Laura Mulhern and Jane Showell work for the Dorset Arts Development Company, a CIC that provides a variety of services to the arts and culture sector.
They talk to Janine Edwards at The FSI about their digital transformation success.


Tell us how you are currently using digital to underpin organisational delivery and strategy

Our website is currently our central hub for stories, case studies and resources, but we also use a lot of social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so on. We find that’s a more accessible mode of engagement for our followers and contacts.

We also produce a podcast on women, the workplace, and inequality – we use SoundCloud for that.

Our newsletter is popular and is a major way for us to keep in touch with our contacts, and we send that via MailChimp.

We also post videos on YouTube – it isn’t vlogging, per se, but ‘how to’ videos and similar.

We also use content from local illustrators as part of our online activity, which is a way of merging our use of digital with our general mission as an organisation. Our strategic aim is to be the leaders in terms of best practice in the arts and culture sector.

Ultimately, we want to be an example of good practice to other organisations and demonstrate the value of digital to the sector.


What were the driving factors for change?

We both come from a business background and we both have a lot of experience using digital in our work, so one driving factor for change will have been when we and other staff members joined the team.

Another key point was the start of our Culture+ programme. It started in 2017 and was set to last two years, so right from the start we were aware that we had to be proactive in terms of engagement; digital was an essential part of doing that in a timely manner. There was also a desire to engage with cultural tourism, and we knew we’d have to make a conscious effort to reach out to that sector. Again, digital was a good way to do this.

A final driving factor is our location. We’re based in Dorset, a lot of which is very rural, with poor transport links. This means that print communication often just isn’t useful. If someone is located in Dorchester, for example, and an activity is taking place in Bournemouth, the commute can take an hour or two – sometimes remote access is the best way to reach people.

We tried print media, and it didn’t work for a variety of reasons – geographical distance, knowing where to get things printed, cost – digital is a more reactive, sophisticated way to engage with our followers and respond to their needs. The artists we work with also use social media themselves, so in a way we’re responding to that.


Give a couple of examples of what you have recently implemented / your digital journey

In a way, the most recent change was the start of our Culture+ programme; there was an influx of new staff bringing new skills and expertise, and also an awareness that time was limited, so we knew we had to be really active during that period.

We have also started engaging with influencers.

Again, we both have a background in business, and I [Jane] own a digital tourism company, and I know that lots of PR and advertising is now done through influencers, not through traditional and press media. We found that the local museums we engage with in the course of our work still use traditional methods, like issuing press releases in local newspapers – but this has very little reach. Larger museums are already working with influencers on social media because it’s a much better way to engage with a wider audience.

Smaller museums often don’t even know where to start, so we’re hoping to lead by example.


What have been key challenges?

A combination of capacity and knowledge. We came in from a business context where we already used digital quite heavily, so we already have that experience and mindset, but many of the people we work with are more used to writing for print media.

One challenge for us as editors is bridging that gap, teaching people to think in a more digital way, make use of keywords and SEO, and so on. Most people don’t realise that writing for a digital platform is very different to writing for print.

A further challenge is in our approach to what we post online – we need to make sure our online platforms aren’t flooded with content that doesn’t provide value to our audience.

Finally, budgeting is an issue – we can afford to make use of digital now, but we have no guarantee that our funding will remain stable.


How have you been able to resource these developments?

We receive funding from the EU and the Arts Council, although it hasn’t specifically been allocated for digital. Our entire marketing budget goes towards digital approaches, since we’ve found that print marketing is ineffective. Beyond that, we rely on our own expertise – we both come from backgrounds where digital is very heavily used, so we draw on our own experiences in that regard.


What are your tips for success?

  • Make sure your content is timely, relevant, and always provides value to your audience
  • Understand your audience well and be strategic in your approach to different platforms; what we post on Instagram we wouldn’t necessarily post on Facebook
  • Make sure you are consistent in terms of your timing as well as your content and your message


What has been the impact on your beneficiaries? 

Mostly our use of digital helps us to stay in touch with our beneficiaries, for the reasons noted above – Dorset is very rural, which makes digital by far the best way to distribute content and engage with people.

It’s also a way to engage with artists on their own platforms and to communicate content and events in a reactive and flexible way.


This case study has been produced as part of our Digital Leadership 101 series of training and advice for CEOs and trustees of small charities, funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and run in partnership with The FSI, NAVCA and London Plus.

Superhighways is currently seeking funding to offer further digital leadership and transformation advice to the sector. Please share your ideas, challenges or successes with us.