PR WEEK: Profile: Joanna Baker, Edinburgh International Festival; Centre stage at Edinburgh

Joanna Baker tops the marketing bill at the International Festival

Joanna Baker tops the marketing bill at the International Festival

Joanna Baker’s worst moment, in four years as marketing and public

affairs director at Edinburgh International Festival was not this year’s

controversial University of Edinburgh Festival lecture in which the

speaker, Professor George Steiner, suggested that the event should be

scrapped. It was the time, just a few days before one festival started,

when a fire gutted a key theatre venue, forcing the organisers to use a

city sports centre instead.

She recalls walking around the sports centre wondering ‘how on earth are

we going to do it’.

Such kinship with the whole festival, not just the communications

sphere, is typical of 36-year-old Baker. She works with festival

director Brian McMaster to select possible acts and, on being asked

whether she considers herself a marketing or an arts professional, says:

‘I cannot separate the two. I think the skills involved in good

marketing and communication - planning, business skills and creativity -

are also those necessary in the best arts organisations.’

Baker’s whole career has been in the very best of such UK organisations.

She kicked it off with a temporary post-graduation telesales job at the

Royal National Theatre, moved to Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, as a press

and marketing assistant, to the Welsh National Opera as marketing and

press office head, and then on to Edinburgh.

She traces her career choice back to a mixture of chance, a love of

theatre and the awareness that, despite being a keen young amateur

musician, she didn’t have the ‘talent or dedication’ to turn


Dedication is, however, clearly not lacking now. Former colleagues

recall her long hours - during the three weeks of festival, Baker works

from 7.30am to 12.30am - and she admits she finds it difficult to


The work isn’t over when the final festival curtain falls. Long-term

planning starts up to three years in advance and time between festivals

is spent on such activities as viewing acts, producing programmes,

finalising contracts and tailoring pre-publicity.

Despite the gruelling schedule Baker, whose five-strong team swells to

over 50 during the festival, insists she never resents her work. ‘I

think it is an enormous privilege to work with these very special people

who put themselves out on the public platform every day.

‘These performers are wonderful and you cannot resent doing whatever you

can to present what they are doing to as many people as possible.’

Such sentiments can imply a certain ‘luvvieness’, but they seem

heartfelt, and Baker resists vigorously the suggestion that she might be

turning into a ‘thesp’ herself.

‘My job is to communicate what the performers do to as wide an audience

as possible and if you get too close you fail to see how to communicate

in a general sense,’ she says.

It seems to pay off. One national arts editor says: ‘My dealings with

her have always been first rate. She’s always been terribly co-

operative, she gets things down quickly and efficiently and she’s

terribly nice into the bargain.’

Baker’s emphasis on communicating with the ‘wide audience’ is echoed by

a conviction that the international festival is ‘absolutely not’


‘I do not think there is high or low art: but I think there can be good

or bad art,’ she says.

She is also adamant that, although the festival gains strength from its

50 year history, it must not stand still. ‘The nature of festival is

that it must be about moving forward,’ she says. ‘It is about having fun

and presenting things in a very exciting and interesting way.’

Despite admitting that ‘an element of performance’ moulds her ultra-

positive interview persona, after four years, Baker still seems to find

such excitement and interest in her role at the festival. For her there

clearly is no business like it.



Box office clerk, Royal National Theatre


Bursary holder, Arts Council of Great Britain


Press and marketing assistant, Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet


Head of marketing and press, Welsh National Opera


Marketing and public affairs director, Edinburgh International Festival

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in