Interviewing Southbank Centre’s Elaine Bedell at YPIA

On Thursday evening I hosted a session for YPIA spotlighting the Southbank Centre’s Chief Executive Elaine Bedell.

During the session she discussed her career and provided advice on how to get on in TV and the arts. I’ve captured some of the points that really resonated for me below.

  1. Say yes to people always; be someone people want to be with, always
  2. A negotiation depends on both parties having a shared need or want – anything less isn’t a negotiation
  3. Be your truest self; don’t try and be what you think people want you to be
  4. Wanting to work in the arts isn’t enough now – you need to look with ingenuity and for business opportunities
  5. There should be a closer relationship between media and the arts
  6. Appointing TV people in arts management is a good thing – TV could do with recruiting more arts people
  7. Knowing early on in your life what it is you want to do is possibly the greatest help you can give yourself
  8. Pitch two ideas, not three
  9. Pitch with confidence – start by pinning your shoulders back – pitch with energy
  10. Avoid complexity when pitching
  11. Pitching is a leap of faith – it may not work – knowing how to pick yourself up from a rejection is key
  12. Live performance is ‘where it’s at’ right now – its an escape from our on-demand world, offering real-life social interaction of the kind of that digital denies us

Some personal reflections arose from our discussion that might be worth sharing in addition.

  • Elaine was an incredibly compelling speaker – she held my gaze throughout the 90-minute session. Such individuals are the polar opposite of those who suck all the joy/energy from the room. But, the outcome of Elaine’s innate ability to command attention was that I felt exhausted by the end of the evening. She inspires people to pitch to her. That energy demands personal resilience.
  • There were moments during the session when I felt pangs of inadequacy too (a self-coaching exercise in itself). Elaine identified what it was she wanted to do at a relatively early age – during freshers week at Leeds University when she joined the Broadcasting Society. As far as I could make out, we both of us come from a similar background, but I was envious to learn of her single-mindedness at a point in time in my life when I don’t recall knowing what I would be able to do. She had focus at a point in time in her life when I don’t remember having it myself.
  • I like the idea that the arts could benefit from the business experience of a media professional who takes a data-driven approach to content and the commercial opportunities that arise from it. The arts adopting a more commercial stance doesn’t necessarily mean the downfall of the arts – Snape Maltings over the past few years is a case in point.
  • Content is business, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Popular content is generating revenue for someone. The key is identifying who the content is or might be popular with, and how much revenue can be generated by it. The people who generate the content aren’t necessarily the people who know its monetary value.
  • I like that Elaine regularly walks to work, and has a preferred seat on the bus. My kind of chief exec.


Pictures: Yasmin Hemmings, YPIA