How These Reports Confirm Some Unfortunate Truths

Percentage_DigitalWith four operas to learn for work later this year and upcoming concerts, I wasn’t planning to write another post this month, but two disjunct articles I read this week captured my attention if only because they confirmed what is known, but often pushed under the metaphorical carpet due to their indigestiblity in the classical music industry.

The first is an excellent piece from Arts Professional (22 February) entitled ‘Senior arts staff sidelining digital work, research finds’. In summary, the piece finds that digital skills are spread thin in cultural organisations with only one in six of those in the most senior strategic roles identifying web or digital activity as forming a part of their work.

Citing the ArtsPay 2018 survey, senior strategic role employees in cultural organisations have correspondingly less connection with digital and web initiatives than early and mid-career level employees – and the latter’s efforts, collectively, representing on average only 33.5% of total work responsibilities.

The survey further found that only 6% of cultural organisation employees are primarily concerned with developing work across all digital platforms. The findings align with those of a 2017 Nesta survey, in which only 19% of respondents were confident that most of their senior management were knowledgeable about digital technologies, and only 16% were clear that coming up with new digital ideas was a priority for the senior team [Italics mine].

So what do senior strategic roles spend their time doing.  Here’s the graph:


Keeping in mind the above, here are the statistics that really matter [Italics mine]:

The majority of digital activity is taking place in marketing departments. 74% of respondents for whom marketing is the main focus of their role said their work included web/digital activity – a proportion that holds true across early career, mid-level and senior marketing roles. This is also consistent with Nesta’s 2017 research, which found that the most advanced digital skills in arts organisations are in marketing.

What is critical about this?  Observedly, less than a quarter (24%) of those whose primary roles were in artistic direction, programming or curation said web/digital formed a part of their work.

Why is this so important to highlight?  Given the way that millenials and post-millenials engage with myriad options across the cultural sector (if they do at all) the focus of what they see is about selling – as opposed to curating content to engage them toward converting them to accepting the ‘selling’ proposition.


Chris Denton ©Pete Woodhead

It is absurd, by virtue of digital avoidance, that marketing departments are driving cultural engagement curation almost by osmosis.  It is the responsibility of those in artistic management roles to drive this strategy.

It is as if digital and marketing are understood to be one and the same thing in the cultural sector.  They are not.

More important still, it speaks volumes about how priorities to engage with non-traditional audience segments continue to be misunderstood from those in executive strategic roles.  And why is this?  Because through not understanding the enormous potential in digital to reach the very people that enormous amounts of marketing budgets keep failing to attract, we reinforce the message that engagement in culture (in this case, Classical Music) is not for them.  It is what is called (the law of) diminshing returns.

The second article I am referencing is an insightful editorial in the January 2019 issue of Classical Music. Written by Chris Denton, executive director of audiences at Southbank Centre, the observation that there are ever more sophisticated data analysis tools capable of interpretation into audience behaviours and motivations is important to know. According to Mr. Denton, Southbank Centre are developing a bespoke audience segmentation model to further improve their understanding of audience segmentation, including propensities to donate and retain loyalty to their associate orchestras.

The key statistic in this article is that only 7% of audiences attend principally because of who is playing whereas 66% attend because of what is being performed. Moreover, and contrary to the statsitics cited from Arts Professional previously, Mr. Denton urges (amongst other important priorities) an exploration of economies of scale and shared resources in back end functions such as digital creation [Italics mine].

Two key observations arise from this.  The first is that the music itself is the key to attracting audiences – and yet orchestras concentrate so little time, effort and resources in developing systems and methodologies to drive and reinforce natural curiosity on one hand or overcome lethargy and ennui on the other in terms of potential audience uptake.  Why?  Too much money is spent on marketing initiatives that don’t work as opposed to grappling with understanding audience behaviours.

The second is that in terms of economies of scale the development of digital with new generation tools and software is less expensive overall than the marketing spends being accumulated to reach an aggregate audience that is not expanding – and in many cases continuing to diminsh (in fact there is a proposition called ‘bucket-leak’ that is pertinent here, but that is for another time).


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