Sunday, 13 July 2014

Branding and Ballet - Ten Top Tips

Whenever possible I try to get the company's T-shirt when I watch them performing in a ballet. So far I have T-shirts from
  • Ballet Black
  • Ballet Cymru
  • Rambert
  • The Dutch National Ballet
  • The Royal Ballet, and
  • The Stuttgart Ballet.
I also have a ballet bag from the Bristol Russian Ballet School and I'be bought English National Ballet's My First Coppelia t-shirts for Vlad the Lad and my Huddersfield ballet teacher's younger daughter. It is a way of supporting those companies and one that I much prefer to the doling out of public money by the Arts Council of England

The reason I feel uncomfortable about it is that I can't really think of an answer to my fellow citizens who see opera and ballet as all right for those who like that sort of thing but it shouldn't be their brass that pays for it. Now don't get me wrong. I love opera, ballet and all the other performing arts. I am delighted that my beloved Northern Ballet was favoured in the Arts Council's latest round of investment in opera and ballet. But I am not sure that Arts Council funding is particularly fair to those who prefer their money to be spent in other ways and when I look across the Atlantic where just about every town of any size has its own company that is supported strongly by its local community (some of which such as the Sarasota Ballet seem to be rather good) I have to ask whether this form of subsidy is even good for the performing arts. The Arts Council was promoted by one of its first chairmen Lord Keynes (see "John Maynard Keynes and English Ballet" 3 March 2013). Like a lot of Lord Keynes's ideas that wilted under the scrutiny of Thatcherism in the 1980s direct funding for the performing arts may have to be reconsidered.

Even if the Arts Council can be justified the funds available to it for investment are unlikely to grow by much and there is also a limit to the amount of money that the hard pressed public can afford to pay for tickets or donations.  As I said in "Ballet as a Brand? How to bring More Money into Dance for Companies and Dancers" 13 March 2014 companies, theatres, dancers (at least principals) and possibly even schools and dancers will have to exploit their goodwill a little more in the way that sports stars and artists in the other performing arts have done. To that end I wrote three further articles to show how that could be done:
This is a summary of the advice that I gave in those articles. It applies to everyone in dance - individual artists and teachers as well as institutions.
  1. Register your business name and any logo as trade marks: You can do it yourself on-line for the UK from as little as £170 though I would advise you to last out a few hundred pounds more and get a trade mark or patent agent to do it for you. He or she will make a search to make sure there are no conflicting registrations, prepare a specification that covers all your needs, file it and correspond with the Intellectual Property Office or other registry until you have your grant. There are two advantages of registration, First it is easier to protect and license branded merchandise. Secondly, it trumps anything a cyber-squatter can say in a domain name dispute. If you do it yourself make sure you cover all the countries in which you want to perform or sell your merchandise and that your registration covers clothing, printed matter and anything else you can see yourself selling in the next five years.
  2. Subscribe to a good watch service. A watch service scours the IPO and other patent office websites for applications that could conflict with your registrations and reports back to you if it finds any.  Most patent and trade mark agents can set up such a subscription for you though they tend to be on the pricey side. Leeds Business and IP Centre runs a good service. Call Ged or Stef on 0113 247 8266 for more info.
  3. Keep an audit trail of all your artistic, choreographic, literary and musical works. As I said in "Branding and Ballet - Copyright and Rights in Performances" copyright and rights in performances are not registered rights. They come to being when a qualified person creates an original artistic, dramatic, literary or musical work or, in the case of dancers and musicians, takes part in live performances.  The best way of proving your title is by means of contemporaneous notes and logs with references back to the stave on which the choreology or music is recorded.
  4. Review and keep under review all your licences and other agreements. This applies both to people who serve you such as your choreographers, dancers and musicians and also to those who want to take licences from you. Make sure these are drawn up professionally and that you enforce them.
  5. Take out adequate insurance to cover claims by you and against you.   IP litigation is expensive and is usually excluded from most legal risk indemnity programs. There are some specialist companies that provide such a service and it is worth looking out for them (see my article "IP Insurance Five Years on" 23 Oct 2010 Inventors Club blog).
  6. Be sure to talk to a lawyer first if you think someone has infringed your IPR. That is because some statutes such as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Trade Marks Act 1994 provide a cause of action against those who threaten litigation without justification (see "If you think someone has infringed your patent talk to a lawyer first" 11 July 2014 Inventors Club biog).
  7. Carry out periodic IP audits. You are creating new works all the time and also licensing in and out other peoples' work. Make sure that everything is covered.
  8. If someone infringes your rights don't ignore it. There's an expression in the law that delay defeats equity. At the very least delay in enforcing your rights could prevent your getting an interim injunction. At the worst it could be seen as acquiescence.
  9. Make others aware of your IP rights.  Use the copyright symbol (c) and the registered trade mark symbol to make the public aware of your rights. That way they can't use the defence of ignorance.
  10. Get your audiences on your side. Folk who have paid a lot of money for their tickets are understandably annoyed when the first thing they hear is an order not to use cameras or mobile phones. But if you explain why they will co-operate with you even to the point of stopping their neighbours from surreptitiously photographing or taping your show.
This is the last of my articles on ballet and branding. It is my gift back to the artists and impresarios who have given me so much pleasure over the years. I hope that at least some of you will find my tips useful.


  1. "across the Atlantic where just about every town of any size has its own company that is supported strongly by its local community (some of which such as the Sarasota Ballet seem to be rather good) I have to ask whether this form of subsidy is even god for the performing arts." seems to me to be a case of "the grass is always greener". "just about every town of any size has its own company" is an exaggeration; there are indeed many small companies in the US, usually attached to schools, but it is after all a country with a population of 300 million people. Those companies are usually not professional standard and just about all they can produce is a Nutcracker and maybe something else. "supported strongly by its local community" is also an exaggeration; ballet companies in N America (even the big ones) have to work very hard indeed to eke money out of the community. It is not an atmosphere that fosters artistic risk and creativity. Sarasota is an exception because it is a VERY VERY wealthy community, and despite all the great stuff Sarasota Ballet does it is still not an A-level company. Even the large companies in N America (I'm talking New York City Ballet and its ilk) cannot provide year-round employment for their dancers. So most dancers have to find some other way to pay their bills for anything from 12 to 22 weeks out of the year. Many small companies cannot provide health insurance for their dancers (not an issue in Canada but a huge one in the States). Touring is almost impossible because it COSTS a company money to perform away from its home base (National Ballet of Canada had to do SERIOUS fundraising this year to pay for its tours to Los Angeles and New York, on top of the fundraising they have to do just to keep the company afloat). Do you really think this is a preferable scenario for the good of the art form than the subsidized model?

    1. Interesting to read your comment, Katherine, thanks for contributing to the discussion. Personally I think that the idea of the Arts Council's subsidised model is a good one, but as usual the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired. One of the main benefits of arts council funding is that the organisations who receive grants have to carry out outreach and education work as part of their agreement (educating communities as well as reaching talented dancers of different ages). It's the way that the funding is distributed that is the biggest drawback. Recent information about the Arts Council's NPO programme shows that many smaller companies have actually received decreased packages this year, and these are the ones that not only tour but also directly interact with local communities. This site is particularly good for a sharp-eyed look at it all:

  2. Katherine, you paint a very different picture of North America from the one that I saw when I was a graduate student in the USA. I saw a lot of dance there and most of it was excellent. Clearly somebody in the USA was doing something right in those days and the answer seemed to be the concessions in the tax system. Times may have changed since then though I have to say that I continue to be impressed by the performances I see at Lincoln Center. Arts Council funding does come with conditions in England and it is significant that the artistic director of my favourite company tweeted that she has chosen not to apply for national portfolio funding. I have an open mind on the Arts Council. It does its best but is always criticized for not doing more and the problem is that there is not the money to allow it to do more. That is why I wrote a series of articles about how companies, theatres and artists can do more for themselves by following the examples of entertainers in the other performing arts and indeed sports stars,