Now, more than ever, effective arts advocacy is a matter of urgency. As submissions fall due for the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts, the small to medium sector needs to get on the front foot. And together it must provide a united and credible voice.
Here are four elements of an effective advocacy strategy. These are the things you need to do ensure you have ambassadors in high places and succeed in shaping your future.
1. Identify and cultivate key players
There are two important groups of friends that Arts organisations must cultivate in advocacy.
Political friends – these may include your local MP, ministers (particularly arts, education, communications, foreign affairs, regional Australia, indigenous affairs), shadow ministers, advisers, backbenchers, or chairs of parliamentary committees.
Influencers – these are people of influence outside of parliamentary circles, such as those in public life, board members, donors or business leaders. The media can do this also – but that’s another topic.
Your job is to know and cultivate those in your network who can open doors, tell your story and create the environment where your message will be heard.
It’s important to know and understand the interest level and personal experience of your key people of influence. Are they active participants? Does anyone in their family participate? Does their electorate have a strong record of involvement with the arts? A personal affinity or experience is infinitely more powerful.
Cultivating these important relationships is the most time consuming part of your advocacy strategy. This work is a natural fit for well-briefed board members who enjoy a fixed task.
2. Tailor your messages
Speaking of well-briefed board members … take time to develop and articulate a small number of key messages. Make sure these are easily understood (use plain language) and consistently deployed. Where the media is concerned, there should be only one spokesperson for your organisation.
Creating key messages should never ‘dumb down’ your art or creative process. Instead, it’s about clearly stating the value you create and what is at stake should your circumstances be different. Your messages give MPs, advisers and advocates the words, facts and stories that help them bat for you.
As part of this process you should know what you want your MP, adviser or influencer to do after meeting with you. And ask them if they will do it.
3. Deliver a return on investment
This is about finding ways to recognise the investment of time and political will by your friends.
A return on investment will look different for every group. For example, for MPs, what can you do to help them get re-elected? How can you involve them in your work and the communities they serve? How can you make sure as many people know about it as possible?
And don’t just deal with the immediately powerful. Remember your friends when they change portfolio or retire – whether they’re on the front or back bench, in government or opposition. They are still valuable advocates and spokespeople for you.
Everybody likes their efforts to be appreciated. Just say thank you. And make sure you say it publicly.
4. Look beyond your own interests
In every advocacy situation, you must recognise the opportunity to take a leadership role. You are representing a sector and leadership recognises that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You will be remembered and respected for looking beyond your own needs.
Your position should also respect the enormity of the task of allocating public funds, and the worthiness of all art. Every arts organisation exists because of the beliefs of its founders, practitioners and audiences. For all of these people, art makes the world a better place. This is part of the value you create – in the same way your peers create it for a multitude of audiences.
One golden rule is to never, ever publicly compare your funding situation (and grounds for it) to that of others. It does not constitute an argument, let alone a winning argument.
Remember, others have done this before and there’s a lot we can all learn from sophisticated advocacy groups in any industry – in Australia and overseas.
If you’d like to discuss the elements of effective advocacy and how they might apply to your organisation, please contact us.