Thursday, 30 June 2011
What role can (and should?) PR be playing in the arts?
These notes are an amalgam of two sets of notes that were taken during the discussion, by Andrew Girvan and me (Amber Massie-Blomfield). I have avoided restructuring too heavily for clarity’s sake, preferring to reflect the rather wide ranging and free flowing nature of the conversation.
• In times of crisis- particularly in light of the recent funding crisis- could PRs be playing a bigger role- being mindful of their responsibilities not only to champion their individual theatres but also to champion the importance of theatre as a whole- maybe having a shared set of principles as PRs about how we talk about theatre etc?
• The relationship between a company and their PR should be long term- allowing time to develop a trusting relationship, where the PR is qualified to genuinely speak for the organisation and play a meaningful part in developing the content of the organisation’s work.
• As the way in which we consume media changes, the PR’s role must be to keep pace with this change, and to help artists and organisations cope with it. PR can help audiences to engage with the artistic process by creating multiple points of access, through blogs, videos etc… As national newspapers etc become more strapped for cash there are opportunities for PRs to provide more content.
• Theatre makers should be in the vanguard of inventing new ways of using social media, because we are artists and we are adept at playing with media and taking risks in order to discover new forms of expression. But we are failing to keep up. There are a lot of bad examples of rehearsal blogs- they are not personal enough and don’t add any value to the audience experience- but perhaps we need to do it badly before we start doing it well. There is still too much attachment in theatres to traditional media and not enough interest in social media. No one knows yet what the future is for social media- but we only learn through doing.
• The role of the PR should be to bridge the gap between artists and their audience. There is a parallel between the role of dramaturg, when defined as ‘the representative of the audience in the rehearsal room’, and the PR, who ‘manages the relationship between an organization and its publics’. PRs should be feeding back into the organization from its stakeholders as much as they are representing the voice of the organization externally.
• Do PRs have a greater responsibility than to their own organisations- do they have a responsibility to talk about how we are representing the arts as a whole? Should the massed PR community have congregated around the funding crisis to try and vocalise the issues on behalf of the industry? Could we be networking more to establish some ‘metta narratives’ that should underpin our communications for our individual organisations? Could we establish a crack guerilla force of arts PR people to unleash their power at times of crisis?!
• Should theatre PRs be taking more responsibility for training practitioners to be spokespeople for the industry, and to tackle issues-based questions as they might in other industries?
• Should PRs be learning from the way PRs operate in other industries to improve their practice/ increase their standing in their organisations?
• PRs are totally under valued and underpaid, particularly in in-house roles. They are viewed as an extension of the marketing department- at the bottom of the hierarchy- a reflection of the flawed hierarchial structures that are still operating in our theatres. Their full skill set is not being employed- it should place them at the heart of their organisations. The job is far too tactical and not strategic enough.
• The role of PR in the arts has not been clearly defined at all, many really don’t understand what a PR person does and how it is distinct from marketing. Clearer definitions would facilitate greater use of a PR person’s skill set.
• PRs are able to share better the ideas if they are deeply involved in the rehearsal process.
• Everyone is now responsible for their own public ‘brand’ via social networking. Artists who manage their own Twitter and social media accounts are doing a passable job of managing their own PR, but PR professionals should be assisting them more. Lots of theatre companies are doing lots of the nuts and blots of social media, but few to none of them have managed to implement overarching strategy. Creative led organisations should be able to create better and more sophisticated PR campaigns by their very nature and the people who are involved. The same is true of fundraising, which should be done most creatively in the creative industries, but is often better executed in the more traditional commercial sector.
• A good PR is informed and passionate, has honesty and integrity, and should know the tastes of the person to whom they are pitching. A really good PR feels able to tell a particular journalist they may not enjoy this particular show.
• HONESTY is the strongest weapon in the PR person’s arsenal- once you’ve been dishonest with a journalist, you’ve lost them for good- or at least for a very long time. BUT there is a conflict between maintaining your integrity as an honest PR and keeping the person who pays your wages happy. Can we be genuine thought leaders and speak honestly? How do we manage this conflict? It is the fortunate few who can pick and choose the projects they work on. Long term relationships with companies rather than project-to-project relationships develop trusting relationships where the PR can be honest with companies about how and when its appropriate to engage the media. What can in house PRs do if they don’t believe in the work they are promoting? It is important that even if they don’t rate a particular show, they are able to understand it in the context of the bigger aims of the organization and talk about it from this perspective.
• It is very easy to forget that PRs seek to work in theatre because they love it. If they were more valued and had more sophisticated roles, they may be more willing to accept poor pay! Instead good PRs move on to other industries, because a career isn’t sustainable.
• Do the leaders of organisations hold back the work of their PRs? The organisation can't move forwards in the public's eyes because the PR is very low down in the hierarchy of the organisation. Why do directors feel entitled to impose their ideas about how the PR should work if a PR wouldn’t impose their ideas about how the rehearsal room should be run?
• There is a regional theatre PRs network and a West End theatre PRs network. Should an Off-West End network be created?
• Would PRs be willing to become involved in experimental projects at an early stage before there is any funding? Perhaps if they were given the opportunity to experiment with their own approaches- rather than simply being invited into the process then asked to write and send a press release. It is easier for individual freelancers to do pro bono work than agencies.
As a result of this conversation those interested in the issues raised signed up to a mailing list, and discussions are now taking place about setting up an arts PR network as an adjunct to the Twespians network. Anyone wishing to join this mailing list should contact Amber: email@example.com
Posted by Improbable at 03:18