Thursday, 18 February 2010

Fakes on a Crane: Public Planning, Part 2

The following is a continuation of my behind the scenes One&Other story from last week. Sorry it took so long.

What do people like? Do they like your thing, that thing you do? What are they prepared to do to get it?
Do they like you?

These are the main questions of marketing, really. If we knew exactly what people wanted - and believe me, they often don't know themselves - then we'd know exactly what to give them, and how to present it. But these questions are more interesting because they hint at one of our deepest vulnerabilities - fear of judgement. Fear of what's truly unknown; the workings of another mind. We're good at constructing layers of precedent and example to bridge the intuitive gaps, but all this means is that when we do something we truly don't have precedent for, it's by turns empowering and absolutely fucking mortifying.

Like asking someone to marry you. Or your first interview. Or pretending to be a dead king in the UK's most famous gathering place.

Where were we? Oh yes.

In the One&Other trailer I gorged on tea and biscuits and made weather talk with the crew - or their version of it. What's the weirdest thing you've seen? What's it like late at night? Has anyone got naked? What gets the best responses? A bit of chit-chat, an obvious way to pass the time.
But also one of the biggest elements of planning, right? Learn the medium. A picture emerged of something caught between stage, soapbox, podium and pavement. Something where people came hoping for a diversion and a break from reality, but wouldn't indulge nonsense or self-obsession. Something where people expected you to be larger than life, to match the statues around, or they wouldn't get the message.

At the same time, there was a second audience - the online audience. Go back a fortnight and I'd tried to prime that. @KingWilliamIV (who has since then been reburied - sorry) had been commenting and interacting with the O&A webcam fraternity for a couple of weeks beforehand. I tried to make sure this was spur of the moment, unique stuff, both to give those online something extra and to get me used to the idea. It was also a good way of making sure I wouldn't pussy out.

Which was starting to feel a little attractive. But momentum is a great ally - the funny thing about doing difficult stuff is that sometimes, you can get to the point where the obvious choice, the path of least resistance, is just to carry on - and when it comes in small steps, often you're past the point of no return before you know it. So picking up your bag is easy, stepping out the door is a cinch, climbing into the cherry picker isn't too bad - and after that point, your involvement is no longer necessary. Just give a good 5-second interview to the guy with the mobile phone camera, and try to look composed. Try to look regal.

Whatever you do, don't try to look like an escaped public schoolboy with a crown made of yellow card and sweet wrappers.


But it was okay - people stopped, people laughed. People listened. Occasionally, they would politely applaud, in that peculiarly English way. Best of all, a few actually came by to say thanks afterwards. I like to think it was a success - and I'm certain that the best bits came when I stuck to a few principles:

Interrupt: Telephones, doorbells, a wave of the hand. Attention always starts with interruption.
Interact: You are not a play. People haven't paid to see you. They expect their time to be acknowledged.
Project: You're you and they're them. They don't know what you're thinking, so you have to tell it. Tell it big.
Be Authentic: Do something that, fundamentally, shows you for who you are - or people will see through you. Like cellophane wrapped round a turd.
It's just communi-

...oh, who am I kidding? You don't want this pseudo-planning crap. You want to see it for yourself.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

LOOK AT ME: Public Planning, Part 1

When we try and talk to someone, how often do we consider what they're willing to hear?

Last summer, I was part of officially the UK's Most Indulgent Event: Anthony Gormley's One&Other. 2,400 people stood on a bit of brick in Trafalgar Square, and a nation had the word 'plinth' on its lips for probably the only time, ever. It was gloriously cringe-y, trashy, serious, ridiculous.

But was it art? No, it wasn't. Yes it was.
It depends what you think art is - and hundreds of people took 'art' to mean "Not giving a swinging bollock whether the audience can appreciate or even see it". It's their prerogative to do so.

But some people didn't want a stage - they wanted a soapbox. They wanted to communicate.
Was it communication?
Well, sure, it had information in it, transmitted from a source. But then you could do that from anywhere - there's this little place called Speaker's Corner, I'm told - so what's the difference?

I didn't see all the slots...but from what I did see, there was a bit of a pattern, a bit of a missing ingredient that made otherwise awesome things lose their edge. As the days ticked by to my turn,  I took it like a planner:

What's so special about this then? What's the USP?
It's the fourth plinth.

So? There's three others.
It's in Trafalgar Square?

Thousands of people are. Think harder. Do they give you anything?
No. So anything I could do, I could really do anywhere. There's no material difference.

So if the materials are the same, what's different?
Context. This is all about context!

Okay, what's your context?
Well, I'll be high up - higher than anyone else there. But far away too. And I won't be amongst a crowd, which is rare in Trafalgar. And, I'll be standing somewhere reserved for a statue. There's not many of those around.

This is a point of difference. This is what separates you and everyone else, so explore it. Who was meant to be there?
(After a bit of searching) William IV. Blimey, he got up to a lot. And he's not commemorated anywhere. The latent spirit of William is pretty much only to be found here, if anywhere. And nobody knows about him. Could I tell his story?

I don't know. Could you, from up there?
Well it's going to be midday, so there's plenty of people about. But Trafalgar is a transitionary space; people don't usually stop for long. And they're not there for anything weighty. Whatever I do has to be episodic enough that people can pick up the thread halfway through and still enjoy it, and it's got to be simple, so that they can appreciate it quickly. And if I can, it's got to be fun because I need to earn their attention before I communicate. And it would be nice if people felt like they were sharing the experience - maybe dealing with universal themes is the way to go.

So that's what I went for - I would be William IV, tell his story, tell our stories - shout them if necessary. It would feel big enough that they'd be involved, even from the ten meters away they'd be. Since I was demanding attention, I'd try to earn it back in delivery.

But would it work?

Find out tomorrow.