Tait: aims to make GGA a valuable arts resource.It was all well and good a ghostly voice telling Kevin Costner to “build it and they will come” in his romantic blockbuster Field of Dreams, but persuading people to attend the many arts venues in Glasgow is somewhat more challenging than encouraging people to go to a baseball game in a cornfield in Iowa.
Glasgow has one of the most vibrant cultural scenes in the UK, which ultimately means that the marketing efforts of the diverse range of arts venues in the city need to work much harder than those in most other cities. In fact, arts venues in Glasgow need to attract one person out of every 211, compared with one in every 1,130 in Birmingham and one in every 3,000 in Southampton.
Since the first pantomime dame stepped onto the stage at the Kings Theatre, arts venues have pretty much ploughed their own marketing furrow. But earlier this month a new arts marketing consortium was officially launched in Glasgow so that venues across the city can share knowledge and make the most of their marketing pound.
The new organisation, called Glasgow Grows Audiences (GGA), is the result of a consultation process that was kick-started by the Scottish Arts Council in July 2003, in which arts organisations such as Scottish Youth Theatre, West End Festival, Giant Productions, Scottish Ballet and Citizens Theatre, to name just a few, came together to debate what they needed as they continued to battle continually declining arts audiences. The Scottish Arts Council and Glasgow City Council have promised funding to GGA to the sum of £180,000 over the next three years and it is the responsibility of director Julie Tait to ensure that the consortium makes best use of its funding.
Tait says: “This is all about encouraging people to use the arts in Glasgow. I suppose you could say it is a defence strategy against the declining audiences in venues across the city. It has been very fast track over the last six to eight months. Credit goes to those organisations involved with this for moving really fast on this. They could have split the money and given a small part to each organisation but by doing this the arts organisations are now looking at the bigger picture.”
The consortium has identified three key areas of demand that it hopes will offer the 30 arts venues currently involved with the initiative the tools they need to get bums on seats:
Ã¯Who are the audiences that they are trying to attract?
Ã¯Where is the competition coming from?
Ã¯Where are the diverse ranges of arts venues positioning
Ã¯What is the impact of current marketing activity?
Ã¯What is effective in attracting audiences?
Ã¯What is not cost effective in marketing the arts?
Training and professional development
Ã¯How can people become better at certain aspects of
Ã¯How can organisations share more information with
Ã¯What can people learn from organisations with more
resources to draw from?
When fully staffed up, the consortium will have a staff of five, including Tait. This will be made up of two audience development advisors, who will be easily accessible via a phone line to give marketers at venues advice on what kind of campaigns will get audiences along to productions.
Tait will also be appointing a training manager, who will be responsible for co-ordinating a schedule of training and networking events for marketers. These events will aim to encourage knowledge sharing and aim to give individual marketing staff fresh new ideas on marketing initiatives.
A market research manager will also be appointed in the coming weeks, and will be tasked with collating all the relevant information arts marketers across the city will need when planning activity. This will, in time, become an invaluable resource into what encourages Glaswegians to attend the arts and, ultimately, what is a waste of time and money. There will also be an admin person appointed to the team. Tait says that she is keen to get the posts filled as soon as possible so that the consortium can start to make a difference.
She says: “In Glasgow’s vibrant arts marketing scene, the range of skill levels varies from highly experienced professionals to newcomers with limited knowledge, often working with limited budgets and scarce resources to achieve growth. The consortium will enable Glasgow’s arts organisations to access practical tools to assist them to actively grow and sustain their audiences, long term.”
Tait has a long history of involvement with marketing the arts in Scotland, most recently as the commercial director at The Lighthouse in Glasgow, where she was responsible for generating all commercial income-generating activity.
She also has a wide range of marketing-savvy brains to draw from, in the form of the GGA members of the board, who include Roy McEwan of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who is GGA’s chairman, David Williams of the Kings Theatre in Glasgow, Margaret Fraser of MORI Scotland, Lathila Rajian of Ankur Arts, and Francis Cairney, head of marketing at publishing group Newsquest.
Speaking of their involvement with GGA, Ros Lamont, head of audience development at the Scottish Arts Council, says: “Building new audiences for the arts across Scotland is a key priority for the Scottish Arts Council and we have been working closely with Glasgow City Council for some time to establish an audience development agency. We are delighted that Glasgow Grows Audiences is now on the spot to provide high-level marketing support to a range of organisations, as we believe this will give the city’s audiences much more information about all the exciting cultural opportunities that are happening on their own doorstep.”
Tait says that the real key to GGA’s success is that its members see marketing as a vital investment, not merely a cost: “When you see marketing as something essential to communications, you stop seeing it as a cost and see it as an investment. There is lots of money being spent on marketing the arts in Glasgow, but now we really need to know what is working and what isn’t. We are all spending money at the moment, but we are not really learning.
“There has never been a place to share knowledge before, so this organisation creates a real hub, where there is help and marketing advice at the end of a phone line.
“We want to be seen as an essential service for organisations and a resource for the Arts Council. I would like to see us become a professional and relevant service, which is also a valuable resource for decision-makers.”
Member organisations pay an annual fee to be able to use this new resource, the exact cost being dependent on the size of the organisation, and Tait says that she does intend to grow the membership: “Over the next few weeks and months I am going to be going back out to visit the members in order to re-invigorate the membership now that we have gone live.
“From my perspective, the most important thing we have to do is to take real action now. People do carry out research at venues, but looking at how that research helps us is taking arts marketing to the next stage.”
Incidentally, Mr Costner’s baseball game was a sell-out, but only time will tell whether GGA can ensure that there are more full houses across Glasgow than ever before.