HdK Celebrates 20 Years of Innovation in Arts Marketing

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This month marks HdK’s 20th anniversary. Huh! Time flies when you’re having fun (and helping the arts thrive in the digital age).

For me, it feels like just yesterday we welcomed our first clients, many of whom we still partner with today. Our mission has always been to empower the arts and culture sector to leverage the benefits of digital marketing. Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed incredible transformations in the digital landscape, each one playing a significant role in making the arts more accessible to new audiences.

From Dial-Up to Mobile Apps: A Look Back

Back in 2004, when HdK first opened its doors, online ticketing was a top priority for many organisations. Broadband internet was still in its early stages of adoption. In my previous role at Sadler’s Wells, I really wanted to see video as a promotional tool for dance performances. However, with download times reaching four minutes for a one-minute trailer, the user experience left much to be desired back then.

The launch of YouTube in 2005, coupled with the continued rollout of broadband, marked a turning point for video trailers. While it would take some time before we saw the high-quality show trailers we’re accustomed to today, video content was definitely on the rise.

This period also saw the birth of social media, with Facebook launching in 2004 and Twitter following in 2006. I recall presenting a series on the potential of social media for the Arts Marketing Association at the time, facilitating discussions on how these new platforms would revolutionise arts marketing.

The arrival of the iPhone in 2007 truly revolutionised the way we approach arts marketing. HdK spent the following years helping clients create mobile-friendly websites – a standard practice today.

By 2010, with the launch of Instagram, we rounded off the first decade of the new millennium with a series of impressive innovations that reshaped the digital landscape. At HdK, we transitioned from a home-based operation to our first office space – a work style we’d have to rethink only a decade later during the pandemic.

A Decade of Experimentation and Content

The following decade focused on refining our understanding of these advancements and pushing creative boundaries. It was a time for experimentation with content formats and exploring how to optimise them for effective marketing. It was also a period when managers questioned the value of social media, debating whether its sole purpose was driving ticket sales or if it served a broader purpose.

Around 2014, content marketing began to make its mark, followed by the rise of livestreaming in 2016. HdK played a role in helping clients like Dance Consortium livestream events from Sadler’s Wells, starting with smaller post-show talks and progressing to larger productions in the following years.

The Rise of Influencers and New Technologies

By 2017, influencer marketing was the buzzword amongst our clients, likely fueled by the launch of TikTok and a wave of emerging online stars.

As the second decade of the millennium drew to a close, HdK was exploring the potential of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. While we’d previously introduced these concepts to clients, the technology was often cost-prohibitive, and the benefits for the arts sector weren’t always clear. This decade lacked the major company launches of the previous one, with one noteworthy exception: OpenAI, founded in 2015, though its impact wouldn’t be fully realised until the next decade.

The Pandemic Pivot and the Future of Arts Marketing

The start of the third decade brought a world-altering event: the pandemic. The ever-growing HdK team transitioned back to remote work as venues and theatres closed their doors, often operating with skeleton staff. During this challenging time, HdK helped clients “pivot” quickly, adapting their strategies in a short timeframe. Reflecting back, I’m filled with admiration for the creative ways artistic directors responded to the limitations imposed by the pandemic. I’m proud of the support our team provided, helping audiences access artistic content in new formats and on different platforms. For me, this period served as a powerful reminder of the vital role the arts play in people’s lives, especially during difficult times.

Looking Forward: The Metaverse and AI

Emerging from the pandemic, the Metaverse and AI have both had their moments in the spotlight in 2022 and 2023 respectively. While it’s too early to predict their exact impact on arts marketing, HdK and our clients are eager to explore the possibilities. As the past two decades have shown, it likely won’t be long before we gain a deeper understanding of their combined influence.

One constant lesson I’ve learned with each new innovation is the importance of embracing experimentation and exploring new technologies. I understand that not everyone enjoys constant change, and some have valid concerns about new technology. The pressures on everyone to deliver more with less feels palpable. However, I’ve always been excited about the opportunities that are offered and how they might help us reach new audiences and I look forward to seeing what comes over the next 20 years. 

Understanding through collaboration

To anyone, with all this change, it came sometimes feels a bit…well…’stop the world, I want to get off!’. I’m sure the victorian’s felt the same with the advent of railways and industry. One thing remains constant and that’s colleagues, clients and peers pulling together to share our own discoveries, new found skills and inspiration to help us navigate through the constant change. That’s what’s made the last twenty years fly by for me.

HdK's 20th birthday celebration at Shoreditch Arts Club