Monday 31 January 2011

Of all and for all?

In our sector, quiet a few people believe that working in Communications is a matter of ‘inclination’. Communications is mainly understood as Public Relations, the main requirements being a polite attitude and a nice smile.

In what concerns the production of promotional materials – another task considered by some people to be the ‘essence’ of Communications -, the main criterion is that of aesthetics, so almost everybody feels they have the right to give an opinion, leaving behind issues such as those of functionality and efficiency. Quiet often, aesthetics win the battle.

We may also consider here partnerships and supports, the way they are sought and negotiated. Cultural institutions usually assume the role of the poor relative, apparently unaware of the value of their ‘product’ and offering anything (and usually the same) in exchange for a necessary or unnecessary, small or big support.

There are people with and without professional training working in Communications in the cultural sector: in museums, galleries, cultural centres, foundations, theatres, orchestras; but also in publishing houses, music publishers, production companies and artistic agencies, the radio and the television. As a consequence, in many cases we are speaking different languages. We are spending too much time in discussing practices that should be common, understood by everyone. Worse, important issues are considered ‘details’, and those who defend them weird, unwilling to collaborate, stubborn. Up to now I haven´t been able to come up with a sufficiently convincing answer when confronted with the statement “Why should we do it like this, when everybody else does the opposite?” (although I´ve learned to doubt the statement “everybody else”).

Communications is an area of work that requires technical knowledge, just like every other. There is a need for adequately trained professionals in order to develop a plan that may assist a cultural institution in reaching its objectives in what concerns acknowledgment and notoriety, audience development, access to its offer in general – access that should be cognitive, physical and financial. These objectives are reached through branding, marketing, public relations.

In a context of crisis, in an environment that has always been highly competitive, cultural institutions should not continue being less demanding in what concerns Communications. We should not ignore the need and importance of the creation and management of a brand. We cannot simply produce and expect the audience to show up. We cannot expect people to come back shouldn´t we create and maintain quality services. It´s not enough to put letters on a photo in order to have a poster. It´s not enough to send a press release in order to foster a relationship with the media. It´s not enough to have a polite attitude, a nice smile and good taste in order for Communications to happen (although they contribute considerably to the final result).

All tasks mentioned above as examples, as well as many others, need to be planned and carried out by people with specific technical knowledge. But I would say more. Although a team that aims to function like one shares, analyses and discusses its activity, there are decisions that cannot and should not be taken by majority vote. There are decisions that must be trusted to those who have the necessary knowledge in order to be able to take them.

What´s Communication, after all? It´s the way we relate internally and with the outside world, it´s a dialogue that is being established, it´s a way of being and projecting one´s self. Communications aim to give a voice and an image to our institution´s mission and vision. Artistic creation and cultural production are not hobbies. Why should communications be?

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