Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

AMA Reflection 2016

It’s become a bit of a tradition that on the way home from the AMA conference I gather my thoughts and write a blog post about the events and things it has raised. Luckily this year’s conference was in Edinburgh so I’ve a full 4 hours until I get home to do “thought gathering” – I’m sure when the AMA is eventually held in Liverpool it’ll put a stop to this (35 mins is too quick a journey!). I want to start with a few thoughts about what was said at the conference and what thoughts I had as a result and then move on to the conference itself.

This year’s theme was “On A Mission To Matter” – a worthy theme – looked at organisational relevance. My thoughts however, although vaguely linked to the theme were more about the broader role of marketing and theatre itself. My notes from yesterday can be found by clicking here and there’s a few bullet points about today’s sessions below.

  • Plan or Canvas?
    Should we be creating plans that work on a 3 – 5 year basis or look at a more canvas approach which places values at the centre rather than the achievement of statistical or financial values? I’m not sure. I think there is probably an issue in the arts with the length of arts funding and how planning is achieved. It’s often said in politics that the first few years of a Presidency they can actually achieve something but then all their time becomes devoted to re-election. I wonder if, with a 3 year funding cycle, organisations can spend the 3rd year worrying about re-election rather than action – also whether the current revenue model where organisations are fulfilling requirements of the funders means that we have organisations being too broad in their remit to guarantee funding. Is specialism better than breadth? I suspect they should compliment but I’m not sure it’s seen very often.
  • Inclusiveness
    I wrote a lot of notes which were about breaking down barriers – both internally and externally. How do we keep those on-board happy but change effectively to make our artform or venue less scary. It made me think about classical music. I don’t attend classical music because when I read about it I feel stupid. I worry that I won’t understand what’s happening, what’s good or bad, what the difference between a sonata and a requiem is, or even if those words are real. How do we break that down?
  • Welcome & Inclusivity
    We should be welcoming (well duh!). When people arrive does a member of staff say hello, ask people if they’re okay? Do we take their coats? Smile? For those people who regularly engage with us do we differentiate between the artforms they see. If they watch only amateur work are they less valuable to us? I’ve always though there should be an equality with art – Shakespeare is no more worthy than standup, Classical isn’t better than folk. But do we see it like that? Do we treat our audiences like that? And if we want true equality then how do we balance this against the financial realities of our organisation? What does inclusivity for a 21st Century theatre look like? Is it just Am Dram? Is it Yoga, drama classes for the over 60s, a community music stage, open mic? Is it about having a stance and sticking to it? Theatre didn’t speak with a voice pro or anti Brexit (it’s tricky I appreciate with funding). Is that the leadership theatre should be offering? Social, moral, political, artistic leadership? Or at the very least how should we facilitate the debate?
  • Serious R&D
    I’ve written about this before – how do we give ourselves scope to experiment? Do we specify budgets for experimentation and R&D? The creative side of an organisation does this a lot? Scratch performances, commissions, open dress rehearsals – does that need to be a specific budget line in the administrative side? What if the organisation wanted to go cloud based? How would we test? How do we place organisational learning at the core of what we do? For a while I’ve wanted to visit other arts organisations internationally to find out how they work first-hand? What value would this bring long-term?
  • Digital Product
    We need more and it needs to be broader. Digital shouldn’t be hived away as part of the marketing mix. Podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, Q&As, Live Streams, Video, & Galleries online should be part of the programming mix as an acceptance that how we consume media has fundamentally changed and that provision of these experiences could develop audience of the future to connect with us? We need to be segmented and targeted in what we create too – we want young people to come to the theatre – let’s go for engaging digitally and then for bums on seats?
  • Are our audience dying?
    This was mentioned a few times. Do we regularly check our audience demographic? Is it getting younger or older? The younger generation, the one currently being screwed by the entire world, will have a lower disposable income and more opportunities to engage with the arts in a way that’s not sat in a theatre seat. We need enough of them excited about what we do and quickly. Consider this – over 60s get a discount – granted they’re not working, but they’re also time rich, are more likely to have better pensions, have lower outgoings, might own a house and aren’t bringing up a family, don’t have to pay for childcare, had free university as an option – but get a discount. Is age an appropriate line for discounting?

And the conference… Well, I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote last year.

The conference was, I must say, a little disappointing, despite what I have written and learnt, that’s not to say bad, just a little underwhelming. It felt a bit tired at points, a little traditional and a little slow paced.  However I thought it was worth going to. This seems a little negative, but, I still gained ideas and felt refreshed (in a work sense) by the conference, and that is of great value in itself.

What would make it better? Shorter seminars (90 mins is a stretched 45 mins – let’s be concise) and more of them, 8 seminar sessions should be a minimum over 2 days – which would also help with networking. Short sharp keynote speeches – an hour is too long to be consistently inspirational, funny, empathetic and dynamic. Round table events on key subjects, issues, groups (touring companies round table) – perhaps programmes & strands of work? Maybe even exhibitors sharing seminars – let’s seem them fight it out.

This year the same applied. If I could change it then I’d add the following sessions…

Down the Pan: Learning from Failure
2:30pm – Thursday – (40 min)
Four Marketing Director’s talk about their greatest failures. From creating totally white leaflets to papering all but one seat, we talk about the errors, what happened next and what advice they’d give.

Now That’s What I Call Adwords
11am – Wednesday – (40 min)
A blast through Google adwords, running your first campaign, the difference between display ads and search, and some of the features you never knew were there.  When I say “Ad” you say “Words”!

Survey ManKey: A quick guide to the perfect survey
4pm – Wednesday – (40 min)
All the Artistic Director cares about is whether they enjoyed the show – what else should we ask? A guide to questions you might ask, information you might receive and things you might change as a result.

Little By Little: Top tips for a marketing oasis.
11am – Thursday – (45 min)
What are the tiny changes that can make a big difference – bring a notebook as 10 top marketing professionals give you 1 minute quick fixes for your organisation. Top tip #45 – Never use the phrase “world-class” to describe something shit.

Obviously I’ve written them to be funny(ish) but on a serious note, I’d go to all these and might even run one or two..