Tiger Dublin Fringe – DeVos Programme Learning
Tiger Dublin Fringe’s Artistic Director & Chief Executive Kris Nelson, and Marketing & Development Manager Jessica Hilliard talk about how the DeVos Programme has helped create visibility for the festival all year round and further connected them with individuals and the corporate sector through institutional marketing and fundraising activities. | Interview by Margarita Vásquez Cárdenas
For over 20 years the Dublin Fringe Festival has supported the development and presentation of new multidisciplinary work by Irish and international artists, in 2014 the festival welcomes a new title sponsor, Tiger Beer on board, becoming Tiger Dublin Fringe. As a year-round organisation it focuses on inspiring audiences as well as providing artists with practical and professional support at Fringe Lab facilities in Temple Bar. Their participation in the DeVos Programme coincided with several events within the organisation; an ending of their 4 year partnership with Absolut Vodka, as well as a change in Director and General Manager. While these transitions momentarily took priority and made it difficult for steady planning, they continued with the programme and have developed several areas within the Fringe. Moving to Dublin from Canada to come into the organisation in September 2013 at the tail end of Fringe’s involvement, Artistic Director Kris Nelson highlights that “from an outsider’s perspective, DeVos has allowed the organisation to strengthen and finesse existing sponsorships and partnership ideas. It has also given us a parlance and the necessary tools around how to talk about what we are doing next.”
For Jessica Hilliard, Marketing & Development Manager, the key learnings of the programme revolve around Programmatic and Institutional Marketing. While aware of both practices, DeVos helped the Fringe formalise and think strategically on how to create visibility for the festival outside of the 16-day event. While this could be seen as a demand on resources, they focused on their limitations and how to maximise their abilities without generating a strain on the organisation. Consequently, they are looking at what other resources can be accessed via existing partners and further identify Fringe-friendly venues for upcoming events.
The continuous building of their family is implemented through their individual donations programme, FringeKin. As part of the Fringe’s long-term plans later in the year they will be launching a Corporate FringeKin directed towards businesses in the form of ticket packages and business entertainment possibilities. Further defining what their offer is and what their ask is has been instrumental in aligning Institutional Marketing with Incremental Fundraising. According to Chief Executive Kris Nelson “it’s about building relationships, starting on a small level and projecting to grow these relationships as well as connecting them with programming and year to year operations”.
Ongoing uncertainty around the country’s economic situation, annual State funding levels, and changing staff size, make it difficult to project what is going to happen over the coming years for a multidisciplinary organisation such as the Fringe. Through their participation on one-to-one calls with DeVos, Programmatic Marketing was highlighted as an area of particular interest for the organisation. “Simple tools have helped us project and start a conversation around where we are going next within a three year plan” says Kris. In line with this visualisation, Tiger Dublin Fringe is also using aspirational programming complementary to achieving their institutional objectives. Previously, ideas for events and activities would be pushed to one side, if they were not immediately achievable. “Now we are taking our time with them, they are not discarded if they can’t be done this year. They are in the ether and we can see there is a trail, an institutional potential to each possibility”, comments Jessica.
FRINGE LAB is an important component of their artistic planning, with over 1000 hours of assistance and space given to artists for free. This offers the independent arts community a critical resource and continues to legitimise the Fringe artistically and as an important educational resource. Offering workshops, such as Maximum Exposure: Promoting your work at the festival to artists preparing for the festival has been a valuable tool for professional development. According to Jessica, “we had to rethink ways to harness our resources for Fringe artists and actually give them skills to market their work more effectively. In an era of reducing marketing budgets we can’t do that for them, but crucially, we can skill them up”. By doing so the Fringe is not only transforming the sector educationally but propagating the knowledge acquired through DeVos to other individuals.
Jessica and Kris mention that throughout the year the DeVos relationship has been a galvanising force for the organisation and their Board. The board became aware of their rhythms and had a better understanding of how fundraising was going to take place during the next couple of years. Likewise, having the opportunity of creating a personal connection with leaders in the field, such as Brett Egan, and have them visit FRINGE LAB and understand their location in the city was an important part of the programme. “Getting expert consultation that is closest to our actual situation was extremely helpful”, says Jessica.
While they consider that the programme could be more bespoke with the local context and fitted to how personal connections for big asks come about in Ireland they have seen a benefit to clear cases originating in cities like New York and Washington D.C. Kris mentions, “having examples from a context outside of Ireland is beneficial in the sense that we have been extrapolating information as well as questioning where we can do things differently. This ultimately takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us steer Fringe in a new direction.”
Being a part of the DeVos programme ultimately came at an opportune time for the Fringe as it has allowed them to reflect on their practice and have an understanding that they need to market themselves as an entity. Conversations with several businesses were started through board members in 2013 as their title sponsorship was coming to an end. These conversations did not work out and became an interesting dynamic for the Fringe. “Having DeVos teach us about the long game and the importance of getting in the room, proposing and following up if it doesn’t work out the first time” says Kris was instrumental in Tiger Beer coming onboard as the Fringe’s new title sponsor for 2014. They revisited Tiger at the beginning of the year and pitched the festival’s creative projects for potential partnership by focusing on the main components of their exciting, adventurous, off beat and experimental programming cycle. “We are so excited to go public with this news and look forward to a terrific festival!”