Audiences Yorkshire is a strategic regional agency supporting the cultural sector across Yorkshire and the Humber through a co-ordinated network of cultural organisations and the delivery of a specialist portfolio of products and services. It also helps grow and nurture audiences by providing professional support to the sector and through a number of strategic audience development initiatives that have a direct impact on the growth of arts attendance in the region. One of these initiatives is thirst, a direct mail catalogue which connects the work of independent publishers directly with readers. In 2007, thirst is aiming to move from being a regional to a national initiative. In common with arts and cultural organisations anywhere today, this initiative faces all the classic marketing challenges the need to understand the audience, create new audiences for the content and find cost effective ways to communicate with that audience.
Anna Dunne, Marketing and Campaigns Manager at Audiences Yorkshire commented on these challenges, thirst was conceived to support independent publishers who were finding it increasingly difficult to get their work positioned in mainstream bookshops such as Waterstones and Borders. The driving focus of thirst was about engaging directly with readers through a channel such as direct mail. MMM has now given thirst the opportunity to take a fresh look at how it strives to do this, while engaging with a complex set of stakeholders involved with the project.
Stakeholder management is now a critical area of focus for us. A forthcoming planning session will encourage and challenge us to focus specifically on the question of stakeholder engagement a stakeholder being anyone who comes into contact with the project, not just funders, but audiences, contributors and us as project staff too. This presents a complex set of relationships to explore. There are always dominant stakeholders in any project and the challenge for us will be to achieve the right balance between all of those involved and move beyond stakeholder management to stakeholder satisfaction.
Of course the independent publishing sector as well as the audience for thirst remains a principal partner, but as we anticipate the move from a regional to national focus, a coherent and cohesive communications strategy becomes even more of a priority. Some of the stakeholder challenges involve balancing the priorities of a Yorkshire-born initiative with the opportunities a national roll-out can present. The MMM partnership with Accenture has, however, provided us with access to new tools to assist us in the formal planning of this stakeholder engagement and management. Another challenge for thirst is that the literature sector, as with many other artforms, is made up of a range of arts and cultural organisations at different stages of their lifecycle. Aligning the values and ethos of thirst with a diverse and unique sector requires a strong direction and focus.
thirst does not have the capacity to support every independent publisher in the UK. However by sharing business development, as well as all the learning about marketing and audience development with the whole sector, it will mean that thirsts mission-led focus as an exemplar project could be the inspiration for many funded literature organisations to take a fresh look at their how their organisations operate in an increasingly commercial and competitive environment.