Using culture as a differentiating tool is not new. Culture has the power to create incredible stories. But you still need the ability to tell those stories. Hirmane Abdoulhakime, Culture & Entertainment Activation Manager at General Pop / BETC shares his experience and his point of view on the matter.
Whether it is seen as an asset within a company, or used to correct a brand image, or even used to raise awareness around an issue and reach a new audience, culture is starting to be employed by many new different industries. The added value brought by culture is not new, in the sense that it can help tell incredible stories. But you still need the skills to tell them the right way.
Culture can undeniably be strong. But it is never a given, because nothing is ever guaranteed. And risks can be terrible. A disastrous usage or a project that feels too sales-y will automatically be perceived as lacking legitimacy and authenticity. Quite the opposite of what was expected. In that case, what could have become beneficial to both parties turns out to be detrimental and the collaboration becomes a lose/lose proposition instead. Being careful in the way that you orchestrate cultural endeavours seems logical on paper ... but it is still a recurring issue in our daily discussions.
How is it possible ? The answer is quite as simple as the starting observation: parties that are not invested enough, lack time, lack an appropriate knowledge of the field, didn't research enough, only thought short-term, too many intermediaries involved, diluted message or not well received ... So how to make sure that the result is on par with everyone's expectations ? And how to make sure that resources are aligned with what is expected ?
First thing first, knowing the field that you want to enter is primordial. It is essential before engaging with culture to study the field, to have the right connections, to do deep research, to get a comprehensive knowledge of the subject. For example, to create the work that we did for Hotel Eminente, our team spent some time in Cuba to study the environment and was able to acutely translate the local ambiance directly within a "case particular" located in Paris. We made the decisive choice to work with people that had a real legitimacy and had lived in the country. We involved them and consulted with them at each of the main steps of the project.
Secondly, it is important to listen carefully to all the industry players that are around the project. By listening actively to industry insiders, you get to create a strong relationship with them, making you able to translate their vision and becoming more legit. And without legitimacy, there is no authenticity (and vice-versa). These early discussions were key for our latest project with the LH Forum in Le Havre, where the main goal was to raise wider awareness around a positive economy. The collaboration entailed creating a musical programmation that could reflect the issue. We worked with musical artists that could, in addition to performing during a concert, be able to actually get on stage during talks to share and inspire the young generation. The key to achieve the promotion of the festival through the concerts was to create a logical link between artists and the given cause.
© Arnaud Tinel : Audrey Tcherkoff, Martin Solveig, Myd, Jacques Attali, Kungs, Hirmane Abdoulhakime
What else ? To achieve success you will need to take down barriers. Removing them will help you by having too many intermediaries involved. Our strength at General Pop has always been Fabrice Brovelli's philosophy: to be in direct contact with artists and their management. The reason why a lot of deals don't happen nowadays is because there are often too many intermediaries. This has a negative effect as it deprives humanity from exchanges and makes it harder for an artist to gauge the importance of a project beyond its financial gain. Let's not forget that working with culture is working with people after all.
Hirmane Abdoulhakime & Virgil Abloh - Coachella 2019
Having too many intermediaries removes a critical aspect and prevents the artist from taking the brand's message and making it his own. This was the case for our collaboration with French rap superstar Booba and lifestyle brand Puma. The partnership even went beyond a fashion collection and an ad campaign as the artists of his label are now also being sponsored by the brand.
Finally, it is vital to stay away from one-offs. Everything goes so fast today and attention spans are extra short. However, to tell a great story, you need some time to share the different installments. When everything clicks, we are able to create successful operations, bespoke and impactful. And when something goes right, you don't want to stop there and you want to reiterate the opportunity. When you create a collaboration or a partnership, it shouldn't be just because you could. It should be relevant and should be helping create the brand territory.
We were able to get in that zone with our partner the Versailles Castle and the Versailles Electro event that we created. It is now a regular event in the cultural agenda and electro fans expect it year after year. The project was made possible by the work from the Versailles Castle team, who got to exchange with the artists long before we came up with the programme and turned out to be incredible technicians. They managed to perfectly sync lights and projections with the music that was played.
So what did we learn ?
Culture can add value and is not just a way of reaching a new audience with a selling objective. You need to take care of culture to achieve interesting results. Talking to a new audience also means making culture accessible to a public that perhaps didn't previously have access to it. It opens up a lot of possibilities. And beyond just the storytelling, we need to keep in mind that we have the ability to create new stories, to create long-term relationships with people.
Let's agree on something: we all love incredible stories. So let's make sure that we have what we need to create them.