The re-emergence of Britain as a cultural epicentre has coincided
with a turbulent period in the PR history of the arts sector. Rarely has
the dirty laundry of the fine arts world been so prominently displayed
to the public as in the last couple of months.
The internal wranglings of the Royal Academy over ’Sensation’ - its
tribute to the new generation of artists such as Damien Hirst - and the
ongoing crisis faced by the Royal Opera House, have exposed the
labyrinthine organisational structures that have created many of these
’We have 80 academics, 13 of which sit on the Council (which controls
policy), they all have their own views and they can express their
It isn’t our position to stop them talking,’ says Catharine Jones, press
and promotions officer at the Royal Academy who has recently witnessed
resigning academics criticising its decision to court the likes of
The ROH suffers a similar problem, according to Quentin Bell, who was
brought in by its chairman Lord Chadlington earlier this year to chair a
’In a commercial organisation at the end of the day there is a boss and
a board, but in an arts organisation there are so many people who have
vested interests,’ says Bell.
According to Bell, the ROH’s communications, like that of many other
arts organisations, has been hampered by its attempt to walk a tightrope
between its artistic principles and commercial imperatives.
Such is the complexity of the task that the ROH is now splitting out its
marketing and communications function and is currently interviewing for
an external affairs director.
This is only one of several significant appointments over the last year,
which indicate a move away from sponsorship-driven marketing towards the
need to address more diverse audiences.
Earlier this year, the Royal National Theatre appointed its first head
of public affairs, Vivien Wallace, whose remit is to address the
theatre’s ’wider constituency’. In September, the Barbican also
appointed its first director of public affairs, Ruth Hasnip, whose brief
is to co-ordinate event publicity, but perhaps most significantly to
communicate a corporate brand for the Barbican, which encompasses a
multiplicity of art forms.
It is this move away from the event-by-event approach, that has tended
to characterise arts sector PR, towards a concentration on the corporate
brand that represents the most significant move forward in terms of
’Venues haven’t perceived the need to market their own brands if they
have a lot of touring events coming in which have their own publicity,’
says Hasnip. ’But the Barbican is a chameleon, so it is important that
we understand our own brand.’
The day-to-day pressure to generate audiences has led some organisations
to bring in outside consultants to take an objective view of their
The Royal Academy has used Burson-Marsteller for the past year as an
adviser on its broader brand strategy, and the National Portrait Gallery
has brought in Colman Getty to work on specific projects.
Significantly, the Barbican has just appointed an education officer -
Gillian Barker - whose role it is to communicate the value of the
Corporation of London’s pounds 18 million input to the arts to the
diverse local communities of the City, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and
The need to communicate the benefits of arts projects to the local
community has been greatly enhanced by the Millennium Commission which
requires applicants to prove public support for its projects.
Damien Whitmore, head of communications at the Tate Gallery, for
example, made brilliant use of promotional tie-ins with Harvey Nichols
and Pret a Manger at the time of the Tate’s application to the
Millennium Commission, to ensure that its Cezanne exhibition generated
Having secured funding, he now faces the challenge of extending the Tate
brand across two Tates - the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art due to open
at Bankside in the year 2000 and a new Gallery of British Art on the
existing site. Whitmore is also working with arts PR agency Erica Bolton
and Jane Quinn and on a pro bono basis with GJW on communicating the
importance of the project, not just in artistic terms but also as a
means of local regeneration. ’Culture is an important way of
regenerating,’ says Bolton. ’Getting the support of the community has
been a very important part of the project, emphasising the economic
impact on the area, bringing in new money and new jobs to an area of
It is this range of audiences - from sponsors to audiences, funding
authorities to local communities - that need to be addressed by arts
organisations to raise the professionalism of the industry.
But it remains to be seen whether some of Britain’s most prestigious
institutions will be able to successfully take advantage of the cultural
climate and finally bring art to the masses.
Changing times at the ROH
Lord Chadlington, chairman of the ROH and Shandwick, has come under fire
for his handling of the ROH. Having claimed the ROH faced insolvency
last week, he produce a pounds 3 million rescue package just in time and
claims that a financial structure is now being put in place which will
restore confidence in the House. ’We have to address the way in which
communication and management systems are established. It is not a
dysfunctional structure but it is pretty close to it,’ says
’We must run the Opera House and other institutions within an envelope
of cost. That is the change of culture I am trying to get into the Royal