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Hashtag Msummit - talking arts marketing

Fiona Mackrell

If you noticed #msummit trending across Australia on last week it was thanks to a highly engaged room full of arts marketers and creative types at the OzCo's Marketing Summit 2012.
Hashtag Msummit - talking arts marketing
If you noticed #msummit trending across Australia on twitter last week it was thanks to a highly engaged room full of arts marketers and creative types at Marketing Summit 2012, in the gloriously wood surrounds of the Melbourne Recital Hall. It’s the eighth time the Australia Council for the Arts has presented this annual two day fest of ‘creative exchange and insights on contemporary arts marketing’ as part of their audience development work. Why were they spending so much of their time on twitter? Probably because social media was such a prominent part of the conversation. What’d you miss? Across the first day of the summit digital media was very much the focus. It started with a look at Australia’s changing media landscape and demographics through a case study of SBS. Then, Steve Sammartino gave a whirlwind tour of how the internet has empowered everyone and ABC presenter Marc Farnell looked at the best and worst global examples of digital media campaigns. There was then a Skype Q&A with Ontario (* note below), and a fascinating insight into how the Sydney Opera House has taken to the digital realm. Digital strategies and using social media platforms to engage with audiences continued as themes into the afternoon panel discussions too. Day two of the Marketing Summit 2012; however, mercifully broadened out the discussion and looked at perception and behaviour. There were insights from Principal Consultant at San Jose, CA based Groupofminds Ron Evans into the science of patron consumer psychology, the things that influence people to make decisions and how marketers can experiment and learn what works for them. Also Alan Brown from US Consultancy WolfBrown discussed typographies of audience engagement. There were practical sessions too, on Data Segmentation, Digital Strategy, CRM, and Dynamic Pricing and a discussion of the Australia Council’s Audience Impact Survey Tool (also see There was plenty of topical entertainment too thanks to the opening gambit on the way perceptions are changing from the Impossible Institute’s (and Gruen Transfer regular) Dan Gregory’, as well as Perth International Arts Festival’s Jonathan Holloway and Brad Martin’s inspiring afternoon session on their take on marketing. The dynamic market Much of the social media terrain seemed familiar to people. Hands up who’s got a Facebook page, Twitter account, comprehensive website, e-newsletters, database, developed online ticketing, looked at apps, podcasts, blogs and how to develop a more engaging YouTube channel, dabbled in Google+, Pinterest. Check. It’s also not that new to most arts marketers that audiences are changing and are more interactive or that they’re also more difficult to reach and more demanding. TwitterMsummit How do we cope with all of these different platforms seemed the more pressing question. And how do we understand what’s going to be most important and relevant to ‘us’? Differentiating the audience behind each social media platform, experimenting and taking risks, then tailoring your approach seemed the common advice. The Australia Council’s Digital Content Officer Elliott Bledsoe, stressed that he tailors every message slightly differently depending on whether it is for Twitter, Facebook, etc. Why? The audiences are different. As Lee Casey from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival pointed out, their twitter audience is used more by industry-insiders while their Facebook page attracts a more general audience. Audiences, even on social media, can’t necessarily be clumped into the sort of segments they once were. Managing Director of SBS Michael Ebeid’s opening snapshot of the landscape SBS faces was illustrative. There are now four times as many languages being spoken in Australia than when SBS started 35 years ago, 25% of us have been born overseas and roughly 50% of us have one parent born overseas. Dual screens, watching more than one screen at a time, is now a major trend (Eurovision anyone?). There are likely more than four smart devices in the average Australian home. SBS’s audience and mission is far more complicated and it must operate across many more platforms. Ebeid’s success comes from being strategic, concentrating on what they’re good at and the story they have to tell; developing innovative content and being flexible in how it is provided to audiences is the key to that. Dan Gregory provided another good example of how audiences are changing, a friend who has remarried and in his fifties is now a stay-at-home dad to a young family. He has more in common with a woman in her twenties with young children than to other fifty-year-old men. Social media can now connect people that perhaps in ordinary life would never have become acquainted. Psychography beats demography, Gregory says. But both need to be considered. AudienceTypographies Another way of looking at audiences came from Alan Brown Principal at US Consultancy WolfBrown, who walked the audience through his research report, ‘Making Sense of Audience Engagement’ (available to download via The decline in arts education and critical understanding of art forms he argued means audiences approach the arts with a diversity of prior knowledge and appreciation. In a sense, arts organisations are purveyors of arts ‘experiences’ and need to offer ‘a diverse menu’ of engagement options for people with different demands. Some will want all the bells and whistles (think artist talks and tours, videos and forums) while others will just want to read the program. Technology-based processors (people using social media and other digital venues) he suggested were a relatively small proportion of audiences and concentrating only on digital engagement may potentially exclude the majority. Facebook updates may not be a marketing panacea. What does it all mean for arts marketers or ‘So why are you on Facebook all the time?’ Much of her job confessed Holly Owen, Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Adelaide Festival, was explaining to her colleagues why she’s on Facebook all the time and trying to listen in on gossip in the kitchen. Her often hilarious presentation outlined just how difficult it can be to coordinate marketing, and particularly social media, priorities across an organisation. Yet, it’s vital that organisations do. Coordination and collaboration among arts organisations should be just as important. Michael Ebeid talked about how vital partnerships were to the success of their cable channel Studio, saying they can’t do it alone. Owen implored other digital marketers to share information and ideas for new content and cross-promotion. Ron Evans also encouraged organisations to share what they learn with others. Big Ideas At one point in his talk, highlighting his past as a stand-up, Dan Gregory told the same joke three times, on a loop. The first time people laughed, second time people tittered the third time they were weirded out. His point– messages wear out when we’re bombarded with them all the time. But we will listen when a marketing message is truly imaginative and engaging. Mediocrity is dead, he said. It was a message reinforced by Victoria Doidge, Director Marketing, Communications and Customer Services at the Sydney Opera House in reflecting on the success of last year’s Sydney Opera House campaign ‘The Ship Song’, a project she rates as the highlight of her career so far. ‘Every campaign, needs a big idea,’ she said. 'Imagine you were selling dish sponges.' That’d be hard. But selling the arts should be easy – there’s always a story to tell, it’s something people want to talk about and ‘we have content’. ‘What is your story?’ and who’s telling it came up several times as questions every arts organisation should be asking of themselves. Spreading the word Gregory also described our economy as a 'word-of-mouth economy' – 91% of people rely (not consult, not listen to but rely) on their friends when making a decision. Reputation is critical. But you need to market to your audience’s friends as much as to them. That means listening and being part of the conversation, not just talking about yourself. What about using crowd-sourcing to test and get ideas? It means having a genuine voice, being human not a corp-bot, an opinion and having something interesting to say. Several speakers talked about social hijacking –butting in and interrupting with a sales message– and how badly that goes down. And before you get carried away with all your social media updates – remember it’s still vital to measure and monitor. Doidge says while a like on Facebook might be nice it isn’t as relevant as whether there’s been an increase in traffic and actual revenue attributable to the digital strategy. Agree on what you’re going to measure and be rigorous. Experiment and risk failure, she adds, but fail fast – if it doesn’t work move. The hundreds of tweets from the #msummit reflect how useful delegates found the discussion and how keen they were to share what they were learning. They were inspired and keen to discuss what they were hearing and talk about it with other like-minded people. After all that’s what twitter and the arts is all about - sharing stories. * The video presentation that was given to the Marketing Summit by Lisa Middleton, Director of Marketing & Audience Development, Stratford Shakespeare Festival is available to watch via and other presentations will be uploaded soon.

About the author

Fiona Mackrell is a Melbourne based freelancer. You can follow her at @McFifi or check out


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