Each day in the run up to Nesta Scotland’s Spotlight on Digital R&D in the Arts event we are going to share a case study showcasing what the ten projects from both calls of the fund have achieved.
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Plans for a joint ticketing solution for the four Edinburgh venues which make up Edinburgh’s Cultural Quarter were dashed early in the Digital R&D project when it became obvious the four different box office systems in use couldn’t talk to one another.
Undeterred they created the Culture Juice brand and website specifically designed to utilise digital technology to appeal to a younger demographic.
The four venues separately engage with digital development but the Digital R&D Fund has allowed this to take place in a collaborative space, letting them take risks and getting more answers than they expected by working together.
Filmhouse, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Traverse Theater, Usher Hall – Culture Juice Website
Case Study by Rhona Taylor
“If you don’t engage with digital, you get left behind — you adapt or die” Tessa MacGregor
Four arts venues in the West End of Edinburgh — the Royal Lyceum, Usher Hall, Filmhouse and the Traverse — worked collaboratively with their technology partner, Tictoc, to create an umbrella website providing ticket offers as a way of sharing audiences, and encouraging more visitors to use all four venues.
The website, culturejuice.com, is part of a wider project to establish the area as Edinburgh’s “cultural quarter”, and they wanted to do that using digital technology to reach a younger audience group that the venues had found difficult to engage through more traditional marketing channels. Marketing staff from the four venues had already held regular discussions and meetings about how they might pool their resources to work collectively before the Digital R&D project.
“We’d all struggled to engage students and young professionals in the 20 to 30 age bracket,” says Tessa MacGregor, communications officer at the Usher Hall. “We thought that by getting together collaboratively, we could offer more art forms under the same umbrella. We were approaching it from a marketing perspective, where we could promote all of us, and also encourage people to visit our venues through a digital platform.”
The venues worked with Tictoc, a digital agency with offices in London and Glasgow, to explore how they might best target that younger audience, particularly outside the busy festival periods. Tictoc had worked with other arts organisations on digital projects, which gave the venues confidence about their approach to the project.
“The fact they are based in Glasgow was good, and also the fact they’d worked with other arts organisations, as that’s very different from delivering projects for other industries,” says Emma Robertson-Werner, communications manager at the Lyceum. “We knew they understood what was required in terms of what our approaches were.”
Bringing together the four organisations with the digital partner posed significant challenges, but was a fruitful way of cementing what had been until then an informal relationship. “Working with all four venues was exciting. We all work so closely together, across similar art forms, but it’s always been a case of never the twain shall meet,” says MacGregor. “It was really exciting at the beginning when we were developing the brand and the name and all the parameters.
“It was interesting to get that digital intelligence from Tictoc, but to have the opportunity to work on something that was freer than our normal day-to-day marketing activities. We worked really closely together and continued to question and challenge each other.”
Although the initial idea had been to create a ticket-selling app, it became clear early in the project that the four different box office types would make this impossible. “Our mission was to be able to sell tickets through Culture Juice, but we soon realised that wan’t going to be a reality because the systems couldn’t talk to each other,” says MacGregor. Instead the venues decided to use the website to promote offers that would then direct users to the individual venues’ websites for ticket purchases.
Tictoc suggested that a static app was not the best solution to do that, particularly as the venues would be posting a lot of new content. Instead they advised that a mobile-enabled website would be a better use of resources, giving the venues greater flexibility. “Tictoc were really fair in advising us not to do an app,” says Robertson-Werner. “A huge amount of money was allocated for that, so to honestly advise us that it wasn’t necessary was really useful, and we then didn’t spend money that we didn’t have to.”
The venues and Tictoc instead looked at the ways in which they could reach the target audience using the offers, and in particular how to do that outside the traditionally busy periods for the venues — the Edinburgh festivals in August and the International Film Festival in June. All four venues experience a significant surge in ticket sales during the festivals, and communicating their marketing message outside those times was a key aim.
“Artistically, there’s a lot of work that goes on in Edinburgh outside of August, and we’re always trying to push that cultural and arts message out to Edinburgh citizens for the rest of the year,” says MacGregor. “The culturejuice.com website encapsulates our art forms and productions and content, and we’re using the site to curate the content we think would be valuable to our target audience.”
The Digital R&D project provided a new, collaborative way of working for the venues, which presented significant challenges but has also provided new ideas and opportunities for further digital projects. “The Nesta funding allowed us to work collaboratively, which we hadn’t done before,” says Robertson-Werner. “That was interesting, and so was working with a digital partner — you always progress differently when you’re working with different partners. The Lyceum’s engagement with Tictoc was really positive, which was encouraging. Things like this keep digital at the forefront of what we want to do.”
Working collaboratively made the end product stronger, says MacGregor. “Having four marketing people involved, who always have different ideas and approach things from different angles, helped to grow the project — it made it more thorough. There were always four voices and four ideologies. We all believed in the purpose but the approaches were bound to differ. That made the project more robust — it meant we constantly questioned things.”
The timescale was a key challenge, and the large number of partners involved meant that it was sometimes difficult to manage time effectively. It also meant that some staff turnover was more likely — neither the Traverse nor the Lyceum had anyone on the project from start to finish. “It was almost like it took us four times as long,” says MacGregor. “We were all juggling the project with our existing workload and we all have different peaks and troughs in the year. Resources wise, time was really key — we didn’t have enough of it to really properly attack it.”
The project has provided a starting point for the organisations to continue working together, and to develop the idea of Edinburgh’s cultural quarter. “We’ve all got to know a bit more about each other and we understand more how each of us works,” says Robertson-Werner. “Despite having visited each other and been in meetings together, until you work collaboratively you don’t get to find out more, and that’s been really interesting.”
“It’s also been interesting looking at how our culture is different in terms of the way we work,” MacGregor adds. “That was both a challenge and a joy.”
The project forms part of a wider move in all the organisations to use digital channels. “The Lyceum is quite a digital organisation,” says Robertson-Werner. “We were one of the first arts organisations in Edinburgh to use Facebook, and our website was redeveloped about a year and a half ago, which was a big project and investment.”
The Lyceum is also looking at revising its box office system. About 40% of the organisation’s ticket sales are generated online, and it is something the venue wants to update in line with other digital developments. “We’re just about to pull our Twitter feed on to our homepage and we’d love to implement a calendar-type function. These sound like small changes but they take time, money and development.”
The Usher Hall is also planning to refresh its website, which, MacGregor says, is key to keeping on top of digital developments. “For us the future is about staying ahead of the curve. A website is only the beginning of digital engagement but for any ticketing organisation it is key in so many ways — and any innovation or development in these areas can only benefit everyone.”
Keeping up with trends and changes in how audiences use digital tools is key to how the venues operate. “If you don’t engage with digital, you get left behind — you adapt or die,” says MacGregor. “More and more people are engaging with the arts digitally — we all have to engage with people on that level. It’s not about just when people are at the theatre, it’s about how we talk to people even when they’re not in our building. It’s key.”
“People get used to booking flights or shopping online — they have expectations of what’s possible,” adds Robertson-Werner. “Arts organisations have smaller budgets to enable them to do digital work and can sometimes get a little bit left behind. Meeting the expectations of our consumer base is challenging on a limited budget but it’s really important. People have expectations and we have to keep ahead of the trends.”
The key benefits for the partners were having the time to become fully involved in the R&D process, and the overall learning. “We’ve learnt so much about how we work, how the other venues work and the diversity of programming and audiences,” says Robertson-Werner. “It’s been a really positive experience with the digital partner, which has made us unafraid to try again with other things. You know that there are companies you can trust to move the technical side of your business forward. It’s been really beneficial — it’s made us reflect and look forward.”
R&D is something the venues use constantly, but the project allowed them the time to explore it fully. “The more R&D you do, the more answers you get to things you didn’t think you could get an answer to,” says MacGregor. “Our normal days are so busy, you don’t stop often enough to look at R&D. We all need to evolve, and R&D is essential to do that — it’s been great to explore it. We would never have had that kind of budget to spend on R&D, and we’d never be able to realise our dreams or ambitions without this kind of funding.”
Digital projects should be embraced as part of all arts organisations, the partners suggest. “You become aware on a project like this that the digital part is just an enabler to give you a digital aspect to your marketing work — it doesn’t exist outwith your world or environment,” says MacGregor. “It’s very much a partnership and a conversation that’s quite easy to have. Don’t be bamboozled by it.”
“R&D takes up a large chunk of all of our projects — getting that 100% right helps things to run as smoothly as possible, and everything relates back to it.
“With commercially-driven clients it’s sometimes easier to see what they’re looking for — with arts organisations it can be a lot more challenging because there’s more to it.
“Working with the four organisations was challenging, but was also absolutely fine — it made it important to establish a focused point of contact. It was important to get as much information from the client as possible — that comes from face-to-face meetings and getting everybody on the project to have some buy-in.
“It was really positive working on a project of this size. Helping to evolve the project was good experience. It’s exercised everyone’s brain — you need to think about things slightly differently. It was a longer project so there was learning from that — you have to keep the motivation up and the focus.
“We’re looking forward to the next step and the evolution of the project, because no site stands still. The site’s creation is just the beginning. You need to then take it and learn from it to see how people use it. If you have something solid to build upon, you can take the site wherever it needs to go.
“We really enjoyed the project from start to finish, it’s been great — we’d love to do more of them. It was the right sort of project for us and it was really rewarding.”
End-user; student at Edinburgh University
“As a student I always look for discounts and ticket offers because it makes a real difference. Lots of other venues in Edinburgh do really good discounts too, like the Festival Theatre and the Cameo, but with Culture Juice it’s good that it brings the different venues online in one place.
“If I’m looking for something to do that night or a couple of days ahead, I’ll always look online to see what discounts there are, and use Facebook and Twitter to share events and see what other people are doing.
“The quality of the venues on Culture Juice is really good — I’ve used it for Filmhouse tickets. It’s especially good as I’d always rather go to an independent cinema like the Filmhouse than one of the chain venues, even though they offer good discounts. As a student, it’s good to feel part of that cultural community.
“It’s good too for trying things out — I don’t know much about classical music, but if a ticket is £5 or £10 then it’s definitely worth taking the risk on trying something new.
“There are so many more venues in Edinburgh which would benefit from doing something like this — it’s really impressive to get all the offers in one place.”