A Personal Takeaway

Dr Steven Hadley reflects on his experience at this year's AMA conference...

Having spent the past 18 months visiting a fascinating range of countries to talk about audience development and cultural policy, I’m finely attuned to the concept of ‘the takeaway’. Not the dirty food/early morning variety that some conference delegates may have experienced in Belfast, but rather the speaker takeaway, designed to deliver your key message – “make your point, say it again, and then repeat what you said back to them during the course of the talk. Don’t let them walk away without being completely clear about the presentation’s goal”. Well, here’s my personal takeaway from the 2017 AMA Conference: I’m officially old.

I was at the AMA Conference in Belfast in 2004, which was indirectly how I ended up being CEO of Audiences NI, doing a PhD in Cultural Policy and now sitting here writing this blog. I know I’m old because most of the delegates look like my students (indeed some of them were at one point) and because my hangover on Thursday morning was truly middle-age-monumental.

So, does age bring wisdom? Cynicism? Fear of the (technologically) new? All of the above. But it’s also made me realise that there’s maybe a missed opportunity here for the more senior members of the sector to relate back their experience and understanding in a manner that might positively impact how the sector develops. Part of this issue is that I was listening to (young, dynamic, passionate) speakers who were telling me things I’d heard over a decade ago, but articulating the message within the context of a new(ish) technological/social/digital format. It reminded me of a 2001 article the great American academic and business guru Michael Porter wrote for the Harvard Business Review[1] called ‘Strategy and the Internet’ in which he stated:

The Internet is an extremely important new technology, and it is no surprise that it has received so much attention from entrepreneurs, executives, investors, and business observers. Caught up in the general fervor, many have assumed that the Internet changes everything, rendering all the old rules about companies and competition obsolete. That may be a natural reaction, but it is a dangerous one.

To be clear, this isn’t a case of an older generation arguing for maintaining the arts marketing status quo in a kind of management version of the biblical: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Porter himself wasn’t arguing about resisting change or against embracing new technology. What he was saying is that while people are excited about the new shiny thing that tech has delivered, don’t forget to question whether this fundamentally alters strategy and indeed, mission and values or whether it simply offers new routes to market(s).

And ALWAYS remember, contrary to what you may have heard at the conference, that social media content development, delivery and engagement are not free. They take staff time, and that is one of the most limited and precious resources the subsidised arts sector has. So, do absolutely invent, innovate and disrupt but also do remember that the senior arts marketers looking for somewhere to sit down and ‘have a minute’ are wise enough to recognise that, as Hamlet said: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet, 1.5.167-8).

Dr Steven Hadley, Associate Consultant

[1] Porter, M. E. (2001) “Strategy and the Internet”, Harvard Business Review, 79(3), March: 63-78.