4th March 2019 Carol Jones

How to…embrace uncertainty and change. Blog: Amy Firth

By: Amy Firth

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AMA’s Head of Marketing, Amy Firth, kicks off our ‘How to…’ series of blogs with some tips on how to manage change and come out smiling.

As the old Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times”. Working in the arts and cultural sector is never boring – which is one of the things that makes it so rewarding – but the pace of change, and the uncertainty of the political and economic environment in which we find ourselves, can add even more stress and challenge to roles that are already demanding. 

In my role as Head of Marketing – Membership at the AMA, I know that reaching and engaging audiences is what our members do, day in, day out. But the detail of what they do, day in, day out, has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. 

The pace of change has never been so fast – and our members have borne the brunt of much of that change. We’ve seen what our members do simultaneously diversify and specialise. Social Media Manager was a role that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Yet while this has become a discipline in its own right, we also see responsibility for social media being rolled in with countless other duties for those working in organisations where there may well be just one person working on the full gamut of communications and audience development responsibilities.

However specialised or generalised, however large or small your team, it can be tough to keep up with change, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. AMA’s been supporting our members for a quarter of a century, and weathered our own fair share of change, and here we share some of our tips to get you through. S

  • Stay focused on your audience

Audiences are key to so many aspects of arts and culture: key to the bottom line, key to resilience and sustainability, key to achieving the potential for the benefits of art and culture to be realised, through shared experiences, provoking thought, supporting mental wellbeing and more. This is why we do what we do. 

If you stay close to your audiences, you stay tuned in to what they want, what they respond to, and challenge your own assumptions and thinking. Don’t assume that what they wanted, or what worked last year, is the same this year. Don’t assume that groups you haven’t engaged successfully with are impossible to engage. Talk to them. Try new things. Stay focused on your audiences, and keep an eye to the big, longer-term picture in the relationships you build with them.

We provide a range of support in making sure that you are audience-focused in both your short and long-term activity, which you can find at our website.

  • Find the opportunity in change 

If the circumstances change, then it’s a good time to take a risk and try something new. Why keep doing things the same way, if the situation is no longer the same? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your thinking – particularly when it can feel like you are just churning away to keep on top of things. 

Investing in some training can be a good way to reinvigorate your thinking and help you keep up with change. Even if you don’t have the budget or time to get out of the office, change is an opportunity to review your approach and try new things. Things like reading up on what’s worked for others can also help – and if you want some inspiration, you can find case studies on AMACultureHive online. Whether it’s relatively simple things like mixing up your pricing, or more complex community ambassador programmes, someone will have tried it and be able to share their learning.

  • Value the people around you 

Our people are our greatest resource. The sector in which we work is not one renowned for its high salaries, and what generally attracts people is a passion for arts and culture. That bond of shared belief in what would be called “the product” in other industries, is quite possibly unique. As such, there is a capacity people to go above and beyond, which can be taken for granted. 

In tough times, it’s important to make the people you work with feel valued, and also make sure that the demands placed on them are reasonable. If you are in a leadership or line-management role, it might seem easier to do this – but often it’s something overlooked in the “busyness”. Even if you’re not in a line management role, passing on a compliment to a colleague or acknowledging the contribution they have made can really help boost positivity and a sense of team spirit. It can be a little thing, but it can make a real difference to the tone of the workplace. Our recent member benchmarking survey included how valued people feel as a measure of sector health, and we’re looking forward to tracking this over time.

  • Take time for yourself

It’s easy to get stuck on the hamster wheel. It’s easy to get ground down, to become cynical, to burn yourself out. Look after your own wellbeing – there will never be more than 24 hours in a day, however much we might wish otherwise, and if you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll never find it. This might be a case of something as simple as building a walk around the block into your day, to get some fresh air and clear your head, or taking a 10- minute mindfulness break. As one of our AMA Conference 2018 delegates said following our closing keynote “embracing the ‘flow of slow’ is not only essential for us to think clearly and strategically in arts marketing”. It’s important to create space if we are to do our best work, and also manage our own mental health.

It can feel like the arts and cultural sector is not an easy one to work in, but even in tough times, we can look at the difference we make, and feel proud of our work. A healthy cultural sector is one which is resilient and sustainable, and a key part of that is making sure that we look after ourselves and our colleagues. While times might be tough, we can still keep faith with the importance of what we do. Our current political, economic and social challenges mean that arts and cultural organisations have a clear and crucial role to play in our communities – local and national – and that the work we do has never been more vital. I am proud that AMA remains here to support our members, and the wider sector, in that work.

 

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