Search This Blog

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Transmission Vamp conference - Media City, Salford

I was speaking in Salford last week at an event called Transmission Vamp which was about digital and the arts with a particular focus on video and broadcast. It was an interesting event as alongside myself, Jane Burton from the Tate, Marisa Draper from Cornerhouse and Alistair Hudson from Grizedale Arts, Susannah Simons from the BBC and Tabitha Jackson from Channel 4 were there to talk about the future of broadcast and the commissioning of arts programming.

Over the past 6 or 7 years the worlds of online video and broadcasting have been slowly converging. Though perhaps converging is not the right word as it implies movement from both sides. In reality television was slow to appreciate the move online and often there has been a resistance to change that was inevitable. Susannah was speaking about The Space, the new Arts Council/BBC initiative to create an online pop up arts channel while Tabitha focused on Channel 4's short form arts series, Random Acts. What is significant about both of these projects is the fact that they are really online projects and have little in common with the type of long form arts programming we have traditionally seen from the BBC or Channel 4.

As more and more arts organisations start to create video content of increasing sophistication, and as on-demand grows in significance for broadcasters the boundaries are being blurred between the roles traditionally played by arts organisation (subject), production company (producer) and broadcaster (commissioner).

One of the main  aims of The Space is to turn arts organisations into producers and creators of content. They come up with the idea, and if they want, make the film, edit it and upload it. Whatever is proven by creating a new platform and aggregating arts content the question going forward will be can arts organisations create meaningful digital arts content on limited budgets? Behind the scenes docs, almost certainly but performance films will continue to be a challenge. And if you do, will people be happy to watch recordings of live performances? There is an emphasis within The Space on avoiding straightforward capture which is as it should be.

Tabitha spoke about her thinking behind Random Acts. This series of short films have been shown on Channel 4 but the inspiration came from short form videos of the type seen on YouTube. This is a culture shift as broadcasters have traditionally thought in terms of 30 minute or 1 hour slots. They have also assumed broadcast was the significant element in any commission and online views were an added bonus. Online the Random Acts films have generated over 900,000 views. These are large numbers for arts content.

Interestingly, even though online video often gets criticised as being dumbed down and shallow it may be a real savior for intelligent arts programming. While there is plenty of short form cat video online also allows room for the "big explainer", the real expert and the type of in-depth deep content that may only be watched by a niche audience but will always be significant and find viewers now, next year and in 20 years time. Certainly if I am ever going to create a 12 part history of European contemporary dance I should start by planning to produce it for online rather than hope for a commission from BBC4.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Sky Arts Ignition

The first of the Sky Arts Ignition projects has been announced, a partnership with Tate Liverpool featuring an immersive installation by the artist Doug Aitken. Sky said:

"We are pleased to announce that our first partnership will be with Tate Liverpool. Tate Liverpool has commissioned one of the world’s most established and innovative contemporary artists, Doug Aitken, to create an immersive installation on the Albert Dock as part of the seventh Liverpool Biennial. It will be Aitken’s first public realm installation in the UK, showcasing his pioneering and ambitious approach to public art; not only to those visiting Liverpool’s waterfront, but to viewers worldwide with the support of Sky Arts."

Be interesting to see the other 5 winners which I presume will be announced shortly. Sky Arts seem to be really doing a good job of developing projects that provide good broadcast programming rather than focus on traditional capture, and putting a significant sum into them rather than spread themselves too thin. Not sure about Sky Arts announcement tweet though!

The other element to the Ignition project is the Futures Fund which closes today. This offers five emerging artists a £30,000 bursary each, as well as support through Sky's on air, online or on demand platforms. The fund is designed to help young talent bridge the development gap from formal education to becoming a working artist. Again, a significant fund that can offer a real opprtunity to create work.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Space

The Arts Council today announced which projects had been funded to create content for The Space, and I am delighted that two of our projects received funding; a film of song and dance from Wah! Wah! Girls, our World Stages project with Stratford East and Kneehigh; and something I am particularly pleased about as I have been there since it began nine years ago, the chance to film and broadcast live Breakin' Convention, our hip hop dance theatre festival which takes place at Sadler's Wells every May and will be touring the UK this summer. 

The funded projects present a real range; as a music fan with too many records, the John Peel project sounds very interesting and there are ambitious filming projects from the Globe, RSC and Birmingham Opera Company. I think we can all imagine how the filmed content will fit within The Space and attract viewers but I'm interested to see how some of the App based and interactive content works and so eagerly await the projects by the London Review of Books, Philharmonia Orchestra, Alan Sillitoe Committee and others. With these kind of projects it is hard to predict the outcome. Some may not be completely successful but the range does give a real opportunity to see ideas being tested and provide case studies for the future. 

The Space successful applicants (by region) London
Artangel - a sequence of four new digital journeys imagined by artists staying in 'Le Roi des Belges' - A Room for London, situated on the roof of Queen Elizabeth Hall, and six special Room for London concerts by musicians from around the world extended from live stream to connected TV.
British Film Institute - live streaming of screenings of two lost silent films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Ring and Champagne. Also, the production of short films following composer Daniel Cohen creating a score for Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden. There will also be an online education package exploring the score development with additional information contextualising The Pleasure Garden.
Crying Out Loud - a video ‘postcard wall’, a mosaic of untold stories, histories, unseen performances, and portraits posted throughout the summer. A medley of archival history challenging the convention of circus as animal and clown shows revealing a plethora of artists crossing artforms, highlighting circus’ new direction, skill and extraordinary growth.
Faber & Faber – ’60 Years in 60 Poems’, a digital platform that invites the nation to discover content from the BBC and Arts Council archives through the prism of the 60 new works from major poets in poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Jubilee Lines’ anthology.
Fuel – the creation of a film of Sound&Fury's live theatre show Kursk, which experiments with filming from the audience's perspective in order to more closely mimic the immersive experience of watching it live. There will also be a radio documentary about secrecy and spying on board a submarine.
London Review of Books – in ‘Re-imagining the Literary Essay for the Digital Age’, the London Review of Books will work with a leading writer and an experienced digital developer to create a new kind of literary essay, making imaginative use of the new forms of content and reader engagement made possible by digital media.
Philharmonia Orchestra – the orchestra will pioneer a radical way for audiences to engage with orchestras with the launch of an interactive digital experience in partnership with The Science Museum to explore Gustav Holst’s The Planets.
Renaissance One Limited - Tongue Fu and Renaissance One will produce six high quality video podcasts featuring the UK’s most exciting poets performing with the Tongue Fu band, combining live footage, motion graphics and composite film and images from BBC/AC archive. Each poem will be released in multiple stand- alone formats.
Rich Mix - The London Requiem is a choral/orchestral premiere to be performed in Abney Park cemetery at dusk and streamed or recorded for transmission on The Space. A 10-week lead up, featuring commissioned videos, audio, stills and related work provide artistic, historic and social context, building to a unique event.
Russell Maliphant Company - through a cinematic interpretation of Russell Maliphant's The Rodin Project, the company propose to construct a unique and intimate way for audiences to experience a significant new piece of contemporary dance. New audiences will also be able to access the film through online showcases.
Sadler’s Wells - film version of songs from the new British Bollywood stage musical Wah! Wah! Girls filmed on location in East London, taking it from its theatre environment and into the streets and increasing its scale by adding performers from the local community.
Sadler’s Wells - multi-camera live broadcast (with ‘on demand’ option after) of Breakin' Convention, Sadler's Wells' international hip hop dance festival event. Capturing stage performances, public classes, foyer DJs and graffiti demonstrations plus live interviews with performers and public and linking up with regional tour venues.
Serious Events - Journey to the River facilitates innovative multi-platform broadcasts around the landmark River of Music. There will be particular focus on three key collaborations led by Angelique Kidjo, Andy Sheppard (Saxophone Massive) and Shingai Shoniwa/The Noisettes. Broadcast will begin at ‘50 days to go’.
Serpentine Gallery - The Serpentine will capture for broadcast an extraordinary series of live events – such as music, dance and theatre performances, artists’ talks and commissions – by world-renowned participants, hosted in the unique Serpentine Pavilion, designed for 2012 by Ai Weiwei with Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.
Shakespeare’s Globe - capturing the Globe to Globe Festival, a once in a lifetime event which will see all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays performed by 37 different international theatre companies at the Globe Theatre.
sounduk - a major development, in partnership with the National Trust, of Sonic Journeys which commissions downloadable music inspired by the landscape to be experienced in the real world; reviving existing Journeys and enhancing the experience they offer; commissioning a new Journey, creating films of all Journeys and generating an on-line community who will generate their own Sonic Journeys.
Southbank Centre - Pass the Spoon (a new opera made by a team including David Shrigley). This exciting package will present a hilarious new work and unique insight into artistic collaboration to a wide new audience.
Tate Gallery - 25 new films, duration 3-5 minutes, covering the best visual art events of 2012 across the country. Films will be released sequentially between May and October 2012 across multiple platforms. Plus 20 existing films of relevance from the TateShots back catalogue.
The Photographers’ Gallery - part of the Cultural Olympiad, the World in London is an ambitious public art project featuring 204 exceptional portraits of Londoners. The project website will offer new ways of interacting with photography and present the stories behind the portraits to a global audience.
Vortex Jazz - themed concerts from the Vortex Jazz Club presenting London's cultural and musical diversity of British-born, immigrant and visiting musicians; Britain’s rich heritage with linked archival material and interviews.
Whitechapel Gallery - The Rachel Whiteread commission for the façade of the gallery is a major new artwork on the east London landscape, to be unveiled in June 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival. This commission will imaginatively capture and communicate the creation of the artist's first permanent work in the UK.
East Midlands
Alan Sillitoe Committee – a GPS-enabled mobile ‘trail app’ in the style of a 1950s illustrated cycle maintenance handbook that will explore the Nottingham of author Alan Sillitoe, based on his iconic novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
UK Young Artists - Nottingham will host the first World Event Young Artists during September, which will see 1,000 young artists from 90 countries participate in a huge public celebration of creativity. Online audiences will be able to experience this unique Cultural Olympiad event in innovative ways through the eyes of the artists themselves.
Vanilla Galleries - The News is a live studio concept which offers audiences the opportunity to experience an exciting spontaneous programme of work based upon artists’ reaction to, and interpretation of, ‘the effects of 24 hour global news.’ This is an experimental visual arts project which will be broadcast using the latest online communication technologies.
West Midlands
Birmingham Opera Company – a multimedia live performance of Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet, one of the greatest and most ambitious experimental music experiences of modern times. It will be performed in Birmingham in August as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
DanceXchange, Birmingham – a 30-minute film in ten episodes which will capture the creation and performance of Spill – an inventive new site-specific dance commission made for children and families. It will explore and adapt to different playground settings across the West Midlands.
Multistory – a still image slideshow with accompanying audio from their Black Country Stories programme which is a major portrait gallery and archive about local life. It will also include new material.
Royal Shakespeare Company - WSF-TV is a unique five-minute weekly insight into the making of the World Shakespeare Festival and is also part of the Cultural Olympiad. It will capture the story of the festival and reflect the creative process of an unprecedented collaboration between over 50 arts organisations, thousands of artists, plus students, teachers and amateur theatre makers from across the world.
South West
Bristol Old Vic – Tom Morris, Director of War Horse and Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic, will present a unique and interactive way of replicating the emotional experience of watching live performance using the pioneering techniques developed by the BBC Natural History Unit.
Forkbeard Fantasy - will create an online gaming environment, inspired by the exhibitions, theatre shows, installations, cartoons, animation props and filmic special effects of Forkbeard Fantasy. This will enable viewers to uncover much more than is currently possible in the company’s animated exhibitions.
Watershed, Bristol - 'Out of the Box' is an invitation into the journey of 12 artists who are delivering projects as part of Unlimited, a Cultural Olympiad programme. 'Out of the Box' is an opportunity to simultaneously build and broaden audiences whilst deepening relationships with context, process and impact. Through short films, a documentary and a rich media interactive blog, this project will build momentum and leave legacy.
South East
Blast Theory - Blast Theory is an artists’ group that uses interactive media to create art for live performance. Blast Theory will create I’d Hide You: a ‘game of stealth, cunning and adventure’ to be experienced by participants using smartphones, the internet and smart television. The game will connect virtual worlds, video streaming and performers on the streets of Manchester.
Carousel - Carousel and its Oska Bright International Film Festival are creating an interactive art project and sharing the work of learning disabled filmmakers for others to select digital arts, films and music to watch or listen to in a format of their own choice.
I Fagiolini - I Fagiolini is a British solo-voice ensemble presenting, How like an angel, a live event featuring renaissance and contemporary music from UK vocalists alongside Australian circus company Circa, which will take place in cathedrals. I Fagiolini will create a film of the event, alongside a behind the scenes documentary and a multi-platform digital application for use on computers, tablets, smartphones, and Android devices.
Turner Contemporary - Turner Contemporary’s commission will offer a live and interactive streaming of Tracey Emin in conversation with Stephen Fry. The streaming will be accompanied by a live Twitter feed and a short film of Emin at
work, showing her upcoming exhibition at the gallery: She lay down deep beneath the sea.
Aldeburgh Music – four short films telling the story of an extraordinary new international orchestra being formed for London 2012 and the creation of a new symphonic work by an emerging British composing talent, plus a recording available to download and an innovative new music explanatory tool for audiences.
Britten Sinfonia Listening Machine is a six month digital music installation for The Space. It will be a live soundtrack to the thoughts, opinions, feelings and conversations of the UK's population, as played out on Twitter, which will act as the conductor of this deeply immersive and generative work.
DanceEast - Come Dance with Me is a weekly 15-minute broadcast by DanceEast featuring the ‘Morecambe and Wise’ of dance Tom Roden and Pete Shenton, aka New Art Club, as hosts. A fun magazine show with features, interviews, comment and audience interaction, it will explore, contextualise and promote dance for a broad public audience.
John Peel Centre for the Creative Arts – an interactive virtual museum to house one of the most important archive in modern music history – DJ John Peel’s record collection. It will recreate his home studio with his own personal notes, home movies, contributors’ stories and new filmed interviews with family and musicians.
Nabokov Grotesque Chaos is an exhilarating clash of live action and animation, exploring the resonant issue of cuts in grants from central government to local councils. It does this via the prism of Derek Hatton’s time as de facto leader of Liverpool City Council in the mid-1980s.
Rifco Arts - Mummyji presents will be an interactive live platform for new artists. Hosted by Mummyji; a British Asian female comedy character who will find and host emerging multicultural talent from around the UK. The audience vote for their favourite act from each episode; the winner will get to perform at the live show.
North West
Contact Theatre - transforming an existing one-man theatre show called CountryBoy’s Struggle into a 12-part series of two-minute storytelling music videos.
Inner City Music - in partnership with Manchester Museum and Galleries Consortium, this project looks at some of the highlights of the citywide festival of West African contemporary arts taking place across Manchester’s museums and galleries from June–September 2012.
Psappha Contemporary Music Ensemble - taking Peter Maxwell Davies’s iconic work, Eight Songs for a Mad King, from the concert hall to a virtual environment using the latest gaming technology.
North East
Generator North East – a sequence of multi-discipline commissions, site-specific performances and live events that will use the catalytic properties of The Space to confound, connect and thrill. Cross-platform content and artists will be drawn through to a final event and documentary where consumers will be challenged to interpret and complete the creative acts.
mima: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art – #wearmima is a selected number of opportunities for people to film ‘haul video blogs’ of themselves wearing items chosen from mima’s jewellery collection. This is a recent fashion phenomena whereby people post videos online showing off their purchases and would give a new national audience access an outstanding collection.
Northern Stage Company – a unique digital window into the experience of opening a new venue at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, comprising a collage of digital storytelling, live streamed events from the venue, and a long form documentary at the conclusion of the project.
Tyneside Cinema – the reinterpretation and production of The Unthanks Sing Songs from the Shipyards, an existing 60-minute audio visual work arranged and produced for live performance, into five distinct episodes that play across multiple digital platforms.
Eclipse Theatre - 10 Black writers, 10 UK cities, 10 short films that will explode the myth of a homogenised Black British culture. 10x10 aims to engage Eclipse
Theatres’ national audience, a wider theatre audience and the general public in creating new work in response to Chester Hine’s novel A Rage in Harlem, for middle scale touring using digital media.
Fabric - Time and Place will uncover the human stories behind Bradford’s extraordinary audiovisual archives. An interactive exhibition/outreach programme will identify people featured in the archives and create new work re-presenting their stories and the archives. Contributors include Tim Smith; Inderjit Goldfinger; MY Alam; Jeremy Deller and Madani Younis.
Leeds Canvas – a new dimension for audiences looking to explore the Brothers’ Quay Leeds Canvas work Overworlds & Underworlds. It will be presented in the form of an online narrative game; contextual package exploring the project's creative and technical evolution; live online transmission of the event in May 2012 and the event remade as a web-based artwork.
Pilot Theatre - a digital amplification of York Mystery Plays 2012, which will form part of York 800. Audiences can follow key characters as a build up to the event, and then experience a global live stream with two-way chat. Participants will also have the opportunity to download their own bespoke version of the plays from an archived multi-camera stream.
Sheffield Doc/fest - From the Sea to the Land Beyond offers a poetic meditation on Britain as an island through archive of the UK coastline. Directed by Sophie Fiennes and featuring a soundtrack from British Sea Power, this cross-platform project offers audiences a moving cinematic/live music experience, as well as an online tool where users reinterpret archive footage to create their own personal, sharable mash-ups.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Dance video is YouTube hit

Guillaume Côté, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada has created a short video that has turned into a YouTube hit, getting over 430,000 views in a few months. While that is not in Fenton's class it is not bad for a dance video that does not feature the word boner in the title or Beyonce (see this blog post if that means nothing to you).
"I wanted to get the tights off and I wanted to get the costumes off, and just show the sheer physicality of classical dance," he said in an interview with CBC.

Facebook stores - retail future or retail failure

An interesting story on Bloomberg about Gamestop Corp closing their Facebook store. Gamestop are a big computer games retailer with over 200 stores worldwide. Apparently a few other retailers have also closed their Facebook stores recently including The Gap. Facebook was widely touted as the next big thing for retailers for no other reason than the fact that millions of people were using it, so surely there had to be a way to make money out of them. This matters not just to struggling retailers but also to Facebook if they are going to justify their huge valuation. In the end the evidence seems to show people prefer to just use the existing retailer websites. To be honest this is not a complete surprise. Facebook is after all a social network where people go to chat and engage with friends. Inserting shopping into that equation is not easy unless it is done extremely well, offering something that regular sites cannot offer. Computer games might seem a better choice for a Facebook store; a young tech savvy demographic, always new games to discuss and review, and above all online gaming is in itself social (the Gamestop Facebook page has 3.6 million likes). All this should make Facebook a better bet for buying Gears of War rather than a pair of Gap chinos but it seems not.

The reason this is interesting is because theatre ticketing is making inroads into this area. I'd love to see our customers booking tickets via Facebook and I think this idea does have potential. It does at least follow a golden rule by recognising one of the main reasons people use Facebook; as a way of organising their social life. Theatregoing is a social activity and if I want to go to the theatre what better way is there to invite friends than Facebook? And if we can all go online independently and pay for our reserved tickets even better (then at least I don't have to pay out a huge sum which I then have to ask for back, especially as I always get saddled with the booking fee).

In 2010 Disney were the first to do ticketing for cinema via Facebook for Toy Story 3 and it will be interesting to see how that rolls out. For some reason I think that theatre and in particular non-commercial theatre could do well with this. The key lesson to remember, and I suspect some of the retailers forgot, is that people use Facebook for their convenience not yours. If you assume customers are just there for the taking you will be disappointed.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

PETA ad causes controversy

Lots of news stories about the latest PETA ad which I guess is how PETA like it. With over 1.6 million views on the official PETA site in a week and hundreds of news stories I assume they view it as a success, though this time they may have bitten off more than they can chew. PETA have often used sex and nudity in their campaigns, usually in a more glamorous fashion shoot way. This ad somehow seems more disturbing, and unsurprisingly some people have said it trivialises violence against women.

I don't know if PETA anticipated the reaction. I'd guess not, and the agency that came up with it probably didn't expect it either. I said earlier there was something disturbing about the trailer and I think it illustrates how in advertising a thin idea can turn into something far worse just through the execution. Maybe the idea began as a simple suggestive film that said vegans make better lovers. A concept that might have included jokey references to vegetables, lots of innuendo, a humorous voiceover and most importantly two equal, willing participants. But in the end we are left with something far different thanks to its cinematography, lynx deodorant styling, its ambiguity (did he send her out on the streets in her underwear?), its voiceover and finally its title which does not talk about Vegan's having better sex or being better lovers but instead says her "Vegan boyfriend knocked the bottom out of me". It is a phrase I am sure most women would never use, and one I have only heard used by men, when describing sex to each other as "I knocked the bottom out of it" (notice the use of the word It).

Of course the result has been lots of views and lots of press but I am not sure if it has resulted in many male vegan converts. Obviously if you are promoting animal welfare, against the fur trade, and trying to promote a vegan lifestyle it seems a bit daft to provoke a negative reaction from the public and media through being associated with condoning violence against women. Of course, many people will say "what's the big deal?" but they would also probably say exactly the same thing about eating meat or wearing fur. Even if you try and claim those who object are a minority the simple fact is that minority are most likely to be the same people who are likely to support PETA's cause if not their methods.

It is a reminder how far people will go to promote a cause and how often it encourages tunnel vision. Many charities and worthwhile causes push the boundaries when it comes to shock tactics or controversy. Advertising agencies love them for that very reason as the regulatory controls that limit how far they can go when promoting dull products like toilet duck or car insurance simply don't apply. I have met a lot of people who work in charity marketing and seen a lot of it over the years and I am always surprised at how manipulative it is.  It often shows no restraint as it works on the principal "the ends justify the means".

At its worst this lack of restraint exploits the needy and vulnerable. For example the elderly, who often still value letters, respond well to direct mail that is personalised and carefully tested, giving money to charity they perhaps cannot afford. Daytime TV advertising targets the retired and people on low incomes (on daytime TV charity ads seem to alternate with ads for loans).  The success of these tactics leads to more charities using these methods as they aim to improve their ROI, while the person who gives soon finds themselves on the "ladder of giving", asked to respond to ever more urgent emergency appeals and remember those far less fortunate at times like Christmas. The problem is what happens when the person giving is one of the less fortunate?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Dancing with Digital

Things used to be so simple.  For good or ill, the world of arts marketing remained unchanging, relying on those campaign essentials, press advertising, direct mail and leaflet distribution to communicate our message and attributing any significant success to that mystical but immeasurable force, "great word of mouth". 

The arrival of digital has really shaken things up, forcing us to change how we plan campaigns, recruit staff and spend budgets. In the time I have been at Sadler's Wells the impact of digital has been marked. Online sales have increased from 20% to 75%. E-mail has increasingly replaced direct mail and social networking sites like Facebook have demonstrated massive potential to spread information, ensuring the power of word of mouth reaches further and travels faster.

Nowadays an understanding of digital marketing is essential for marketing staff. Not just how you use Facebook, Twitter or YouTube but Google Adwords and banner advertising. But for the arts, the shift online has usually been more one of adaptation to circumstance rather than organisational strategy. For many of us social media fell to marketing not through any great plan but simply as organisations went through the first rush to have any kind of presence on sites like MySpace. Marketing Assistants became Twitter and Facebook managers simply because they were the only people young enough to already be users, and bloggers were ignored completely until they picked an online argument. Meanwhile websites remained areas of contention, shared or fought over by every department.

I was fortunate at Sadler's Wells in that I could build a team encompassing marketing, digital, press and ticket office into one department. This type of joined up structure has always had advantages but in the digital era may become essential. The rise of social media means the boundaries are blurring between marketing and press departments, just as the boundaries between the public and the press have been blurred by the rise of the blogger. Newspapers are shifting online and making greater use of resources like video and increasingly everything we do drives the public to online ticketing.

For Sadler’s Wells, a venue that specialises in presenting dance, a very visual and diverse artform, embracing digital made perfect sense. The fact that 70% of income for the theatre comes from ticket sales fortunately meant there was no doubt about where digital should sit within the organisation. When we built a new website it was agreed it was purely a marketing led project (in fact no one apart from myself and our web manager were involved in the brief to the agency or design approval) which must have made it one of the easiest web builds of all time and ensured the focus remained primarily on our customers. This approach, plus a strict discipline over e-mail use (just two e-mails per month; no you can’t approve our copy; no we won’t send out a solus e-mail about your dying show at another venue) created a decent playing field where digital could work at its best.

The biggest shift has of course been the growth of Facebook and Twitter. Their role as a means of personal communication gives them huge power, but this strength is double-edged. Over the years different staff members have taken responsibility for our Facebook and Twitter accounts but we have tried to set a tone for our social media that is appropriate to Sadler’s Wells. In recent years a number of arts organisations have found themselves in the middle of social media storms and for any of us this is always a real risk. At present Sadler’s Wells has no formal policy on social media usage or online risk management but until we do I hope the close relationship between marketing and press teams, added to a clear internal understanding of the Communications department’s role makes us reasonably prepared.

In fact the challenges digital brings in many ways are greater for those who fill press rather than marketing roles. Marketeers are always actively pursuing new ways to reach the public (that dread fear of being asked what more you can do to get an audience for a terrible show never goes away). In contrast many press officers still work within a framework which mainly concentrates on generating editorial coverage in newsprint and dealing with critics on press night. Their focus is often on the press itself, rather than the public they reach through the press. The rise in citizen journalism and the move to online by newspapers is adding so much more to their roles. Plus of course they have to deal with the outcome of anything that goes wrong…

If social media maintains its influence I can see a need for more specialised roles in larger organisations; Digital Communities Officers who look after all this output, generating and commissioning content in text, video and photos. Last year we actually recruited someone into this type of role for our long running hip-hop dance project Breakin’ Convention. Unsurprisingly they were already an active blogger in the sector.

The challenge going forward is how we create a new effective style of marketing that encompasses digital. No one can deny that many traditional marketing methods still work and work well, so what do we keep and what do we lose?  We certainly cannot keep adding more lines to small budgets; cut your cake too thin and it crumbles. At Sadler’s Wells we have cut back on print distribution and direct mail but have not yet moved a significant part of our budget online. The emphasis has been on cost saving not reallocation.

Within arts marketing there seems to be a real desire to embrace the opportunities that digital offers. For those of us who have spent years putting ads in papers and leaflets out in racks digital offers something very exciting, the chance to get a live snapshot of the public mood. ZooNation's hit show Some Like It Hip Hop, which Sadler’s Wells co-produced, has been a huge Twitter story and to be able to observe the point where a show takes off, seeing that word of mouth happening in front of your eyes is thrilling.  Certainly while things are not as simple anymore, they are much more exciting.

This article originally appeared in JAM, January 2012