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Digital Journeys Case Study: Blast Theory

This is the second case study in our Digital Journeys series, where we delve into the success stories of creative and cultural organisations and individuals who have received long-term support from the Digital Culture Network.

In this candid study, we chat to Blast Theory’s Communications Manager, Jonny Goode. Blast Theory is an innovative organisation that has worked closely with the Digital Culture Network to craft a visionary digital strategy for the future.

Through their bold approach the team at Blast Theory have demonstrated their commitment to embracing cutting-edge technologies and to creating digital communications for all audiences.

Your organisation

Blast Theory make interactive art to explore social and political questions. The group’s work places the public at the centre of unusual and sometimes unsettling experiences, to create new perspectives and open up the possibility of change. Led by Matt, Ju and Nick, the group draw on popular culture and new technologies to make performances, games, films, apps and installations.

Communications Manager Jonny Goode explains how Blast Theory developed their strategic approach to digital communications to reach audiences, both old and new.

We have no fear we cut through dust

We Cut Through Dust by Blast Theory and Manchester Street Poem. Commissioned by Factory International for Manchester International Festival 2023. Photo by Mark Waugh.

What is your organisation’s digital ambition?

Blast Theory are well known for being early adopters of new technologies, often creating work that’s ahead of the curve. Interactivity is at the heart of Blast Theory’s practice and they are seen as leaders in the field.

But when it came to our communications, we weren’t quite able to replicate this interactivity. Our content was often about promoting works in a particular location, and not necessarily tailored to engage global audiences.

I joined back in 2021, at a crucial point for Blast Theory. They wanted to focus more on creating an engaging digital offer for global audiences, and to grow audiences for key channels such as the newsletter and Instagram.

Our initial ambition was to find out what type of content our audiences wanted from us and how we could best connect with our global audience. As Blast Theory have been making work since the early 1990s, some of these audiences have been with us since before digital communications were even a thing.

We wanted to create a data dashboard that gave us an overview of the performance of our website, social media, and our digital campaigns, that way we could get a historic view of what content worked for our audiences, what was missing from our strategy and who our audiences were.

There were significant challenges as the data we had wasn’t simple to work with or particularly user-friendly. We made the big decision to move away from the classic KPI spreadsheet – which was hard to read and didn’t have a particular rationale for what targets we were setting ourselves – and onto a data visualisation platform. We felt this would help us to trial new styles of campaigns – in particular, using content that was more artist-led and incorporating the artists’ voices and personalities more – and review their performance.

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

I had heard of the Digital Culture Network in a previous role, but my manager suggested contacting them to see if they could help develop a data dashboard that would suit our needs. I had some knowledge of some of the tools needed, but I was looking for guidance and reassurance – as the only communications person in our team, it’s hard to be able to do every task with confidence first time.

The Tech Champions immediately felt like an extension to the team! The DCN’s backup since that first call has been invaluable to me.

Who delivered your first DCN support case 1 to 1?

I filled in the webform on the DCN homepage which linked me up with James Akers – Data Insights and Analytics Tech Champion. James is incredibly insightful and helped me to build the dream dashboard on Google Looker Studio.

James was so open to continuing to support me on this journey, he offered to spend more time with me working on our strategy, and encouraged me to take advantage of the long-term support the DCN can offer organisations and individuals. A few weeks down the line and a single conversation with James about switching software suppliers saved us £1200!

The value we get from the Digital Culture Network is significant, it has saved us money on many occasions, it’s incredible and I think all organisations should use it.

A mini golf themed cat playground.

Cat Royale by Blast Theory. Photo by RULER.

What was your post-support experience of the DCN?

I think we’re the organisation with the most DCN support cases, that explains it all!

We’ve worked on our newsletter with the Email Marketing Tech Champion as we were keen to increase the open rates and the click through rate.

We’ve worked with the Search Engine Marketing Tech Champions on developing our Google Ads strategy – making us more confident in trying new things. There’s always a risk with paid advertising of wasting resources but now we have the ability to track the return on everything we do, and we have the Tech Champions on hand to talk about what worked well and what didn’t.

Each Tech Champion has requested feedback after our calls, and they always offer ongoing support. It’s a very personalised interaction. Now that the relationship is established with the DCN, I can book directly with the Tech Champion I think I need to speak to. It may appear that we have had a lot of support cases with the Digital Culture Network but to me, it feels like one long support case.

What happened next?

We have ambitions to make improvements in all aspects of our digital communications. We have always come away with tangible advice that we can apply to our work straight away. We’re far from perfect but we have the data now to take risks, to employ trial and error.

We have already rolled out our data dashboard and it helps us to make informed decisions. When we do trial something new, whether it performs well or isn’t so great, we know why.

What have you learned?

We’ve learned so much, particularly when it comes to certain types of digital communications and digital strategies. Working in communications often feels like you need to know a little about a lot of things, but having the support from DCN, means we’re only one call or email away from support on more of the complex pieces of work.

The advice from the Tech Champions has made a huge difference. At the beginning we didn’t have a dataset to work with, but they’ve helped us to start from almost nothing and to build up really insightful data. We make all of our decisions about digital communications based on our audience data; nothing is left to chance. So often the Tech Champions have suggested things that are quicker, cheaper, or easier.

Personally, this role is quite a step up in my career from freelance audience development work. I came through a charity initiative designed to bring get people from lower socio-economic backgrounds working in the arts and culture sector – Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries.

The Tech Champions have helped me check myself and have been there, just to message, when I have made a mistake or have needed some reassurance. The knowledge and skill level in the Digital Culture Network has really helped me on my personal journey. I would recommend working with the Tech Champions to everyone in our sector.

I’m presenting a case study of the biggest digital campaign I’ve run since starting with Blast Theory, for a project called Cat Royale, at the A-M-A conference this month. The DCN offered so much support in developing the campaign – which was very sophisticated and delivered amazing results – and it’s great to have an opportunity to now share my learning with others in the sector.

Screenshot from Blast Theory’s Cat Royale Looker Studio Dashboard.

Screenshot from Blast Theory’s Cat Royale Looker Studio Dashboard.

Our relationship in numbers

At the time of publishing we have had 38 one-to-one support cases with 8 Tech Champions. We have had representatives from Blast Theory at 3 Digital Culture Network events and we’ve attended 8 webinars.

Want to discuss your digital ambitions?

Maybe the Digital Culture Network can help! Our digital experts can provide free 1-2-1 support to all creative and cultural individuals and organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help with a specific issue or would just like to chat about your digital ambitions, please get in touch.

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