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Londonderry's City of Culture tensions revealed


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

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

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

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

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.

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"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.

Culture Company said their targets for sponsorship and earned income were revised in line with a corresponding reduction in costs as the detail of Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 programme was finalised.

"We lowered our target straightaway to a £1 million. Currently we have £500,000 in direct cash but we have the other £500,000 in sponsorships in kind.

"Those are sponsorships that come directly off a cost to Culture Company - for example Translink sponsored us - their sponsorship is worth £60,000 so it takes that cost off what it would have cost us to transport people to things.

"I think we are already there with our sponsorship targets," said Ms McCarthy.

A £661,000 funding shortfall has also been reduced to £332,000 and Culture Company said the money will be clawed back before any acts need to be axed.

"It is a drop in the ocean of the overall budget. I am absolutely 100% confident that it will be raised and covered. We haven't cut anything from the programme," said Ms McCarthy.

The year so far has been dogged by rumours of in-fighting between Culture Company and Derry City Council. In March cultural guru Dermot McLaughlin resigned citing personal reasons.

Organisers have dismissed the rows as artistic differences which are part and parcel of an event of such magnitude.

"You would love these things to go perfectly and to go smoothly and for there to be just one big success story put out there in the media. But talk to the experts in this subject and they will tell you there is not a city of culture that has happened yet European or otherwise - that hasn't had these similar creative tensions. It is kind of just a push and pull when you are trying to do something of this scale. It is really challenging, it is really difficult but I don't think the public are in the slightest bit interested in what goes on behind the scenes as long as the project is delivering for the city and its citizens," said Ms McCarthy.

Meanwhile, Ms O'Connor acknowledged that ambitious and complex projects were usually fraught with difficulty.

"If there are not tensions then we are not doing it right. This has been relatively uneventful by comparison to other cities of culture. There has been no huge drama or crisis on a daily basis - it is all just part of the ebb and flow. But it is unrelenting. Everyone is working at absolute maximum capacity.

"This is a huge financial challenge for this city and continues to be," she said.

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