8 things arts marketers can learn from project managers

8 things arts marketers can learn from project managers

By Kizzie Burkett, AKA


Kizzie Burkett, Account Manager at the international arts and live entertainment marketing agency AKA explores eight key things arts marketers can learn from project managers. Including: starting with a question, being led by your mission statement, collaboration and defining success.

I have lost count of the number of marketing job descriptions that state ‘project management’ as being an essential skill. But how many marketers are really able to define what this means? I set out to grasp an understanding of project management through the Open University’s free introductory course. And it is complex – unsurprisingly so given the number of those who dedicate their careers to it.

The broad definition of a project by the Association for Project Management (2000) makes evident project management theory’s relevance to us as arts marketers: it is ‘a unique process, consisting of a set of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective conforming to specific requirements, including constraints of time, cost and resources’. There are therefore useful techniques that we can take as marketers to help improve our working practices.

1. Every project starts with a question, not a solution

Likewise, this is how we should approach our marketing strategy – not ‘I would like to do TV advertising’, but ‘how do we increase awareness amongst retirees in the East Midlands?’. The problem therefore needs to be specific and clearly articulated, giving everyone in the organisation clear direction and opening you up to innovation and collaboration. From there, it is important to consider a range of options before deciding on the best course of action. A number of project management techniques can help in identifying the issue and the best route. Pareto analysis quantifies the scale of issues to see which are worth tackling; cause and effect analysis (also known as fishbone diagrams) can help to identify the outcome of a potential problem and the likely causes; and project ranking helps to impartially compare solutions against your core criteria.

Cause and effect analysis model. Image source: https://medium.com/thousand-words-bycreately/everything-you-need-to-know-about-fishbone-diagrams-ishikawa-cause-and-effect6accc7458070

2. Actions should be led by your mission statement

Understand your organisation’s purpose and what your marketing strategy is setting out to achieve, and ensure this is articulable in 1-2 sentences by all stakeholders. As a marketer, the responsibility may fall to you to write, or even rewrite this. This clear mission statement will then align actions taken to your organisation’s direction, minimising the impact of your personal biases and reinforcing your company’s USP.

3. Nothing can succeed without the effort of others

When undertaking any major work such as a rebrand, ensure that you truly identify all stakeholders and take them on the journey with you. Don’t just think about your immediate Comms team, but look more broadly to others within the organisation who have different skillsets and viewpoints yet are equally as invested; setting up an organisation-wide ‘growth’ or ‘rebranding’ taskforce can enhance your success and colleagues’ feeling of wellbeing (see Hacking Growth, Ellis and Brown 2017). Brainstorming is the most well-known technique to gather ideas, perspectives and solutions, involving individuals within a small group calling out ideas to a compere, which are then discussed and collectively ranked; nominal group technique is a silent version of this to encourage more even contributions. Affinity diagrams and matrix diagrams can then help you to collate and sort through these ideas. Don’t forget to involve those outside your organisation, namely your target audience through qualitative and quantitative research and focus groups – no one can tell you better if something is relevant to your target audience than the audience themselves.

4. Before you start, define success so that everyone can work to a common goal, and know when they have achieved it

This may be objective (e.g. visitor numbers, donation target) or subjective (e.g. board satisfaction, realistic visitor expectations). Whatever you choose, ensure that it is a SMART target: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed.

5. Take the long view, the really long view

It is easy to be distracted by immediate financial returns, but building a brand or delivering awareness of a new offering takes time, and nothing will impact more on your organisation’s longevity and potential income than a strong brand. It is therefore essential to look at the investment of energy, resources and budget over a longer period than simply the season or financial year to understand their true return. Project management life cycles can be a useful way to visualise this, and are a reminder that a project is rarely finished; once you have launched your work – such as a marketing campaign, new creative or new social channel – it needs to be maintained, small incremental changes applied, and learnings taken. However, for activity that will have an end date – whether clearly set or dependent on other factors like ticket sales – ensure you have a plan for managing this, and set aside any budget required.

6. Consider the impact of not putting your budget or attention into a different area

We have a finite budget and limited available time; investing it in one area means not investing it in another, which can have both short- and long-term ramifications. For example, focusing your budget on a digital performance marketing campaign may mean immediate sales, but what could the long-term benefit to the brand be if you invested it in creative design? Costbenefit analysis can be a useful tool, and should cover not only all costs and potential value, but also the desirability of the solution, its timing and longevity, ease of implementation, and intangible impacts such as on supplier relationships and organisation morale.

7. You can never be too prepared, but unexpected events will happen

Identify any potential risks (defined as known adverse consequences such as market changes, new competitors and social change) and uncertainties, and plan how you can mitigate these or respond to them. Decision tree analysis can help you to consider the uncertain impact of taking an action, and the range of potential outcomes. However, things can and will go wrong, and being as prepared as possible will ensure you can respond quickly and efficiently. If the last year has shown us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.

8. Use all the tools you have at your disposal, but know that theory, process and technique can only take you so far

Never forget that you’re dealing with reality, and nothing ever goes quite as you would expect. Tools are valuable for identifying issues and making impartial decisions, but it is vital that you don’t lose sight of your customer, and draw on all available real-world data and previous experience to deliver effective marketing strategy. As arts marketers, we are clearly called upon to manage projects – whether these are marketing campaigns, rebranding, venue reopening or ticketing strategy. What we can learn from project managers is how to make these projects more efficient, more impartial, and take a more long-term view to give real benefit to the organisations we work with.

Kizzie Burkett, Account Manager AKA

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Resource type: Articles | Published: 2021