A group of us went along to AMA Conference 2023 in Leeds the other week. It was a packed two days – catching up with clients, meeting other arts marketing folk, and going to interesting talks that challenged the sector to put audiences at the heart. Here're our post-conference reflections, tips and takeaways:
Client Services – Consultant
Other than getting to meet and spend time with our wonderful clients and colleagues across the industry, some of the standout moments from this year’s AMA conference for me were around flipping the script on accessibility and reaching new audiences:
Keranjeet Kaur Virdee (South Asian Arts and one of the Leeds5) painted a wonderful analogy: Would you go to a wedding if you received an invitation from a bride and groom you didn’t know? The answer is, of course, no.
So why would new audiences come to your show if they don’t relate to the content, or the people on stage? Flip the script by meeting them in their – physical or metaphorical – neighbourhood. Get to know them, rather than focusing on getting them to know you.
When it comes to accessible arts marketing, Theatre Maker & Audio Description Consultant, Ben Wilson, spoke about 'creative access' – explaining that some audiences “… are not 'hard to reach', just traditionally we have been excluded … disabled by our environment, not by our bodies”.
Ben – along with Hannah and Amy from Leeds Playhouse – spoke about the importance of making accessible marketing materials, such as audio flyers/brochures and BSL video trailers, at least as engaging as a printed brochure. And when it comes to social media, don’t post images without alt text, ever – you might end up blocked, never to be seen again!
The session ended with a room full of arts professionals talking about and making commitments – in writing! – to improve access provision. The buzz in the room was palpable and very inspiring!
And I have to give a special shout-out to Jonny Goode (Blast Theory). His session 'Using Meta to Increase Audience Reach' took me by surprise! It was so engaging and informative, and I’ve subsequently lost more hours than I care to admit watching and rewatching Blast Theory’s Cat Royale on YouTube. Definitely check it out!
Client Services – Consultant
We all know how difficult it is in the arts sector to find the time and money to plan and do all of the things. Which can make keeping up with new technologies feel like an even more daunting task. But one of the refreshing themes from this year’s AMA Conference for me was that it doesn’t have to be:
1. There’s nothing wrong with 'simple'
Chris Unitt from One Further stressed the importance of going back to basics and working out what it is you actually need to know about your website data. As he so honestly put it, “Arts organisations are (wonderfully) weird!” One size doesn’t fit all, so focus on building the reports that are most useful for you.
2. Arts marketers are in a unique position to take the lead with AI
AI is here whether we like it or not — so now is the time to take the opportunity to learn about it. Even with just a few minutes each day. Jo Burnham from Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival/freelance marketing consultant spoke about the practical applications of AI (while considering the ethics and challenges) — and highlighted how, as a naturally creative sector, people working in the arts are in a unique position to start using it in new and interesting ways.
3. Take a balanced approach to reducing your digital carbon footprint
As Helen Palmer and Tanica Powell from Walk the Plank outlined in their excellent session on how they put sustainability at the heart of the Green Space Dark Skies project – it’s important to pick your battles and balance your values with providing a great customer experience. For example, they decided that the ripple effect of sharing information and raising awareness on social media was worth any potential negative carbon impact.
'Audiences at the heart' was a great theme for the conference. The sessions I went to – and the one I presented – were focused on reaching, engaging, and working with audiences.
Despite the conference being for arts marketers, a key theme for me
was programming, co-creation and creating space for representation.
The wonderful Leeds5 – a group of female Black and Brown cultural leaders based in Leeds – spoke about the projects they’ve run that put diversity and local communities at the heart. They spoke of the time, effort and energy it took to build relationships with communities. And the time it takes to be sensitive to different cultures – both on and off stage. You can’t expect audiences to attend events if they don’t see themselves on stage.
This theme was continued by our friends from Octagon in Bolton, Charlie Rachwal and Parvati Pindoria, who shared how they're building audiences back after the pandemic. Charlie and Parvati have taken on the role of programmers themselves, and are scheduling events that engage new audiences in Bolton. An excellent example of arts marketers being resilient, driven and committed!
In the closing keynote Testament told us a story. A story about growing up, going to the theatre but never seeing anyone like him on stage. Testament now creates and produces theatre and performances that tell the stories of Black and Ethnic Minority people.
I see the challenges of programming a lot across our client base. There will often be one big event that speaks to a new audience and brings them in, but there’s very little to entice them back. So maybe it’s time for marketing teams to work more closely with artistic teams?
Regardless of how cultural programming changes, it’s unfair to put all audience development responsibility in the hands of marketers. It needs to be a collaborative process, driven by experimentation.
And finally …
There's no ignoring the fact that attending a conference has an environmental impact.
At Supercool we care about our planet, so do what we can to keep our negative impact minimal – by being mindful of how we travel and where we stay, avoiding single-use plastics, not producing conference swag, reusing our exhibition stand materials etc.
On top of that, on behalf of AMA Conference 2023 delegates we planted 500 trees – Syzygium guineense to be precise – as part of a reforestation project in Ethiopia. (And because trees take a while to start removing carbon from the atmosphere, we’ve also supported a renewable energy project in Morocco, and a community-based project in Kenya) 🧡
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