First published on LinkedIn in October 2022.
The National Plans for Music Education in England and Wales both have a clear focus on inclusion. In England, it’s one of the strategic functions of a music education hub. In Wales, there will be national and local EDI policies and initiatives to address barriers to music education. Communications and marketing will have many roles to play as these and other music/arts organisations reach wider, and diversify. Here are six:
1. CONTRIBUTING TO STRATEGY & CULTURE
Strategic communications in public and not-for-profit sectors is the purposeful use of communication to fulfil an organisation’s mission. The strategic, management part of this process is as important as the tactical activities, although these often receive a much greater focus. It involves research and data gathering, discussion and reflection, writing and thinking, and testing your ideas with stakeholders including staff.
A comms strategy and planning process parallels and works alongside an ED&I strategy because it supports you to think through where you are and where you want to be, in terms of reaching young people facing barriers, their families, and those who work with them or fund that work . It also helps you to assess your comms activities and identify any gaps that would help you to achieve your ED&I goals.
All of us working for organisations with a creative, social or educational purpose tend to be driven by our own passions and missions, and by our own experiences – in this case, our own music education and preferences. That can mean that we lack the focus on audience/customer needs and interests that any organisation needs in order to be truly equitable, diverse and inclusive, resilient, and financially viable.
So a communications strategy is valuable because it can help you to see where your organisation and your audience’s needs and interests align, where there may be tension, and what you can do about that.
A comms strategy and planning process can be carried out by your existing team, and support and resources are available to help you to do this. Music Mark have a new Comms and Marketing Fundamentals course coming up in January 2023, and I have an on-demand online comms strategy and planning course. Both will guide you through the process. Alternatively, the process can be carried by contracting a freelance agency or specialist to work alongside your team (find out more about my services).
2. INCREASING UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR PARTICIPANTS AND STAKEHOLDERS
Understanding your audience’s needs and finding ways for them to voice them is central to ED&I, to communications, and to organisational development.
Here are some communications questions you might find helpful to explore with young people who are currently underrepresented in, or not engaged with, music education:
- Who are they, how and where can you connect with them? Most importantly, who are the people they trust who can act as connectors?
- How much, if anything, do they know about your organisation/Hub? How much do those who work with or care for them know about it?
- What first impression do they get from your current communications? Do they see themselves within them?
- What’s in it for them? What are their musical interests and passions? How could what you offer (or what you might offer), match their goals and aspirations?
- How do they want to engage with you or be more involved as your ED&I and comms work develops?
Communications is as much about listening and encouraging responses, as it is about broadcasting your messages. This applies to everything from the strategy process, to social media, to conversations with schools. It’s worth considering how you can encourage more listening and feedback across all activities.
3. ENSURING RELEVANCE & REPRESENTATION
Behavioural and decision science has shown us that people make fast decisions, driven by emotion. So if people only see certain types of people and ways of making music in your communications, they may very quickly decide not to engage with you. What you communicate, and the way you communicate, all influence whether people feel drawn to your organisation or not:
- The things you choose to talk about in blogs and social media reveal a lot about what you think is important. This applies even to cultural references you might make: particular forms of music or art, or famous people from the past or present.
- An inclusive, encouraging – and most importantly, human – tone of voice can make a big difference to how people perceive you.
- Well thought-through key messages can explain the sort of organisation you are and want to be, and provide a welcome even before you meet someone. More on this in the next section.
- Knowing the current language to use for people’s diverse backgrounds, characteristics and needs, means staff and audiences are more likely to feel they belong. There’s no rulebook, and language changes (hence current language, not correct language). An inclusive culture will help ensure that people know it’s OK to ask if they’re unsure.
Asking your staff and stakeholders for feedback on your communications is a good starting point. An internal audit of your communications channels, taking into account ED&I considerations, can be helpful. You could also signpost people to helpful resources such as a webinar hosted by Music Mark on language and inclusion (along with a number of other webinars around inclusion). Here is also a simple inclusive language guide. (Here is a more detailed inclusive language guide).
4. ADDRESSING COMMUNICATIONS BARRIERS
Websites, printed materials, social media posts, and emails can all present barriers to people for all sorts of reasons. The elephant in the room is that some of this isn’t easy for small organisations with limited budgets. But much of it is, and small changes can make a difference, like:
- including alt text with images for websites and on social media posts
- using closed captions and transcripts for video
- capitalising the first letter of each word in hashtags
- using meaningful display names for hyperlinks (ie avoid ‘click here’ or ‘read more’)
- making forms easy to understand and complete
- taking into account accessibility for online meetings and taking advantage of updated features in Zoom
- running your key web pages through a web accessibility checker and adapting according to its advice
- finally, fewer words and simple language help everyone, not just those with additional needs such as dyslexia
Thanks to Drake Music for much of the content accessed via these links.
As always, consulting with stakeholders is important and there are many accessibility guides that can help you take incremental steps towards accessible communications.
5. INCREASING UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR PURPOSE
Another aspect of the strategy and planning process is developing your key messages. These help you to communicate what sort of organisation you are, who you exist to serve, and why people should care.
Involving your team and stakeholders in the process can be powerful. It can help to ensure they, and the people they work with, feel a sense of belonging. And when people are given the opportunity to contribute, it makes the messages more relatable and memorable.
The process may also help you highlight and address any concerns about ED&I, from strategy to language.
Your organisation’s ED&I process is a story that needs to be told too – even if you feel ‘we’re not there yet’. Being authentic and open about what you’re striving for, and where you’re at, can help build trust, improve relationships, and draw people and organisations to you.
Ultimately, the process of creating key messages can:
- show your commitment to ED&I
- help staff to describe what you do, who for, and why – particularly when that has evolved as a result of ED&I work
It’s helpful to include communications as part of your Inclusion Manager or ED&I working group’s remit, if you have one. Ask them to advise as you develop your communications activities and materials.
6. ENCOURAGING EMPATHY TO MAKE ED&I PERSONAL
Effective communications is ultimately about empathy – understanding your stakeholders (including staff) and their worldviews and experiences. Change for inclusion comes from those lightbulb moments where you suddenly begin to see things through a different lens or connect to your personal experiences.
So finding all sorts of ways for team members to share their own lived experiences of inclusion/exclusion, as well as to see things through the eyes of young people facing barriers to music education (including those who don’t feel at all engaged by it) can help win hearts and minds for inclusion.
This can be part of the research and audit process of a comms strategy. It can be as simple as talking with an existing group you’re working with or to someone already working with those groups; or turning up at venues, events or activities and getting to know people informally. It can also involve methods such as participatory consultation, focus groups, and surveys.
Ultimately, communications is about deepening your existing relationships; and reaching out and beginning new ones. It goes beyond marketing activities and beyond selling. It’s a strategic process that can act as a catalyst for ED&I, and vice versa.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Is communications helping you in other ways with ED&I? Could any of these points be developed further? Could you improve the definition of communications for the sector? Would you be interested to take part in a peer group discussion and sharing around communications and ED&I? Do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
 In this blog, and generally, I use ‘communications’ to cover both communications and marketing. Larger, particularly commercial organisations have separate functions for ‘corporate’ communications (communicating with internal and external audiences); and marketing (selling services and products). In non-profit and smaller organisations, the terms are used interchangeably.
 I use the terms ‘stakeholder’ or ‘audience’ to mean anyone you want to engage with through communications, from participants to funders.