Category Archives: Evaluation

The secret of successful marketing on a tight budget (and it’s not more tweeting)

At the end of most projects I ask the question ‘how could we have marketed it better?’ This was a major reason behind studying for an MSc. in Strategic Marketing – I wanted to find answers. Working as a consultant in the arts and third sector, reaching more people is a constant quest.

The answers I get from the team always revolve around the same things:
‘more social media’, ‘more posters’, ‘leaflets through the door’, ‘put adverts on buses’, ‘advertise through Facebook.’

As the years go by, I’m less convinced.

Every audience survey will tell you the most likely reason for someone attending your event is ‘word of mouth.’ But the important question is: how did the mouthy person find out about it in the first place?

So here’s the secret of marketing on a limited budget:

Marketing & consulting with young people


Connectors are those amazing people who love their networks. Malcolm Gladwell describes them in his brilliant book The Tipping Point (2000) as ‘people with a special gift for bringing the world together.’

Gladwell tells the story of the fascinating experiment by the controversial social scientist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. Milgram gave packages to 160 people on the west coast of the USA, asking them to get the package to a particular stockbroker in Boston. They had to do it by sending the package to someone they knew who would be likely to get it closer to the stockbroker. Progress was recorded and Milgram found that the packages got across the country in about six steps, reinforcing the growing concept of Six Degrees of Separation.

But here’s the point: Milgram found that the packages gathered in the hands of a few people. Indeed, half the packages came through just three people as they reached the stockbroker. Gladwell calls these three people Connectors.

What’s my evidence that this works?

I’ve just run two youth consultation events for the Arts Council of Wales. We wanted to know young peoples’ views about the future of the arts in Wales. I had about two weeks to get the message out there and zero marketing budget. I would have been delighted if a dozen turned up at each event. We had 29 in Cardiff and 42 in Bangor.

My zero-cost actions were:

  • Facebook events
  • Facebook postings on the RawFfest page
  • Emails sent directly to about 150 people in the youth and youth arts sector –  individual emails, mind you, not bulk.
  • Emails to three organisations who run e-zines.

But I focussed  on the young people I knew would be interested and tell other people. I emailed, texted, phoned and Facebook messaged the ones I know are connectors.

Can we do away with the posters, flyers and endless social media? Probably not. As John Wanamaker famously said more than a hundred years ago: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Even though I’m pretty sure at least half the adverts, flyers and social media postings are a waste of time, I don’t know which ones are useless.

More importantly, these ‘mainstream’ methods may help my Connectors – and Connectors deserve all the support we can give them.

I think tweeting is unlikely to get anyone through your door. But if we value our Connectors enough, if we make sure they know they are appreciated, then they are going to carry on telling their friends and getting people to engage.

What are the creative industries of the future?

A report published in June 2015 by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills calls for schools to focus on giving young people a combination of technical and creative skills (here)

Photo: Johan Larsson

Photo: Johan Larsson, creative industries

This brought to mind an unexpected conversation I had a couple of months ago.

I needed to find out the stats behind a website and app for a project I was evaluating. I phoned the man who had designed them and he explained the difference between number of visits and unique visitors; that having 94% of app downloads on iOS reflects the dominance of Apple in the smartphone market etc.

At the end of the conversation he said, “by the way Ruth, you might not remember me, but I was in the youth theatre you ran in Cynon Valley.” This was an OMG moment. The youth theatre was 20 years ago, so we had a lovely 5 minutes reminiscing.

I wonder what careers advice he would have got in the early 1990s. Heavy industry had gone from Cynon with the exception of the valiant worker-owned Tower Colliery. Things looked bleak for young men in the Valleys. What I can be absolutely sure about is that no one said “go to university and get yourself into the Creative Industries.” Do you remember the world when websites didn’t exist? When sending an email took ages and was presaged by that buzzing of  the dial up? When mobile phones were bricks that yuppies used?

This young person continued down a creative path, which he combined with an interest in technology and by the early 2000s he had his own company making websites – and more recently apps.

Yes, lets encourage a combination of technical and creative skills in our schools. But what’s more interesting for me is the impossibility of predicting areas of growth in the future. In 20 years time it will be 2035. I’m hoping there’ll be new, green, sustainable, equitable industries that we can’t even imagine yet. Just as 20 years ago we couldn’t imagine that a young lad in the Cynon Valley would be making a living designing apps.

What do we do with our heritage – when there’s someone living in it?

Tramping through the snow in Bute Town and knocking on doors has got me wondering about how we maintain our heritage and what happens to the people most affected by it.

I am delighted to be working as an Associate of Ceridwen with Caerphilly County Borough Council in Bute Town. I’m the Evaluation Consultant for a large bid to Heritage Lottery Fund. Bute Town is a fascinating village at the top of the Rhymney Valley. It is a unique piece of Welsh heritage; a model village built in the 1820s and still lived in today. The client needs to know the local residents’ views on the current condition and management of its heritage.

The three terraces of Bute Town were designated Grade II listed buildings in the 1970s. Quite right. They are amazing, unique; unlike anything you’ll see in the industrial heritage of working-class housing in Wales. They are all still occupied: living heritage. “Auntie lives in the next terrace. Gran is two doors up.” And there’s the rub.

As listed buildings there are regulations about what can and can’t be done to them: what sort of doors, windows, roofs. Ah, the roofs.

The roofs were renovated in early 1970s and it seems a pretty poor job was done. The previous local authority decided to use a concrete composite which had the appearance of stone, but – sadly – only a 30 year lifetime. 40 years on, there are buckets in attics, rain running down inside walls.

Some residents would be willing to re-roof their properties, but are told they can’t because it would need to be in keeping with the rest of the terrace. Other residents simply can’t afford to re-roof their home. Bute Town is in Twyn Carno ward: the 7th poorest ward in Wales – one of the poorest spots in the UK.

So what do we do with heritage that people are still living in; indeed whose families have been living in for generations? They can’t patch up the roofs because that wouldn’t meet Grade II regs. They can’t afford to do the proper restoration; we’re not talking about wealthy people here.

My fingers are crossed that Heritage Lottery Fund will ride to their rescue. But even if HLF do make an award (bless them), the local authority will still have to find a large amount of match funding from somewhere.

Or we could let local residents do patch-up jobs and ruin the heritage – not something the locals want. “We’re trustees of these houses,” one resident told me. “I want them to be here in 300 years time.”

Something’s gotta give.  At the moment, we are condemning people to live in damp, cold houses, changing the buckets in the attic.