4 August 2016back

Retina and Sterling Solutions – Retina Scottish International Photography Festival

Impacts: Education, Environment, International engagement, Older people, Tourism, Young people

Project story

Roddy McRae and Melanie Gladstone have a long term business relationship which started when Roddy sold photography to the marketing department at Standard Life where Melanie headed up the design team. In later years they kept in touch as neighbours at 14 Albany Street where their respective businesses were located. They discussed the development of the festival and Melanie expressed an interest in potential sponsorship opportunities for Sterling. Retina’s prime objective was to showcase international quality photography in Edinburgh, the home of arts festivals. Retina aims to become Scotland’s first annual International Festival of Photography. We are looking to celebrate the best of world photography and photographers as well as showcasing and promoting new and existing talent from Scotland. By offering exhibitions, talks and demonstrations we will allow the public a chance to view great photography and help make Edinburgh a ‘go to’ destination for the countless new people who have recently discovered the medium and are eager to be inspired by the very best.

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Sterling Group is a large organisation with its head office based in Northamptonshire. Melanie set up Sterling’s Edinburgh office in 2009 and has been developing their creative business north of the border since. The Scottish business has grown from a single person to employing 11 people with a turnover of over £1m. The Retina connection seemed appropriate for the following reasons:

  • Opportunity to support an up and coming festival in Edinburgh - one that has huge potential for growth in the future
  • Key links to Sterling's values, creativity, innovation, supporting education
  • Ideal opportunity to increase profile of Edinburgh Creative.
  • Opportunity to tap into the Retina database/networking opportunities at opening/corporate events
  • Opportunity to showcase Jet Varnish (Sterling’s new bespoke press) on invitations to high profile invitees for opening events
  • Opportunity to have our own customer event at one of the venues - showing Sterling's support for the arts, creativity and education.

Sterling worked with Retina to design and print the festival brochure, design and produce HTML invites, HTML updates and marketing posters. They also produced the artwork for the outdoor exhibition at Charlotte Square and produced all the large format boards at cost price – helping promote the festival to a wider audience in the city. Sterling’s Art Director worked closely with one of the team’s junior designers to produce the brochure – this helped a junior member of staff’s development by providing them with the opportunity to work on a high profile arts project. This gave them invaluable experience, development and recognition as well as a high profile portfolio piece to help further their career in the design industry.

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Arts/cultural organisation story

The funding from the grant allowed us to work with a new venue this year, exhibit more photography and enabled us to extend the length of our festival period from five days in the first year to nearly three weeks. The launch event was very successful and surrounding publicity has significantly grown our audience both in the UK and beyond. By extending the period of the exhibitions we were able to allow people on holiday in July more opportunity to view the photography. The very limited time in year one meant many people wishing to view our exhibitions had been unable to see them. 

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2015 was the first year we faced the realities of managing a team of volunteer invigilators and this provided us with a number of valuable lessons managing a space like Gayfield Creative Spaces. Once or twice invigilators were late or sick and last minute rota adjustments proved distracting and wasted valuable time. A lesson here is to plan the rota far more in advance, seek more volunteers and ensure we have people on call if we need them. We survived by the skin of our teeth on a couple of occasions.  Volunteer briefing and information of the photography on show will be more thorough next year.

A great surprise and result for Retina 2015 was the four star rating in the Scotsman Weekend Magazine, especially compared to the David Bailey exhibition which scored five stars. It was very flattering and helped increase the steady flow of visitors to all our exhibitions. Our score was helped by the fact most images had never been exhibited in Scotland.

Both Melanie her team and my Retina colleagues worked very well together. She is an excellent organiser and businesswoman. She provided great advice, ideas and most importantly believed in Retina. We both hope that she can continue to support Retina into this year and beyond with the backing of her managing director and discussions have already started.

The project and surrounding publicity has resulted in a number of direct approaches from other bodies who wish to work/partner with us including the Royal Photographic Society’s annual exhibition, the Association of Photographers Exhibition of Award Winning Photography and an approach from a German publisher to exhibit archival photography. Further enquiries from abroad are becoming a regular occurrence. The number of direct photographer approaches wishing to be considered has dramatically increased.

Finally, positive feedback from various sources indicated many people were touring all the exhibitions in a day and we hope to capitalise on this in the future.

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Business story

Sterling hosted a client evening at the Gayfield Square exhibition which was a resounding success. It was attended by over 40 existing and prospective clients. We were able to showcase a number of products as well as creative ability. Feedback on the event was extremely positive and contributed to raising the profile of the creative business in Edinburgh. As a result they have secured one new client, developed relationships with existing clients and are still in initial discussions with one other. Sterling were able to promote the business through channels not previously available to them, such as online via the Retina web site, brochure, poster locations and the outdoor exhibition in Charlotte Square. During the exhibition there was also an increase in social media interactions with links to the Retina social channels. 

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At Sterling our Art Director worked closely with one of our junior designers to produce the brochure – this helped us develop a junior member of staff by providing them with the opportunity to work on a high profile arts project. This gave them invaluable experience, development and recognition as well as a high profile portfolio piece to help further their career in the design industry.

The project ran relatively smoothly however there were some challenges balancing the Retina timescales/demands with those of our paying customers. Should we be involved again we would put in place a better process for providing signed off content and work closer with the Retina team to identify potential issues before they arise such as last minute changes from photographers.

Sterling was interested in the opportunity to support an up and coming festival in Edinburgh  - one that has huge potential for growth in the future. We felt that Retina’s objectives linked directly to Sterling's values of creativity, innovation and supporting education.

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Audience/people/community story

The Gayfield Creative Spaces exhibition has helped Retina more than double its Facebook following to over 1,000 since the previous year grow the mailing list by over 400 and Twitter stood at over 600 followers by the end of July. We now have a relationship with the Royal Photographic Society and will be working with the Association of Photographers hosting an exhibition this year. Our team of volunteers has increased by over three times our original team of ten. We would not have been able to hire Gayfield Creative Spaces or print and display as many of Tim Flach, Hamish Brown or Kenneth Sortland’s images. This was our central flagship venue and was crucial to the overall success of Retina 2015. The press coverage from Gayfield Creative Spaces was very significant in publicity for our sponsors and also provides a platform to continue the growth and development of the festival this year and beyond.

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“The funding from the grant allowed us to work with a new venue this year, exhibit more photography and enabled us to extend the length of our festival period from five days in the first year to nearly three weeks. The launch event was very successful and surrounding publicity has significantly grown our audience both in the UK and beyond.”

Roddy McRae, Chairman, Retina

“At Sterling our Art Director worked closely with one of our junior designers to produce the brochure – this helped us develop a junior member of staff by providing them with the opportunity to work on a high profile arts project. This gave them invaluable experience, development and recognition as well as a high profile portfolio piece to help further their career in the design industry.”

Melanie Gladstone, Head of Sterling Edinburgh