The Ask

Conceptual artist Garrett Phelan’s work has, for years, challenged convention, and thinking and one of his more recent projects – HEED FM (2016) – caught the attention of Thinkhouse for its raw, real representation of youth audiences.

Garrett’s newest work, FREE THOUGHT FM interrogated the notion of ‘free thought’ in one of Ireland’s major cultural and educational settings. It was presented over ten weeks at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Ireland’s first publicly funded gallery dedicated to contemporary art, located in Dublin’s Trinity College. FREE THOUGHT FM was supported by The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

The Approach

We worked with Garrett from the get-go – from that all-important application for funding to exploring the exhibition’s concept.

For Garrett, it was a project, and relationship that challenged his usual approach, and on many levels – personally and professionally – it tested him. Working with a marketing agency (that uses creativity and communications to drive commercial and purposeful growth for corporate organisations and brands) is something he’d never done before.

Speaking about the concept of recruiting an agency to support the exhibition, Garrett said: “Why should huge brands have access to marketing experts that help shape content and messaging to drive sales, or people, to their brand or service, but we – artists, pour our hearts and souls into something and then it fails to reach the right people? With FREE THOUGHT FM I wanted to get outside of the art world and connect with new communities of young people. That’s why I brought Thinkhouse on board – to help me shape and market the FREE THOUGHT FM project so that it would have a bigger reach and impact, and ultimately have a positive impact on young people.”

For Thinkhouse, this was a totally new, scary, testing journey of collective growth and a project that we’re all really proud of and passionate about.

The Output

At the core of the project was a 30-day temporary licensed FM radio station which operated ‘live’ from within The Douglas Hyde Gallery where Garrett performed as ‘The Artist’ and conversed with many experts on the subjects of class inequality, education and access to education. Garrett, a contemporary artist with a track record of broadcasting projects, hoped to engage with audiences in conversational format within the gallery space and virtually across the airwaves.

The objective of the campaign was to increase awareness and conversation dealing directly with under-represented issues of ‘Access to Education’ and ‘Class Inequality’ in the Greater Dublin Area and to give a platform to voices that often go unheard.

We worked very closely with Garrett on all facets of FREE THOUGHT FM, from research to design, from copywriting to social media and PR in a full TTL campaign to promote the project.

The Youth Lab worked with Garrett and his team to provide a route to relevance for our marketing activity, and the artwork. To do so, we undertook research speaking to young people, teachers, social workers and parents, to uncover how Dublin youth, and their influencers, really feel about access to education and art. We found that many young people are operating on an unlevel playing field when it comes to access to education. We learnt that their educational journey was often seen as a path ‘set out by others,’ rather than the individuals themselves.

Therefore, we felt it was important to ensure that FREE THOUGHT FM was used to drive change in two ways: 1) to inspire more agency in individuals and their own education journey, and 2) to highlight issues and to drive change within the education sector through challenging thought-leadership.

To do all of this, our strategy was to use the artistic platform to drive solution-focused conversation around the access challenges.

To ensure the project was useful for young people, we undertook in-depth research into the CAO, APPRENTICESHIP and SUSI grant processes. We learnt that a lot of the Department of Education materials around these grants are complex and difficult to navigate and understand. Therefore, to make FREE THOUGHT FM a useful platform, we developed jargon-free, easy to understand, printed and online materials that supported the exhibition space – but more importantly, supported young people at risk of missing out on educational opportunities.

Design & Copywriting

Our Design Team worked with Garrett to finalise the visual language of the artwork and formatting the artwork for installation in the gallery space. The Copywriting and Design Teams collaborated on an OOH poster campaign and an educational booklet that was distributed in the gallery, on the project website and distributed across DEIS schools in the Dublin region. We looked after the print production and print management for all print outputs. We also designed the FREE THOUGHT FM website and the application of the project’s visual language to all social media platforms.

Media Relations & Advocacy

To generate media interest in the campaign, the MRA Team approached a list of high profile “Free Thinkers” and activists, from diverse backgrounds to be invited to participate in FREE THOUGHT FM as interviewees to enhance media interest in broadcast and to stimulate conversation.

We worked with Garrett and the Douglas Hyde Gallery to launch the exhibition with press release, images and a media & influencer preview of the exhibition, which included a panel discussion with a group of ‘Free Thinkers’. The launch event saw record-breaking attendance for the Douglas Hyde Gallery with FREE THOUGHT FM commanding the largest, and youngest, launch attendees in many years.

The media coverage generated, encouraged people to visit the exhibition and participate, as arts and events listings positioned FREE THOUGHT FM as one of ‘THE’ exhibitions to attend.

Social Media

The ad buying strategy was created from the need to target people in marginalised areas as well as those already interested in arts and education. We targeted different groups (youth, parents, students, etc) with tailored copy dark posts. We also ran A/B tests to see which audiences responded best and retargeted accordingly. This proved to be an effective strategy with a reach of over 830,000 people at a frequency of 2.3.

Hitting a frequency above one is important for impacting behaviour change, such as attendance intent. We also ran a longtail, geo-targeted ad, one mile around The Douglas Hyde Gallery to increase awareness and footfall of the event. Finally, we collaborated with the production team at The Douglas Hyde Gallery to ensure the content of each ‘Free Thinker’ interview got shared on Facebook and Instagram. This was an important aspect of the campaign as we couldn’t be on the ground with them, considering the length of the campaign.

The Outcome

Launch attendance broke gallery records. The target unique reach exceeded the KPIs by 230,000. The expected engagement rate almost doubled to 9%. Tier 1 media coverage exceeded KPIs by almost 50%. The community we engaged with, created powerful panel and FREE THOUGHT FM discussions and action too, with more ‘first time ever to gallery’ visitors from young, marginalised communities. Most importantly, the impact of the campaign will only be truly measured by access to education, by those who were at risk of missing out on education, before the arrival of FREE THOUGHT FM. We are working with Garrett and his team to explore how best to measure this long-term impact.