Two years ago, a group of UK-based arts marketing agencies got together to find out more about European audience development.
Tracy Cochrane (left) and Susie Hargreaves explain what happened next.
A new European network will be launched in Spring 2003, focusing on audience development and cultural marketing. The development has come about from a conviction held by many UK arts marketers that there must be a great deal we can share with those doing similar work in the rest of Europe - though at the start we had no feel for how typical the UK might be in terms of its audience development and marketing practice. Since then, many valuable contacts have been built up, and the project development team that is developing the network includes representatives from nine European countries. The aim of the network is to provide access to marketing solutions, models of good practice, professional development opportunities and short-cuts to the right people.
Speaking the same language
The development process itself has been very revealing, and we?ve had to learn new ways of working and adapt our thinking accordingly. A key issue has been the use of jargon, and even the use of language more generally. For example the word ?marketing? is not widely used across mainland Europe. It is equated simply with sales and many see it as being in conflict with the creation of art. The word ?audience? is also confusing. Much more commonly used across Europe is the word ?public?, when they referring to audiences. If we were to talk about ?Public development? in the UK it would be a meaningless concept; but in France, to qualify as a national museum you must have a ?Public? department. We naively asked if this was a marketing department, at which they recoiled in horror ? the public department includes public relations, external relations, and education and visitor development ? but not marketing! Another example is the word ?collaboration?. In the Netherlands we were asked why we used the expression ?collaborative marketing?, because ?collaboration? is a word that carries negative connotations, and is only used to refer to the type of collaboration that took place during the second world war! In retrospect it would have been worth doing a little more homework to find the right words, to avoid misunderstandings and shortcut to talking about the actual project.
Language aside, our starting point was to find areas of common interest rather than trying to agree a definition of audience development. This has been the easy part, as all our European partners are passionate about bridging the gap between culture and audiences and all want to learn how to do it better. Members of the project development team come from a variety of backgrounds and different cultural traditions. This diversity has created a spark and made the process much more interesting, forcing people to think outside of their own little boxes and learn about new ways of implementing their work. At a recent meeting of the team in Rotterdam, when each member talked about their own current issues and priorities there was real excitement as we realised how much common ground we shared.
So how typical is the UK? In many ways we share the same issues. One key difference we have found relates to the UK?s emphasis on social inclusion, and the priority this takes within arts organisations and the funding structure. Whilst most of our partners are interested in using the arts as a social tool for the ?democratisation of the arts?, their approach can be quite subtle. Comparatively, we tend to adopt the sledgehammer approach!
Several tangible outcomes have already come out of this session: an international workshop will take place next month about online ticketing and cultural databases, to be hosted by Culturenet Flanders, our partner in Brussels. Audiences Yorkshire has hosted a recent visit by Margot Gerene from Rotterdam Festivals. She talked at one of our members meetings about the work they are doing targeting young people, one strand of which involves ?24 hour museum? nights ? regular features in the Netherlands, where all the museums and galleries stay open for 24 hours, creating a great buzz and generating many new visitors. Our Literature Marketing Manager, has recently returned, full of new ideas, from a fact finding trip to publishers and literature organisations in the Netherlands, organised through our partners there. And we are about to publish the first piece of research to come out of the project - a round-up and evaluation of national ticketing schemes for teachers.
The network hasn?t yet been launched, but already the whole team has gained huge amounts through the project in terms of their own professional development. We?re beginning to learn what we?re good at, where we are beginners, and when we need to listen and learn. We are really only starting to understand how to work on a European level and are on a steep learning curve. We hope the network will help achieve greater recognition for and understanding of audience development, and that it will be a place for reflection and inspiration, a source of new ideas and a focus for learning.
For further information about the Audiences Europe Network, contact Susie Hargreaves or Tracy Cochrane at Audiences Yorkshire. t: 0870 160 4400;
e: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org