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A Tale of Branded Artistic Production

Mark Ferris — 9 November 2015


Some years ago, I helped get an artistic project off the ground. It was a musical theatre production which followed a family in Western Australia from the early 1900’s through to the present time. The story focused on how they were affected by various conflicts including World War I, World War II and the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

Early on, the production team decided to create a logo to start building our visual identity. This would become important when approaching sponsors, attracting people to auditions and applying for grants. It would also appear on our website, in the emails we planned to send out and on the various social media sites we established. Fortunately, one of the committee members has a daughter who was a professional designer so, after a few intense debates, we settled on one of the many attractive logos she submitted. (Sometimes I think too many choices can be a time-waster. Presenting committees with only one option may work better!)

Meanwhile, committee-member Sonja, who works in corporate sales and has the best contacts in town, set about chasing down corporate sponsors. She sent them introductory emails and then visited them with her cool presentation telling them about the project. Another committee-member, Sally has a number of press contacts including representatives of two local radio stations and journalists at local newspapers. She developed a ‘press kit’ so media organizations could quickly understand our project and hone in on the subjects that might be newsworthy. It worked because soon enough we had a number of interviews scheduled and we were feeling good that the word was getting out.

Another committee member, Mary, is an event planner so she persuaded the committee to launch the project with a fundraiser at a local hotel. She put posters in schools and other public buildings and hung a banner over the façade at the hotel which was visible from the road. Inside the restaurant she put a sign on the podium where the Master of Ceremonies, auctioneer and speakers would stand. Her friend, Julie Ann, agreed to take photos that evening which we’d post in social media and on the website.

Speaking of the website, we were stuck for a while because no one had experience working with a content management system, hosting a website, registering a domain name and the like. We decided to contract a vendor for this and, to our surprise, James, an older member of the committee became excited about developing the site and updating the content. It was fairly complex because we wanted to enable people to subscribe to our newsletter, buy tickets for events online and share their stories about war experiences. Turns out James had experience as a web developer in a previous life and relished this task!

While all this was happening, Meryl (Director) and Fiona (Musical Director) set about auditioning people for various acting and musical roles. They each prepared a document which described the production including the story, the roles, the set, the rehearsal schedule, the performance dates etc.

It was around this time we had a committee meeting to report on progress. The mood was very positive because the public was starting to talk about our project. Sponsors had contacted us and the local council had asked for a meeting to see if they could collaborate in some way. A number of significant artists, one of whom had appeared in a West End production got in touch to audition.

So what could possibly go wrong?

Well… the committee wasn’t ready for the tirade we received from Marco at that meeting. You see, Marco worked for a large global advertising agency and had advised some of the best known brands such as Heineken, Apple and Caterpillar. Here are a few things that Marco pointed out after he reviewed all of the marketing materials mentioned above:

  • Our wonderful logo had been re-sized by different people as they produced materials of different sizes and shapes;
  • One person had omitted to use the logo, presumably because they couldn’t load the large file on their home computer;
  • The logo was looking quite different in various printed materials because printers work differently and can render the same file with slightly different colours;
  • Different fonts had been used and since there was no ‘style guide’ there were differences in capitalization, grammar etc.;
  • Different people had used different words and phrases to describe the project emphasising different aspects. It was hard to say what our ‘core message’ was;
  • Huge amounts of time had been taken by the authors of these marketing materials when, in fact, many tasks could be consolidated into one. For example, the sponsor presentations, press kits and artist presentations could all be produced with one template. Likewise, we could have developed one template for email correspondence and one for each of the social media platforms.

A few feathers were ruffled among our volunteer committee as Marco pointed out the errors of our ways using terms like ‘inefficiencies’, ‘diluting brand equity’, ‘brand inconsistency’ etc. But we knew he was right and he reminded us that we set out on this project to ‘take this show to Broadway, nothing less will do’. As such, we should aspire to first-class marketing practices.

So, what to do next? Our first reaction was to ask Marco whether he could check our work going forward. Before we’d finished the question, Marco hollered a definitive “No!” and educated us on the importance of ‘marketing production processes’ which would prevent us wasting time producing (and approving) new materials. And he taught us about products such as Outfit which speeds up much of the marketing production process whilst ensuring brand consistency across all materials, digital and print. It took the committee some time to fully understand and adopt Outfit but when coupled with enthusiastic people and sensible processes, it made a huge difference in our nascent organisation.

“You may be thinking that this chaos only occurs in small, artsy, volunteer organizations but day in and day out we see large multinationals struggling with the same thing.”

Maximizing the impact (and value) of their brand is essential but too many (well-meaning) people pulling in different directions can prevent this. They may not have access to a Marco but they can certainly get access to Outfit!

Later I got to know the founders of Outfit and was invited to join their board. It helped that I had first-hand experience of their product. And our show has completed a preliminary run in Western Australia and we are gearing up for a second run elsewhere. We remain hopeful we can get to Broadway one day!

About the Author

Since 1990, Mark has founded and grown numerous companies in the information technology space. Some of these companies were acquired by third party investors and he has a growing portfolio of investments in early stage businesses. He has lived in South Africa, UK, Japan and now calls Australia home. He also supports the arts through donations and investments in shows such as Kinky Boots, Somewhere in Time and From Here To Eternity.

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