As arts/cultural/creative organisations steel themselves for further cuts this winter, they’ll be pulling out all the stops to communicate their worth. There’s a strong network of arts marketing professionals who are more than up for that challenge: but few of them are in music education. Perhaps now’s the time to make better links, locally and nationally?
Theatres, arts centres, drama and dance companies, galleries and other arts organisations tend to be well-versed (if not always well resourced) in marketing and communications.
At best, they have dedicated marketing staff who receive training, CPD and networking with colleagues. At least, they usually have someone responsible for marketing, and can access a range of support and training. There’s an Arts Marketing Association, and there have been audience development agencies (the Audience Agency may well be the only one left now). There are dedicated conferences for audience development (Arts Council Wales ran an annual one until recently), along with plenty of blogs, books, and resources.
There’s a wealth of intelligence about audiences (patterns of sales, how to move people along the customer loyalty ladder, geodemographic and psychographic/profiling info about behaviours, motivations, attitudes, and even an ‘audience finder’ tool), effective marketing practice, national trends, etc.
There’s limited tailored communications support
Yet in contrast, music education hubs – which are usually led by music services – have no tailored support and have done limited sharing about marketing and communications.
Few have staff with marketing and comms as part of their job description. Even fewer (if any?) have dedicated marketing staff. There are no organisations providing marketing/comms support to them (except for a few communications freelancers like me). And at leadership level, many hub leads have had to focus more on the complexities of pedagogy and partnerships rather than shaping communications (and even services) to respond to customer needs.
There is no national customer research into people who buy music education services. Although there are a few blogs and articles into the views of headteachers, there’s no comprehensive research and no-one has studied parent and student music education motivations and drivers in the way they have audiences.
Yet they have a complex communications job
Perhaps hubs need this support more than anyone, and not only because there’s such a gap in provision. I’d say they have an incredibly complex comms job to do, for three main reasons:
Firstly, theirs is often not a straightforward marketing job. Hubs (of which the lead organisation is usually a music service) have to communicate and ‘sell’:
- ideas, concepts and cultural change: what is a hub, why does it exist, what is the difference between a hub and a music service, why should I be interested and get involved?
- evidence/stories: of the value and impact of a range of partners, and of music education in general: the impact it can have, and the difference it can make to young people’s lives and futures (oh, and how fun/cool/welcoming/fulfilling it is, when talking to young people)
- services (again of a range of partners): ranging from consultancy to schools (aka ‘support and challenge’ – who wants to buy a challenge?!); to out of school music groups to young people and parents
Secondly, they need to communicate different messages, and sell different services to a range of different customer groups with very different motivations. Some of them – such as some school heads – don’t see the connection at all between their ‘needs’ and what music education offers.
Thirdly, it’s a complex selling process because there are a number of decision influencers for each ‘sale’ or action – and the benefits aren’t for the decision maker.
If we take the example of selling music lessons or out of school music groups to parents/young people:
- the recipient of services (and the benefits) isn’t the person who pays/makes the decision
- the purchase is reliant often on an intermediary such as a school, and they don’t ‘market’ music lessons, group membership, or wider music experiences, just provide information on them (at best)
- paying for music education requires a big commitment in cost on the part of parent, and time on the part of parent and child
- it is a very, very discretionary purchase: based more on ‘heart’ ‘ than ‘head’ and often down to the experiences of the buyer as a young person themselves
And many of the same points apply to selling to schools.
How can we do better?
Most hubs do a great job with little or no support. Perhaps now’s the time to think more smartly about how we can do better. How can we use our own experiences, and the intelligence that exists in the wider arts world, to pool ideas, resources and lobby for some tailored support for music education? Could this extend to the whole of the participatory/community arts and arts education sector?
Could Arts Council England – who are responsible for hub funding and outcomes – and the Arts Marketing Association offer a programme of training and some online resources – similar to what’s available for audience development? It might only take a bit of tailoring of existing resources. Maybe Music Mark could negotiate for members to access some of the AMA members resources (such as training videos – see below for two examples, free thanks to Arts Council funding)?
In the meantime, I’ll continue to think of ways that I can better support the sector. I’d love to hear views, ideas and requests from music educators, comms professionals and others about what’s needed, and what we could make happen.
A few free resources from the Arts Marketing Association
These are focused on audience development, but many aspects will be relevant for hubs.
• 20 quick fixes for marketing – one hour and a quarter’s worth of short videos