• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

The nature of arts marketing has shifted over recent years with knock-on effects on relationships with producers. Howard Buckley assesses the opportunities of this new way of working. 

actors perform in a production of Wuthering Heights
Wise Children's production of Wuthering Heights

Steve Tanner

Starting a new business during a pandemic is either an exercise in unbelievable hubris or old-fashioned, pig-headed stupidity. Regardless, that’s what hundreds of people in the cultural sector did. 

While the country was shutting down, others were starting up, re-inventing themselves and exploring new ways of working. As a sector, adaptability has long been heralded as one of our greatest assets. We have learned to search for the opportunity in the unexpected and create something new, embracing or causing disruption.

So, in the silent summer of 2020, we decided to open a new cultural marketing and media agency called Make a Noise. We believed that within the chaos there was a real opportunity to remake what a marketing agency can be; how it operates and how it can service its clients. We wanted to start afresh and to, well, make a noise.

The shadow behind the show

Agencies in the live arts sector are the shadow behind the show. Depending on who you ask, they either push events to better sales and greater heights, or bother venues overtly, trying to get their show front and centre, fighting for the attention of individual marketing departments. Both accounts are true.

You do need hard elbows, but that’s nothing if not backed up with effective strategies and an understanding of the nuances of each venue, their audiences and their requirements. 

Ideally, a marketing agency brings in-depth knowledge of the product they are selling and the audience it needs to appeal to. Venues know how this can work for them, and the ways in which to leverage towards their target market. It should be a collaborative venture, and when it works well, it is.

If collaboration is the ideal, why do so many agencies seem inflexible about their working practices? It’s understandable: everyone is competing for work, using generally accessible tools to try to push a sales percentage higher for the producer than their competitors. 

Constraints of the old model

In starting up, we want to challenge the role-based cultural agency working model where each member of the team is constrained by their job title, rather than having the flexibility to meet the clients’ requirements for success. We believe those who benefitted least from this model of working were the clients themselves. 

Restricted by the constraints of an agency, they were unable to bring in fresh perspectives when they needed to. They had to revisit the same marketing and communication tropes in the hope of landing an audience.  

Cultural marketing and communication agencies behave very differently from other parts of the marcomms world, because of the very individual product they promote. It is unlike commercial cultural marketing which is structured around a high quantity and fast turnaround model. 

Project-led work, instead of role-based

When the pandemic occurred, we seized the opportunity to move forward with a new way of working - to embrace the idea that our work should be project-led rather than specifically role-based.

We wanted to understand why clients and venues might choose to work with us. We have experience but we are a start-up, we are small, and we are unknown. Written down, however, we believe these qualities look like strengths in this new world. 

As a start-up, we had a blank sheet of paper. No offices, no 9-5 Monday-Friday routine, no job titles, nothing for a client to have to work around. Being fluid in our roles, able to pick up work seamlessly from each, and becoming part of a project is more important than a meeting room, a reception or an organogram. 

With just three of us, we can’t do everything. But our model allows us to work with some of the best talents in the sector, finding the best fit for the client. Clients can choose their team, rather than being given one. 

It does mean we need very clear project roadmaps, but it also allows us to re-evaluate more quickly in response to changing project needs. This flexibility develops our soft skills too, with adaptability and understanding essential. Gone are the days of who shouts the loudest gets furthest; our motto is those who work closest, work best.

How it works

Make A Noise works with a range of recommended associates, brought on-board and integrated into the project structure to fulfil specific project requirements. Producers then can have direct access to the person of their choice, when they wish. Professional expertise and project needs can be tailored accordingly, within budget.

Rhys Bugler of Wise Children says, “Working with a small and flexible agency has been the right fit for us as a touring theatre company. Make A Noise have been exceptional at shifting gears and getting up to speed quickly […] which has led to a very successful marketing campaign.’’

This way of working also means that Make A Noise can work in association with other agencies. On several projects, we are the marketing and media specialists brought in under another agency's umbrella, becoming part of their project team. 

Our brand isn’t as important as what we offer the client. The business does not come before the needs of a project’s success. Working this way, we all succeed, as Chloé Nelkin of Chloé Nelkin Consulting confirms:

“While we have a core team in the CNC office, working in this more flexible manner [with Make a Noise] means we can ensure we are always fully answering a client’s brief and that we can bring in specific expertise for each project when needed.”  

There are many debates about home or hybrid working, and what inequalities might lie beneath the ‘utopia’ of flexible working. Our shift in the model of the cultural agency is more than simply being unencumbered by a fixed office. It is about being flexible – not fixed – in our job descriptions, in what our business is and most importantly, in what we can accomplish collectively when freed from these constraints.

Howard Buckley is Director at Make a Noise.


Link to Author(s): 
Arts Professional welcomes readers' opinions. Please ensure your comments observe our policy.