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Brand Works: across Hyde Park, over The Bridge, through the Campus, to the top of the Hills…

The arts marketing community is pretty generous in sharing ideas, insights, concerns and benchmarking, so we were delighted to have four leading experts talk about their own brand journeys at our Brand Works seminar.

Two London leaders, and two thriving in the regions. Both producing and presenting as key business drivers. We discovered more about the differences and similarities in their brand journeys.

Matt Griffin of the Royal Albert Hall talked about how this truly iconic brand balances the communications tensions when working alongside other major international names such as The Proms, or Cirque du Soleil. Matt also explained how reinforcing brand proposition would be at the core of the RAH’s 150th Anniversary celebrations – though lots of this was sadly scuppered or delayed by Covid.

The London Theatre Company’s Pauline Fallowell had to establish a new venue (the 900-seat Bridge Theatre) while balancing the advantages and potential distractions of some extremely well-known ‘personal brands’ – the two Nicks, Hytner and Starr, described by The Stage as ‘the powerhouse double act’. Expanding into new London locations and the building of a ‘network brand’ to grow even wider audiences drew comparisons with Substrakt’s work for the LW Theatres stable of seven venues, also built around an influential personality.

Claire Murray had just completed a busy 18 months re-launching Sheffield Theatres with an award-winning design following an efficient three-month consultation to redefine the positioning of the Crucible, Lyceum and Studio. Early staff engagement is paying dividends. For example, refreshed brand values include the authentic phrase “Aiming for the top of the hills” which for a local Sheffield workforce makes perfect, inspiring sense. Sheffield’s wider touring and West End success (Life of Pi, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, Standing at the Sky’s Edge etc) helps fuel the passion back at base for staff and funders. But getting London audiences to appreciate how the Crucible lives up to its name as a creative forge remains a longer-term challenge.

It was all change at Warwick Arts Centre, one of the original 1970s visions of an arts brand created specifically to deepen connections between a new university and local communities. Katie Anderson was in the midst of a complex brand review, with new artistic and executive leadership and a major rebuild underway. How that feels under the watchful and supportive benefaction of an academic institution was interesting to hear. With a comprehensive rebuilding programme, the challenge of rejuvenating the original artistic spirit is considerable, so Katie was expecting the brand values to be put through their paces pretty quickly as Coventry approached its City of Culture year.

“Marketing is asking someone on a date. Brand is the reason they say ‘yes'”

Alongside the essential transactional campaigning to simply sell more tickets, increasing numbers of arts organisations are seeing the benefits of investing in brand for so many different reasons:

  • at times of organisational change or new leadership,
  • to launch or boost new projects,
  • to re-engage with lapsed audiences or target new segments,
  • to reposition the offer and add greater relevance,
  • to refresh or challenge institutional thinking,
  • to tell a more convincing fundraising story,
  • to take advantage of new investment opportunities,
  • to focus teams and energise colleagues,
  • to earn, save or raise more money,
  • or just to get ahead of competitors.

In the age of silos and specialisation we all run the risk of drowning in data, but an actively-managed brand can be the ‘creativity glue’ to really fix your arts charity and connect you to wider inspiring partnerships (as they are doing so well in all our guest speakers’ venues). Taking a moment to galvanise teams around agreed common beliefs can boost productivity, focus effort, call out off-brand attitudes, and celebrate those already living the values every day.

I hope the notes from this inspiring and practical Brand Works seminar make you want to consider how to make your brand work harder for immediate and longer-term benefit. Get in touch to discuss more.

We’ll be hosting another Brand Works live in Birmingham very soon (possibly at our new offices in The Jointworks) – so stay connected to find out more. Sign up for our newsletter below.

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