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