Arts marketing and Bill Hicks

People who know my politics sometimes raise an eyebrow when I tell them what I do.
‘It’s ok’. I say ‘You can laugh if you want to. It is kinda funny’.

Then: ‘how did that happen? How do you square that with yr politics?’

One thing at a time. I didn’t choose a career in arts marketing, it kinda chose me. I have a natural way with words so I was kinda shunted in the direction of marketing, despite some of my initial concerns that I was being inducted into some kind of dark art. In terms of employment sometimes you go where yr needed and where the money is. If I can work with art and words and theatre and use it to pay the bills, I consider myself pretty lucky. I consider myself lucky every day.

Me and Bill Hicks have lots of talks. ‘Bill Hicks is the only man I’d marry and he’s dead’ I say. I wish he were still alive. He’d have so much to say about the world today. I miss Bill. Anyway we talk and I’m like ‘Bill what’s with that goat boy shit?’ and in response he throws it at me: y’know that whole ‘By the way, if anyone here works in marketing or advertising, kill yourself…you are satan’s spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage, you are fucked and you are fucking us, kill yourself’.

Oh Bill.

I’ll admit it, marketing and anti-capitalist politics are not natural bedfellows.

Convince someone they have a lack, which they probably don’t actually have, then persuade them that their lack can be filled with your product, which it probably can’t, so get them to come back and buy the new model, try something else.

I find much of the language of marketing distasteful:
Brand. Product. Demographic. Market penetration.

Blah blah blah.

And I think of Audre Lorde’s quote about not being able to use the master’s tools to dismantle his house. But seriously: parts of marketing are interesting. They are! It’s useful to know how it operates in order to make you buy more stuff, so you can resist it, if that’s what you want to do. Or you can use it to find ways to advocate something you love.

Yeah you heard me, something you love.
It’s my trump card Bill.
Marketing and advertising is fine (maybe even, shock, essential, in this increasingly noisy world) to spread the word on something wonderful and life changing and beautiful.

You heard me Bill.
Suck it up.
My trump card. Believe in your product. (But don’t call it your product, cuz that’s kinda lame).

I have issues with the art world which are bound up with my politics. I have issues with elitism and exclusion and snobbery. I have issues when intelligent people tell me theatre or painting or poetry isn’t for them, that they don’t understand it, then come out with some cutting, insightful response which blows my mind. I think this means that we are failing. I have issues with the way we communicate and the implicit messages we are sending out about who is welcome and who is worthy. And actually, the marketing department is quite a good place to be
stood if you have these issues.

I don’t have much time for ‘push marketing’. For a start, it doesn’t really work. But you stand there shouting into a bucket if you like love. I have issues with spin and pretending everything is brilliant and amazing when sometimes things are difficult and work is mediocre.

The good news is that most audiences have issues with these things too.

Audiences aren’t stupid (or all the same) and if we treat them like they are we’re onto a loser from the start.

The majority of your audience know how marketing works and are bored with being sold things constantly. They are tuning out of the noise.

I’ve always been interested in communicating with people. As a kid I spent hours making magazines. As a teenager I made zines (I still do) and I wanted to know what people thought about what I was writing.

There’s a part of this equation we’re all missing when all we’re doing is talking about how great we are. We fail to listen.

Let me put it another way. If you met someone and all they did was talk on and on about how great they were and they never listened to you, or worse, they pretended to listen without actually giving a shit, you probably wouldn’t want to be friends with them.

You might even want to punch them in the face.

Marketing should not be one way traffic, it should be responsive, personal and have integrity.

It should run through your organisation. There is no point having swish print and web presence positioning yourself as this nice welcoming organisation when your front of house staff are out there sneering at folks and being rude.

None of this is rocket science. And I know we’ve got a way to go.

And when things get hard I reassure myself with this: whatever I end up doing next, whatever challenges I face; promoting obscure, experimental theatre to the residents of a deprived post industrial northern town will stand me in good stead.

Because sometimes it feels like if I can do that. I can do anything.


About Rachel

zinester/diy-til-i-die/love hate relationship with arts admin/girlpunkfeminist/geek
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