This year’s conference was entitled ‘On a Mission to Matter’, with an underlying theme of relevance; being relevant to our audiences and sustaining that relevance long term in order that we can survive in the current political and economic climates.
Here are some nuggets that I learned, what I took from them and how I think they can be applied in practice:
There were many examples at this year’s conference of the benefits of empowering your audiences. Meabh Quoirin of the Future Foundation spoke of how people nowadays are looking for meaning in every moment and they want to capture it for their social media feeds to show their followers how great their lives are. We should work with them and give them opportunities to tell the story of what they’re experiencing. They want us to help them look good!
Another example was the Creative People and Places schemes; initiatives from the Arts Council that work with areas of low arts engagement. Here, the schemes hand over the reins of programming in their area to the people that live there, making them co-producers of the work. In the Barking and Dagenham project, these people are known as Cultural Connectors. They choose which artists they want to work with from open calls, help with funding applications and are ambassadors in the community for helping to spread the word of cultural events that are happening.
The idea of ambassadors came up again in Donna Walker-Kuhne’s (New Jersey Performing Arts Centre) keynote on Diversity and Inclusion. If we want to open our doors to a wider audience we need to go out into the community and find those people with the biggest voices, both in their own communities but also online. Engage with people in the area with large followings and invite them to our organisations. Then work out how we can help each other. An excellent place to start would be with current members and patrons- they are already very engaged and could be the key to opening up other groups in the community.
- Follow your followers on social media – instantly they will think more highly of you
- Give them opportunities to tweet, take photos and videos and upload them to their social media (tagging the organisation of course!)
- Seek out those in your community who have large followings and see how you can work together
- Ask your audience to be involved with the planning and marketing of your season. Conduct a poll, invite them to an open house season presentation, collect their feedback
- Find out who your members are, are they members of other organisations or groups, could you work together?
The customer journey begins as soon as someone hears about our organisations, whether that’s from a piece of print, their first visit to our website or hearing about a show from a friend. And that journey doesn’t end until they stop talking about their experience, and need never end if we keep delivering excellent experiences. We need to ensure that all our marketing resources are simple and accessible to all, as discussed in Jo Verrent and Jennifer Tomkins (Unlimited) session on accessible marketing. Don’t give people a reason to bad mouth you, give them reasons to shout about you, which goes back to Meabh’s point about helping people to make themselves look good.
- Watch someone who doesn’t work at your organisation navigate through your website. Note where the pitfalls are and rectify them
- Download the Unlimited accessible marketing guide from the house website and re-evaluate your print
- Interact with those who praise you on social media and follow up swiftly with those who bad mouth you
IN THE LONG TERM
In the last keynote, Dr Xerxes Mazda of the National Museum of Scotland talked about maintaining relevance in the long term. He spoke of having to think about differing lengths of content and that by only thinking about content that can be delivered over decades can you sustain long-term relevance.
According to Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, the largest cultural strategy and research agency in the UK, people are motivated to visit cultural organisations for one of four reasons:
To spend time with friends and family while attending the event
To gain a deeper connection with history, culture, people
To escape from the world, contemplate their lives
If we can meet all these motivations and give everyone the experience they are seeking with our long-term content, then we will have audiences for life. If we don’t, ultimately we will become irrelevant and cease to exist in the same way.
- Does your current offering meet all those motivations? If not, why not?
- Do you have content that is truly long-term that will sustain your audiences for decades to come?
Donna Walker-Kuhne touched on the fact that there are many small organisations but that should not be a hindrance in creating an inclusive environment in our organisations. She said even if the organisation is only run by one person, then all that person needs to do is look themselves in the mirror and decide what they are going to do, then the two of them can get on with it.
Ultimately we are all stretched for time and money but if we can make a few changes to broaden our audiences, it will stand our organisations in good stead for the future.
- What changes could you make, given your current staff structure and budget to broaden your audiences
- Do your audiences reflect the community you exist within? If not, why not? Who could you empower to encourage different audiences into your organisation?
You can watch all four keynotes here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpHxKjQH2gUD_UJsQKSkFYw
I also attended the following breakout sessions, if anyone would like to peruse my notes, please get in touch.
Organisations that are on a mission to matter:
5 mini presentations from organisations that worked on projects to make their organisations more relevant to their audiences
How weaving your cause into people’s lives can help you raise more money:
A fundraising session from Burnett Works on relationship fundraising, particularly focusing on communicating with donors.
Defining Relevance: How to engage with ‘harder to reach’ audiences:
Representatives from three of the Arts Council’s Creative People and Places schemes on how they have integrated the arts into communities where it has never had a presence before.
Using digital to engage young audiences:
Sharna Jackson’s five learnings on how to engage children with culture by using digital platforms and content.
Making Communications more accessible:
Jo Verrent from Unlimited and Jennifer Tompkins from artsadmin on how to make your marketing materials more accessible to audiences.
How to create the perfect membership scheme:
David Reece from Baker Richards on things to consider when planning and implementing a membership scheme.