Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

City of Culture tensions revealed

City of Culture Londonderry has suffered from a poor marketing strategy, its organisers have admitted

The UK's inaugural City of Culture has suffered from a poor marketing strategy, its organisers have admitted.

But ticket sales are still on course to exceed their targets, they said.

A funding shortfall has almost been halved and those behind the 12 month-long celebration in Londonderry insist that the extensive programme of drama, dance and music will not have to be cut.

"I would be the first to admit I don't think the marketing has been perfect. I think it has been fraught with difficulties," said Shona McCarthy, chief executive of Culture Company 2013 who claimed community buy-in was just as important as ringing box office tills. "Things like advertising campaigns - above the line marketing - were too slow to be developed. That is a criticism that we should take on the chin. But, hopefully we are getting there."

Concerns had been raised after a number of shows including a Primal Scream gig and contemporary dance performance by the Hofesh Shechter Company failed to sell out. However, Ms McCarthy said ticket sales had met 60% of their projections. "It bodes really well for getting to December having surpassed the target," she added.

However, the feelgood factor which is obvious in Derry has failed to penetrate other parts of Northern Ireland. "With most of the media being based in Belfast and the whole political infrastructure I think it can be hard to muster an interest in what is happening outside of the main city. You always have that challenge of the second city syndrome but I think we are getting there," said Ms McCarthy.

Last October, the Culture Company was ordered to hand over some of its multi-million pound budget to Derry City Council because its marketing arm was not performing.

Sharon O'Connor, council chief executive, said budgets had now been re-prioritised to ensure better promotion of the hundreds of events including large scale spectacles such as The Return of Colmcille and the All-Ireland Fleadh.

She said the council hoped to attract more money from the Tourist Board and other backers. "We have had insufficient marketing budgets and we are re-prioritising our own budget to see if the council invest more perhaps others could help us with the marketing," said Ms O'Connor.

She said the international marketing effort had particularly targeted north America with more adverts in London, Glasgow, Dublin and Liverpool. There have also been challenges in obtaining sponsorship with just half of the projected £1 million cash generated.

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