I joined Creative Arts East as the Communications and Content Assistant last November, and this, along with another colleague’s role change marked the beginning of the organisation’s very first fully formed marketing and communications team.
Creative Arts East (CAE) is an arts and community development charity that focuses on engaging rural communities across Norfolk, Suffolk and the wider Eastern region with high-quality arts and culture, to promote wellbeing and combat rural and social isolation. We do this through a variety of schemes and projects, one of which is CAE Screen, our network of rural community cinemas. During 2017-18 alone, we supported 485 screenings and enabled 17,803 film audience engagements by working in partnership with volunteers, whom we support to programme, market and run their own film screenings in their own rural communities.
As a member of the BFI Film Audience Network, and through the Film Hub South East, we applied for and were successful recipients of one of FHSE’s Training and Professional Development Bursaries. We applied for this so that I could attend the 2018 Arts Marketing Association (AMA) Conference ‘The Power of Play’ which took place in Liverpool last month, along with two more members of our newly formed marketing team.
We first joined the AMA in April this year, and knew that attendance at the conference (regarded as the leading event for arts marketeers in the UK) would not only be an excellent opportunity for our team to extend our knowledge of different marketing and communication strategies, but also to explore how we can use these strategies with regards to CAE Screen and apply them to our audience development strategy for 2018-2022. We found the whole experience incredibly insightful but wanted to share what we’d learned about one theme in particular.
During the conference, one of the topics high on the agenda in many of the keynote speeches and breakout sessions was how organisations can increase the diversity of their audiences. The majority of our activity takes places in rural East Anglia, predominantly Norfolk, which is statistically not a hugely diverse county at all, especially in terms of BAME residents (according to the most recent census, only 7% of Norfolk residents are from BAME backgrounds, below the national average). One key takeaway from some of the diversity-focused sessions was that whilst many organisations like ours strive for greater diversity, it’s important to look at what diversity means to the individual organisation and the community in which it operates. One of the keynote speakers Alice Proctor, creator of the Exhibitionist podcast and Uncomfortable Art Tours initiative, spoke emphatically on the importance of this, in order for diversity not to become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise without a basis in real life.
We know from feedback and surveys that the majority of our stakeholders tend to fall into a certain demographic, particularly in terms of age and race. Here at CAE, we deliver specific programmes that aim to engage both young, often rurally isolated people, and older people, some of whom live with a dementia or other health conditions or care for someone who does. But what about other communities we aren’t reaching? If we want to truly engage with all members of rural communities in East Anglia today, then we need examine what diversity actually looks like in reality for where we work. Using data from the census of 2011, 59.2% of people living in Norfolk fall between the ages of 18-64, and so if we examine our current activity and the data we collect from audiences, we know that it is this bracket we need to reach more. Expanding our reach in this age bracket is what age diversity means in reality for our organisation. This is an example of where we can use the knowledge of what diversity actually looks like in practice in the area in which we work, and apply this to our activity.
One aspect of CAE Screen which we’re really keen to enhance is the amount of groups which screen more independent and foreign-language titles, so that they can promote a more varied and ambitious programme, in order to help increase the diversity and number of our audiences. Our attendance at the AMA Conference spring-boarded a lot of discussion within our marketing team about how we can do this, and the different ways to attract that type of audience, rather than just putting on certain films you think they might be more interested in. For example, just because your audience may have a disability does not mean they’ll only be interested in films that explore storylines or themes of disability, and programming in this way could easily be tokenistic, or even offensive. That’s not to say that such purposeful programming won’t draw in the type of audience you are trying to reach, but choosing to appeal to a more diverse audience needs to be an holistic, organisation-wide approach.
A much better way to go about this would be to understand this specific community group. Talk to them, why are they not coming, what do they want to see on screen? It needs to be a long-term strategy in direct communication and consultation with these peoples, not a case of ‘programme it and they will come’.
Some of BFI FAN’s priorities are to enhance the quality and cultural depth of the audience experience, increase access to a wide range of independent British and international film for audiences, and to do this with particular emphasis on increasing the diversity of audiences and boosting the number of 16-30-year olds engaging with film activity. We hope to be able to utilise the knowledge and experience gained at the AMA Conference to help us better achieve these priorities, effectively promote a more varied and ambitious programme to our cinema groups, and help increase the diversity and number of their audiences.
On top of what we learnt about diversity, the theme of the conference ‘Play’ was always at the forefront of our minds. Play is something we don’t often associate with our work, but to us, this is about taking risks, not being afraid to question, being brave and accepting failure as part of development. The ways we’re planning to put ‘play’ into practice is through playful language, marketing techniques, across our Christmas campaign and our upcoming 25th Anniversary Celebrations.
We hope that this in combination with what we’ve learnt about diversity will enable us to cement a playful brand, engage further with our audience and use new exciting content to help them engage with us too. We hope that by sharing our learning with you, you’re able to take away some of the key areas of our learning and apply them to your own line of work, whatever your role.
If you’re a member of Film Hub South East, don’t forget that we can support our members attending opportunities like this through our Training and Professional Development bursaries.