Here she talks about her amazing team of young ambassadors. We’ve got two sets of ambassadors, one is our Community Ambassadors which includes mostly older people who are usually retired and who are active at their local community centre. Then we’ve got our 12 – 18 year olds. Both sets have been going for about one and a half years. How did you find them? We sent letters through our Creative Learning Department to schools and educational establishments and also invited our youth theatre group to take part. They all submitted applications, it was very much like a job interview, a fantastic opportunity for lifeskills learning. We shortlisted and then took it down to 20 – 30 people. We got about 12 ambassadors in the end – all super committed and enthusisastic. What do they do? The Young Ambassador programme has evolved quite a bit. Initially we invited them to come up with a marketing plan they would be in charge of delivering, usually for a Creative Learning project or one of our Childrens productions. We did that for 8 months but then it evolved into them being responsible for different projects. We realised it needed to be more than just us asking ‘Would you like to be our Champions?’.
Rep Youth Weekend is a weekend of youth activities where the whole building is taken over by young people which was created by the youth ambassadors for young people and they’re in charge of making sure it’s well attended and involves activities they come up with, like the Open Mic night and this year they’re putting on Dundee’s Got Talent as part of it. Part of their purpose now is to raise money for the theatre and also to enable them to fund their own projects with the income they bring in and through bringing in young people they are helping Dundee Rep engage and grow different audiences. So its like they’re running a mini-business? Absolutely. Their next big project is Dundee’s Got Talent which is part of Rep Youth Weekend Extra. The auditions are on September 4th and they’ve put a big ad in the paper. They were just in the office yesterday with the Head of Marketing writing up the terms and conditions and entry details. We’ve got it set up with Giftaid where every time someone votes by text, in the audience, a pound goes to Dundee Rep’s Gift Aid Fundraising. What do they suggest that staff wouldn’t have come up with? Well initially they were keen to do stuff like posters, postcards and badges and we had to constantly remind them that we didn’t have a lot of money. They suggested conversational blogs, like forums. We might think of flyers whereas they would suggest postcards. They will suggest stuff like ‘Let’s dress up in costume and hand out flyers in town.’ We wouldn’t suggest that! Oh and they helped to organise a Blues Brothers flash mob. We invited the adult drama group and other staff and arranged a flash mob of 40 people in the local shopping centre. The centre was a partner in the event and allowed the Blues Brothers music to be played through their sound system. The young people told all their family and friends who all turned up and waited in a big circle so it wasn’t as much of a surprise as we’d hoped but it looked great! Next is a line dance along the Tay Bridge for the show Rhinestone Mondays! How do you measure the success of your programme? By the types of people we see coming through the doors – getting that age group engaged. We do things like vox pops to get audience feedback and also by whether they’re making enough money to fund their next project! So its self-funding but does it take up a lot of staff time? No, not really, they’re pretty self-sufficient, It doesn’t seem to be a drain. Its energising! What do they get out of it? They love being part of the Rep and they enjoy the opportunity to put on their own events. They enjoy the responsibility. They get to put on their own events and to experience being successful. They are involved in lots of other things as well. They like getting involved. They’re all really switched on and focused – its quite scary! That reflects the way we got them involved, through our thorough recruitment proceedure. Thank you. You’re welcome. Come back later in the year and I’ll tell you about our older ambassadors. Great, I will!
Recruitment: Before & After One question I get asked a lot is, “How do you find ambassadors?”. So I asked Natasha Anderson, Marketing Officer at The Barbican, London to share her experiences with the recruitment process for her ‘Every101 Team’ earlier this summer 2010. Here’s the Before and After:
So what is the Every101 Team?
It’s a team of community ambassadors. We originally set up a street team that focused on a previous hip hop dance theatre show and had great success. A number of the street team wanted to stay on and do other things with the Barbican and we looked at how we could expand that. I am really interested in providing a ‘third space’ in the way of contact between The Barbican Centre and the communities we are trying to reach. What will the Every101 team be promoting?
Their work will be linked to our ‘101 Things to Do this Summer’ programme. www.barbican.org.uk/101 How many people are you hoping to recruit? We’re hoping to get 30 – 35 people, but we tend to have 25% drop off rate so we’ll be happy to get a good 25. Why do people drop out? Some people think they have lots of time and discover they don’t! Some people come for an interview and then you never see them again as they decide it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be… What will the team be doing? They will be out there in the community talking about The Barbican with confidence. I’m hoping each event in the summer programme will be led by a particular team member too, look out for them wearing red t-shirts and giving away ‘101 things to do this summer’ tote bags in a park near you. What kind of person are you looking for? The number one attribute they must have is passion for interacting with people, with a particular focus on Hackney and Tower Hamlets. There’s nothing better than a recommendation from a local person as its worth an ad space in the local newspaper. They don’t have to be from the area but they do need an understanding of the communities in it. It would also be great if they are interested in the arts if so, then we are interested in hearing from them. Where are you advertising for the team? • Via our own website barbican.org.uk
• Via the two councils
• Job centres
• Colleges and Universities
• Arts Council England arts jobs website
• Facebook and twitter of current street team members
We are also working with local residents’ associations to get people excited and involved with events in their local area.. What will the team members get from being involved? I think it’s a great opportunity to work for The Barbican and represent them at events in the local area, they will also understand what it means to work as part of a team that is proactive, engaging and interested in developing contacts. We also offer access to Barbican events and where possible tickets to other show in other organizations. Sounds like you will be busy Yes, I’ve brought in an intern and an assistant for the project. Good Luck. Looking forward to hearing how you get on Thank you! We’ll be interviewing the applicants this week. AFTER
So how did you get on?
We aimed for a team of 30 and out of nearly 80 applications we recruited 37! However, of these, 25 were active members. We paid them £7.50 per hour, per event or the team leaders were paid £8.41 per hour as they were responsible for organizing print arranging the team and sending team event reports. What worked best regarding recruitment? Advertising on our website was our best method. Also ArtsJobs and asking our current team to engage friends and family. What did the team do? Over a 9 week period They promoted 30 Barbican events which included 7 major outdoor events. They also did things like manning market stalls at events and flyering other events. Did you do any online promotion? Yes they did some networking on Facebook and took photos when they were out and about at events. The street team had their own Facebook group too, that is a subsidiary of the Barbican’s Facebook site. They also uploaded photos to Barbican Flickr accounts and used their own twitter accounts. Did they make a difference? Oh definitely. Our evidence is more anecdotal but for instance they saw people they had flyered at other events at others and due to the stall we had at each of our events the same faces would stop by and say hello. Was there anything that didn’t work so well? Working out a transport system for the print that needed to be delivered was problematic as we had to send the bulk of it by cab and courier, which cost us a small fortune! The feedback session was honest and frank: they told us they had felt over-communicated to as we would often send them 2 emails a day to rally support for events. We also had to adapt our ideas as we went along in terms of how the team leaders system worked. Originally we wanted to have one person leading on an event backed up by members of the team. But due to the availability of the leaders, it wasn’t always possible to get for them to work the shifts. So in the end we rotated the team leader role and gave different people a chance, which I actually think worked better as they all had a chance to do it differently and make the experience better. Thanks for sharing this with us. You’re welcome!
Doug Hall is a Professional Inventor, ‘Corporate Rebel’ and Small Business Advocate. A former Master Marketing Inventor at Proctor & Gamble, he is the founder and CEO of the Eureka!Ranch in Cincinnati an international invention and research think tank with clients such as American Express, Ford, Nike, and Walt Disney. He’s also the author of Jump Start Your Marketing Brain: Scientific Advice and Practical Ideas
and is also well-known as the ‘Truth Teller Judge’ on ABC TV first series of American Inventor, co-produced by Simon Cowell.
I met Doug recently at an event where he did a fascinating and inspiring presentation covering innovation, right/left brain thinking, effective marketing, dealing with fear and much more. Before I left I took my own fear in hand and he generously accepted my request for an interview.
Can you say a bit about the areas of marketing where word of mouth can be effective?
Yeah, there’s two elements, people need to know about us, they need to generate awareness. You can do it through marketing spend: classical advertising and you can do it through word of mouth. The right solution is a combination of the two. The challenge with it is, in order to get word of mouth its not enough to just show some clever ad, you actually have to communicate something that is meaningfully unique, in other words, something that’s interesting enough for people to actually want to tell somebody else about.
So therein lies our challenge because we tend to create adverts that are very clever and cute but they don’t say anything and its just one gigantic waste of money when we do this and so we need to do something, but it’s not enough to just deal with advertising.
If you just deal with advertising its just plain and simple too expensive in today’s world, none of us have the right amount of money, but for the bulk of your awareness you will use your advertising to spark word of mouth (as opposed to a replacement for word of mouth) by communicating a meaningful message. The problem is the community of people that do advertising don’t do advertising in this fashion. Their goal is to see how they can win awards for their great mini movies that they make! And what we need to do is we need to tell the story.
So it all starts with being meaningfully unique and if you’re in the arts this gets even more difficult because the minute we start to define ‘it’ there are many in the arts who say you’ve now lost the value of what ‘it’ was and so they have two choices: they can either get over this and start to work at helping people or they can stop whining about the fact that nobody’ll give them any money! So that’s their two options and I don’t really care which one they do! Like, don’t be whining and the doctor’s giving you a prescription of what to do and you don’t wanna do it!
Your company EurekaRanch! are really good at measuring things – some people say its hard to measure the impact of word of mouth – do you agree?
Not that I know of. Its pretty straightforward to measure. You can measure it and monitor it. We have ways of doing it, its called ‘vast diffusion modelling’, it’s a known entity to go do but you need to be able to understand how to do statistics and variable logic, that’s what it amounts to and obviously for most people they don’t know how to do any of that, but then again if I ask them, ‘How does that plane fly in the air?’ they don’t know how to do that either! It doesn’t make it less real than it is.
You are also very skilled in finding solutions to problems [Doug began inventing things from the age of 12]. Is word of mouth marketing a solution to a problem?
It is not a solution by itself, but it is part of a solution to help people get awareness in a cluttered media world. The problem we have is that when we make something, people need to find out what it is that we’ve done and we need to get that message to them and so our challenge that we face is how we can carry that message and bring it to people. So this is quite a significant challenge that exists for us to figure out how to go do that.
Which companies or people do you think are great at word of mouth and why?
Oh I don’t know that anybody’s great at it right now. Frankly we need to bring science to the field. I think there’s people that get lucky but you know in the United States its 300 million people so there’s a one in a million chance, 300 times a day that 300 people get lucky. It doesn’t mean it’s a reproducable process. I think that there’s some people who have gotten lucky, but to reproducably be able to do it, this is a very new science to go do it. It tends to be after the affect that somebody gets it rather than its something that is actually happening.
Its very new and there’s a lot of research going on. I was in a meeting all morning talking about more research in this area and more ways to go do it and there is a lot to be done. What our data shows for the first time is we’ve now figured out what kind of message is more likely to get you word of mouth. I can take two marketing messages and I can test them and I can tell you which one will be more likely to get word of mouth and by what percentage more, I know how to do that and that’s new that we can do that.
You have tons of business and innovation experience. Do you have a message for arts providers and marketers?
They’re gonna have to become whole-brain. People that are visionary in the right brain, its wonderful and its important, but at the same time, if you’re going to make it, you’re going to have to deal with the business side and I understand that growing up you had a perspective that it would be like selling out if you dealt with that stuff, well you’re gonna have to deal with it! Think of it as I want you to become a ‘Renaissance Person’. In the Renaissance, people were equal parts science as well as the arts and you need to become a Renaissance Person.
You offer a lot of great resources on your site, many of them free. Are there any links you’d like to draw our attention to?
There are audio books up at Eureka!Ranch.com and Brain Brew Radio [Wit and Wisdom on Innovation] is my radio show that spins up there 24 hours a day. Go to BrainBrewRadio.com it takes you to the radio show. It runs 24 hours a day and it’s a collection of hundreds of hours of radio show. You’ll hear all kinds of people.”
Doug thank you so much for your time.
Well you’re very welcome, I’m glad that I can help.
Helen Ball, Community Engagement Co-ordinator at Audiences London describes 3 things that successful arts ambassador programmes do. Thanks Helen! Get more information by downloading the FREE Audiences London Arts Ambassador Briefing Sheet.
Apologies for the poor sound quality at 1.59, it only lasts for a few seconds. Just so you don’t miss anything here are Helen’s 3 points in brief:
1) Enable active ambassadors – give them things to act on and influence and make it happen!
2) See your organisation in the context of your local community, not as a stand alone unit
3) Recognise the individuality of each of your ambassadors and connect with their interests
Helen Ball, Community Engagement Co-ordinator at Audiences London
Helen Ball is the Community Engagement Coordinator at Audiences London. Here she talks about the future of arts ambassadors, recent case studies and the challenges and ethics of working in this way.
What is your role at Audiences London?
I support and advise cultural organisations about how they can do more community engagement, what community engagement could mean to them, and where it could get them, and with that real focus on community engagement as a two-way exchange, not simply a way of getting more tickets sold or that kind of thing. It’s actually about developing a partnership approach to working with communities. My connection to arts ambassadors is that they form one of many different ways that you might actually set about delivering a specific kind of intervention to encourage community engagement.
We have worked on several projects where we’ve worked with different organisations and they’ve set up ambassador schemes and we’ve helped support and advise on that, and also through our open training programme, we have information about arts ambassadors. We’ve done a couple of workshops and invited people interested in that subject to come together, hear from someone that’s done it, and look at some of the models and look at the resource that you wrote for the Arts Council and that kind of thing.
There are a lot of different names for this kind of work. What do you call it? Do you use the term arts ambassadors, or brand ambassadors…?
I probably wouldn’t talk about brand ambassadors because the work that I’m particularly involved with probably goes a bit beyond that. It’s more centred on who those ambassadors are necessarily, than trying to recruit them on the basis of, ‘be a brand ambassador for this organisation’. I do call them ambassadors, but largely for recognition in the cultural sector.
I’ve been working with LIFT recently, and, interestingly, they wanted an ambassador’s programme and it ended up being called Arts Activists and being a slightly different model, and there was a strong reaction from the person setting up that programme and the people she was working with that they didn’t want to call it Ambassadors. So I am kind of aware that it’s a bit difficult.
It’s a funny name, isn’t it? It’s not the kind of most successful term in a way.
And yet it’s funny when you actually think about the derivation of the word Ambassador. It is quite funny.
Especially when some, (not all) organisations just want a quick fix. They want some people to kind of give kudos and to get the word out, and so it seems like a bit of an odd word to use in that situation.
Obviously, you think ambassador programmes are worth doing because you’re involved in them, but can you say why? I think there’s still a lot of people are excited about it but also there are questions about whether its worth doing.
Okay. I definitely think they’re worth doing. I think there’s issues about the thinking that has happened before in an organisation, before they’re necessarily set up, but I think they’re definitely worth doing. They’re just a brilliant way of reaching far beyond yourself, you know, the unanticipated outcomes are really significant once you’re engaging with a group of people that can go off and engage with more people, and be excited about doing that. And obviously it doesn’t necessarily cost you much.
There’s a lot of effective community engagement structures that perhaps started off with like an ambassador’s thing, and that’s now relaxed and its now much more naturally just happening. That’s perhaps where some organisations that I’m working with would quite like to get to in the end. That would answer a lot of their problems to do with audiences. But the reason I think they really work is that it’s my experience that people – particularly people who aren’t engaged with arts, for example – they need something to get their teeth into, and it’s peoples’ natural instincts to do rather than just be done to.
So they work really well for that because they really enable people to use their skills, realise that there’s value in all the people and things they know, and do something very active. I think that’s always much more effective at keeping people interested than a kind of more one way offer, you know, ‘We’ll give you this’.
Yes. I find people find it quite a social thing to do as well, and, as you said, there’s all sorts of unexpected outcomes that can come out of these programmes. Okay, so let’s look at some of the programmes that you’ve come across. Which ones have caught your eye?
Camden Arts Centre was an ambassador programme that we were involved with as part of a family friendly project. Through working with us, we mapped and identified that despite having a really good family programme that people went to liked, they weren’t attracting many local families. So they decided to do a kind of pilot project on the Lithos Road Estate, and, it was essentially about them getting out there and talking, attending Tenants and Residents Association meetings, that kind of thing. And out of that, two ambassadors emerged that lived on that estate and they became the conduit for information about the family activities, so quite a straightforward model.
Those ambassadors recruited families that came into Camden Arts Centre and did a session, which was a bit focus group-like, and that gave a lot of feedback about Camden Arts Centre and perceptions of it, and the main problem was not what they were doing but the fact that people did not perceive that it was a public space and they weren’t aware, what the offers were coming from there. So the ambassadors programme really cut through to that, but the thing I like about it the most is that out of that programme, Camden Arts Centre commissioned an artist to do some work with young people on that estate and they made films actually using the estate as the set, and that has had an effect on local people in their interest in arts, and the ambassadors have now set themselves up as a constituted group and are fundraising for their own arts activity on the estate. Camden Arts Centre are facilitating that by their development team. Their fundraisers mentor them, so they support them to fundraise. So it has evolved into this really nice relationship where they’re both getting different things out of it, and it’s just grown up, you know, and I really like that. I think that’s a really nice example.
Do you find that a lot of people who start off on these programmes really have no idea where it’s going to take them. I know you talked earlier about that, but in the sense of not them being prepared for it as well.
Yeah, I think there’s a massive thing about someone comes to you and they’ve got an objective which may or may not be shared by their organisation. Often not, and that can be the first issue trying to figure out how that works. But I think that if they’ve not been in a culture where that open communication has been happening with communities and that kind of thing, then they’re not remotely aware how much time it’s going to take, and they’re not necessarily aware that that community is going to have a lot of ideas and a lot of creativity themselves. If it is a good experience for them, they’re probably not just going to fit into exactly the mould they’ve got for them, and I think that can be quite… really exciting but also quite scary.
And quite scary for the organisation I think because generally it is an individual or two from a cultural organisation that’s leading and the organisation isn’t necessarily caught up with it, so…
But I think the strength of the Camden Arts Centre one was that they involved marketing and education people. They shared out the workload so it just made for better continuity. The ambassadors are now part of this community leaders group and they get invited, along with teachers and community workers, and those sorts of people, along to events and private views and that kind of thing, and that’s how they keep the information up. So they’ve graduated into a group themselves, so the relationship has definitely grown up and it’s not still about just one worker being the contact point for those two people. So I think that’s been quite a success there.
So it can often be a kind of starting point for something completely new that isn’t really about what people thought it was going to be about in the beginning.
Yeah, and almost just realise that, you know, the initial objectives sometimes become a bit more incidental, like their family programme has got more local families attending now but all these other things have happened too that are really substantial. I mean Camden Arts Centre has really taken on some of that information that they got back and they are completely changing their signage and stuff this year.
Okay, I’ve got another. Big Art in St Helens, have you heard of that?
That was a public art contest that Channel 4 did and six places around the country applied for money to run their own public art projects, and the one in St Helens was a piece of work that was installed at a colliery. And the ambassadors in this case were local ex-miners, and basically they were central to applying for the project, along with the economic development team, and various council structures, and that kind of thing, but they were involved the whole way through with the curatorial development, and they commissioned the artists, and someone from Liverpool Biennial, Laurie Peak, worked with them to facilitate them getting to know more about art, and they were completely invaluable.
I had a chat with the guy from economic development at St Helens. I was asking him about how they recruited ambassadors and he said, ‘It wasn’t hard to get them together because we were pushing at an open door, you know. We’d done that much engagement before that this was a true group of ambassadors, rather than recruiting, ‘we want six people who we don’t know who they are’. So what they did is a lot of the press liaison and they did a lot of the transferring of public ownership about this piece of art because obviously public art can be like a nightmare, can’t it, in terms of feelings it generates?
And, you know, there’s been no vandalism to it, and there is a programme, but hearing them talk about the art just gives it more meaning and I really liked that.
I think the other one I would talk about is… we’ve had the sales promotions model, the audience development model, and then there’s … I almost think there’s a new thing emerging which is sort of about artistic development, sort of these people as creators and them coming together around the ambassadors idea because that’s what they want to do, that’s what they identify with more, and I guess Croydon Clock Tower has got elements of that.
This is what happened really on the LIFT work that I’ve been involved with over the past year. They brought in someone through the Cultural Leadership Programme for nine months part-time and what they wanted was an ambassadors model for the festival in Barking, Dagenham: the Molten Festival, and what happened was that the person they brought in was an applied theatre practitioner, very skilled at community engagement, but she argued against this idea of there just being ambassadors to drive festival audiences, because she was being asked to recruit people that weren’t arts attenders, that were very much entrenched locally, local community members, and weren’t necessarily going to see that there was much in it for them to just be getting fifty people to come to the LIFT festival.
So she recruited on a completely different basis and she asked people to come forward that wanted to be arts activists and were interested in talking about art in their local community, with local people. It led to an inter-generational group, ranging from someone who was sixteen to someone who was eighty – three men and three women – and they’ve worked together over the summer and they’ve done all kinds of things. They’ve all worked in different ways. Some of them have worked with artists. There was a sound artist involved for a while. Some of them have written poetry. They all made big cut-outs of themselves, like life size cut outs, and they took them round the markets of Barking and Dagenham and got people talking about them, and they put sound bites on some of the cut-outs.
They’ve basically just started conversations about art in Barking and Dagenham. They’ve done some really exciting stuff. And then they did a performance at LIFT and I think about seventy-five people came. It was a really diverse group of people that came – lots of people that, you know, would not have come to a ticketed event, or seen that as of value.
Its very, very exciting, and what’s come out of that is six new, aspiring artists, and the word of mouth around that has been amazing, you know: them talking to their family and friends, so doing that kind of ambassador stuff. So a different way of thinking really about this kind of term, ‘hard-to-reach’ and what that really means, and is it us being difficult because we’re having quite static offers?
Maybe we’re hard-to-reach.
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So I think that’s probably the one I’m most excited about at the moment.
So co-creation and community empowerment is the next step?
Yeah, very much so.
And is there a future for arts ambassadors because I read that the Guardian newspaper stopped doing their brand ambassador programme when they found on campus there were loads of other brands doing the same thing. You know, sometimes I think, what if everyone starts doing this? Is it going to somehow lose its power?
You know, outside of specific communities for those that want to do a broader outreach. Do you think it’s going to…
I was thinking about this actually. My gut feeling is that there is a future. It got me thinking about the internet and about how, like on my Facebook profile, up until very recently I just used it for friends, but I’ve started to identify that I am a fan of certain things. I’ve got quite a passion for outsider art…
We should talk about that.
There’s very, very exciting things happening. I’ve just started up doing some more stuff recently after, you know, just being a fan more quietly for the past few years, and so that made me identify an arts centre in America. It brought that to mind that actually I’d quite like to stay up to date with them and this is probably quite an easy way. My values are linked to that interest and then there is a cinema near where I live, which I probably mentioned because I talk about it all the time now, and it’s a social enterprise cinema, and any profit they make goes to a school in South Africa.
And again that really appeals to my values, so I’ve been volunteering for them. So I feel that my personal experience is that once you’re empowered enough to be engaged and make decisions about things then you probably naturally are becoming ambassadors for certain things in a more organic way, and I think the internet is really encouraging you to do that because it’s much easier to get information now, whereas before there wouldn’t have been any value. I mean I wouldn’t have just worn a badge that said “I like outsider art”, you know! I could have done, but that’s the only way that that would have translated, whereas now I can find things online and stuff just by not doing much at all. Like people are looking perhaps to be more ambassadorial for the things that they are passionate about…
And I think that’s reflected in increasing interests in the community, engagement, and where that can take people. So I think there is a future, but I can see completely why the Guardian might have thought ‘..we’re not going to do something that everyone else is doing.’ So I think perhaps it does have to be re-thought a bit, and also I think, a bit like arts activists, what is the driver for those people? Do they really want to sell you tickets? Can you really get them excited about an event that they haven’t got any experience of, they’re not involved with, and back to the thing I said at the beginning about people needing to do something rather than just be passive, so I think it might need to be thought through, but if cultural organisations can get their community engagement right, I think there will always be a role for ambassadors, but sometimes they’re doing the ambassadors before they’re doing the community engagement.
Yes, it’s kind of the door that leads them to something isn’t it, like we said before.
And then they suddenly realise, this is deeper than we thought it was.
And then ultimately, hopefully they realise it’s more enriching than they thought it was going to be as well.
Yes. So in an organisation like Theatre Royal Stratford East, it’s very, very passionate about why it wants to include local people. It does not need ambassadors because their ethos is such that all their structures are allowing for people to be ambassadors, and encouraging that. I guess I’m just trying to say that it’s not so much that ambassadors are the future but I think that they’re a part of it and I think that will carry on.
We may have touched on it already, but what would you say was the biggest challenge faced by people working in this way?
I think that there’s probably two. Probably the biggest one is the time, investing the time. Time in the relationships, but that’s often not understood. So it becomes the individual that’s just stressed that they need to get back to this set of people but the organisation is not really supporting them with that, and that creates quite a lot of tension, and, also before that, not unpicking the difference in opinions about why you’re doing it, who you’re targeting, and what they’re getting out of it. I think that becomes the problem later on.
Yes, when you start getting the information coming in about let’s try this new thing and everyone’s like ‘Oh my God, we can’t do it,’ or ‘Why’?
We didn’t bring them in for ideas, thank you.
Yeah, that’s it. All of a sudden everyone has to rethink everything.
What about ethical issues? Should people be paid to do this? Should it be unpaid? Is it evangelism? There’s all those kinds of things that are often hovering around in the background.
I think there’s massive ethical issues about expecting that any group of people you’re not in conversation with are going to want to do something just because you’ve thought of it, or it gets you somewhere. I definitely find it quite hard not to stick my oar in when people are making those kinds of assumptions. It’s like, so why is that group of young people going to want to update your blog every two seconds? It’s like maybe, but you’d need to ask them first if they’re remotely interested.
So there are really big ethical issues. Pressure to sell is a particular one, if that comes up in a particular programme, because that is obviously a different kind of demand. And the more structured the demands are, and if there’s a kind of set paid element, a selling element to them, then you should reward people financially. I think probably the deeper ambassador projects don’t necessarily require payment but they require much more time in building up the relationship and much more personalisation about understanding who that ambassador is, what motivates them, and what’s attractive to them. So rather than it just being three free tickets, it’s like, what tickets would that person like? Can you involve them in a deeper way? Are there people performing with you that they’d like to meet, and can you really individualise and make a deeper offer?
So, yeah, there really are ethical issues, and the majority of them come out of just not seeing the human aspect of the project, just seeing it as like a, you know, your action plan of x amount of tickets and then just not putting faces to the fact that, you know, is that a good offer? If you were presented with that offer, would you feel used by the organisation or would you feel that you’re part of it and you’re really getting something out of it? If I was advising on ambassador stuff, I would definitely kind of talk through ethical stuff because I do think it’s a problem.
It might sound like a bit of a grand thing to say, but as you’ve been talking I’ve been thinking that maybe ambassadors are almost like a crucible for arts organisations, and, you know, beyond the arts for people to learn about partnership and sharing, you know, which is all those things that even big businesses are talking about.
And it’s a great place to learn all that, and with all the risk, and all the mistakes, and the celebrations, and the surprises that come out of it as well.
So you’ve got a lot of experience here. What can Audiences London offer organisations who are starting up ambassador programmes or the similar kind of work, you know, the co-creation work and that kind of thing that you’ve been talking about, or those that are newbies, and also what about people who have been running the programme for sometime?
For people that are new to it, part of our strength is in our networks and relationship, so we can quite often match your aspirations with someone who is a bit further down the line and facilitate you going and seeing them, having a chat, meeting some of their ambassadors, that kind of thing.
We have a lot of paper-based resources that we’ve developed through our workshops, which have notes about models and approaches, examples with outcomes, and inspire you to think about what might be right for you, and what we can really do is pull all that together and have a targeted discussion about what your need is, whether your organisation is supporting that, whether there’s work that needs to be done on that first, and what might fit and what’s realistic.
Personally I do quite a lot of mentoring so I’m available in that way to just check in with people about how it’s going, and we’ve also got notes and experience about ethics and we’ve trained in the past venue staff that are going to be working with ambassadors. We can always bring forward people that have done it and live case studies, and that’s always really helpful.
For people who have been running a programme, we can facilitate a discussion with other people with a similar interest to help you professionalise and develop what you are doing. We can promote good practice examples, across the sector with other organisations, funders policymakers, that kind of thing, so I know that can be useful. We can also come out and actually do a bit of evaluation, observation about what’s working well in your scheme, what’s not, suggest some ways you might want to enliven it, or equally suggest some ways you might actually want to reduce it in a way so that you’re still getting the impact but it’s not running as such a formal programme.
They would probably be our main areas of support, really about kind of some immediate resources, putting you in touch with other people, and then sort of giving our insight based on the fact that we’re quite lucky to see a lot of these schemes in action, about what we think might work well for you for the future.
Marielle Van Batenburg and Maaike Odolphi from MuseumGroep Leiden in Holland were kind enough to chat to me during their tea break/s at this year’s fabulous Arts Marketing Association conference. They told me a bit about the ‘Museumnacht’ they had organised for their group of seven varied museums in the university city of Leiden, South Holland. Based on an idea originating from Amsterdam, Leiden’s Museumnacht was organised and promoted by students.
Glenis Williams, Outreach Officer,Whose Story, The National Trust
Glenis Williams, Outreach Officer at the National Trust has vast experience in successful community engagement. Her most recent work (part of the National Trust’s Whose Story? initiative) has involved engaging local British Caribbean and Muslim communities in interpreting the experience of two properties in the West Midlands, Charlecote Park and Wrightwick Manor. Part of the end result has been two beautifully produced booklets created in consultation with local people who share their thoughts on aspects of the visiting experience. ‘Caribbean Herbal’ is an enlightening guide to healing herbs, with photo portraits and healing tips. ‘Sacred Quran’ profiles local Muslim people responding personally to aspects of Wrightwick Manor through the verses of the Quran.
Both booklets are really well designed and I enjoyed reading them. In each booklet I found the people featured as interesting as the property itself. Please tell us a bit about the background to the booklets:
I have worked on many community cohesion and development programmes for over ten years and I have found that the best results happen when there is a genuine commitment and exchange of shared values from the start of any project. The booklets are intended to show a range of comments, thoughts and aspirations from local people. They highlight personal aspects about the participants and the rich diverse cultural life in which they are linked.
We all see the world in lots of different ways, and having the chance to develop new interpretation perspectives for a particular audience you are targeting is also the perfect platform to develop relevant pieces of work. Seeing yourself reflected in a place where you are under represented is often comforting and can open doors for communication, debate and learning.
How do the booklet projects relate to your ambassador project?
Our Community Ambassador has made links with Faith Forums, Libraries, and Community Organisations.
Who came up with the idea of the booklets and who are they aimed at?
The idea of producing a faith trail bespoke to Wightwick Manor came from the historical background of the Mander family values. The Mander family owned a paint and varnish manufacturing factory. Theodore Mander continued the family tradition of combining sound business sense with deep religious faith and a strong social conscience. He was a lay preacher and a deacon of his church, a prominent member of the temperance movement and was involved in many other organisations and charities. This for me was the starting point, looking at faith groups that would be inspired by the family values and lifestyle.
For the ‘Sacred Quran’ booklet, The National Trust worked together in partnership with a local organisation called Ulfah Arts. The booklet is aimed at Muslim audiences and faith groups. It offers an insight into ways in which we share similar values and enjoy special places of heritage.
How long did it take from first idea to published booklet?
Our first planning session started in August 2008 and ran to October 2009. Planning any new interpretation is a timely process, and this can be increased by the number of partners, internal policies and marketing and branding constraints. Internal and external planning, personal development sessions are crucial to this process, giving the participants time to research the property, making assessments and searching their own faith and values.
How does the book, ‘Caribbean Herbal’ fit in with the marketing of Wightwick Manor? Do you think it will have an impact on attendance or how people engage with the property and its gardens?
Wightwick Manor has been rebranded and is now called Wightwick Manor and Gardens. The layout of the garden is largely Edwardian, designed from 1904 and 1910 by T.H Mawson, one of the leading landscape architects of his day. The newly refurbished Edwardian kitchen garden gives us a range of opportunities to target new audiences through several new marketing opportunities such as the Grow your Own campaign within the National Trust and Dig for Victory.
Wightwick Manor has its very own original edition of ‘Gerard’s Herbal’, a remarkable publication which recorded plants and their properties from all around the world. This book sought to connect people and place in the shared benefits of plant healing. Gerard’s name is highly remembered for the contribution he made to botany, horticulture and herbalism. The books at Wightwick reflect wide ranging interests of two generations of the Mander family who embraced religion, natural history, the sciences, local history and politics.
Having a variety of options is always a good thing; giving people a choice encourages curiosity and interest. So we are also introducing garden taster tours where volunteers are developing short talks about the Caribbean herb garden. Some of the themes we have developed include; What is a Kitchen Garden?’, ‘A little taste of the Caribbean’, ‘There’s more to a cup of tea than Typhoo’ and, ‘Herbs used to make tea and their purposes’.
How did you find local people to take part and what was involved in the process of working with them?
Some of the participants came to our celebratory event – ‘Caribbean Tea Party’, where they signed up to become a volunteer. Others were recommended by friends, word-of-mouth, community newsletters and through Nelson Douglas, our Community Ambassador.
The ACCI Gardening Group
Engagement can be done in lots of different ways, this depends on who you are targeting and what you want to achieve at the end of the project. Some methods include; word of mouth, presentation sessions, AGM, Open Days, Fetes and adverts in community notice boards and newsletters. It also helps to work in partnership with organisations that already work with the target group you are trying to attract. You can arrange a meeting, advertise in the local press and attend an internal meeting.
We’ve developed guidelines to ensure that partnership agreements are set out clearly and everyone understands their commitment and responsibility.
All our partners are aware of what is involved and follow our process of volunteer induction, code of conduct and, where needed, references are given. It’s helpful to have this agreement signed during the planning stages. It gives each partner a clear understanding of expectations, barriers and what can be delivered within the framework of any given project.
Having the commitment of the property staff is also crucial to the success of any project, this helps with the transition of information since they know the capability and internal workings of the property so well. They also hold a rich bank of historical knowledge that is useful when developing new resources and new interpretation.
Susan K Pope, the author of Caribbean Herbal, says she found the process “…recharged my creative batteries to go forward with my latest children’s book”. What did other people get out of being involved?
People involved in the project have a real sense of pride and achievement, knowing they all worked together towards common goals. Everyone invited their family and friends to showcase events and they all received copies of the booklet. The project inspired participants to start growing their own and using herbs for teas and medical purposes. Also; the project featured in the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) AGM Conference and won an Award for Action in Conservation; Shaheen Ahmed, Artist in residence at Wightwick was able to include her work and is featured on the cover of the Sacred Quran booklet and Wightwick Manor and Gardens have a new faith trail that can be purchased.
It was also good to raise awareness that projects like this are happening within National Trust properties.
Tell us also a bit about the process behind ‘Sacred Quran’.
This unique faith trail has been developed as seen through the eyes of local Muslim men and women. The trail explores the relationship between faith, special places and lifestyle, helping to fulfil the National Trust’s long standing aspiration to be’ for ever, for everyone’
How did you invite the contributors to get involved with it? How did you find them?
We commissioned an organisation called Ulfah Arts, a Muslim group that already works with men and women from faith communities. This project has the potential to be replicated with other sectors of society that are under represented within heritage sites within the UK.
The contributors’ responses are often quite personal and passionate, intimate almost – what was the process of revealing people’s responses to Wightwick Manor and Gardens?
This again was a timely process; we arranged several research visits to Wightwick Manor and Gardens. We spent a lot of time looking and talking and enjoying the property before the work took place. These links were developed over six sessions.
How are you letting people know about the booklets and where can they be bought?
Both booklets can be purchased from the shop at Wightwick Manor for £3.50 each.
Our marketing strategy includes; Community Ambassador, Press launch, working with local Muslim organisations in Wolverhampton, website, radio interviews, word of mouth and Open Heritage Days.
What has been the public response so far to the booklets?
It’s early days yet as the main press release has only just been published, it may take some time, but I feel this is a publication that will work in attracting new audiences to visit Wightwick Manor and Gardens.
What did you learn personally from doing these projects?
Ensure that all aspects of any partner agreement is signed and clearly understood at the beginning of the project.
This has been a high level engagement project but potentially it can be sustained over the long-term at property level. This method works, and can be repeated in the same way, working with other groups that are under represented.
Kenneth M Linton – Ambassador for Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (GSO) is this world-famous Swedish orchestra’s most successful ambassador, regularly attracting a particularly precious type of new audience – new subscribers. His success is hardly suprising as he is a warm, articulate man, clearly passionate about the GSO and very active in his support (he also provides content for their Friends website) Here Kenneth describes his role and explains why he is so committed to the cause:
How did you get first involved?
I write articles for a small monthly newspaper. Last year the City of Gothenburg decided to name a tram after the GSO and there was a ceremony in front of the central station. I took a couple of photos and afterwards thought I could write an article about it. During the ceremony a lady came up to me and put an envelope in my hand and said, “You have won a prize: two tickets to a concert of your choice”. This lady turned out to be Paula Gustafson, a member of the orchestra. In the article I said ‘Paula Gustafson usually plays the cello but here she played the role of Lady Fortuna’. I sent her a letter of thanks and she gave this to the GSO Ambassador Co-ordinator, Måns Pär [Fogelberg], saying, “This chap would be an excellent ambassador”.
Måns Pär contacted me and I learned that the system was, get at least ten of your friends to attend a rebated series of five concerts and you get a free ticket to the series as well. I spoke at a community meeting and said how proud I was of the GSO and if anyone was interested, “sign this piece of paper”. When the meeting was over I had twenty-three names. I was shocked: it took about four minutes! I never thought I’d get that many, I’d thought if I get five or six that would be great. Because of the success I set up a second group in the first season.
This season I’ve set up two groups: in the first group I’ve had twenty-one attenders and that was a bit of a domino effect from the first season, the first season’s group told their friends who in turn joined. They just called me, (I’d never met them) and said, “Could I bring a friend of mine?”
I have also spoken at the university and talked to teachers and professors too.
What exactly do you promote?
I promote subscriptions. In the first season there were five concerts on offer and very heavily discounted; 590 SEK for five concerts, a single ticket cost 285 SEK (circa £25).
For this season I’ve enrolled twenty-eight new people in a regular subscription. We will meet before every concert, in the Victor Rydberg hall meeting room. They will meet Sara Troback, the new concertmaster and four other musicians. They will meet with one musician before each concert; each meeting being approx. 45 minutes.
For the current season, if the previous Ambassador guests re-subscribe through their Ambassador, they get a 10 % discount. We as ambassadors get discounts too if they re-subscribe.
Do people re-subscribe?
In this year there have been about 60% re-subscribing from the first season (the original goal was 20% repeat). The original goal was a 20 % repeat, so I think it fair to say that the Ambassador programme was a success!
Why do you do it?
Lets start with the romantic reason: I’m love with that bloody orchestra! My wife and I lived in a small town outside Gothenburg for the last twenty-six years with absolutely no cultural events at all save the church choir. So coming back to Gothenburg after a twenty-six year’s exodus was coming back to culture really.
On my father’s side it’s a musical family. My parents took me to my first concert when I was six. My father loved to play jazz music and in the fifties made recordings for Decca. In the seventies and eighties he made LP and CD-recordings for the Swedish jazz label Dragon. He also had career as a much appreciated jazz pianist. I don’t play very well but I love music.
What do you do as an Ambassador?
Måns Pär created a slogan ‘Would you like to lend us your friends?’ and that’s the way it has worked for most ambassadors here at GSO. You contact your friends and simply say, “Its great why don’t you come?”
As a normal person you have so many more contacts that you think of: you go to the grocery store, you go to the doctors and most of the time you don’t regard them as possible contacts but they are. Most of them won’t be interested but suddenly in surprising places you find them.
At one of the deprived suburbs we have here in Gothenburg, called Hammarkullen, there are a lot of people from South East Europe and Arab countries with no access at all to the available arts. Gustavo Dudamel is well known for his great engagement when it comes to young people and music. He and the concert house decided we won’t get everyone we want to come in so we’ll go out there. So they used a hall used for basketball and had two concerts on the same day and some eight or nine hundred people attended in all. These were young people from the age of 10 – 15. Some of the young boys are so tough and come in with you know [with the attitude], ‘what kind of sh*t is this?’ The leaders were there in their karate gear, standing with their arms folded… anyway, the concert was such a huge success, straight from the regular programme, Beethoven’s 5th, Tchaikovsk’s violin concerto. Afterwards Måns Pär did a video interview and the attenders said “Great, fantastic!” and really meant it. When he asked them, “Do you realise Beethoven has been dead for over 200 years?”, they just dropped open their mouths and said “It can’t be!”
How much time do you put in?
Not too much, its not continuous, it comes in bursts of half an hour, not even on a weekly basis. Before every concert I mail everyone, Måns Pär sends us an email which we send to our guests. Then it’s the ‘tedious’ thing of going to concerts…that takes a lot of time!
Do you need to be a certain type of person?
Yes, you have to be able to speak to people and have to be organised enough to maintain some kind of contact with your groups. Also you have to recognise your own contacts, ie: ‘This is a contact’, not just, ‘who are my best friends?’, they are not the only ones. Your local bank branch, your doctor, your church choir.
Finally, any Top Tips?
• I would stress what you have stressed in your Ambassador Guide, that for the orchestra it takes much more time than you think. Its only from your book that I realise how demanding I have been on Måns Pär’s time for example. He has been fantastic. I call him at home, at work and he always has time for me.
• From the guests’ point of view – get them to meet with musicians on a personal level. This is what happened in the original Ambassador programme. For the coming season, together with Måns Pär, I have arranged for musicians meeting twenty to thirty people at a time.
• Also some kind of discount is good, particularly in the times we are facing now, as an incentive to help people come.
• In all in our first year, we assembled 200+ new attendees, 60 % of which have gone on to become regular subscribers; way over target!. However, a series of five concerts are not the ideal thing for everyone. Alternatives should be considered parallel to more elaborate offers. There definitely is a market for both!
Sarah Fletcher, Community Engagement Co-ordinator & Marketing Assistant at Vancouver Symphony Orchestra tells us about her ambassador programme and answers some questions:
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra introduced its first Ambassador programme in September 2008 with the ‘Student Ambassador Programme’. We decided to focus on Students because despite the VSO’s $10 student ticket deal known as the Student Access Pass, very few students were taking advantage of it. We felt as though we needed a new approach in order to reach out to this demographic and we couldn’t think of a better way for students to learn about it than via their own social circles and through the power of word of mouth.
Things got going in September 2008 about a month prior to the start of VSO’s 08/09 season and when all the Universities and Colleges in Greater Vancouver were starting their new year. I sent out a mass e-mail to University and College department heads and secretaries with a friendly tone explaining the Student Access Pass and the Student Ambassador programme. Thankfully of those I contacted a good deal reacted very positively and told me they will forward the e-mail onto their students. Out of that I must have received about twenty or so e-mails from students interested in the Ambassador Programme. I responded by inviting them individually to our first special event in which they could see for themselves what the programme entails.
I also went to orientation days at various Universities and Colleges in Greater Vancouver. I manned several tables for the VSO advertising the Access Pass and the Student Ambassador Programme. This was a great way to meet potential Student Ambassadors as having a physical presence helped to break down any negative misconceptions and with friendly conversation students could see for themselves what the Ambassador Programme might actually be like.
Our aim was to discover anyone with a keen interest in music, regardless of their background or education and to get them to simply try the programme. Their role would be to spread the word about the VSO and the Student Access Pass in any way possible: put up posters, hand out flyers, e-mail their friends, professors and peers and suggest they go to the Symphony by telling them why they think they should go, from their own perspective.
I reminded them about the power of word of mouth, how talking to friends and suggesting they go, even just once is tremendously powerful, perhaps more powerful than all of the traditional marketing methods combined.
I kept up an almost constant correspondence with every Student Ambassador, relating to them as colleagues and as friends. After a short time, once we were all comfortable with the programme and with one another I found a lot of them started coming to me with various ideas of their own, things in their day to day lives which they felt would be a perfect environment for advertising the Access Pass. There were tons of ideas coming at me and I found myself almost trying to keep up.
We offered our thanks to each Ambassador in the shape of invitations to special events, free tickets on a regular basis, a backstage tour and the opportunity to meet musicians. However by the end of the first year it was evident that Ambassadors gained a tremendous amount of personal reward from being a part of the programme and witnessing first hand the reactions of those they’ve persuaded to attend the symphony for the first time.
Ambassadors forwarded me e-mails from happy concert goers thanking them for introducing them to the Symphony and explaining how they wouldn’t normally have considered going but will in future. It was heart warming to see such positive reactions from both sides and it was our hope that in time and with continuing the programme into the long distant future that these positive feelings would grow and continue to influence a wider population.
Do you think of your ambassador programme as part of marketing for VSO?
Yes I do. I think of them as an extension of the marketing department and as small part of the education department.
What is the most important thing your ambassadors provide or add to VSO?
In their entirety they are an amazing task force. They are hard working, creative, enthusiastic and open minded. They are priceless in my mind and perhaps the best marketing tool there is.
What do they get out of being ambassadors?
They are routinely offered free tickets, invitations to special events to meet the staff and musicians, a back stage tour and the opportunity to be a recognized part of the VSO. It seems they also gain a good deal of personal reward.
Do they get results you can measure?
No they do not, not ones I can stick onto an excel sheet that is. It’s a long term investment.
We did start out by giving each Ambassador a personal code whereby if anyone bought tickets and quoted that code, their tickets would count towards the Ambassadors’ total. However, I felt it wasn’t working for several reasons. The first one being it didn’t make sense for anyone to remember a code and repeat it to a customer service rep when it didn’t effect them in any way, ie. there wasn’t a discount or a perk associated with it. Secondly, I didn’t think it showed we had much faith in the Ambassadors and it erased a part of the good will, we’re doing this because we love it vibe.
How much time do you spend managing them?
Quite a fair amount. I would say with organizing events, answering everyone’s questions and building my ambassador base it takes up much more time than I had imagined. It’s definitely hard to measure but depending on where I am in the season it ranges from 0 hours per week to perhaps 16 hours per week.
Is it expensive to run an ambassador programme? Is it cost-effective?
So far it hasn’t cost us anything other than the clean up costs after one of the special events plus my time. However, I view the Student Ambassador Programme as part of my role as the VSO’s Community Engagement Coordinator and I can’t think of a better, more cost effective way to reach this demographic.
Have you ever had to deal with an ambassador that is not effective in some way?
An Ambassador whose heart really isn’t in it is pretty obvious and will normally just stop responding to me. After a fair amount of time I cut them off. I haven’t had to kick anyone off as such.
What tips would you give to someone who is just starting to put an ambassador programme together?
Maintain almost a friendship with your Ambassadors. Talk to them as often as you can either over the phone or via e-mail on a one to one basis and keep a personal touch. It is easy to be overly zealous and communicate with your Ambassadors as though you’re a living breathing press release. It’s not necessary to ‘sell’ to them and in fact as it has been documented lately that can be quite a powerful turn off. Just be yourself, have fun and be personable. They’re doing this for fun and you’re a part of that fun.
Working with Arts Ambassadors often opens up new ways of thinking and can challenge the way you think “things should be done around here”. Those fortunate enough to be working in open and innovative organisations even get to encourage and embrace this feedback.
‘The Art of With’, an excellent essay by Charles Leadbetter is choc full of thought provoking ideas and provocative statements like, “If the point of art is to provide the setting for conversation then Starbucks could claim to to be the world’s leading art business”. Have a read, it might make you ponder a bit.