As a result where/by whom should digital be managed? A communications team or the production team? Is digital media blurring the lines?  

A report produced by the Arts Council [PDF] in November last year (2010) reports that digital engagement with cultural activities is mainstream, and that instead of replacing a live cultural experience, it augments it. So the blog post you read before a performance or a YouTube video you might watch is part of the overall cultural experience.

This perhaps has implications for how we think about digital media throughout the creative processes for the production of a performance - be it in communications, digital dissemination (simulcast) or as part of the performance ...

From a digital audiences perspective ... the performances starts way before opening night, and continues long-time after the final curtain :-) 

What does this mean for how we manage digital in Arts organisations? Should digital be managed by our communications peeps or the production team, or both? 

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Very good question Kelly!


I think the very best communications are part of the production, but this is very rare, and this question matters because of the structure of arts organisation places different resources, priorities and access at the disposal of production and communications teams.


For example, the priority of communications is about spreading awareness of the production and, fundamentally, telling tickets. The priority of the production is... telling the story. With digital media able to perform both these roles, they can come into conflict if, for example, the production requires you to augment the story with a digital presence and occupy digital spaces within the storyworld, which might mean that you spread digital content across a range of fictional channels that live within the storyworld, but the communication priorities would prefer you to keep everything within the producing companies channels, to drive new 'member/follower acquisition', even though this might undermine the credibility of the digital channels for the purpose of the story. 


Within the emerging transmedia tradition, creators are tending to focus on creating digital spaces that sit within the story, but also focus on leading audiences on journeys to other places within the transmedia journey... so the demands of a marketing/comms perspective can be integrated into the overall strategy. The limitations of housing this within a comms team tend to be about the timescale and resources available to the digital dimension... and there are important implications for the production team too...


For example, if you want to create a web miniseries, or social media presences for characters within a show, you'll need to have more time available with writers, directors, designers and cast. In TV and film, this is less of a problem than it might be for theatre, where you would have, typically, a 6 week period available with the cast - this is too late to develop video material and build up legitimate social media followings, which will take longer to develop. 


As with almost every profession, the implications of digital media for theatre and the arts are profound - journalism, advertising, politics, marketing, music, film, television and numerous other professions are experiencing profound tectonic shifts in the way they work because of the new media platforms that are emerging - and the changes impact on workflows and business models. 


I think we are just beginning to experiment with digital media in theatre, and it's only through that experimentation that we are beginning to understand what works, and what doesn't. My initial thoughts are that the success of a digital dimension to a theatre production depends on digital producers having a close collaborative relationship with writers and directors FROM THE BEGINNING and an openness on the part of those writers and directors to changing the way they work in order to create room for the successful integration of digital work in the production. This means VERY early conversations with digital producers in order to understand the new possibilities available to storytellers that digital platforms provide and it might mean a change in the usual timescale of productions in order to create digital assets or changes to contracts that are created for actors to ensure that their expectations realistically incorporate digital work.  I think key conversations need to take place early so that storytellers are able to gain understanding of the possibilities that digital technologies open up to the ways in which their stories can find audiences and engage them. 


For a digital producer, the digital element of any production will straddle both the communications and production sides of a traditional arts organisation, although for it to be really effective, it will sit more comfortably as part of the production, and set the strategic framework for the communications. It is in the story, and within the production side that a digital engagement strategy strategy can be formulated

This is far more effective in helping to shape the marketing and communication of a show than the other way around.... just as a poster cannot be used to properly brief a video production or a social media engagement strategy, but a social media engagement strategy can very effectively inform and brief a video production or poster.

Looking forward to hearing views on these very drafty and emerging thoughts of mine and hearing from others. I think that as digital media integrates into traditional arts structures, this is an incredibly important issue.

Wow! Ok where do I begin in responding as there is so much to respond to! But I'll give it my best shot and respond by paragraphs. 


I'm not sure I'd be so bold and say the 'very best communications are part of the production" ... I've seen good stuff come from both. But I do agree that because of historicity in resource management differing priorities are placed on the art than it's perceived promotion. As an aspiring painter (when I dabble), I understand why this mindset occurs ... of course I want to spend my money on buying the 'best' oils, brush and canvas ... that is my priority ... not the activities I might use to tell people about my art work.



The view of communications you talk about wherein "the priority of communications is about spreading awareness of the production and, fundamentally, selling tickets" most certainly dominates communications/marketing thinking, unfortuantely ... a legacy of a 4P's approach to strategic marketing thinking, which by the way was devised in the 60's and 70's, than mass-marketed with a mass production and sale attitude throughout the 80's ... grounded in mechanistic transactional thinking of a production and mass advertising era ... this HAS to change and it is in some of the worlds leading companies who are 'getting the social change' ... 

I'll disagree with you here too .. and say that the priority of telling the story is not just productions priority it is also that of communications/marketing (in many industries they perhaps don't realise this as they've been conditioned to the above thinking) ... the film industry has shown us that more so than any other industry how well communications/marketing can aid in telling the story of a production (albeit film) ... 

Given the importance of narrative within theatre arts, I see a synergy here wherein communications perhaps step outside the box a little more often - away from ticket sales - to connecting through stories.

Agree communications can/does focus heavily on channel/page member/follower acquisition - but think this is not necessarily a bad thing - you do have to sell tickets and generate traffic to be a sustainable organisation after all, but think it depends on the context of the story being told, and if it would undermine the credibility of the story.

Note my focus is on the credibility of the story with/through multiple digital channels, where in you state 'credibility of the channels for the story' ... perhaps a chicken or egg scenario, but in BOTH productions and communications - the narrative is what is important, and yes digital storytelling is part of the essence of that narrative.



Maybe this is for another thread ... resourcing for digital management. Responsibility and budget allocation is a very important consideration for any arts organisation, most are cash-poor and dependent on how an organisation is structured and an activity is viewed/classified will depend on whose budget it falls under and the resources available to it. Agree. Those resources are not just money they are time.

It has always been a common misconception outside the digital professions that 'designing for and developing digital' is relatively 'easy' and 'quick'. This is even more so today with WYSIWYG technologies ... It only takes me 15 minutes to create a basic wordpress blog or blog on, so why charge £££ for it! Most clients also want changes made to digital channels/spaces immediately. Or you can upload a video to YouTube in minutes ... why do you need 6-8 weeks for it.

Change takes time, and education and not just across the performing arts sector - but many sectors. I'd never be able to judge how long a car mechanic requires to replace the oil in my car, but I'd also hope the mechanic would educate me in why it might take time and ££ to do it. 

We are not very good at sharing knowledge between sectors, so I think there is learnings on both sides ... digital and arts .... in what, how and why we resource the way we do [for communications, productions and digital], how this might need to change for some if not all our activities and how our organisation might require structural changes to facilitate/manage it ...

Cultural change, not just business models and work flows is hard for everyone. :-)



I'm not sure [drawing on my limited knowledge] that we are just beginning to experiment with digital in theatre ... it depends on what you mean by this? Some productions I've seen and participated both here and in Chicago have some advanced digital media integration within their production through the technical side of the business ... I'm wondering if you mean relative to the use of digital social technologies specifically? And in terms of audience engagement? Is this what you mean? 



"It is in the story, and within the production side that a digital engagement strategy strategy can be formulated" 


Consistent with a tweet I received from Anthony, who worked on The Passion, I don't think it is an either/or approach ... I think it has to be grounded in both production and communications ... but in this communications is about organizational and production communications not campaign-focused communications. Also, every production is different. 



"This [digital within production side] is far more effective in helping to shape the marketing and communication of a show than the other way around ..."

I suppose it depends how you see marketing and communications and if it is to 'sell tickets' or 'tell the story' ... You appear to categorise marketing/communications as the former [the dominant logic in most sectors], wherein I view it as the latter ... 

If an audience member sees a poster of a production, or interacts with a website about it or views a video on YouTube ... be it pre/post production ... all these 'experiences' will impact on that audience members experience of the story ... Of anything I see about a production pre/post I always ask myself ... 'what does that tell me about the production narrative?'

Perhaps this is why I'm not so fused on the placement of cast/crew credits, unless they are firmly situated within the productions story ... e.g., Michael Sheen - The Passion or Gary Owen - Love Steals Us.



"just as a poster cannot be used to properly brief a video production or a social media engagement strategy, but a social media engagement strategy can very effectively inform and brief a video production or poster."

This is a different issue all together ... this is about understanding the requirements of each channel, platform and/or technology and thus how the story can best be told through/with each ... 

I also would have thought that the production ALWAYS informs communications/marketing ... rarely the other way around, unless through seeing what competitors or other industries are doing and seeing how it could work with a production ... 


8. In summary ... 

So where have we go to! Two very long posts that I am sure will put off ANYONE from posting on this forum ... hee hee! I so hope not ... but Tom let's try to keep our responses a little shorter :-)) 


So I am going to end with a question inspired by Anthony who worked in Film on The Passion (NTW13) ... 

Do arts organisations need a new role - Digital Directors? or Digital Engagement Officers? who can inform ALL digital strategies/activities within their organisations? - be it productions, communications, HR, administration?






Do arts organisations need a new role? Digital Directors? I think it would be interesting to see what one could achieve working with social/digital/mobile technology across administration, communications, production and community engagement activities. That would be interesting.

The mistake I think is to silo digital strategies within any one of those areas of work. 


Agree! Creating a silo for digital would result in a lack of sharing across an organisation about digital trends, insights and skills. What would you akin it to? Is it like administration? Where in all areas of an organisation have administration elements? Or communication, finance and HR for that matter? 

What about non-arts organisations? Where does a digital director and/or one responsible for leading on digital reside in non-arts organisations? I've usually seen it sit within IT/Ecommerce functions, but that is usually within organisations like retailers or financial retailers wherein a transaction process dominates the organisational discourse, not that of a creative process such as productions, performance and art? 

Smiles Kelly


Catrin Rogers posted an interesting link in the Arts Marketing and Media Creatives Group, an article about Theatre Trailers: Do they really work?, published in the Guardian. Upon reading this article I found myself wondering, yet again, where 'communication ends' and 'productions start' ...


If we call it a trailer, it is marketing targeted at an audience/community to raise awareness and interest in our production (that is our mindset). But given our experience of theatre is socially constructed through our experiences related to said production, company, director, actors, marketing team etc, perhaps these are not 'marketing' (to reiterate Jen's observation after the Arts Marketing symposium that Arts Marketing is Dead ... the title of Andrew McIntyre's key note speech), but part of the story telling process/experience of the production.


Perhaps this is how we should see them ... as part of the overall experience of said production. For example, I saw the viral video for Two Boys, a production by the National Opera. I was so interested in the 'expected' narrative of the production (an opera about social media!!), I went to London, saw the show (Fantastic!), but walked away a little disjointed in how I positioned the viral video to the actual Opera. They were different. There didn't feel a seamless integration between the story of the viral video and that experienced at the production. Should there be? Am I expecting too much? Marketers to become story tellers and understand dramaturgy. 


Should it be a seamless experience? Should we stop seeing communications as the activity that becomes 'before' a production, to bring in audiences and instead view them as something that is part of the entire production experience? 


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