Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

The Elephant In The Room

Arts Marketing: Jack Of All, Master Of None

A lot of people have been visiting my blog recently.

This is unusual. This isn’t a popular blog. And look, I’ll be honest, I think I prefer it a bit more exclusive.

I’ve had international visitors, well, rather visitor, someone in Ashburn in Virginia is obsessed with this blog (48 visits since January). They’re even more obsessed than the person from Luton who visits every 4 days to see what banging new content I’ve posted (although that feels more understandable, after all they do live in Luton). This new found populism (all things are relative) suddenly creates a bit of pressure – what will my fans demand next? I must create more content!

Anyway… I’ve been wondering how to encapsulate what I think one of the big problems in arts marketing is in a dynamic and interesting way. But also in a way that gradually alienates the readership, returning me to net zero readers and, invariably helping my carbon footprint along the way.

Here goes.
Enjoy this person in Ashburn, Virginia.

Oh and this is just a joke. Is it?

The Big Problem In Arts Marketing

The Elephant In The Room

*A party our hero would prefer not to be at*

Him: So [name redacted] said you work in marketing?
Arts Marketing Hero: Yeah.
Him: Me too, [name redacted] said we’d have lots to talk about.
Arts Marketing Hero: Yes, sure.
Him: So are you in digital, or brand, or…

*Him swallows their cheap crap drink*

Him: …what’s your area?
Arts Marketing Hero: Oh, I work in the arts, for a theatre.
Him: That sounds really…

*Him swallows more of their cheap crap drink – it’s a lager by the way*

Him: …No, I meant, what’s your area? SEO? Socials? Brand?
Arts Marketing Hero: I guess a bit of everything…
Him: Right, right…

*Him swallows more of their cheap crap drink which they find delicious*

Him: …sorry, I don’t understand, what do you mean a bit of everything?
Arts Marketing Hero: Well, y’know everything, so brand, press releases, writing content…
Him: Multi-skilled, I like it.
Arts Marketing Hero: A little bit of amateur SEO, social media ads, twitter, facebook, instagram, google ads, direct mailings, love a good mailing…
Him: So you mostly copywrite?
Arts Marketing Hero: Yeah, well, no… There’s lots of design, you need to know how to use Photoshop, and Indesign and sometimes Quark, I also make programmes, take rehearsal shots, arrange photographers for shows…
Him: At least you get to choose who you work with…
Arts Marketing Hero: Ha, yeah, no. Oh and then budget…
Him: Tight?
Arts Marketing Hero: I mean yes, and no, but mostly it’s just the time it takes, sorting the invoices and everything, no-one wants to be that dick who pays late.
Him: But it’s a creative thing…
Arts Marketing Hero: Well I look after photo calls, photo shoots, oh and did I mention babysitting journalists, collecting reviews, sometimes cutting reviews out and making them into lovely print outs to go on notice boards.

*Him has now finished their terrible lager*

Him: Still must be rewarding…
Arts Marketing Hero: And apologising. Apologising so much. Apologising to the public for minor inconveniences that have been largely blown massively out of proportion. Then lots of CRM, segmentation, retention marketing, that sort of thing, y’know frequency, recency, geographical location, maintaining an impeccable knowledge of every show that has ever been on, its relative success, the type of audience who saw it… Oh and our system will get upgraded properly every 8 to 10 years and in an incredibly unimaginative way, and it’s not quick, not like for segmenting, oh, I’ll cover the box office from time to time, write briefing notes, make sure all the reporting is right…

*Him now wants to be anywhere but here*

Arts Marketing Hero: Do a bit of analytics, google analytics then sales data, and then quite a lot of looking at graphs about national trends and thinking “well that’s fucking obvious” but not being able to say that so instead saying “yeah interesting”, oh and sometimes design seating layouts and ticket designs…
Him: Well at least you don’t do the e-mail marketing.
Arts Marketing Hero: Oh, I forgot. The e-mail marketing, pre-show e-mails, post-show surveys, an e-mail for every show whose producer shouts loud enough, the e-mail system that’s a pig to use but we can’t change it because it works with the box office system, write marketing plans, strategies for funding, sometimes I’ll go and put up posters so that actors can see posters of their own shows where they buy coffee from…

*Him is regretting this conversation*

Him: Anyway I must be…
Arts Marketing Hero: Oh and lots of signage, an implausible amount of signage, so much signage, for everything, always at the last minute, Q&As, price lists, car parking, I’m basically in charge of the photocopier, then print, distribution, fucking flyer racks which people keep messing up, why do they put the flyers back in upside down, what kind of psychopath does that…

*Him is backing away slowly, knocking over a glass that shatters on the floor, but our hero doesn’t notice”

Arts Marketing Hero: And then the brochure, the only thing that reliably sells a shitload of tickets but a piece of marketing collateral that everyone feels entitled to have an opinion about, particularly lighting designers, because I don’t respect their craft enough, and directors who, not content with being in charge of everything believe they know exactly what and how to sell their show because they once made a poster for an Edinburgh show in 1998 and they’re very artistic actually and very good at understanding design because, and I’m not sure if they’ve mentioned it enough, they’re a creative, as if creativity was something that could be only owned by one or two special people rather than by everyone.
Him: Are you okay…?
Arts Marketing Hero: And the website. Constantly out of date because it’s got 5,000 pages and it doesn’t perfectly integrate with the box office system to save time because noone’s worked out a sensible way of doing that in a holistic way, and the grief we get, this person is complaining because they came to see the show and it said it would start at 7:30pm and it started at 7:32pm and they’d like their money back.
Him: I think you should sit down?
Arts Marketing Hero: And there’s no choice, no in depth discussion, no spotting and following the trends most the time, it’s on gut instinct, it’s the only place where the marketing team is very rarely asked about what the product is, and, let’s be brutally honest, maybe creative people don’t know what audiences want to see, or have any special magical insight, or… Or…?

*A silence has descended on the room, people are staring, this is definitely awkward. Lots of people are thinking, this is hyperbole, this person is writing something for comic effect but y’know what, I think i might feign outrage and incredulity and not read the next bit where his point is actually made*

Him: But there’s lots of theatres right?
Arts Marketing Hero: Yes..
Him: And you’ve all got the same aims?
Art Marketing Hero: Yes… Although we change the name of the location of who we serve in our mission statements…
Him: But basically all the same?
Arts Marketing Hero: Yes. All the same.
Him: And you’re all funded in a broadly similar way…
Arts Marketing Hero: I suppose…
Him: So why don’t you all join forces, work together, specialise and work as venue clusters rather than a thousand lonely islands…
Arts Marketing Hero: Because…
Him: Imagine it, lots of theatrical nations working together for a common good, sharing skills, understanding, working as one towards a common goal.
Arts Marketing Hero: Because…
Him: Imagine it, lots of people who are astonishingly good at one of those things, turning out consistently high quality work.
Arts Marketing Hero: Because… Each one of us, each area we’re in, each location is uniquely special.
Him: Are you? Really?

A final thought.

If you were inventing really great arts and cultural infrastructure for the UK today from scratch, would it look like it does now? Would it be a thousand lonely islands, or would it be more clusters and groupings with shared staff and infrastructure? Our challenge isn’t how do we do everything we want in an increasingly stretched way. It’s not about the individual organisations. Our challenge is how do we break the orthodoxies that pits venue against venue, town against town, and work in a way that reflects what we all say we are: collaborative, creative, open and smart.

I genuinely don’t think this would ever happen.
We’re all islands.






3 responses to “Arts Marketing: Jack Of All, Master Of None”

  1.  Avatar

    I remember this got suggested on a city-wide basis (in a very big, northern English city about 10 years ago) across all ‘back-office/admin’ functions as there are obvious efficiencies and economies of scale that could be enjoyed, arts organisations are very bad at collaborating on this sort of thing though, and surprise surprise, it never happened.

  2. Jake Avatar

    > would it be more clusters and groupings with shared staff and infrastructure?

    Like an agency?

    1. Sam Freeman Avatar
      Sam Freeman

      Ha ha, yes, although probably without the same commercial drivers.