Find it hard to write about what you do? 5 ways to improve your cultural writing.

Good writing can be the difference between an amazing show, exhibition, or event enjoyed by many, or an amazing show in an empty venue.

Last week, Richard Spencer from copy writing agency A Thousand Monkeys presented to over thirty arts and cultural organisations at our free Mind Your Language workshop.

Here are a few tips we picked up during the day.

1. Don’t Write Anything

It seems counterintuitive – but not writing is the first step to great writing. Clear thinking leads to clear writing, so brainstorm and plan exactly what you want your writing to achieve and what you will include.

Make sure you know who you are writing to (your target audience persona) and why (what do you want them to do?).

A Thousand Monkeys shared their memorable method for planning copy – including cat socks and giraffe bras.

2. Ditch the Jargon

Who hasn’t been frustrated by the use of unnecessary jargon? Be it ‘corporate-speak’ or overly complicated IT instructions – we all appreciate writing that is clear and to the point. The same goes for writing about arts and culture. Often, a fear of ‘dumbing down’ material results in copy that is inaccessible and unappealing for potential audience members. In truth, clear and effective copy captures the essence of a cultural event, without the need for jargon or insider-knowledge. Take a look at your writing – could an intelligent person without a background in arts and culture understand it? If not, it could probably do with a re-write.

One handy way of checking this is to ask a friend or family-member who isn’t an expert in the area to check some examples.

Mind Your Language pledge
The signing of our anti-jargon pledge!

3. Use Free Tools to Proofread your Writing

Free apps such as Grammarly, Hemingway, and Writer’s Diet can help you to see where you can clarify and streamline your writing. The goal is to get your point across with as little text as possible.

4. Think Visually

When first looking at a piece of printed or screen-based information, the viewer tends to skim over the text, picking out only key headings, and focusing mainly on images and colour.

Add plenty of headings, bullet points, graphs or imagery to convey your message. Aim for around 50% or more of your message to be communicated visually.

Keep a collection of brochures and advertisements for other venues and events that are visually appealing to you. Ask yourself – “why they are so effective?” If there are any approaches you can borrow – do!

5. Find Your Voice

Think about your organisation’s branding, and your target market. What kind of personality should show through in your writing? For example, an organisation providing drama classes for kids will have a very different voice than a museum focused on military history.

Have a chat with your colleagues about what your organisation’s voice is. Develop some do’s a don’ts for your organisation. Is it okay to use slang? How about emojis?

A 1000 Monkeys have some great guidelines on making sure your tone of voice is used across the whole organisation.

PS – Finding it Difficult?

If you don’t know who your target audience are, or are having trouble identifying your unique benefits and selling points – book in for a free one-to-one chat with us at our Audience Appointments.


Guest Post: Finding the ‘Why’ of your Organisation

Kelly-Anne Collins from Dance Resource Base writes on the importance of taking the time to understand and communicate the ‘why’ of your organisation.

Dance Resource Base is a small organisation. Our training budgets are tight and marketing and communications are only one aspect of my work. Making the decision to take 2 days out of the office to attend the Arts Marketing Association’s annual UK-wide conference required serious consideration. This year, it was being held at home in Belfast so maybe we could make it happen. Luckily, the decision was made possible thanks to being awarded one of the Audiences NI bursaries to attend.

I like going to training and conferences. I’m always looking for seeds of new ideas that might help us work smarter and I’m usually pleased when I come away with new sparks of thought that might provide a new way of working or thinking about how we work. The ability to get away from the immediate demands on my desk allows me to give some time to being open to and inspired by others, and to focus on the bigger picture. What is it that we are trying to do and what do we want to achieve?

So when you come away from just one session with feedback on your organisational rebrand from 30 or so of the best arts marketing minds in the country, you definitely feel that the time invested was worth it.

Thanks to Ali Hanan’s Stand Out Branding session on Day 1, and Dance Resource Base being the local case study she selected as an example for an exercise, we got some great feedback on the ‘Why?’ of our organisation. Why might people care about what we do, have a meaningful, connected relationship with us, and really want us to be around? The icing on the cake is that we are looking at rebranding and hoped this session would give us the advice and inspiration that we received.

We were reminded that our brand needs to articulate what the lives of our members would be like, not only if we weren’t here, but also without dancing in their lives. We are here to put dancing in more people’s lives and who better than our members to tell us what a life would be like without dance. Ali encouraged us not to shy away from a brand that reflects the emotions that people feel for dance and feel when they dance. That meaningful connection with us will grow and people will care about what we do when we, as an organisation, understand how they feel and represent that to the world.

Kelly-Anne Collins is the general manager of Dance Resource Base – a membership organisation that provides practical facilities, resources, and services for those involved in dance and advocates to raise the profile of the art form.

Arts Marketing in Northern Ireland: an inside-outsider’s perspective

Colette Fahy shares her thoughts as an arts marketer new to Northern Ireland’s geographical, cultural, and political landscapes.

This year’s Arts Marketing Association conference saw attendees from all over the UK cultural sector gather in Belfast Waterfront. I joined Audiences NI two months ago, moving from Dublin to Belfast for the role. Over the two days, I discovered some of the advantages Northern Ireland has when it comes to getting people engaged with culture. The small size and unique political landscape of Northern Ireland creates an opportunity for culture to be highly relevant to people’s lives.

Grappling with the big issues

‘Culture in a Polarised World’ was presented by Tony Butler of Derby Museums. He argued that cultural spaces and institutions have a pivotal role to play in dealing with divisive issues. Libraries and museums are one of the arguably few public institutions that inspire high levels of trust from the public, and theatre companies and artists can respond quickly to issues of the day.

Of course, in publicly funded institutions, taking a particular political viewpoint is not always appropriate, and it can risk alienating some of your audiences. But Tony and attendees at the talk gave examples of how dealing with sensitive issues can be a way to make your organisation more relevant to your audiences, rather than excluding them.

My Country: A Work in Progress’ , a recent play by Carol Ann Duffy, was mentioned as an example of cultural engagement with hot topic issues – in this case, Brexit. The work emerged from a series of interviews with people right across the UK in the days following the vote. The play brought new voices into the Brexit debate, and shone a light on the complexities of the vote, in a way which news coverage can often fail to do.
The Ulster Museum project ‘Collecting the Troubles and Beyond’ was also highlighted. This project collaborates with the public to collect objects, information, and stories which widen the scope of their exhibitions on partition and the Troubles. This work shows how public engagement can be seen as a positive rather than a risk when dealing with contested and sensitive histories.

‘Everything is Local’

There was a theme running across the two days about engaging in local communities and making sure that our organisations reflect the people they are designed to serve.

Melissa McMinn presented the Mac’s ‘MACtile Tours‘ program. This program reaches out to schoolchildren with Autism Spectrum Disorders, to prepare them for a visit to the MAC’s Christmas panto.  When asked how the MAC staff got access to schools to roll out the program, Melissa explained that their staff literally drove to local schools and knocked on doors.

I took to google maps and figured it is around 3 hours by car from the most easterly to the most westerly settled points of Northern Ireland (Belleek to Portavogie, if you feel like a weekend drive). There is a real sense here of the country being local, with connections already in place. In a coffee-break conversation at the conference, I was chatting to two NI ex-pats, now working in mainland UK. The topic of Liam Neeson came up. “Do you know him?”. And the reply; “No, but I know Liam’s mum.”

There is huge potential here for increasing collaboration and engagement, be that between venues in Derry and Belfast, or by smaller organisations doing some research into their local audience profile. As for myself, I’ve resolved to get on the road and start visiting more venues and people across the country.

Colette Fahy – communications executive

Snapchat, Video, and Venue Tours – what’s new in arts marketing

Claire Rose Canavan shares the latest arts marketing news and resources from this year’s AMA conference.

I recently joined hundreds of arts marketers from across the UK to attend the annual Arts Marketing Association conference, this year held at the Belfast Waterfront. I went not only to gather new skills, hear interesting ideas and case-studies, and for my own learning but also to pick up any ideas or good practice that I think can be used by our sector. So below I have included some organisations to check out if you are looking for inspiration or practical steps to start or improve marketing your cultural product.

Wondering about snapchat?

Check out ‘The Point’ an arts venue using it, or Fanbytes, a business set up to capture the potential of snapchat.

Want to start venue tours?

The National Theatre in London are seasoned professionals at this and are keen to share their experience and learnings on it.

Want to create a video series for audience development?

London-based business Livity describes itself as ‘a youth-led creative network.’ They explained that to create a video series, five factors must be considered.

  1. Function – for yourself, but also for the audience. You may want to increase your footfall but a potential viewer isn’t searching the web for that! They may be looking for backstage access, a trailer for a show, or a tutorial.
  2. Structure – how is the video going to pan out, what do the audience want to see? If you don’t know then you need to ask them!
  3. Set – this is something that can become iconic, think about the use of a chair by the Apprentice, Big Brother, Graham Norton…
  4. Subject – what is the video actually going to be about? Is it a trailer or a tutorial for example?
  5. Personality – What is going to make the person stay on the video after the first few seconds and check out the next instalment?

Livity recommends that 3-4 of these five factors remain consistent throughout the series so people know what they are getting each time. If all five were the same then it would be the same video!

Wondering how to practically film these videos?

I learned that an iPhone or an iPad is a perfect way to do so and iMovie can be downloaded onto your device for free (newer versions automatically have it). When a writer is writing a novel, they might care what pen they use, but the person reading it just wants the story – this principle applies to the equipment used to create video. As long as it does the job then that’s all that matters.

These were just a handful of the tips, tricks and case studies I picked up across the two days. To find out more about the sessions I spoke about, the other ones I didn’t get to attend or just other useful articles, check out the AMA Culture Hive website here.

Claire Rose Canavan, client relationships executive

Performing Arts Audiences – how can we keep them coming back?

by Fiona Bell – Client Relationships Director at Audiences NI

I enjoy a good conference. What’s not to like? You hear from different perspectives, learn things, and meet new people.

The latest notch on my conference bedpost was the All Ireland Performing Arts Conference, held this year in Cork.  My ANI colleague Claire Rose has already written a blog on some of the content and speakers, which gives me free reign to concentrate on my hobby horse. Punters. Please substitute audiences, customers, patrons, clients or whatever term doesn’t make you cringe.

Heather Maitland, audience development guru, presented the findings of “Audiences for the Performing Arts”, a benchmark project which is now in its 12th year. The project analysed audiences for ticketed events taking place across 55 festivals, theatres, and arts centres in 2016.

But brace yourselves folks – the news wasn’t good. In 2016, 76% of households only came once a year – the highest percentage since the benchmark began. Only 14% of households bought tickets for 2 events.  10% of households bought tickets for at least 3 events.

When you look at these findings along with the fact that theatre is the art form people would be least likely to recommend to a friend – we have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Heather suggested 3 things which might have an impact on punters coming back:

1. Choice – the old “they would buy more tickets if there were more events?” question.

Well, looks like they won’t. Not for children’s theatre, dance, or drama anyway.  One venue did get a slightly higher attendance rate at music events (2.2 visits per year), but they had 183 shows during the year.

What punters appear to like is a choice of different things. Probably why festivals buck the old re-attendance trends. This all goes against how we normally market to potential punters. If they go to a contemporary dance show, we tell them about more contemporary dance shows. Sound familiar?

2. Boring things work.

It doesn’t all have to be shiny and new marketing campaigns. Nottingham Playhouse send out a flyer to people about 3 months after their first visit. It lists everything coming up and talks about it in ‘non-arts’ speak. Then offers 20% off. And for them, it is really effective. Not because prices are a barrier – but because it is a call to action for their customers which makes them actually go and book.

3. It’s just not about them.

Heather produced a raft of flyers she had lifted from her hotel in Cork – shopping trips, family fun days, heritage tours.  And every one of them featured its target market on the front. When do our audiences see themselves reflected in our marketing? Rarely. Because it’s not always about them, is it? It’s about the work.

So maybe we all have a bit of work persuading them to come at all before we ask them to pick a show.

I’ll leave that one with you…

Save the Data – GDPR Compliance

We recently hosted a free session detailing how arts, culture, and heritage organisations can get ready for new data protection regulations. Here is a quick and easy guide to what you need to know, and some free resources to help you on the way.

What is it?

GDPR (General DATA Protection Regulation) comes into force on 25th May 2018.

  • Enhanced personal privacy – more rights for your customer or visitor.
  • Organisations will have to have more defined processes in place for dealing with data.
  • You must be more transparent as to why and how you use personal data.
  • All staff need to be up to speed on the new regulations.
  • Financial Penalties can be imposed for breaches.

How does it affect my Organisation?

If your organisation collects or stores any type of personal data from people in the EU – you will need to comply with GDPR. This could include email addresses, names, contact details, addresses etc.

If you don’t comply – there can be financial penalties.

However, there are some positives – being compliant shows your audience that you are a trustworthy organisation that respects their privacy and personal information.

Where do I go from here?


Take stock of what information you have already, where it is stored, and what processes you have for data protection already. Who is responsible for data protection in your organisation?


Do you need all of the information you collect? –Why collect someone’s date of birth if you never segment marketing by age or offer a birthday discount?

Could you store it all in one place? This makes it easier to fully delete information once it is no longer needed.


Ensure passwords and protection are in place – Password protect documents and databases which hold personal data. Ensure that the password for this is kept elsewhere. If sending this document via email, send the password in a different method e.g. text or in person.


Let your audience know why you are collecting their data, and what you will do with it.

Some free resources to get started:

GDPR lets get started

GDPR Consent Checklist

Note: This is intended to provide an overview of GDPR and is not a definitive statement of the law.

For a definitive guide, check out the Information Commisioner’s Office website.

All-Ireland Performing Arts Conference- Cork 2017

by Claire Rose Canavan

I have just arrived back from my trip to Cork, (which I must admit was not as bad as I thought it would be at all- quickest 6 hours of my life!), after attending the All Ireland Performing Arts Conference 2017 (APAC). As I have just started a new role within Audiences NI as Client Relationship Executive, I was really excited to get to the conference I had heard so much about, meet lots of new people and hear from great speakers.

I started my two days with a Theatre NI members meeting- and what a great way to start! The session was very interesting, and very inspiring, as we heard from Hannah Baird on the ‘What Next?‘ project. What Next? describes itself as an organisation which aims to “work collaboratively to build alliances outside of the cultural sector, build relationships with local and national government and engage the public in new and different conversations about the arts.” The strength in the movement comes about as the people who involved with it “voluntarily come together and collectively take action around issues that affect everyone. No one is part of What Next? for their own individual agenda but for the issues and challenges that face us all.” There are currently over 30 chapters across England, Scotland and Wales, and because the talk was so encouraging, we hope to set one up in Northern Ireland soon!

From this, I headed into the main conference where we heard from various artists and theatre makers on their work and how they got there. After this, we headed to Firkin Crane for dinner, networking – and not to forget one of my highlights of the trip, the karaoke!! However, being sensible, I headed home to get an early(ish) night’s sleep and get ready for day two!

Day two was also very interesting. Each speaker based their talk on the theme of ‘Twist or Stick’ or, in other words, to ‘change or remain’. I thoroughly enjoyed the speech from Shona McCarthy who is Chief Executive of Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society. Shona talked about Edinburgh, but also her experience in ‘LegenDerry’ when it was city of culture in 2013. This talk was honest, realistic and inspiring. Shona’s example from the north, humour and positive attitudes towards all her projects was really refreshing to hear and gave me lots to think about on my train home! I would like to thank Theatre Forum IE and Theatre NI for the work they put into organising it and to Ali FitzGibbon the curator. Roll on APAC 2018!

DigitalDNA – key trends for arts, culture, and heritage

Audiences NI recently attended the DigitalDNA conference in Belfast’s George’s Market. We were on a mission to discover all that is new in the world of digital and bring back some nuggets of information, advice, and interesting developments.

Here are some of the trends that we think are going to be key for those working in the the arts, culture, and heritage sector.

Service Experience

Several speakers emphasised the idea of service experience versus product experience. This means that organisations consider how their customer or visitor interacts with them as a whole. Instead of thinking just about what a product does, or how to market it, the entire customer experience is taken into account.

This could include how a customer finds information on your website, how easy it is for them to book a ticket, how they are greeted at a venue, and any interactions they have with your organisation via email or phone.

Research, Research, Research…

Many of the marketing speakers emphasised the importance of knowing your customer and your audience.

Before you can cater to your customer, you must know your customer. Sounds simple, but many big businesses assume they know who their customer is, without actually having any hard evidence for this.

We were delighted to see one of our board members, Damian Cranney, share his insight in this area and emphasise the importance of researching and tracking your audience. Sometimes the amount of research you could do on your audiences or visitors can feel overwhelming, but as Damian pointed out – any customer research is better than none. You never know what you might find out.

Here at Audiences NI we run free Audience Appointments each month – these can be a great starting point to get thinking more about who your audience are. You can use these appointments any way you like. Ask us to critique copy, review audience development plans, identify target audiences, help plan campaigns, recommend research methods, or just chip in.

A man in a white shirt presenting on a stage with a mic.

New Data Protection Regulations

Microsoft gave a useful run-down on how the forthcoming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) will impact business. The GDPR will come into force on the 25th of May next year.

Jamie Brighton of Adobe also referenced data protection as a practical way to let your customers and other businesses know that you are trustworthy and that it can improve the customer or visitor experience.

Understanding GDPR is crucial for any organisation that deals with personal data – be it through ticket sales, mailing lists, or visitor surveys.

If you would like to know more about how the GDPR will affect arts, culture and heritage organisations specifically, you can register for our free lunchtime Save the Data event taking place Monday 19th June.

Save the Data. Free GDPR info session. Monday 19th June 1 to 2 PM. Audiences N.I. To reserve your place:

Join us at the AMA Conference with our bursary


AMA Conf

We’re delighted to offer a bursary for this year’s Arts Marketing Association (AMA) Conference at the Belfast Waterfront on 25-27 July.

The fact that the AMA conference 2017 – The Value of Everything is on our doorstep, offers the opportunity to experience the conference without the cost of flights and hotels.

We are offering the bursary because we recognise the importance of innovation and new ideas, but also that it is hard to find the space for that in your day and in your budget.

The opportunity to apply is for NI organisations who don’t have any marketing staff. You will have marketing in your job but it will only be one of many roles you are juggling as you need to be a jack of all trades/all-round office whizz.


The Audiences NI bursary application form is available through the AMA website, click here.


The deadline for applications is Tuesday 9 May.

Digital? What is that?

Guest blog post by Amanda Neylon, Programme Director – Digital Delivery, NHS Digital

I’ve been working in ‘digital’ for over 10 years and something I am asked a lot (and not just by my parents!) is ‘What is digital?’. Some of us remember when digital meant that we didn’t need film in our cameras or our TVs had more than 5 channels. My first job was in ‘new media’ then I was responsible for ‘websites’ and now it’s ‘digital’ and there will probably be another word soon. Or maybe we won’t even need a word anymore because it will just be what we all do.

So what is digital to me? Well I try and look at it differently, I prefer the word technology, I believe my job is to help everyone make the most of technology. It’s not just about websites or social media, it’s about exploiting all that technology can do to inform, connect, support and inspire us.

When I was working at Macmillan, we looked at how technology could make a difference to people affected by cancer. That meant redeveloping our cancer information to be easier to understand with case studies, videos and personalised content, available to view on any device. It was developing apps to make life easier, with reminders when to take medication, or documenting your pain and symptoms so you could share with your doctor. It was simple data tools for the people commissioning services in local areas so they could see all the information they needed about cancer in one place to enable them to make the best decisions for their community. It was our nurses doing web chats and answering questions on Facebook so patients could get support when they needed it, not having to wait until their appointments.

Similarly in NHS Digital, we exist to help patients, clinicians, commissioners, analysts and researchers. Our goal is to improve health and social care in England by making better use of technology, data and information. That covers a wide range of products and services. We run the Spine, the technology that supports the infrastructure for health and social care in England, joining together over 23,000 healthcare systems in 20,500 organisations. We provide tools that allow you to access, review, monitor and extract data for analysis and reporting. And we are transforming patient services such as the NHS Choices website so we can connect people with the information and services they need, when they need it most. Oh and we do a bit of social media.

Digital isn’t just about developing the geeky stuff, it’s about how organisations work too. The ability to understand and exploit digital should be part of everybody’s job now. That is not just about adopting the latest new technology, or using social media, it’s about changing the way organisations think and work. Digital technologies support faster change (well compared with things that need welding, foundations or 5 years of training), this enables us to be agile, in the true sense of the word, not just as a project methodology. It’s about being collaborative, starting small, testing, learning, iterating and being brave, which in turn enables us to be more responsive to users’ needs throughout a product life span. So a huge part of being in digital right now is being able to support culture change and staff development.

It’s all well and good developing organisations to be more digital and developing all this great technology, but we also need to make sure everyone out there is equipped to use it. At NHS Digital this is particularly important to us as there is a correlation between health inequalities and digital exclusion, so we are working hard on projects to close that gap.

So. Digital? It is much more than social media, it’s how we use everything about technology to live, work and make our lives easier. At least that’s what I tell my parents!

More about Amanda…

Amanda is Programme Director for Digital Delivery at NHS Digital, having formerly worked as Head of Digital for MacMillan Cancer Support. Amanda was part of a panel at our Transformation from the Comfort of your Chair event on 23 February at the Google Hive, PwC. This was the third event in our Network, Not Work series, bringing the NI cultural sector together for more than the usual small talk.