The Arts is a serious business


Have you ever stood up to do a talk, or been introduced to a business “suit”, and known that they don’t really take you seriously as a business leader. Even worse, have you sat with your Board (as I have) and heard them talking about business as if you were the fluffiest kid on the block, and shouldn’t be trusted with figures. But then at the year end, after you work flat out to deliver accounts that make sense to your esteemed Board members, any question is couched in the style of “why didn’t you fix it”. Well I think I’ve come up with a solution thanks to 4N Networking.

This week I did a talk and started, as I was asked to do, with a snapshot of my career. But this time (provoked by one of their members who previously had shared my frustration at not being seen as a business leader), this time – my biog excluded the word theatre, arts, musicals or any of those fluffy words. Instead it was serious. Here’s a couple of examples.

“Chris learnt about working with architects, new product launches, and company team management whilst still at school. At 16 he was running a small company and by 20 had created a national company, raised £25k investment, launched it in London and taken it on the road. He moved into formal business in 1981 growing his first marketing department within a new West Country service provider. Part of the team opening a new £9m building, project leading the installation of the sales and marketing computer system (later leading the UK user group for this and 2 other subsequent software companies), and by 1982 building a graphic design, marketing, and sales team of 15fte based in Plymouth with 10 regional sales centres.”

“At 25 he moved to Edinburgh to head up the marketing of an international event company building to running a press bureau for 300 visiting journalists, hosting a daily international press conference for 3 weeks, daily 7am radio broadcasts to build event awareness, and a temporary office with 8 photocopiers and a resident mechanic to produce the daily newsheets needed.”

Quick translation would introduce you to the school theatre company I set up and toured with playwright Julian Garner to village halls in Devon (40 years ago next week). Skip forward to becoming marketing person at Plymouth Theatre Royal before moving up Edinburgh International Festival.

My audience of 4N Networking suddenly went Ahhh, I get it. He’s done marketing and business. Then I moved on to other stuff

In 1987 Chris was appointed CEO of a struggling SME in Derbyshire, chosen because of the Board’s awareness of his marketing work in Plymouth. He computerised the business (again chairing the UK software user group to encourage change), established a marketing and regional sales force, and built the brand and product range to grow the business to £1.3m turnover and balanced books. …. In 2002 Chris was headhunted to take up the International copyright protection and global brand licensing role with one of the leading entertainment companies on the planet. Based in London he project managed $6m projects in Berlin, Seoul, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo. He supported and licensed projects in Moscow, Tokyo, Sydney, Prague and many other Cities across Europe. The project management role focussed on brand positioning, marketing strategy, globally royalty and copyright license negotiation, and product launch team co-ordination.

Wow – he’s worked internationally and run Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs). Ahh – even though he doesn’t wear a suit and tie, and isn’t a 6’2” ex rugby blue, maybe we could take him seriously with our Coaching needs.

Actors are used to taking on a character. Arts Managers tend, in my experience, to arrive as themselves, with all their enthusiasm and occasional frailty on show. We can wear a suit when needed – but even that doesn’t stop the business suit we meet only hearing the word “show” when they realise we work in “show business”.

So here’s a challenge – take your life story and re-frame it, just for fun. I allowed myself the words events and tourism (things serious people work in).

The upshot of my talk – already two people are talking to me about being coached in their most definitely unfluffy business, and I’ve been asked to deliver the talk to another group as soon as possible.

The Arts is a serious business. Should we shapeshift to help people understand. Yes, if it makes them take us seriously, and allows us to do our job of making theatre easier.

I’d welcome your thoughts.


Chris Grady 0ffering Creative Life Support

PS – my email is sick at the moment and being cared back to health. In the interim I’m on chrisgradyorg [at] gmail [dot] com








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