FOLK21 (part two of three)
West Midlands Regional Day
Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street
The second part of the discussion kicked off with chairman Colin Grantham introducing the next three speakers Jim Barrow, Pam Bishop and Graham Langham.Freelance journalist Jim Barrow has a great deal of experience, mainly in the print media, but he has also worked in local radio, television and for national magazines. He was the first to address the audience.
|Jim Barrow, freelance journalist
"You are trying persuade them, if you want to put it in a theoretical context it's what the Italian Marxist, Gramsci called the 'permanent persuaders', people who are embedded in the population like you all are.
"You've all probably got jobs or retired or doing different things and your starting point is just talking to people. You can do leaflets, newsletters etc but always try and get your members, your organisers and the artists just to talk to people. Say what happens and what you do.
"It's a very basic point, so leaving that aside another area is very good quality printing material and graphics."
Jim then pointed to the publicity material which was being used by the arts centre for their recent events as an example of eye-catching and quality promotion.
"This is good quality material, it has high impact so that's something to think about. When you are putting out printed material to people, leaflets, posters, magazines etc, make sure it's good, make sure it's eye-catching, make sure it's colourful, make sure it has an impact on people and you are more likely to get ticket sales and people coming along.
Jim then went on to focus on the media generally, starting with the print media.
"Print media has been in decline, but there are still tens of millions of copies of newspapers being sold and more people read one copy of a newspaper than actually pay for it.
"So locally you still have tens of thousands of people you can reach by going through your local media. John touched on the way the media tend to 'poo poo' the folk scene. A lot of this is down to the editors, in general, but there are good exceptions. They tend to be middle-aged, menopausal men who think that they're still soul kiddies, still mods, they're still rockers or whatever.
"So as John said, the 'sandals' or the 'arran sweaters' brigade are not for them and not for the young audience they are trying to reach. So that's something you have to break down.
"A good way of doing that is to find out who these people are, ring them up, go and see them. There are still people in there producing these things and if they have the wrong idea it's a good idea to go down and tell them what the right idea is; what it is you do, show them the stuff that thousands of people are turning up for at these festivals, Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons are filling Symphony Hall, they are big news.
Disservice"If they [the editors] knock it off their news agenda then they are doing a disservice to their readers. So have a go and put them right.
"If you go to the Britfolk website there is a very good section under the help files which has information about promotion and marketing and which is a very good summary of ways in which you can market and produce a press release, because in a press release all you are saying is who, why, what, where and when.
"What you need to do is get the most eye-catching, most interesting thing in the first paragraph and then cover those five items, because it's useless not saying where you are doing it, when you are doing it, how much the tickets are etc. and make it attractive.
"So if you have a particular artist coming who is unusual, or is a recent award winner or something like that. Put it up front and send it out.
"A good idea is also to ring them up afterwards to make sure they received it. I don't know what your in boxes are like but you can imagine what newspaper and radio station in boxes are like, they just keep on filling up and filling up and stuff gets missed.
"Ringing them up will also give you the opportunity to speak to a real person and perhaps strike up a working relationship with them and get to know them. So instead of just ringing up out of the blue you are asking for someone specifically.
"Find out if they have someone who covers music or events, they are unlikely to have someone who is a folk specialist but they might have someone who is interested in music and you can cultivate a relationship with them because that makes things a lot easier.
"Also offer the opportunity for a review as well, you can invite them to come along, they can get in free, see what it's like and do a review.
"It's a free night, buy them a drink when they come perhaps then they may come back again, perhaps then they may write something and perhaps it may go in the paper or they may talk about it on the radio station.
"Also most of them have listings sections, for these you just send in one paragraph; time, artist ticket price etc that's it and they are likely to be quite happy to put that in and it doesn't cost anything. The listings are free and you should make use of anything that's free.
"A lot of organisations are struggling, they have falling circulations, they have hacked the staff so they have fewer and fewer people but you can provide them with stuff that can help them fill the pages and airtime.
"Sometimes, even though they may be prejudiced towards folk music, if they are desperate to fill a hole they may use it and it will be printed or read out and you have some promotion.
"You also have to think visually, if you have a photograph of the artist you could send in or even just a link to an image you have on your website or the artist's site then use it.
"Increasingly, the other area you have to think about are the younger people."
Jim then outlined that many younger people do not read hard copies of newspapers, the majority got their information via tablets, phones etc. which is another reason to think visually and electronically.
He then went on to impress the importance of using social media and suggested that anyone who isn't aux fait with it should seek out local courses on how to use the new electronic mediums which in some cases, especially if you are unemployed or on benefits, are free.
"If you don't have websites get someone to make one for you or make one yourself there is a website called Weebly and you can go on there and build your own website for free. It's very basic, very simple and it's a place where you can post items and give people a picture of what it's like inside a club.
Misapprehensions"People do have these misapprehensions about folk clubs. You can give a different impression. You can do video on your phone or on a camera which you can post on to Youtube or your website or on Facebook, so that people without even stepping foot inside can get a different impression. Particularly if you have footage, with permission, of a good artist, singers or musicians and they will get an idea of what it's like in this weird world of folk.
"All these things are out there to help, Twitter, Facebook etc. There are about 30 options out there so you have to choose carefully and consider how you are going to communicate with the most people who are most likely to come to you.
"There are all these applications out there but on average people only use seven. So it's a matter of identifying which of those seven you want to be posting to. Blogs are very useful such as Blogspot or Wordpress which once you have posted an item, there are buttons which will post it on to all these other applications and you can do it as a one-stop-shop.
"So it's worth looking at but it isn't a magic bullet, it isn't going to change the world but it is just one of the things you can do and again you need to tailor that to fit in with your time and your commitments.
"Try and identify members of your clubs who may help you so you can split off the jobs. If people have to an eye for good design or posters or are adept at using Facebook etc, then co-opt them, get them to help."
Jim then went on to outline the importance of using applications such as Facebook expeditiously and only really post information when you have something definite to say and don't be overzealous with your messaging to the point where you can just become an annoyance to people. He also warned about how time consuming using social media is and its need to be tailored to the individual criteria of the various clubs and venues.
Jim then handed over to Pam and Graham.
|Pam Bishop of Folk Monthly
"We can address this through training and workshops and encouraging people to improve the quality and that is something I would like to see more of. It's something where clubs can co-operate because if you have a guest coming along who has a lot to teach people then maybe two or three clubs can get together and run a workshop.
"Quality in publicity too, I have been looking at some of the leaflets which the festivals have been handing around and their quality is wonderful.
"I know they can afford to do it, but there are cheaper ways of doing it too."
Pam then showed the audience some examples of various festivals' promotional material.
"With Folk Monthly, I think we have brought it up to a really good quality, and I know it speaks to the converted but it also goes in every branch library in the East and West Midlands."
Pam then handed over to Graham Langley who essentially a story teller and is also involved in Folk Monthly and the Trad Arts Team.
"My main concern with promotions has been to find new people. Because even though we have quite good audiences, they are what we could call decaying, those audiences that are always getting lost along the line.
"We are always having to find new ways of finding that new ten or fifteen percent of audiences and the process has been many of the things Jim has mentioned."
Graham went on to tell of the success of some of his storytelling cafes in places such as Wednesbury Library which had attracted audiences as large as 120 people and that he had found funding to carry out research into what attracted people to such events.
"One thing we found was the key draw was word of mouth, just as Jim said. We also found people came in small groups, so it seems people liked to come along for the sociability of the occasion.
"So we deliberately made Storytelling Cafe a social occasion with all the meeting and greeting and a little bit to eat. The social side of the event is clearly important to our audiences and we also discovered that it was middle-aged and older women who came to the cafe.
"So we do aim to give people a good time and a great experience from the moment they walk in because that is what leads to the word of mouth. As people are leaving and we are saying goodbye to them we are inviting them to come back.
"Another area of publicity, which has been very successful for us, has been posters. Because we are seeking audiences from the immediate area, although people have come from as far away as 20 miles, we find posters up in the venue and the area immediately around the venue has an affect on the audience. Because it's local and within walking distance and that's something that appealed to them."
"Then there is the idea of a brand in terms of our folk club or our cafe. If it's got that recognisable image and logo then it's part of building that image and keeping it in people's minds.
"There is a problem when your audience starts dropping off. You know the kind of thing, you have had a good audience for a while, you are on the crest of a wave and you think it's great but inevitably that peak starts to decline.
"If you are not careful it will keep on going into a trough, so then you say, what do we do, our audience is falling, what do we do? I say keep your nerve and make sure your product is really good. Then double your publicity budget, double your marketing budget. Someone said to me recently that they didn't have a marketing budget, which has got to be a clue to the drop off of an audience.
|Graham Langham of Trad Arts Team
"People have said to me 'we don't have money for marketing, we are broke' and I have said to them stick a couple of pounds on the price of your tickets.
"We did that some years ago, we put two pound on the price of the tickets and we were really worried about it, debated it and discussed it a lot and it seemed to be a big bullet to bite, but when we did it, we didn't miss a beat. The audience continued to pay for it and gave us that extra resource to spend on marketing."
Then Graham changed tack slightly and went on to talk about gathering new and younger audiences.
"In terms of new audiences, and particular young audiences, this is a problem. What we did was initiated young people's events, activities and training and we found it easier to get funds for that than training adults.
"Eventually we set up Young Storyteller of the Year and now there is a pool of younger storytellers coming in which we never had before at our cafes.
"So maybe to attract new audiences you could run events, training with young people both in musicianship and singing.
"Another thing we do is the Trad Arts Team have a card which we use at all of our events and it's where people can leave their information and comments. We included mobile phone numbers and every now and again we will send out a mass text and that has proved quite successful. Even if it's only three or four extra people it can really make a difference to the nights," concluded Graham.
Chairman Colin then mentioned his surprise at how many clubs etc didn't keep a mailing list.
|Chairman - Colin Grantham
"Artists who have mailing lists of their own, who then mail their contacts can make a lot of difference to people who wouldn't normally come.
"If you haven't got a mailing list, and again it takes time and you have to start building it up, it's a worthwhile effort."
John Richards then mentioned the problems of the proliferation of channels of communication and the importance of keeping records and contacts up to date because people changed service providers, email addresses and sometimes neglected to update websites and so communication can be lost or, it seems, people are no longer interested or don't want to respond.
There were a wide range of ideas expressed from what was said by the speakers including websites and applications which can help maximise your time with mailing lists, getting feedback and there were several websites which could be used to advertise the events and concerts.
One suggestion from a Broseley candidate was adding a Paypal link which they found was very useful and a successful way for people to pay for tickets.
Another point raised was the clarity and accuracy of websites which sometimes is lacking.
Colin picked up on this point.
"There are websites that are well out of date, there are websites which don't carry accurate information in terms of who to contact for bookings. But often people are relying on the goodwill of others to maintain websites. It's a quite a big task for the people who are doing it, but it is important.
"For those of you who haven't got a website, through Folk21 East Midlands, there are links to people who can help and advise."
Information"The importance is that if you go on to a website and you are not getting the information you want, then you are less likely to want to follow that up and go to the club. I think it's absolutely crucial you find someone who can keep websites updated."
John Richards then outlined the dangers of posting contact details on websites and how some people were reluctant to include them because of the possibility of the information being abused. He also emphasised the importance of clearly posting conditions of booking artists etc.
At a later stage in the proceedings John also raised the point of improving the coverage of folk music in the media and how to address this when things go wrong.
Jim Barrow responded to this.
"The media landscape is changing, and I would say forget about the national press and start where you are locally and be aware the landscape at a local level is changing rapidly as well.
"You may have noticed that although the readership and papers may be in decline these advertorial magazines and freesheets are popping up all over the place. Now they need content and while some will expect you to buy an advert to have an article in them a lot of them are still desperate for material to fill, so think about these.
"Electronically there are a lot of hyper-local websites which can be used. So you can actually go around the national media and at grass roots level start to communicate with people through these other mediums."
"Another area to look at is internet radio and television stations which are in their infancy at the moment but watch this space because I think people are moving into those areas and they'll be looking for content.
"If you can provide some good sound, good video and good material then these are areas to be looking in to, and you will find that young people who don't look at newspapers or don't buy magazines will be looking there as well."
Colin then added: "What some clubs are doing when they have an artist who is nationally known they will make an arrangement to put a feature on the local radio station."
He then summed up: "I am sure all of you have picked up some ideas from today that will work and might make a difference. The important thing is this is the start not the end, so can we encourage any of you who have got ideas, thoughts or any points you have made which you feel need to be looked at then let us know.
"Keep the conversation going, keep feeding in information," he added.
To read part one click on the link http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/folk-21_25.html
To read part three click on the link http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/folk-21.html