Making sure that point sticks is the charge of Will Gompertz, director of Tate Media. When Gompertz arrived at the Tate about five years ago, the institution, which receives its funding from the British government, was at a cultural all-time high. Comprised of four galleries, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives, "Tate really became the first museum to create a brand of itself, a sense of one voice, one approach, one attitude," Gompertz says. But "if it was going to continue to be successful and culturally relevant, it needed to broaden its audience to people from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. To some extent, we had to change our approach, how we talked about ourselves, how we talked to other people, and also what opportunity we were giving people to participate and get involved with Tate."
If anyone were to make that happen, museum director Nicholas Serota believed Gompertz was the man. In 2002, Serota plucked Gompertz to join Tate's board as director of communications from an unlikely place. Gompertz had zero experience in museum or fine-arts marketing but did have hefty body of experience in some very familiar territory for our audience. After starting out in commercials production as a post producer at London's MPC, Gompertz went on to become a founding member of industry mag Shots, which he later sold to found arts magazine Zoo, another publication that allowed him to indulge his passion for exploring the ongoing exchange and dynamic between different creative sectors, from advertising to the fine-art world. It's that idea of creative fluidity on which Gompertz believed the Tate could edify its brand. "If you want to broaden your audience, you simply have to accept that you need to engage with the audiences on a series of different levels," he believes. "You can't simply just engage them on an intellectual level. You have to think about how you can engage them emotionally, or physically. Young audiences are used to interacting with content in a way older groups aren't, so we need to create platforms where they can get involved. It's about finding different ways into enjoying art."
When Gompertz arrived, his first priority was to increase flagging attendance at Tate Britain. The Tate's most established outpost was getting eclipsed by the sexier, newer Tate Modern, established in 2000. "We live in an events culture," Gompertz says. "Permanent collections are free and anybody can come in and enjoy them. They're always there, so they can appear not as exciting as the latest exhibition—we had to bring some of that excitement and contemporary relevance to the permanent displays." Enter Fallon/London. Its quirky, copy-heavy campaign was a brilliant rethink of the museum's stodgy-seeming collections, and an irresistible come-on for a broad range of artgoers, from first-timers to aficionados who'd visited the museum a million times. That was just one idea included in a book that Fallon had created during a pitch for the Britain campaign. The book had convinced Gompertz that Fallon was right for the job, as well as the rest of the institution's communications. "Often, agencies are intimidated by art and artists and not confident about how to deal with the subject," he says. "They'll often crack jokes with the art, or go the other way, and be too reverential. Fallon completely understood that a tone of voice and a way of talking was the key."
The agency also knew the key wasn't just "talk" but also action, especially with the one crowd not coming in droves to the more popular Modern, the 16-24-year-olds. Gompertz says the music-driven "Tate Tracks" campaign helped to up the younger crowd's attendance and secure the Modern's most successful year ever, with five million visitors. Its biggest and most startling achievement, he adds, was the unexpected love it got from the online community. "Each musician has a huge following, so people started blogging about 'Tate Tracks' and the whole initiative became much, much bigger much more quickly than we realized it would."
Fallon, in turn, has earned arguably about as much acclaim for its Tate initiatives as it has for its celebrated Sony Bravia productions, "Balls" and "Paint," although it was supported by about a zillionth of the budget. "The challenge is that there's no money," says Fallon creative Juan Cabral. However, it helped that Gompertz expects the agency to go where others wouldn't. "Will's very much a forward thinker," Cabral says. "He wants to be surprised. He wants to be part of great work and be proud of the things he does. He's not just checking boxes."
In fact, Gompertz seems to give the agency as much respect and confidence as he does any of the museum's commissioned artists. "I don't view them as an advertising agency," he says. "I never asked them, 'Can you do a 30-second spot or a set of posters?' I just said, 'Can you help us think?' The ideas they have developed for Tate have not been advertising ideas. They've been content ideas, and they've been hugely successful." Currently, Fallon is preparing a multimedia, multidisciplinary finale for the "Tate Tracks" initiative as well as a new project for the Tate Liverpool, to help celebrate the city's being named European Capital of Culture for 2008.
Gompertz, in the meantime, has been busy fronting his own series of efforts to address today's events-hungry artgoers. In his Tate Media director's role, his plans are to grow Tate's audience beyond the ones who walk through the museum's doors. "The role of Tate Media is to take Tate's intellectual property—our collections, our exhibitions, our curators, our relationship with artists, our brand—and maximize its potential through all the different media forms to engage with a whole host of different audiences," he explains. This year, working with the museum's curators, Gompertz executive produced The Long Weekend, a four-day festival that turns the Modern into a venue for live events, including performance art, family-friendly activities and concerts. In 2007 Gompertz also established "Tate Shots," a programming initiative on the museum's site featuring content about Tate's artists and collections, which can also be downloaded for free off of iTunes. The museum now has an in-house TV production company to create the programming, with plans to launch its own channel and create independent films as well as content for various U.K. broadcasters.
Making movies? Hosting concerts? Isn't that overstepping museum bounds? It's just par for the course, as far as Gompertz is concerned. "Tate is in a position where it needs to take risks," he says. "We work with the world's leading contemporary artists—in my view, the world's greatest innovators. Our job is to stay with them, not lag behind them."