Agile: The Holy Grail or Just another Buzzword?

Posted by Ms. Cath Hume, Oct 20, 2015 0 comments

The Arts Marketing Association (AMA) has spent the last two years encouraging the best digital marketers in the UK cultural sector to work in an agile way. But is it truly beneficial for busy marketers to build experimentation into their daily practice?

The Digital Marketing Academy (DMA) is an entirely virtual learning programme that brings together the best digital marketing experts in the UK arts and cultural sector with a host of amazing international mentors. The impetus for the academy was a desire to create a space where digital marketers could be encouraged through mentor support and peer networking to try new ways of working based on experimentation, rapid iteration and continual testing that involves audiences and users at every stage of the process.

But has learning to work in an agile way helped our DMA Fellows? There have certainly been challenges along the way, including; internal resistance to digital transformation; fear that labelling something an ‘experiment’ means it needs to be big, impressive and deliver major impact; struggling to embrace new ways of working that impacts teammates; communicating internally that the DMA is about trying things that may or may not lead to a ‘ta dah’ moment; convincing colleagues of the benefits of working in an agile way.

Fortunately our Fellows and Mentors have pooled their knowledge and experience to find ways to work through this and have completed exciting, useful, shareable experiments which you can read about here. Some of the advice that I can share in this short post includes:

For starters: Don’t be scared to fail.

I sometimes, weirdly, forget – I work at a circus school. A place where hundreds of people fail in much more painful ways than I ever will, every day, in order to become amazingly, shockingly good at something. “When you’re a circus artist, it seems, you have to know that failure is part of the journey to being a super-hero.” Jessica Zeibland, National Centre for Circus Arts (Fellow).

  1. Embed your experiments into your day to day work plans
  2. Don’t confuse being agile with not having a plan – you still need a starting point and a rough idea of where you are going
  3. Make the most of time-saving technology – this blog on productivity has some useful ideas and so does this one on getting unstuck
  4. Embrace creativity – talk to your colleagues, the artists around you and your audiences for inspiration, insight, and ideas
  5. Use idea generating frameworks like these

So we’ve faced challenges and we’ve found solutions but what about our original question? Has embracing new ways of working benefitted our Fellows? Our mentors think so:

“The DMA is creating a culture of experimentation in cultural organizations – a valuable skill that has a huge potential to impact arts and cultural attendance and engagement.” Ron Evans, Group of Minds.

And luckily our Fellows feel the same:

“The difference has probably been most effective in the concept of ‘experimentation’ – the usefulness of setting time aside for it, of trying new things on a small scale and traceable way, of testing things out even when you’re not quite sure where they’re going to lead. Each little experiment has had ongoing use in both predictable and unpredictable ways but the biggest impact has been the idea of working in an experimental way at all.” Jessica Zeibland, National Centre for Circus Arts (Fellow).

“There’s always a risk in trying new things, and for organisations embracing digital sometimes everything can feel like an experiment with the potential for failure. Achieving internal buy-in for the value of such projects can be time-consuming and fraught with hierarchical wrangling, as senior managers grapple with ideas they’re not familiar with, confident in, or convinced of the benefit of. What if it doesn’t work? It’s exposing…

But that’s the point – no one’s the expert, nothing’s the ‘right way’ – it’s a crazy science, you just have to keep on trucking with your test-tubes and your apparatus until something goes ‘BANG’.” Steve Woodward, A New Direction.

The Digital Marketing Academy is managed by the AMA as part of CultureHive, a project funded by Arts Council England and delivered in partnership with The Audience Agency.

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