There is sometimes a tension between art and commerce. However, it could be said that this tension could be eased through digital media, where both artists and brands are constantly interested in new ways to build engagement, participation and awareness. Talking about how digital is changing the relationship between brands and art is Joanne South and Katy Beale The conversation centres on the recent report from Arts & Business, “Evolution and Partnerships: Cultural collaborations in the digital age”. How do digital artists see collaboration with business? Are they more receptive than artists in other disciplines to working with businesses and brands? KB: Artists that are used to using digital and social tools are more aware of the benefits of collaboration, and of using networks to spread what they are doing further and wider – as opposed to artists whose practice is based in the more traditional sense, who have less of an understanding of what the benefits might be. Using technology can make people think, “how much more can we do with this, if we get other people involved?” JS: The more traditional artists, where it's about touching the paint or the clay, can't necessarily see where a brand can necessarily help them in terms of the artistic process, but there are other ways in which brands and businesses can help them. I think that the digital space, where it's new and experimental – pushing technology, doing things with new equipment, trying to make tangible some of the things that this technology can do – is a really interesting challenge. It's something that digital artists are keen to take up. From the artists' side, there's a really interesting artistic challenge there; and from the business side, it helps to display and promote what the technology and the business can do. So, I think that digital artists are certainly more receptive, because they can see the automatic connection between the two areas. Do you think that we are now in a period where there is tremendous potential for collaboration between artists and brands, and if done correctly, there could be an explosion of new creative work? KB:,. With digital artists, are we thinking about someone that has gone and studied at Goldsmiths, or are we thinking about someone that is working at a digital agency as a creative? “Digital artist” simply means someone that is creating something digitally, as their paint or their clay. It goes across lots of different sectors and ways of working, so we have people working sense within arts organisations or as their own practitioners; but then we also have people working with brands, who we could define as digital artists. Are those two areas meeting? Yes - that's happening already. It's more to do with how we label things. JS: All of those people you describe are digital artists, in one way or another; whether they perceive themselves in that way is another issue. In terms of the amount of activity that has been happening, a lot has taken place, and we’ve been mapping it out. Small pockets are there: in the North West, in the East, in London, and around Watershed in Bristol. It tends to be relatively sporadic, and there isn't the long-term strategy in terms of collaboration. Because it's all about experimentation at the moment, and people see it all as being new and they aren't quite sure [how to approach digital media], it doesn't have that long-term planning attached to it. As a consequence, you have people going through the same process that others have already gone through, and unable to learn and move forward. We are struggling with getting this to move forward, because people aren't sharing the collaborations which they have been working on. KB: So you feel like the report was about helping to people to have foot up, and to experiment? Is there a way for organisations playing catch-up, to jump on board and still feel like they are capable and do some interesting things? JS: Absolutely, so they can start at that higher level. They will still be catching up, as frankly, everyone is constantly playing catch-up. You have to simply dive in and do it; and even if you have half the knowledge which you think that you have, half is better than none. You can work with that. It's just about spending time to think it through, looking at what others are doing, talking to them, and sharing expertise, rather than doing things in silos, or isolation. As you were saying regarding digital agencies: if they're doing things, go and talk to them. Go and find out what they have been doing, and learn from outside your sector. Those creative skills and that knowledge are not confined to one group. Nine times out of ten, [brands] are just as lost as everyone else. Joanne South KB: When I undertake training to arts organisations, people want to talk about social media at the moment. They are thinking about the social web and how to use it, and I will use a broad range of case studies and examples from arts organisations, but also from brands. People are sometimes surprised at brands being in there, and wonder what the relevance is. However, when you peel a layer back and look at their ideas, ways of working, and their objectives, it's thinking about what the values are of what we are doing, which works across any organisation or brand. What makes us unique? What are our offers?... and then transferring those values into how we digitally interact.We're not talking about saying or doing anything different; it's about using different platforms and channels... JS: … and that's where arts organisations and artists can teach businesses and brands quite a lot in this area. There is an assumption that [brands], because they have money and have a Head of Digital, know what they are doing. Nine times out of ten, they are just as lost as everyone else. Arts organisations, because they can be more lean, more flexible, and can have great relationships based on content that people want to talk about, can do great things with digital media, where businesses can't necessarily do that. You then have businesses that work out their own digital strategy, by working with arts organisations. It works both ways; arts organisations can have assets which businesses need, in order to help them to get over their own challenges in digital. Do you think that there is a gap in knowledge and awareness of how brands can benefit from working with arts organisations? Many brand managers are still getting their heads around social media, so how can they be convinced that working with digital artists can work for them? KB: Brands have to create stories around what they are doing, but cultural and arts organisations already have those stories, so how can we match those up in a way which doesn't feel forced – in a way that is a creative collaboration of mutual benefit? JS: It should be a real collaboration, as opposed to a transactional relationship: “I give you this money, you go off and do this activity”. It is about sharing of skills, expertise and knowledge. Some of the organisations that we have been talking to through our research, have been saying that collaborative relationships are much more valuable, than simply being given money. KB: That's a really important factor. If I was training, or developing strategy within an organisation, the most basic needs are often resources and workload. A lot of these things are fairly simple, but if you don't know enough about them, then they seem hard. Setting up infrastructures to work more smoothly, or just to help people to facilitate the bringing in of digital – and having the thinking space to do that - is something good that can work across any organisation. JS: One of the things that we have been talking about, is the fact that artists and arts organisations need to have greater confidence in what their digital assets actually are, and their value in terms of content and audiences. Most brands would chew their arms off to be able to talk to those audiences. Many arts organisations have lovely venues, which provide a platform for engagement.Arts organisations are sitting on a goldmine of digital assets which are valuable for them in terms of delivering their own missions and objectives, but also for many businesses and brands, to be able to talk consumers, build their awareness, build their own skills, and can be that perfect example of coming together. In terms of how they meet in the middle, the issue is around confidence, and not knowing what an artist is going to do. Will they do something wacky, and how will it help the business? It isn't a problem that is exclusive to digital. JS: It's been happening for years. KB: Because it's a new area and people aren't sure what they're doing and what their own value is, trying to have that conversation with someone else about digital is a daunting task, in that people don't feel comfortable talking about it. Many fundraisers, marketers and so forth are comfortable to approach the Sponsorship Manager and ask for money to put on an exhibition or a show... but when it comes to an idea for a digital project with synchronised live performances, then the response tends to be based on not knowing enough about it, and what the business case is. Businesses can struggle with trying to find the ROI of digital in general; do you think that a lot of this is about brands trying to find the ROI and not really knowing how to measure?
JS: To an extent, the digital space provides brands with quite clear ROI. From the point of R&D value, there is massive value here that you just couldn't get elsewhere: the development of new products, new thinking, new ideas, that can deliver huge ROI for a business. We have been trying to get arts organisations to get together and think in this sort of way, and what tends to happen is that people believe that collaborations between arts organisations and brands occur because of corporate philanthropy – it's a nice thing to do. But, that's not going to be how you sell it in to a business. There needs to be very clear business development potential here, but it's not being expressed, it's not being explained, it's not being made tangible. It's about confidence: what the returns are, because it's a new area.
KB: For an arts organisation to say that what it has, is a really great value... but it's very hard to put a figure on that. That's where it becomes very difficult. I have worked with brands to look at ROI around digital and social media, and trying to equate sums to the value of reach and influence, across various different platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. You can go into all sorts of depths trying to figure that out, but it's really looking at ROI from a PR sense: in the same way that we look at column inches, or looking at reach through a Facebook page and the value from the point of view of Likes and comments. That's getting into deep metrics, but essentially you're saying that the value of those things is greater, because the audience is influential. It's about word of mouth, rather than seeing an ad.
JS: People are ten times more likely to purchase if they have been referred through social media. The one message that you need to give to your CEO as to why you should invest in social media is that. KB: It's all about trust and influence. TripAdvisor is a good example, where people go to the site before they book a holiday, but then they return to write a review after they have been. They are contributing to the community. Sharing functionality is also being added to many websites; the Facebook Like button is being used everywhere. I think that it's a bit rubbish because it doesn't give you a scale of opinion. However, the ability for people to add their opinion in general means that that's what you look for when you make decision. The contribution of trust, influence and word of mouth to sales, means that [social media] has value to every organisation. JS: The research that we have just completed allowed us to survey the online population in terms of what they wanted from arts and culture. They wanted reviews, but had to search and find what they wanted. The idea that people don't consume arts and culture in the same way that they decide what jeans to buy or what bar to go to, is not the case online. People go through a similar process, in terms of searching, finding, checking up, researching, talking with others. The arts can therefore be behind, and needs to catch up with other sectors as a whole, although there are some organisations which do this brilliantly. People are quite happy to have within their social network, "friends" who are the Lowry, or the National Theatre. Katy Beale KB: The difference is affiliation. People are quite happy to have within their social network, “friends” who are the Lowry, or the National Theatre. That says something about them, and their personality. It's having a badge. They want to interact with these organisations, because they want the cultural experience without having to visit. Brands try to do that – and some do it very well, when they have a personality coming through very strongly, but a lot of them don't do it as well. In a way, arts and culture organisations have a lot of potential to look at examples of where digital is being done well, and people are willing and ready to engage. It's about giving people that opportunity, and having that conversation with them. JS: Arts organisations are not always giving audiences the opportunity; so people go off and do things independently. There is a huge amount of conversation going on about arts and culture, and the organisations aren't involved at all. It's not just that they are missing out – it's a real shame for those audiences who really care about what they do, because they're not involved, and not as engaged in the relationship. Obviously, you can use that relationship for marketing and so forth, but from a very basic standpoint, organisations are missing out on a massive opportunity. You don't have to build a platform or do anything particularly sophisticated, but you just need to get into the conversation. KB: And provoke, inspire, and reward. JS: Absolutely. It's not about the big players, either – like the Tate or the Royal Opera House, although they do this stuff brilliantly. There are lots of smaller organisations out there who can do that as well. They may not have as much presence as the big guys, but they can punch above their weight. You don't need to chuck money at it, you just need to spend time. KB: Yes. It's about resources, rather than budgets. Is there a role for digital / creative / advertising agencies in this inter-relationship – to be the conduit? After all, such agencies often have deep relationships with both brands and artists, so what part can they play? KB: That is happening already. Most major cultural organisations work directly with advertising and digital agencies, probably with smaller budgets than the brands. Some of the larger cultural organisations can see the value, but that is maybe down to their “clout” and the power of their own brand. I have worked with Tate previously, and I know that they work with Fallon. Agencies want to work with the big cultural brands, so they are happy to work with the Tate or Science Museum, but when the organisations get smaller, it gets a little muddied. How can a small organisation – or even an artist – make sure that they are getting a good relationship, and a good reward, out of it?Agencies work with digital artists all the time, from in-house to sourcing for various projects, depending on what they need. Recently, this has extended to include the role of the creative technologist. I am working on Culture Hackday, which invites developers from any sector to come along to Wieden+Kennedy in January. We have the BBC, Crafts Council, Royal Opera House, National Maritime Museum and many others bringing data to the weekend. This is what we should be doing; a mashup of brands, agencies, cultural organisations. Rachel Coldicutt, who has helped create it, has worked with people and organisations such as Matthew Somerville and the Edinburgh Festival Lab. I'm quite excited just talking about it, because we don't necessarily know what's going to happen and what's going to come out of it, but these organisations have loaned their data to developers for the weekend, to work on it for free, to see what new things they can come up with.In a way, we would like one of the outputs to be to show people what the potential is – of open data, of collaboration, and of working with different partners across different sectors, and what this could mean. Even now, when I'm talking to cultural organisations, it's is quite hard to explain what they might get out of it. The bigger organisations might have data geeks that get it and have been to other hackdays, and know what's going on. From the point of view of a smaller organisation, there's a more tentative approach. They take smaller steps – what is going on? What do we get out of it? The whole idea of hackers can be scary, although it's alright, they're not dangerous [!].The potential is something that I am very excited about – just in terms of the data, the content that these organisations have, and letting developers who seem to be working mainly in the commercial sector, get their hands on this sort of stuff. For them, it's really juicy stuff to work with. The output from that is when these organisations will continue to work with developers, to fully bring ideas to life, for the general public to use. Do you see Culture Hackday as the shape of things to come? KB: This fluidity, and the need to be agile, is what's important. From my own working perspective, that's what I need to be – I need to look at each organisation’s needs, think about developing objectives, thinking strategically, and bringing different people in. The idea of a collective of workers can seem quite scary to people that are used to funding in a more traditional sense, where you have to be very clear about the organisations that you are working with and who they are, and the easiest way to overcome these issues is simply to work with an organisation that is set up in a certain way, and you know what's going on.However, that can be quite wasteful, because if you're working with an organisation that has these people in-house, then the ideas that they are going to come up with, are going to be using those people that they already have, as opposed to taking a step outside, and thinking what the idea is, who is needed, and then pulling them in to work on the project, and then disband afterwards. That is a far more effective and creative way of working, and allows for new ideas and innovation. JS: It's potentially more time-consuming to bring those people together, but the output that you get from it is potentially bigger and better. Some agencies are in a much better position and are much more able to do this. Lansons works extensively with HighTide; they really understand the value, and have embedded that value within the organisation, in terms of the work that they do for their clients. There are agencies who do work closely with the arts, who understand such relationships and can embed them. There are others who are much more traditional in their approach, and maybe not as able to talk to the arts as they might need to.There's absolutely a role for the agencies, to be able to connect brands with arts organisations. As part of one of our research projects, I was talking to Microsoft, and they made a very good point: that arts organisations could be aggressively pursued by brands who want to be associated with them in the digital space. While commercial brands are always looking for differentiation, some of those smaller arts organisations also need to find such points. There is real value in doing so, and that they need to appreciate the value in what they've got and what they want to do with it, and have some business clout in terms of getting deals that work for them, while protecting their brand at the same time. KB: Do you think that there needs to be some work done in terms of value, and what that is for the arts, so they can negotiate with a better knowledge of their worth? It doesn't feel like there is anything like that, in terms of something out there which can be accessed openly. Is there also something here about being open about collaborations, and the value for both sides?
JS: What we have done so far, is to map out what those benefits are: marketing, brand, education, product development, and so on. In terms of attaching Pound signs to these benefits, then that can be difficult, although not impossible. It might be the case that one of the points to take away from Culture Hackday, in terms of data, might be to make it easier to understand what price to attach to such a relationship.
KB: It is hard, and when we talk about value, we don't just mean a monetary value; it's far beyond that, in terms of benefits. With Culture Hackday, it's about increasing accessibility to the amazing archives that these organisations have, for the general public, so they feel like they are also getting better value. JS: There is an ROI issue when it comes to digital, because the precedent is being set for things to be free. However, there is a commercial value within the cultural sector in terms of taking data and increasing fundraising, or sales, as a consequence of using it for promotion, or elsewhere. That line hasn't been drawn yet in the sector – how do you take data and make money out of it, in order to provide other stuff for free? It's a hard question.The online survey work that we did showed that online audiences like things to be free, but appreciate that not everything can be. KB: It's where you would go to a museum to see a free collection, but you would pay to see a particular exhibition. The same would be the case with accessing online content. JS: The National Portrait Gallery has just started working with micropayments for the Taylor Wessing exhibition. They are taking an online concept, and applying it to the physical world: it's £2 to enter. It's the first time that I have seen this, and it will be interesting to see the results. How can brands help to bring immersive, artistic applications out of galleries and for them to permeate into domestic environments? After all, brands don't necessarily own the living room, and artists don't necessarily own galleries. KB: Artists are doing that anyway. I don't think about artists being in a gallery; I think about them very much in a public space, with immersive work. If you look at examples like Punchdrunk or Hide&Seek, which have gaming experiences and interactive theatre – these have set the bar, to the extent that audiences expect a certain level of interactivity. Although the gallery space will still be there, because there are certain ways to display certain works of art, I think that everything has simply become much more interactive.For brands, it's about them being out there and having conversations; it's not about retaining a broadcast-based model for advertising. It is much more to do with a two-way conversational channel. JS: Traditional brands are going over to a greater level of interactivity, because they don't want to be seen as being left behind. With Punchdrunk, Hide&Seek and the work that Watershed has been doing, these are really immersive productions which are exactly where interactivity is going. YouView, Google TV and so forth will push immersive experiences even further. Brands will need to work out a strategy to get involved in these platforms, or they will be left behind, unable to satisfy audience and consumer demands – whether a commercial brand, or an arts organisation. They're both facing exactly the same challenges, and have complementary assets – so why not work together, and deal with this exciting-but-scary horizon which is emerging? Artists, arts organisations, and brands, are all doing a lot of work around transmedia, but are we building a shared understanding of what everyone is doing? JS: There is some work going on in this area, but I think that there is more that could be done – particularly around concepts such as branded content. There is huge potential to do a lot more in that area. But, if you are interested in this area, it's less about the potential and the opportunities than just, “What do we do? How do we do this?” What are the next steps to make something tangible? - and organisations are stuck here, with how to turn something into reality. With the research, events and training that we have been doing, we have been talking to people about how to take that next step – to turn things into reality, and get those connections made. It's not easy, otherwise everyone would be doing it already. KB: I'm trying to think of big, tangible examples that I can give here, and it is a bit of a struggle. One example is with the launch of Tron Legacy. The Southbank Centre and Guided Collective ran projections and an immersive Flynn's Arcade.
They were using the fantastic architecture of that building and producing a great experience, sponsored by Disney and HP ePrint. It felt like an initial exploration of not just the outputs within the building, but the spaces that cultural organisations have. That's one of their great assets. The reception was really good, although it was when there were Tube strikes, and loads of snow, so it was hard to generate huge numbers of footfall, but people did come down. However, what lives on is the footage that they have created and published to YouTube and Vimeo, generating a Long Tail effect, where people are still experiencing what happen there, and starting discussions around such collaborations, and making them happen in the future. JS: We see projects where 50% is done, but doing the other 50% could really build a in-depth and collaborative model. The National Portrait Gallery in Scotland is running a fundraising campaign, where if you upload a picture of yourself and donate £50, you could form part of the exhibition when the Gallery opens. There's a huge opportunity here in terms of crowdsourcing for an artistic exhibition in its own right, but there's no brand involved. There must be loads of businesses and agencies who signify the essence of Edinburgh. There is clearly something else that c be done there; although it's the first time that the Gallery has done something which is so deeply user-generated such as this. There are organisations who are taking these steps; it's really about taking it forward in building really immersive experiences. If we were having this conversation in December 2011, would things be different? KB: In a year's time, I would like to see more explorations, with people thinking and talking about innovation, rather than strategically talking about sales targets. It's an R&D-driven process. By being more experimental – which is admittedly harder in the light of funding cuts – we can be more progressive, and some answers might appear that we had never thought of before. Culture Hackday brings lots of different heads together, creating ideas which organisations may not necessarily have been able to think of, as they would not have had the time, resources, or budget to have done so. JS: With the cuts, there will be a number of organisations who batten down the hatches, and stick to their core remit and mission. That's what they feel they can do, and have the resources for – and that's perfectly legitimate. You'll then get a group of organisations who will then be innovative and creative to get out of that. I hope that those organisations will come through, and deliver new examples that are quoted everywhere and are the benchmarks for what is possible.It's possible to do that through connecting with expertise elsewhere, rather than think that the budget just isn't there to do something. Potential partners will be willing to work with you. A stumbling block can often be a lack of a conduit between different organisations, of which Arts & Business is one. We are making sure that the conduit is there, because its absence will be the one thing that holds organisations back. KB: It does feel like a lot of cultural organisations are looking to digital as the answer, in the light of smaller budgets. It needs to be thoroughly thought through. A digital strategy cannot be standalone; it has to be part of everything else that you are doing. They need to be aware of that it can take up resources and thinking time, and possibly change the way in which the organisation works in order to make things possible. It sounds scary and big, but there are examples of where that is done well. JS: I agree, and one of the challenges that cultural organisations have in terms of digital work, is that they don't necessarily have digital skills. Normally, you would look to your board, or trustees, or governance model to do that... but those skills aren't there, because they didn't need to be – so how do we get them? The board placement scheme which we run is really valuable, so people and organisations can collectively get those skills, and making sure that organisations lead by example. They need lawyers, they need marketers, they need fundraising experts on the board to drive this, and to make connections. It can't be the Digital Manager trying to do this on their own, as it won't work. It needs a greater strategic buy-in, as there is a digital aspect to every single area in both arts organisations and businesses – and digital needs to sit directly within each of their strategies.It is about doing things differently, but it isn't about throwing out the old rulebook. There's no need to be that scared – these new tools and new ways of working will assist, and push forward what organisations are doing. KB: It's about clearly defining what the benefits are – so organisations will know that by undertaking something, it equates to a particular output. When looking at the organisational level, you can then see how the organisation is changing, and where it needs to change. JS: From a brand's point of view, it isn't about corporate philanthropy. From an arts organisation's point of view, it isn't about something nice to do. There are clear, tangible benefits from collaboration, and I hope that the work that we have done provides a strong indication of what those benefits can be, from a consumer and an organisational point of view. It's about thinking those benefits through, and ensuring that these are planned in. Joanne South is Research Manager at Arts & Business, and author of the recent report “Evolution and Partnerships: Cultural collaborations in the digital age”. Katy Beale is a digital strategist working in the creative and cultural industries. Her website is katybeale.com.Culture Hackday is produced by the Royal Opera House, and takes place at Wieden+Kennedy on the weekend of 15 and 16 January.