is a researcher at the University of Leeds and the University of Sheffield. An internationally recognised expert on audience development, Steven is an editor at the journal Cultural Trends and an Associate Consultant with The Audience Agency. His current research focuses on the relationship of arts management to ideology and cultural policymaking at a national level.
Culture Management: Strategy and marketing aspects
Lukasz Wróblewskis book seeks to address a lack of basic theoretical knowledge in the areas of strategic and marketing management amongst those working in the cultural sector. For arts professionals from countries such as the UK - the reviewers home country - this diagnosis may seem outdated. Yet given that Wróblewskis main research interest is the Polish cultural sector, this assessment can at least partly be revised allowing for the differing trajectory of development in the countrys arts institutions in recent years. Wróblewskis book therefore provides an enlightening and empirically based introduction to the current status of Polish arts management.
That the book begins by addressing itself to, the emerging new discipline of culture management (p17) is indicative both of the authors frame of reference and of the value of the work to readers for whom this phrase might seem erroneous. Primarily aimed at students of arts management, and especially those studying marketing in culture, the book aims to provide a handrail for those in the sector who are seriously encumbered by an inability to adequately prepare and implement strategy. Given the array of available information, trainings and courses (in the UK at least) on this issue, this is an interesting premise for a serious piece of academic work, which the book undoubtedly is. Wróblewski states his research confirms, that cultural institutions in Poland do not exclude market-related and financial objectives (p79). At this point, the opening commentary on lack of skills and knowledge comes to make sense.
Structure and content
As the author indicates, the five chapters are arranged to lead the reader from general topics to specific issues in order to give the book a distinct practical dimension. Chapter One on the meaning and essence of the cultural sector provides an introduction to some of the theoretical issues of arts and cultural management. This chapter does the work of situating the content of the book within a wide-ranging discussion of culture and of the creative industries. This is an almost innocent seeming approach as the opening chapter seeks to situate culture, however so defined, firmly within an econometric framework. The rationale appears to be the premise that marketing is a good thing because its positive impact on the cultural sector is good for socio-economic development (p50). The chapter argues for a typology of cultural institutions based on their marketing focus (product, market), yet given the institutional data used later in the book there is curiously no substantive discussion of the role of the state and/or public subsidy as the potential arbiter of such focus.
Chapter Two discusses the conditions for the development of marketing in cultural organisations and considers the challenges of implementing marketing management. Significant national (cultural) differences appear in the discussion here, most notably with the sense that, representatives of cultural institutions often do not recognize, or are opposed to, the use of marketing tools (p45). Whilst such sentiment may well have been true of the UK subsidised cultural sector 34 years ago, such resistance to standard business practices is surely a minority interest in the present day. The authors assertion that, It even seems that there is an internal conflict between the classical concept of marketing and the whole ethos of artistic activity (p49) relies on referencing work from 1980 & 1984 to enable the re-stating of dated axioms which have themselves been addressed in depth in works cited elsewhere in the book. The use of Throsbys (2008) model of cultural industries to effect a juxtaposition of cultural institutions and cultural institutions in cultural industries seems flawed as a model to differentiate market from product focus. In practice no such simple binary exists. That is not to say that market focus isnt a contested idea/practice in the subsidised sector, but rather that this debate is nowadays more suited to ideology than management science.
Chapter Three, on strategic and marketing planning, focuses on the missions and objectives of Polish cultural organisations and brings an interesting take on the field with the introduction of original research. This chapter begins with a discussion on the role and importance of organisational mission in determining (marketing) strategy. Mission is, from an organisational point of view, of evident importance but the question arises as to whether there is a need in the wider publishing market for a re-working of material on this subject. The original research presented (based on in-depth interviews and workshops with 50 arts managers over a period of three years) includes detail on difficulties associated with the formulation of mission statements in cultural organisations. Tabular presentation of both the mission statements and strategic objectives of 32 Polish opera houses and concert halls are provided, with the latter offering rich detail and insight into these national institutions. What is revealed is an array of pragmatic organisational thinking, social engagement and a powerful sense of how Polish national identity (a topic presently causing deep political anxiety for many in the country) is interwoven in the fabric of state-subsidised high art.
Relationship marketing and stakeholder management are the themes of Chapter Four, which presents considerable detail on membership benefits from the Met Opera in New York and the National Philharmonic in Warsaw. What is striking is the attempt to undertake rudimentary comparative analysis between the specific sponsorship/fundraising functions of these two institutions without any consideration of the vast contextual differences. The analysis here becomes somewhat poor. The New York Philharmonic is a perfect example of a cultural institution that has successfully built long-term relationships with patrons and donors, as evidenced by the fact that its programs are chock-full with the names of patrons and donors (p131) generating a system which allows the snobbish needs of these groups (p131) to be fulfilled.
The final chapter discusses a variety of digital technologies (including social, mobile and VR) and has inevitably dated. This is no criticism of the author, but rather an acknowledgment that in focussing on the practical (rather than theoretical, ethical or managerial) issues associated with employing new media, time moves quickly. That being said, a book published in 2017 advocating the importance of Facebook and Twitter in the marketing mix of cultural institutions may be considered behind the curve to arts managers in other countries. The chapter reports sporadic and often low levels of engagement on the mainstream social media channels amongst Warsaw theatres which highlights an important issue for the sector to address. Nonetheless, comparisons with the Sydney Opera House and Royal Opera House in London seem inappropriate.
The books national context
A repeated argument of the book is that the introduction of arts marketing as a management function in the subsidised cultural sector has been driven by a new market reality in the (globalized, neoliberal, accelerated) early twenty-first century which has produced lifestyle changes in the customer base and the globalisation of the circulation of cultural goods. This, Wróblewski contends, has prompted a somewhat reluctant reorientation in the cultural sector and a concomitant, organisationally-contested desire to operate in accordance with the market. As is correctly identified, at heart the tensions and passions evoked by a need/desire/reluctance to engage more directly and formally with the market are part of a debate happening at a more macro-level. Yet there are multiple narratives at play here, and (from a UK perspective at least) many of them extend much further back in time than the authors perspective would suggest. The argument fails to take into account issues such as declining state subsidy and wider cultural policy initiatives which resulted in cultural organisations seeking new and diverse audiences. Such imperatives, alongside the macro-economic, have been navigated in a series of texts for nearly forty years and show a continuous and continuing identification of the need for, and provision of, pedagogical support for strategic arts marketing management at both the student and practitioner level.
As Wróblewski states, despite the fact that all of the cultural institutions analyzed undertake marketing activities, they are mostly operational in nature, often implemented intuitively, and therefore cannot be considered as activities of a strategic nature (p98). The reader gets the impression that much of this research, analysis and insight will be new (and potentially disruptive) to the Polish cultural sector and its attendant stakeholders. In this context the book will be of considerable value. The issue for readers working elsewhere in the arts management/marketing field is that it may not. There are some obvious barriers to the books utility value in English-speaking markets. From an academic perspective, a significant number of the references are in Polish. The book makes no mention of audience development or engagement and so presents what may be seen as a reductive and process-driven approach to arts marketing. There is original research underpinning the arguments in the book, but the lack of wider context limits the readers understanding.
Whats missing here and would be of interest is analytical engagement with the reported lack of professional development in the Polish arts management field. Potential contributory factors may be a lack of sector-specific training; a high fluctuation rate in the sector; lack of access to customer data and/or computerised Box Office systems; low pay grades; low levels of educational attainment in marketing staff etc. Much of the reason for Wróblewskis diagnosis may be infrastructural. The embedding of managerialism within Arts Council England (ACE) over the past decades, whilst bemoaned by many in the sector, has nonetheless resulted in the production of more or less proficient planning tools and capabilities/capacities (either internally within cultural organisations or readily sourced in the market). As a result, it is inconceivable that the following could be written about ACE clients: Of the twenty entities surveyed, only seven declared having long-term strategic objectives formulated in writing (p81).
The lack of any detail on the Polish arts policy context (specifically audience development, education/outreach and social inclusion) is equally frustrating. For example, the 2016 report of the Culture Department of the City of Warsaw shows that the city authorities undertake a significant strategic program of cultural development including an Audience Development program (training, networking etc.) as well as a number of other operational programs involving international collaboration. One wonders whether the authors prior presentation of this research in Polish (e.g. Wroblewski, 2016) engaged more with these issues. For instance, in a table representing the scope and usage of marketing activities in cultural organisations, the third highest ranked activity is Keeping good relations with the authorities of the city, region. This may be a matter of translation, but the wording suggests an activity which goes beyond the habitual practice of keeping the funders sweet and indicates a much stronger need for policy/political alignment.
Today, the need for cultural non-profit organisations to adopt (and successfully deliver) business strategies seems incontrovertible. Yet that is only half the story. In the Introduction, Wróblewski tellingly refers to cultural institutions as business entities. He is no doubt correct that non-profit cultural organisations across economies of scale should consider themselves thus. But this is not all that they are: they are also social entities, cultural entities. For those working in geographical sectors where arts management and marketing are more developed, the book should be taken as an invitation to engage, learn and discuss ideas afresh with colleagues in the Polish arts management field. For those in the Polish cultural sector who are seriously encumbered by an inability to adequately prepare and implement strategy, this book has the potential to be a valuable resource and reference and it should be hoped that many debates and discussions arise from it. The desire (need) to develop a business focussed, econometrically-framed approach should not, however, detract from the founding mission and vision of Polish cultural organisations. It is important to remember, and easy to forget, that the term arts management contains within it an inherent and often conceptually difficult balancing act.