Macmillan. (They also branded London 2012 but we don’t like to talk about the ‘endorsement shard’ around these parts – see the big pink blob over the nicely designed leaflet at the foot of the IDFB case study *winky face*)

Macmillan Cancer Care logo, and photos of fundraising kit which includes a sticker pack, collection box and branded balloons

Wolff Olins developed the Macmillan brand to be human – deliberately looking a bit handmade – approachable and flexible. For example: promo packs sent to fundraisers are a kit of parts which allows people to customise and adapt the identity as they see fit. Having fundraised for Macmillan in the past, I can confirm that the packs do indeed put the fun into fundraising for people who’re organising events. There’re stickers and everything.

I guess my only hesitation in bigging-up this brand too much is the fact that very few arts organisations have access to the sort of funds it’d cost to commission this level of branding from a world-renowned agency. Still; I do believe there are plenty of transferrable ideas about keeping a brand open, playful, adaptable – and focused on a defined key purpose – which apply to any and every organisation.

The main things to remember:
Be clear about your purpose. If you don’t know what you’re all about, how’s anyone else supposed to understand?

People want to feel, and to actually be, part of things. Be open and give them that opportunity.

Re-think audience segmentation.

And this is my favourite self-penned soundbite: Don’t preach – help people to navigate culture for themselves.

*UPDATE* I amended this post on 23/07/13 to correct the non-fact that the Macmillan work was done pro bono. It wasn't; however I am reliably informed that it was great value! So, another thing to add to my 'The main things to remember' list: Double check your facts. (And then check them again!)

I went to the AMA Conference and …

Categories: Events, Inspiration, Learning things, Useful/interesting

AMA Conference 2013 website header – Game Change

We work with a fair few people in the arts sector and, for several years now, I’ve been a member of the Arts Marketing Association. “Why?”, I hear you cry, “You’re no arts marketer!”

True. But the idea is that we can be more helpful and useful – i.e. better at our jobs – when we have a decent understanding of what it is the folks we work with actually do all day; their aims, wider objectives, challenges etc. to use some businessy-type speak. And, yes, we may even meet potential new clients while we’re at it; bonus.

(Another significant reason for joining is that I don’t believe it ever hurts to learn new things either professionally or personally.)

So, that’s why I’m a member of the AMA. And, while I have rocked-up to a decent number of the local networking sessions (run by our trusty West Midlands reps Amy and Tim), I’ve certainly never been what you could call an active participant in the association.
Until Tuesday.

For it was Tuesday that I trained-it up to Sheffield (along with ooooh, at least half a carriage-load of Brum-based arts marketers) to attend my first AMA Conference; this year spending 2 days focusing on ‘game-change’.

The theme was introduced by Jo Taylor, AMA Chair, whose opening keynote was warm, enthusiastic and motivating, making for a good start and reassuring me that the next couple of days could be a very good use of my time.

Over those days I learnt a great deal; agreed with lots of things; disagreed with others; understood more than I expected to; felt out-of-my depth at times; caught-up with people I know; met loads of new folks … and made plenty of notes which I’m busy turning into blog posts (one of which will explain this post’s title).

One of the main things that stood out to me was that an arts marketer’s role is invariably varied. Mix that with the ever-changing ways in which people are communicating, and the sector's already stretched finances becoming even tighter, and the result is that marketing departments – or those whose role includes marketing – are having to take on more and more responsibility. So, us being better at our jobs (making sure our projects run smoothly – and enjoyably) is becoming more and more important.

All-in-all it was an intense, thought-provoking, tiring and enlightening couple of days. So, that was the easy bit! Now for the tricksy task of helping to put some of these learnin’s into practice …