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Case Study: Open Sky’s digital journey from creating digital content to setting up eCommerce

Open Sky’s Digital Director, Lisle Turner, tells us all about the unexpected journey his organisation went on with the Digital Culture Network.

Open Sky Theatre is a small theatre company with big ideas based in rural Herefordshire. We combine new writing with physical and digital theatre to tell powerful, moving stories based on real world events. We have produced and toured six projects funded by ACE, including our recent digital project, MicroPlays.

The company is owned and operated by life and professional partners Claire Coaché (Artistic Director) and myself, Lisle Turner. (Writer & Digital Director).

What challenges led you to reach out to the Digital Culture Network?

MicroPlays was our first fully digital project. As I direct film & TV through our other production company, Wrapt Films, we had the skills to stage and capture work digitally, but we knew we didn’t have experience in hosting and distributing digital content. We didn’t know we lacked so much knowledge about websites and their real purpose, something that quickly became apparent and was remedied during this process.

As a small company, managing our resources is vital. We can’t afford to get things wrong and then do them again. Being able to seek expert advice for free on the above subjects, particularly whilst under the pressure of the pandemic lockdown, was incredibly valuable to us. The subsequent success of MicroPlays was built on this advice.

What process did you follow when working with the Network?

We received an email informing us about the existence of the Tech Champions and spoke to our ACE Relationship Manager about it. First, we booked a call with Tech Champion Dean Shaw to speak about digital content. We discussed our whole strategy for release and tailored our plans in accordance with Dean’s advice. That conversation raised some interesting questions about our website, and Dean referred us to Roberta Beattie. Our conversation with Roberta was a total lightbulb moment. We then built an entirely new site on Squarespace specifically tailored to our needs with ongoing support from Roberta. During the website build, we needed to think about customer relationship management (CRM) and eCommerce. We spoke to Nick Kime and Emma Roberts respectively on these topics. Our projects and website now build communication loops with our audiences and we hope to use those to launch an eCommerce section of our website (with further guidance from Emma) in the new year.

All the Zoom calls were very friendly and incredibly informative with lots of useful information sent as follow-up links. It’s like having a whole tech department of experts for free!

What results have you seen?

Our first reason for getting in touch was to launch our digital project MicroPlays. This had a projected audience reach of 100,000 people over 12 months. So far we’ve reached over 600,000 people in just six weeks.

We used to spend time and money on briefing web designers and coders to update our website. Now we can design new elements and implement them immediately at a very low cost.

With regard to customer relationship management, our new website has multiple points of entry to our email list and we have 1000+ new subscribers to our YouTube channel, meaning we can now utilise community messaging to the entire group.

In eCommerce, we now have a new donations section on our website that we will start promoting in the near future, and a raft of eCommerce ideas that we will be seeking further guidance on before launching them in spring 2021.

In a broader sense, having had the confidence to successfully produce and promote one digital project to great success has totally altered our outlook on using digital technology to enhance our artistic output.

Our next project combines live and digital distribution and a whole new level of online interactivity. We’re excited about the future.

What is your advice to anyone who might be considering reaching out to the Digital Culture Network?

Anyone considering using this service should do so immediately. Like us, you might not know what you don’t know until you ask! If you were to pay for this level of expertise and quality of service it would cost a fortune. This is free!

What’s next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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