The biannual Manchester International Festival (MIF) was established in 2007 as “the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events”.
That’s a bold vision to live up to but, programme after programme, MIF has delivered and attracted a glittering array of names across the arts. From Bjork, David Lynch, Maxine Peake and Steve McQueen to Damon Albarn, Akram Khan, New Order and Marina Abramović.
These mould-breaking events and performances take place across the city, in car parks and concert halls, on the streets, underground… Then some of them travel around the world: more than 1.4 million people outside Manchester have seen an MIF production across 30 countries.
Creative ambition and spectacle aside, another hallmark of this festival has been a desire to nurture community. To get more Manchester folk involved, whether that’s by participating in one of the large-scale events, curating or volunteering.
But there’s a limit to what you can achieve, and who you can reach, if you only appear once very couple of years. So expectation was high when it was announced that MIF would move into a new year-round venue in St John’s Quarter, on the site of the old Granada Studios next to the River Irwell.
As Factory International – a nod to the city’s cultural history, global standing and knack for innovation, often against the odds – their scope of activity would ramp up considerably to offer shows by the week and new work in physical and digital spaces.
Also, training and learning opportunities to the wider region, helping the next generation to develop sustainable careers … and all generations to use their creativity. Manchester City Council has said that Factory International would create or support 1,500 jobs and bring in £1.1 billion to the economy over a decade.
Since the announcement in 2014 as part of the Conservative government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative, there have been repeated delays, a mounting budget, Brexit, a pandemic…
Into 2022 and the pressure was really on to not only complete construction of the 13,200 square-metre, 5,000-capacity venue in time for a summer 2023 opening, but also to make sure that it felt like a place for all of Manchester rather than the artsy vanity project that certain sceptics were anticipating.
The website had to be a huge part of that warm welcome, a virtual front door swung wide open while the real ones are being made. I was approached by the marketing team to develop a distinct, direct tone of voice that puts the audience first, shows care and offers encouragement.
To put their mission (“Invent tomorrow together”) into practice through words and begin to deliver on their values sentence by sentence. My goal was to earn mass appeal through a combination of clarity and conviction in everything we say.
This is one of the most challenging projects I have worked on. A huge volume of information to review including brand documents, audience research, an archive of eight festivals, course provisions, processes and details about the new venue with several gaps in knowledge.
Hundreds of people work at MIF across so many departments including Audiences, Access, Commercial, Creative Engagement, Factory Academy, HR, International and Sustainability. Everyone is very passionate and committed to their role, which means lengthy discussions about the content of individual sections and even lengthier ones involving multiple departments.
There were late revisions, extra rounds of feedback… It was my job to be the custodian of copy – to ask the right questions, to seek more specific answers, to refine thoughts and reframe messaging and maintain a consistent tone for all website copy. But could we do more than publish details? How about saying it with more feeling, making it more meaningful?
Together with key stakeholders in the content and web development teams, I also helped to refine the information hierarchy from top to bottom and across the site map.
– Background research on Manchester International Festival, the transformation to Factory International, the arts and cultural sectors in the region and beyond
– Tone of voice development
– Weekly team meetings and status reviews
– Sitemap recommendations
– Website copywriting across all departments
– Additional copy for upcoming courses and events including Free Your Mind and Yayoi Kusama: You Me & the Balloons
– Concepts for Factory International brand campaign
"We were looking for someone who could speak to different audiences and get them excited about our transition from MIF to year-round cultural venue. We also wanted someone to challenge us to think differently.
“The new tone of voice was a big departure from our old style of copy and we weren’t sure how it would land with the wider team. Amar developed a voice profile with before/after examples, which helped stakeholders to understand our approach and see the potential. Most people loved it.
“A key consideration was how to convey all the competing messages and priorities across different departments, while keeping it simple for audiences to navigate. Amar guided key decisionmakers through the process. He asked useful questions, patiently dealt with feedback and offered solutions for both copy and website navigation.
“Amar really understood the brief, how we wanted position ourselves, and rightly pushed back if he didn’t think something fitted the tone or strategy. He’s easy to work with, listens well, really gets under the skin of a project and is brilliantly talented with words. He just gets it. But he’ll also challenge you – in a good way!” (Natalie Forrester, Marketing & Audiences Manager)