Why do we love engagement but feel a bit “yucky” about marketing?


When I first joined Culturapedia, my job title was “Programmer and Community Engagement Coordinator for the Plugged In project” catchy, I know – my lanyards were HUGE. It was a title I was proud to have. It mixed the perfect blend of art and community, and importantly, to me at the time, was not labelled as ‘marketing.’


I had previously dipped my toes into the world of arts marketing and had firmly decided it was not for me. The stress of constantly having to sell sell sell, the confusing world of press releases and the panic of ‘what do I do with all these leaflets?’ would keep me up all night.


Turns out the joke was on me.


Because marketing is trying to get people to see art and community engagement is also trying to get people to see (or take part) in art. Now, 5 years on, while I’m still programming and engaging people, those more traditional elements of marketing are a big part of what I do.


Obviously, that’s a very simplistic way of looking at it, but at the heart of those two roles, that’s what you’ll find: someone working their socks off to get the public involved.


So why do we feel so excited and passionate about engagement, but most of us feel a little bit cringey about marketing?


I work with lots of artists and nearly all of them love encouraging people to get involved with their art form, through outreach programmes and workshops, but talk to them about their leaflets or improvements to their show copy and their eyes glaze over, blurting out ‘oh I’m not a marketing person.’


I get it. As I said before, the world of more traditional marketing can seem scary – like there are lots of hidden rules and terrifying targets to be hit. We don’t like to think of ourselves, or our art as a product to be consumed. But the truth is, for many many potential audiences, the first time they engage with your art IS through something like your leaflet.


If you think of it like that, suddenly marketing isn’t something to be afraid of or to baulk at, but something to be embraced. It’s just another strand of engagement. And what would you put on your leaflet if you stopped thinking of it as a sales tool and started to think of it as a way to engage people?


I imagine we’d start to see a lot less jargon, or copy and pasted buzz words.


Most of the time we feel a little ‘yuck’ about marketing because we see it as something separate to our art. A task to be done by someone who can spell better than we can, or someone who has a degree, or a history of hitting sales targets. And while those people can be fantastic at marketing our art nobody knows your music, or show, or poetry as well as you do.


So next time you start to freak out about marketing and think ‘that’s not for me’ bring it back to basics.


Why are you passionate about what you do?

Why do you think other people should get involved or see the show?

What was it that convinced you to get involved?

What language do you use when you’re running engagement workshops or outreach?


Because there are a lot of technical things to think about with your leaflets, and design and how to write a press release, but that’s the bit people like me are here to help you with, but you’re the only real expert in your own work.*


*please don’t use the word ‘work’ on your leaflets – most people who aren’t involved in “the arts” don’t want to go and see something called ‘work’ on a Friday night.