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Claire Sully

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Blogging tips – your Starter for 10

We’ve been delivering digital engagement for the Creative England’s Starter for 10 competition, which awarded £10,000 to 10 creative digital businesses in the South West. As part of our ongoing work, we’ve been asked to advise the winners on how to make best use of their ongoing blogs on the competition website. We’re sharing these brief tips here for anyone thinking of starting a blog, or looking to improve their engagement with their blog’s audience.

1: Why are you writing a blog

At the very outset you need to work out what you want to use your blog for. Is it to position you company? Grow your own personal me-brand? Develop awareness in a particular market? Having a strong purpose for you blog from the start will help drive your narrative and make the whole process a lot easier, and more effective.

2: Define your audience

More than anything else, understanding your audience will affect what content you produce and how you use it to talk to them.

Always write with the purpose and the audience in mind – and think about the platforms these audiences use so you can be pro-active in getting your blog – and your name – into their networks.

3: Tell a story

Every one likes a good story, right? Stories are a good way to hook people and keep them engaged. Fit the story to the audience and the purpose and people will join you on your journey.

4: A picture paints a thousands words

Want to blog about the cool changes you’ve just made to your interface? Great – but if I can’t see it, I’m not going to get too excited. Think visual – screenshots, reportage-style pictures of your team at work etc will greatly increase the power of your blog.

5: Video

Video can be a hugely effective way of getting your message across. A screencapture video of your app in action, “live” footage of your product being used in the field – think of this blog, and the platforms it is reaching, as a channel for getting your promotional videos out to a key audience.

6: Length of blog

Keep it brief – 250-300 words is ideal. Any more than that and people could switch off. If you get to the higher end of that total, maybe break up the text with a sub-heading or two to keep it readable.

7: Cross market your blog

Social is all about networks. The SF10 blog is shared across a number of Creative England and other networks, but you will have networks of your own – your personal networks, business organisations, universities etc. Get your blog onto all these networks, on all your platforms and just watch how the traffic increases!

8: Encourage interactions

If people talk about you then they are helping to connect you with others in their network – so extending your reach. Talking can include RT, shares and comments. If your content is good, relevant and engaging that will help people to interact with you. Don’t just push your blog out and leave it hanging – invite interaction from people and networks you think might be interested in it, use people and networks you already have relationships with online to start conversations around it.

9: Measure

If you are spending the time to do all this, you need to make sure it is bringing benefits to your business. Think about the goals you have – why are you doing this blog – and how you can measure this. Is it just the number of interactions with your blog? Or do you want to drill it down to interactions among particular networks are audiences? Do you want the blog to drive people to your site? If you have clear goals and measures in place, it will not only help you see how effective your social media is, but also help shape strategy in order to meet those goals.

10: Perseverance – make the time

Forget marketing – social media is about building and owning relationships and this can lead to customers! This takes time and effort. Your blog should be seen as an opportunity to start conversations and relationships on important networks. These relationships take work, but done well they will be worth it.

Immaculate community theatre and popular TV culture history lesson served with dinner in Bristol’s alternative “West End”

By Claire Sully, community engagement expert and festival organiser

I had an unexpected treat last night.  My friend Annie took me to see:  Fanny and Jonnie Cradock Cook the Great American Songbook at the Hen and Chicken, Southville.

Annie’s friend is theatre producer Sheila Hannon.  I met Sheila at the entrance of the venue – she was unassuming as she sat there checking people in.  Although she had no idea who I was when she met me (and I had no idea who she was at that point) but she took my hand in both of hers, stood up, and gave me the warmest greeting, saying how pleased she was to meet me.  

In a fleeting moment, as she held my hand for what seemed like a long time and looked me full on in the eyes with the warmest and most welcoming smile, I felt as if I had come along as the show’s special guest.

This reminded me of stories I’ve heard about famously charming people, like Bill Clinton, whose charisma and exuberance was irresistible to those he met – often people would say “he made me feel like the important one!”

At that point all I knew was that Sheila was the person on the door, ticking off names, but somehow I knew in an instant I had met an interesting person who I would like to meet again.

This production, starring local actress and jazz singer Kate McNab and John Telfer (who  plays Alan Franks in The Archers) as Fanny and Johnnie Cradock, is a musical show that has comedy, skewed cookery demonstrations, popular cultural history and great music while the audience are served dinner  - a two-course Abigail party- esque delight featuring Prawn Cocktail and Chicken a la Falklands (vegetarian option available to Fanny’s digust!).

So here we were having dinner in a pub whilst watching theatre at its very best.   What heartened me was that the audience were not the usual types that I’m used to seeing in theatres or classical concerts. Refreshingly just ordinary Bristol folk, who fill the streets, shops, pubs and football matches in the local area.  

This resonated with me as  I was still feeling bruised from attending a recent Nigel Kennedy concert at the Colston Hall where all hell was let loose because I dared to breath and utter five hushed words  to my companion while Nigel was improvising  a lively piece of music with his fellow musicians.

What I experienced at the Nigel Kennedy concert was verbal aggression from fellow concert goers (two people) who were outraged at me expressing a reaction not ordained by the concert-goer rule book that no one tells you about until you put a foot wrong.

My spoken words, while Nigel played, were expressing enthusiasm for the music, but that wasn’t of any consequence to anyone as I ended up having to move my seat and feeling miserable and oppressed.

The irony was that I was actually watching a “rule-breaking” musician “of the people” who has tried to popularise classical music and open it out to a wider audience other than those who felt the need to enforce stifling and restrictive audience rules via an all-exclusive etiquette.

Incidentally, Nigel Kennedy’s concert was deemed at such a level that even the front of house staff felt the need to be subversive with flyers promoting a forthcoming Julian Clary show.  

One Colston Hall employee told me and my companion on our way out that they weren’t allowed to put Julian’s flyers with Nigel Kennedy’s programme (orders from above),  but if we wanted a flyer he would get one for us – all spoken in hushed tone to us alone.  

I guess myself and my companion must have been singled out as  people who could be told that Julian Clary was soon to be performing there.

But that was not a problem in the Hen and Chicken, and for this show I felt I was experiencing community spirit, being among extended family from different generations enjoying a show and a meal together and a bit of a sing song.  

The actors – who were top class, both great musicians/singers and actors – interacted with the audience, got us laughing, singing and enjoying a fine hearty meal.

So I was intrigued by this production that had returned following a sell-out run and even an appearance on the BBC’s The Hairy Bikers.  

The writing was clever, weaving in comedy, social history and biographical details of these eccentric characters.   The actors gave us a snapshot into the lives of these contradictory people, who said so much in a glance or lines littered with double meaning and innuendo.  

But the backdrop to the performance included a wonderful tapestry of American musical song that ingeniously helped to build the picture of these TV icons from the past, while being a brilliant comedy device – Kate McNab aka Fanny singing “I’ve got you under my skin” in all serious and emotional intensity – whilst her hands up a chicken’s backside was side-splittingly funny and not to be forgotten.

So who wrote this extraordinary piece – that elicited the very best performances from such accomplished actors?  It was Sheila and no mention of her name anywhere!  You can read more here about this production and Sheila’s theatre company. More dates are planned, thank goodness.

I’ll leave you with the words of a very famous continuity error – voiced in this show by “Johnny”: “… and I hope all your donuts look like Fanny’s”.

Grassroots engagement in Ealing

MP Virendra Sharma with Claire Sully (pic by Dinesh Kargathra)

I’ve just spent a sunny Sunday delivering a talk on charity online engagement at an innovative charity fayre organised by Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma.

The event brought together a wide group of charities from his constituency – from Age Concern and Friends of the Earth to real grass-roots organisations operating in this culturally diverse area of London.

The fayre is the start of an ongoing initiative to bring together the more than 185 local charities to share knowledge and work together to make real improvements in the area.

Mr Sharma invited me to the event to talk about what we call the “digital gamechanger” – how the use of digital technology has ripped up the rule book for the way charities and community organisations engage with their supporters and each other.

The web – like this event – is all about communities of shared interest, and digital technology is the most effective tool empowering organisations to share.

It was great to see a real grassroots inititive like this taking shape, and we will be following its development closely over the coming months.

Inside view on the future of Shepton Prison

Most of its previous residents couldn’t wait to get out, but we were excited to be getting our first opportunity to get behind the bars of the historic Shepton Mallet prison.

Together with the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, myself and my colleague John Brunsdon were invited to tour the prison by the Ministry of Justice as we try to help develop a vision for using the decommissioned building to benefit the local and regional community.

As part of the consultation process on the future of the prison, we are involved in driving community engagement with the people of Shepton to ensure that any redevelopment benefits the town in a way that is sustainable and that meets the real needs of people living in the area.

Long history

After walking past this building every day on my way to school when I was growing up in Shepton, it was fascinating to finally see inside and get a sense of the scale and history of this imposing structure.

The prison has been in Shepton since 1615, and the existing structure has buildings from the late 18th century to the 1970s. With such a diverse range of architecture, and the buildings’ listed status, the prison presents challenges and opportunities for its future use.

The large 60s/70s structure separate from the main prison housed a lot of the workshops for prisoner education and work, and the layout suggests studio space – albeit very secure studio space!

Daring escape

Inside the main historic building, the sheer scale of the curtilage walls – the highest prison walls in the UK – is pretty imposing.

However – as we learned – it wasn’t always enough to keep people inside, and we learned about a daring escape that involved prisoners breaking out using a bedstead to break a hole in their cell walls!

The layout of the cells area will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen Porridge – with an arcade of tiered cells, all claustrophobic enough inside to make anyone think twice about breaking the law!

In contrast, the open exercise yard, with its neatly kept raised garden beds and the surrounding stone building, almost had the feel of a public square and was strangely peaceful – at least until you learned the tower you could see from there was used by the US military in WWII to hang a record number of prisoners.

Creating a vision

The prison has housed a number of well-known names over the years, from the Krays to the Magna Carta (when it was used as National Archive storage in the 1930s).

But after 400 years of being a closed door, we now have the opportunity to see the prison open up and take its place in the heart of the Shepton community.

The average time a decommissioned prison takes to be sold is about two years. That means we, as a community, have that time to influence how this valuable space can fit with our vision for Shepton.

Consultation on the local plan for Shepton is well advanced, and will have a big influence on the priorities for any developments in the town – including the prison.

But there is also the opportunity, now and in the coming months, to have a complementary and far-reaching consultation on the vision for not just the building but the whole of Shepton and the surrounding areas.

We want to help you get your voice heard so you can have that influence. We are managing this public consultation via our Facebook page Creating a Vision for Shepton Mallet Prison.

We invite anyone interested in the future of Shepton Mallet, as well as arts, heritage and education in the South West, to join the conversation and get their voice heard.

Digital Networking – the Essential Way to Do Business

At the recent Discuss and do event in Frome, Somerset, I talked about the digital game changer and how essential it is for today’s  business people to use digital networking to succeed.

Discussing the concept of Me-Branding,  I interviewed via Skype LA-based  Indie film Marketing pioneer Sheri Candler.  The transcript of that interview is as follows.

Q. How have you positioned yourself in the market?

My early positioning was meant just to raise up my profile in order to gain employment. I thought if I could bring attention to myself as a knowledgeable person, providing value to an audience, then it would make me stand apart from other candidates. What I found out was I was a pioneer in this field for indie films. Most employers (distributors and studios who are typically in charge of marketing films) were not paying attention to social networking and its power when I was starting to gather attention. Truth be told, they still really don’t. They see it as just another outlet for advertising.

So I really started thinking about what I could do if I my enthusiasm wasn’t interesting to employers. I could work for myself and I could work directly with filmmakers who started not seeing distribution outlets for their films. Many indie distributors were closing down but video on the internet was coming up as a real possibility of distribution to a global audience. So how do  you tell a global audience about your work if you don’t have large sums of advertising money to blanket the market? Well, that’s where marketing strategy comes in and being able to make connections with people is what social media is about. I show I can do that every day by actually connecting with people in social media.

My positioning came then from being a helper. If you share your knowledge in this space, you attract people and it is a much stronger lead generator because they are specifically looking for a knowledgeable person. This mindset is the absolute antithesis of the competitive and greedy nature of business where it is the norm to hide information, to make it proprietary and one must pay in order to access someone with it. The way I felt about it was I can show information and if someone takes it and does their own work, then they didn’t need me. But if they agree they need it and they can’t handle the job on their own or they don’t have time or they just don’t want to, they can hire me and they know what I do and that others recommend me.

Q. What part did social media play in helping to achieve success

My original platform was just my blog, my own website. I knew that it would be very difficult for me to espouse best practices for internet marketing and not have my own presence. I am astounded at people who say they work in marketing or public relations and do not even have their own website or blog.  They might have a Linkedin page or a Twitter account. You can’t work in marketing today not have accounts on all the major sites, you just look like a fool. And if you do have accounts, you have to maintain them regularly.

I started out with a Myspace account and Linkedin. I quickly moved to Facebook when it was becoming more known and also started up a Twitter account. And when I started I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it. On my blog, I knew I wanted to share the information I was learning about social networking, about online platforms for selling films, about how sales agents worked and how distribution works. I was very curious because I had never worked in film before and I wanted to know how it was different from working in other industries. The 2 previous marketing jobs I had were business to business marketing jobs. Social media can be both B2B and B2C. Film sales and distribution is really B2B, but most people don’t realize that.  So whatever I wanted to find out, I did, and then I wrote about it. Once you start writing, little search bots visit your site and start ranking you under terms and I started being found by independent filmmakers and facilities teaching filmmaking under the term Independent Film Marketing or Independent Film Publicity or Independent Film Distribution.

With Facebook and Twitter I just continued to do what I was doing on my blog. I shared useful links on Twitter. I contextualized those links on Facebook. I separated my personal profile on Facebook and built a business page (or fan page when that first started) because I was starting to bore my personal friends and family with too much talk about indie film business.

I started researching influential people and people whose mindset I was closely aligned with in the film business. There weren’t that many really. Everyone then, this was 2008, was very much in the old way of doing things. And that was an advantage to me. I purposely connected with those people on Twitter and Linkedin, mostly Twitter. I sent them emails mostly saying what I liked about their approach, never asking them for anything. But when you show someone you are listening and you like what they have to say, they are naturally curious about you. I tried to meet these people in real life whenever I could. Face to face is still important, but it is made easier by starting the dialog online. It lessens the awkwardness, you feel like you already know each other somewhat.  Same thing happens when I go to film festivals or other film events, I see people sometimes for the first time, but I have been conversing with them for months online.

Q. Did you have a plan or did a plan emerge or did it just happen

A plan emerged. I started with a blank sheet of paper, marketing knowledge and an internet connection. I had no connections in the film business at all. I started working at a local film festival which put me back in touch with filmmakers and I learned of their concerns and I started talking to them about what their options were now. I read every day, mostly about what people are doing with marketing in other industries, and I adapt that to the independent film industry and show how it is relevant.

I decided that since I was a pioneer in this new thinking, I couldn’t align myself with those who didn’t have that mindset. It is easy  and for some people preferable to go with the herd, not stand out. Standing out takes courage and you will be ridiculed. I had to not care about that because I strongly believed that the age of the artist being responsible for their own career, not dependent on a system to give them breaks or make things happen for them, is here. I have to live what I preach and it has worked for me.  It doesn’t appeal to everyone, and that’s ok with me. I am not trying to please everyone, I won’t reach everyone. Marketing strategy is not about reaching everyone, it is about reaching the right people at the right time. I was a little early, but not too early and so it was the right time.

My plan organically changes as I go though. No plan should be set in stone, you have to adapt to changes. When I started, I never thought I would write a book or write journalistically for industry publications or be a public speaker or teach courses. I thought I would only work with filmmakers and my writing would just be on the blog. And as I have worked more with film, I have changed my mind on how some things should be done. I have learned it through experience of my own and also by talking to other people. Guess how I find those other people? Via social networking and from reading other blogs and from interviewing people for my own blog. I can’t tell you how useful it is to get to know someone you want to know by asking to interview them for your blog or to include them in an industry article. When I was first starting, that is how I got to know many influential people.

Q. 3 pieces of advice to those looking to achieve success

-perseverance. When I started out and became more vocal, I began to see a little bandwagon jumping from some people, people who didn’t have marketing backgrounds but saw there was opportunity in selling social media services to the film industry. Those people flamed out pretty quickly because they really didn’t know what they were talking about, or it took a lot longer to be known for those skills than they were willing to wait. If you can keep plugging for the long run, you’ll see your competition halve just because you kept going and they gave up.

-always keep up with emerging trends. You must read, read, read from different sources to know what is happening with your industry. There is absolutely no excuse now that anyone in business has access to Google not to know anything. If you don’t know it, Google it! If you don’t know a term or how to do something, google it! Someone has made a tutorial video, written a blog post about whatever it is you want to know. Make that research a habit. Also share your knowledge, don’t horde it. Being a genius in silence is not helping you. People won’t just find you. You have to speak up and the best way to do that is to share what you know.

-Have a clear voice and make it unique. Don’t go with the crowd, you’ll never be found. You all have something to offer that is unique to you. You should share that in everything you do online. It is no different than you would be in the real world. A brand is not a logo. That is just a visual representation of what you are about. Your brand is what you believe and how you represent that in your actions. If it is for a company, what is the company ethos? What do they stand for? If it is yourself, you must show the world what you believe in for every part of your work. Social media is a way to show it, that’s all it is. There are many tools to do that with (Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) but those don’t work if you have not determined what you stand for.

About Sheri:

Sheri Candler is a digital marketing strategist. Through the use of content marketing tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, and online media publications, as well as relationship building with organizations & influencers, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged & robust online community for their work that will help develop and sustain their careers.

Sheri has been involved in many indie film campaigns including “YELLOWBRICKROAD” (Slamdance 2010); “The High Level Bridge” (Sundance 2011); “Ride The Divide” (2011); “Undertow (Contracorriente)” (2011). In 2012, she helped to distribute the feature documentary “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance” which screened theatrically in over 90 venues, is available on DVD/digital and was broadcast nationally on PBS American Masters series. Through her work, the production was able to connect with the ballet audience worldwide.

You can find Sheri:



About Claire Sully

Claire has been a strategic marketing professional for the arts and creative industry for 15 years. She is MD of Bristol-based digital marketing agency Tickbox Marketing, working for local authorities, creative businesses and major charities, including Creative England, international charity The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), St Peter’s Hospice, Bristol City Council and Luton Culture.

For the last 6 years, Claire has also championed digital creative arts in the South West working with leading companies such as Aardman, Icon Film, Grace Productions and BBC Natural History (and other major creative businesses and networks in the region), running industry showcase and training events with a focus on inspiring the next generation and opening up access to jobs and skills for new talent.

Claire’s recent training programme for children, digiKids, attracted hundreds of children over a two day period from Cornwall, Somerset to Bristol. This programme saw children experiencing: Cool Coding for Kids, Get Animated, model making with Aardman, pinhole photography and master classes with leading documentary makers.

You can find Claire @clairedesully & claires@tickboxmarketing.co.uk