How to win at partnerships

January, 25, 2019

Nothing predestined André Kraft to become Head of Marketing and Communications at the Komische Oper Berlin; but most of us will agree that unusual pathways produce skillful arts managers, and Kraft is no exception. In the lead up to his keynote at Communicating The Arts Copenhagen (CTACPH), we sat down to talk network building and partnership sparking.

 

Kraft studied computer science at a time when chatting and emails weren’t even a thing. Upon finishing school, he realised that information science was not what he intended to dedicate his professional life to. A friend called him with a question that would kick-start his arts career: “Hey, I’m opening up a theatre, 100 seats only, would you like to do our PR work?”

Building and running networks in the arts

Over the years, in parallel to working for several theatres, Kraft dedicated much time to an activity linked to the computer scientist career he never pursued: creating and running networks. His first endeavour was co-creating a marketing network allowing theatres to join forces and obtain better deals with PR companies. When the internet started taking off, Kraft co-founded a database gathering the schedules of 80 theatres with a group of theatre marketers. “This may seem like a pretty basic thing right now,” he says. “But eighteen years ago, it was absolutely crazy!” This database has since been taken over by Berlin’s cultural department and continues to run to this day.

Kraft contributed to the making of cultural monitoring project KULMON, surveying visitors from a range of Berliner cultural institutions including the Berlin Opera Foundation, the Deutsches Theater, the Jewish Museum, the Friedrichstadt-Palast, the German Historical Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and three Berlin State Museums. The survey allows those institutions to group and compare data so as to envision potential partnerships based on similitudes or differences in audiences.

Start on the right foot

Kraft compares institutional partnerships to friendships and romances – in any new relationship, the first date is often decisive. With this in mind, he has developed a process for entering new partnerships: “My team will go visit the museum or institute; they show us how they work, their exhibitions and so on. Then we invite them to see how we work, and after we get to know each other a bit more, we can start discussing potential partnerships.”

For Kraft, it’s about furthering the relationship step-by-step using checkpoints to ensure that the flame is still alive on both sides. He insists that partnerships take time and imply risk-taking. “Like in a love relationship, you have to be ready to lose a little bit of control,” he says. “It is key to a successful cooperation.”

From competition to cooperation

“We can do so much more for our common audience if we collaborate,” Kraft says. Indeed, the Komische Oper Berlin cooperates with up to 130 organisations every season: museums, cultural institutes, embassies you name it. In addition, they are part of the Berlin Opera Foundation alongside two other Berlin-based opera houses — in other words, potential “audience competitors”. Add to that the 250 or so other cultural venues offering live events in Berlin on a daily basis. Yet Kraft does not believe in competition within the cultural sector. “Here in Germany, theatre and operas are largely funded by the government — which is to say by the people. So as long as people ‘do’ culture, as long as they go somewhere, whether it is in my opera house or somewhere else, we all win.”

Talking partnerships at CTACPH

I asked Kraft if he had anything to ask the Communicating The Arts network, to which he responded with a question he has been grappling with lately: How can we cooperate in an environment that is more and more defined around what makes our individuality?

If you wish to strike up a conversation with André Kraft at CTACPH, have a think over where you and your organisation stand on this one. It might be useful to know as well that he enjoys photography, the beaches of Portugal, British and Jewish humour, Italian food, and… clubbing!

Words by Alexia Jacques-Casanova

© Jan Windszus Photography