This has been a circus summer, all in all – Southwold has hosted Circus Hassani and Spring’s work on cultural tourism has allowed us to celebrate the range of circus, traditional to modern, that’s focused on Great Yarmouth.
And as we visited and worked, we have realised some points of connection between Good Circus and Good Agency.
Spring asked Mina Houssain to be a Spring Hero, and share with us her experiences of performing in and running a circus. As daughter of Moroccan tumbler and circus supremo Ali Hussain and grand-daughter of the legendary Coco the Clown, she’s circus royalty and has been immersed in circus for her whole life. She, and many of the Circus Hassani performers and technicians, shared their stories (and biscuits) with us in the inspiring surroundings of their star-bedecked Big Top. Here is what we learned.
- Circus is global: in a world where trade is increasingly international, circus is a global community where performers gather from across the four corners to create the show. This multi-cultural, multi-national composition breeds understanding and tolerance. Agencies which are intent on quality service and their own growth can learn a lot from this: cultural variety is of increasing importance.
- Circus performance is focused: there’s nothing you can tell an aerial silk artist about mindfulness that she doesn’t already know. Each performer and production team member in a circus company must 100% focus on the task they are performing – and it’s up to their colleagues to ensure they are fully supported. Agencies emulate this: we each have our own skill that’s fundamental to projects, and it flourishes in a supportive team.
- Circus is a community: when a show is on, everyone involved lives, breathes, eats, sleeps the circus. They live with it, get involved in marketing and maintenance, serve the pop corn – it’s never just about the skills they bring to the group, it’s also about being a contributory part of a tight community. The best agencies I have known all foster this sense of connectivity in their own team.
- Circus makes the hard work look fun: Like running a pub or owning a farm, circus is one of those vocations which expects hard work, long hours, great skill and emotional resilience. So, when you spend six weeks getting soaked in cold water twice a day, perform an act which requires great strength, are spun round 100 times by your neck, drop your diablo, have a lacklustre audience – you whoop, flash a huge grin – and then go and serve candyfloss. Agencies who believe that they add value by impressing on their clients what hard work it all is aren’t much fun to work with.
- Circus expects talent without ego: one minute you’re in the spotlight, crowd gazing at you and saying “Ooooooo!” as you swirl, balance, catch, disappear from view or bend yourself into an impossible shape. The next minute you’re serving tea, hefting a box around backstage or distributing leaflets in the pouring rain. It strikes me that there is little room for ego in this environment, although it undoubtedly exists. Agencies ruled by ego tend to be less empathetic to their clients and less able to grasp target audience motivations: and thus, ultimately, less effective.
- Circus is customer focused: One of the great skills of any performer is their ability to catch your eye, smile and draw you in to their performance. The best circus people are not just about the tumbling, juggling or fire eating – they are about what in my world might be called customer engagement. A happy punter leaves thinking “I saw some amazing feats of skill, laughed at the jokes, reveled in the atmosphere – and the clown definitely liked me best”. Good agencies understand the value of that level of connection with their clients.
- Circus has to be on time: The concept of running away to the circus implies that you’ll be throwing responsibility to the winds. In reality, with two performances a day, possible 24 hour turnaround between locations hundred of miles apart, and a sizable cast – circus is all about timing and meeting deadlines. Agencies might (quite rightly) be feted for their creativity and strategic nous: but if they fail to deliver projects as promised, it counts for nothing.
- Circus is exciting to be near: even if you don’t attend a performance, the Big Top’s presence is exciting. It lifts the spirits to see the striped roofline in the distance, to hear the whoops carry over the town, to see the circus lit up at dusk. There’s something about a circus simply being in a place that adds a frisson of excitement to that place. I’m possibly a little biased, but I do feel that good agencies bring an extra dimension to their communities. Spring takes active steps to add value to the town in which we are headquartered – but it’s also a joy to hear people comment on our presence when they walk past, usually with a question or an anecdote. Maybe it’s something to do with the creative energy, and with the enjoyment people get from working in a circus or an agency.