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Posted on Tue 30th Jul, 2013 in: Crisis Communications, Crisis Management, Industry Comment, Internal Communications, Issues Management, Public Relations, Reputation Management, Social Media by Emma Lister

The announcement earlier this month that Arts Council England funding was to be cut by five per cent was seen by many (including ACE) as a respectable outcome given these tough times. ACE supports a range of artforms and activities across the arts, museums and libraries - from theatre and dance, to crafts, music and literature. Funding comes from the National Lottery and there are various programmes and grants available, tailored to organisations big and small. However, as the applications process opens and organisations begin applying, the amount of funding they are to receive becomes a growing concern. Most are reliant on funding and need to plan years in advance, so 2015 is already being anticipated. Arts organisations across the UK will no doubt be questioning how they can now manage their spending going forward, and where they will have to make cuts. An inevitable area for funding cuts is usually communications departments. In this industry PRs are not seen as the 'creative ones'. Many artistic directors and CEOs are still under the firm belief that if you excel at an artform, it will sell itself. This is rarely the case. If people aren't aware of an upcoming performance of Swan Lake, how are they expected to go and watch it? Creativity and proactivity are as essential in the press office as they are elsewhere. So whilst companies are in the process of looking at budgets for 2013 / 2014, it is vital to remember exactly what PR can do and why it should not be neglected. Here are the activities you just cannot cut back on:
  • Media and bloggers relations. Keeping journalists and bloggers up to date with news is fundamental and the best way to do this is face-to-face. Whilst arts writers often resent being inundated with press releases, they, unlike many other journalists, love socialising, so it's important to dedicate time to meet with them. Also, they're the ones that get bums on seats. All it takes is one good preview or review and your performance or exhibition could sell out. Alternatively, they can deter audiences, so keep them on side!
  • Audience engagement. In the arts, regular engagement with your target audience will help improve retention and audience commitment. Although they might already seem committed to the artform and to you, it doesn't necessarily mean they will stick by you through bad reviews and funding cuts. They need to feel involved, whether that's through invitations to private viewings of ballet performances, or tickets to book launches.
Social media is increasingly the most effective way to communicate with target audiences. And it's perfect if you're working for a company in the high arts looking to appeal to a younger audience and to ditch traditional misconceptions of the artform. An active social media presence with regular engagement with followers is a sure way to increase that all important two-way communication.
  • Relationships with stakeholders and sponsors. Many arts organisations also rely on top-up funding from sponsors or patrons, therefore engagement with these key people is essential. Work with your fundraising teams to come up with some creative ways to involve those people that contribute towards the financial success of the company. Whether it be 'behind-the-scenes' style previews or one-on-one interviews with the artists themselves, there are plenty of ways you can make them feel involved.
  • Managing internally. This is always the activity that is forgotten about when planning budgets. Internal communications is what keeps your organisation up and running, increases staff motivation and keeps employees up to date. With casts from several productions, creative teams complete with costume designers and wig departments, there can also be a lot of 'extra staff' wandering about to consider.
  • Battling a crisis. Any organisation can find itself in a crisis, but it's the efficiency of its PR department that will determine how quickly you recover. Although they might not always be able to prevent it from occurring, the press office can restrict its impact and advise on how best to react.
A crisis I experienced while working in the arts was when the opera company I worked for chose to put a modern spin on their adaptation of Carmen. This version of the fiery and passionate opera featured "bare breasts and buttocks"? and as a result divided the critics who were writing a mix of both spectacular and appalling reviews. It also received numerous complaints from audience members who argued the production was too racy for children. 'Boob gate', as it was known within the company, meant we had to work extra hard at maintaining the reputation of the organisation and react to the scandal the best way we could. We proactively issued statements from the general director to the media, quickly responded to enquiries and applied an age recommendation for the remaining performances. For those applying for funding for 2015 - 2018 and already debating the areas of your company that it may affect, remember the value of PR, its role and the impact of the activities above.

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