Cultural Leadership: News

Strategy and audiences

The first of CLI 2011's Cultural Management Workshops (CMW) takes place at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan.

CLI Cultural Management Workshop
11-12 July, 2011
Directors Across Borders Programme, Golden Apricot Film Festival 2011, Yerevan (Armenia)

(By RogerMcCann, NFA International)
'It's always a nerve-racking time at the start of a workshop: a new group of people in a new country with unique experiences and, no doubt, very different expectations of the workshop. This two-day course was held during the Golden Apricot International Film Festival and was billed as part of the 'Directors Across Borders' forum held as part of the festival, although participation was open to all cultural managers with at least two year's professional experience. Twenty four participants were selected from over fifty applicants so clearly a lot was expected. 

The list of delegates included representatives from a wide range of organisations: museums, PR companies, youth organisations, film and television companies, and a human rights NGO. Great. A variety of organisations always makes for an interesting time - they bring different perspectives to issues and I'm a great believer in people learning from each other. My role is to be a catalyst to encourage that learning, to provoke and challenge, and offer an approach to solving problems. I'm very clear that my role is not to tell people what to do. 

© British Council Armenia


This workshop was packing a lot into two days. The first day would concentrate on strategic issues, the second on marketing and audience development. Both could easily fill a five-day workshop on their own but the participants were all experienced professionals so this would be less nuts and bolts and more concepts.

Money is at the heart of business decisions and the arts and culture are no different so discussions began with an exploration of the sources of income and the impact each has on the business plan. Interestingly, earned income accounted for only a small proportion of the total for many of the participants but there was a general feeling that it would become increasingly important.

Understanding and balancing the demands of different stakeholders is crucial in business planning but without a clear vision of what the company is aiming to achieve there is a danger that the organisation responds to others' ambitions and loses sight of its own. A practical exercise on negotiation gave some useful pointers on how to balance competing demands - a subject that would return on day two.

The day finished with a presentation from Hussain Currimbhoy on how the Sheffield Doc/Fest had approached its strategic plans to develop and grow, introducing new programme strands and more than doubling its size. 

© British Council Armenia

The second day revisited some of the lessons from the day before. The importance of pitching ideas, and tailoring the pitch to the audience, was explored in a version of 'speed dating' with participants taking on the role of different stakeholders. 

The focus of the day was the audience and other customers - the source of that earned income that all acknowledged was set to become increasingly important. Understanding the nature of different audiences in terms of demographics and motivation would enable each to be addressed in the way that suited them and an exploration of the process people go through when buying provided insights on how to sell. 

The need to develop new audiences was clearly an important issue, not just because they provide income from sales but also because they provide the reason for the organization to exist. Bigger audiences mean happier funders but they also mean happier creatives. 

At the end of the day Hussain returned to give practical examples of audience development from Sheffield. By clearly identifying its audiences and understanding their different needs, the DocFest has created programmes that cater to the needs of professionals – both producers and presenters of work – as well as the interests of local residents who now look of the festival as their opportunity to see exceptional work from around the world.

It was certainly a packed two days and in the heat of summer it was a tribute to the participants that energy levels remained high. Workshops in festivals always carry the danger that competing opportunities will prove too attractive and numbers will tail off so it was particularly pleasing that we lost hardly anybody. Indeed I heard from the organiser of another meeting that some of their expected delegates failed to turn up because they had booked both events and didn't want to leave our workshop. 

And the feedback from participants? The workshop was good but they would have liked it to be longer. Result!' 

Roger McCann is Director of NFA International, an organisation that provides services to independent arts organisations and government agencies involved in international cultural operations. From 11-13 July 2011, he delivered -together with Hussain Currimbhoy from Sheffield Doc/Fest- a series of cultural management workshops at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yervan. These workshops  are part of the Cultural Leadership International 2011 programme in Armenia, and are kindly supported by the Open Society Foundations.