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‘Fame’ in creative industries: who says critics don’t matter?

In creative industries (and beyond), an ‘expert’ critical elite mediates ‘peer’ and ‘market’ reputation into fame, says a new study published in the journal Organization Studies.

the red carpet

“Fame” is a central theme in creative industries like music, film and art – and the one-word title of a memorable pop song by David Bowie.

But why do only some creative organisations already highly reputed among peers and clients become famous in society at large?

A new study by academics in France and the UK, just published in the journal Organization Studies, concludes that the key to fame lies in “expert reputation” among a knowledgeable “cultural elite” – who serve as a mediator for achieving fame for organisations that already enjoy a high “peer” or “market” reputation.

The study, which focuses on the French architectural industry, uses the sociological concept of “fame” based on the volume of public discourse about an entity.”

Professor Shahzad Ansari

Professor Shahzad Ansari

“We found that experts can transform a creative organisation’s specific reputation among peers and clients into a wider sense of public fame,” says study co-author Shazhad (Shaz) Ansari, Professor of Strategy & Innovation at University of Cambridge Judge Business School. “Fame comes from the mediation of different reputations among audiences, and there’s clearly a crucial role here for experts such as critics.

“Experts as fame makers can decrypt avant-gardism and innovative works for novices, generating a wider understanding for the general public so an organisation can become familiar and sufficiently comprehensible to a generalist audience.

“Innovation and creativity do not ‘speak’ for themselves, so creative works may remain obscure among the public at large who do not have the vocabulary, knowledge or skills to understand, appreciate or appropriately value them,” says Ansari.

The study has implications for organisations in the creative industries and beyond, the authors say, including in professions such as accounting and law “where innovation, reputation and fame, as well as validation from peers, are important factors in establishing professional standing.”

The study – entitled “Exploring the Links between Reputation and Fame: Evidence from French Contemporary Architecture” – was co-authored by Amélie Boutinot of Institut Supérieur de Gestion; Iragaël Joly of GAEL, University Grenoble Alpes; Vincent Mangematin of Grenoble Ecole de Management, and Shaz Ansari of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Reputation is highly important and visible in architecture, and guides other parties “on whom to talk about, buy from and invest in,” so architecture was chosen as a good field to observe the interaction between reputation and fame.

Reputation differs from fame in that it is audience specific (while fame may not be) and is based on the appreciation of an organisation’s positive attributes (while fame can be both positive and negative). For example, scandals can damage reputation but may enhance fame.

“Peer reputation is not a direct determinant of fame in creative sectors,” the study found, because artistic peers may be unable to communicate with society at large and require the mediation of experts to explain innovative works to the public. Similarly, “market reputation” doesn’t lead directly to fame because clients may not share information on their purchases, but “rely on critics to communicate such information to the public.”

The study is based on a unique database of 103 architecture companies in France, which were chosen from 7,500 French architectural firms based on various factors ranging from firm trajectory and longevity to avant-gardism. The researchers used structural equation modelling to test hypotheses about the study model’s structural relationships.

Among other data points, the study measured expert reputation based on mentions in top French cultural periodicals including Le Monde, peer reputation based on citations in top architectural journals such as L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, and market reputation based on awards won and contests the firms were invited to enter based on their previous work.

While some previous studies have suggested that fame is often an antecedent of reputation, the new study suggests a “different process” in understanding fame in creative industries.

“The expert audience stands on the knowledge flow between organisations, clients and the public,” the study says. “Experts decode, translate and interpret peer and market reputations in order to make them accessible and more comprehensible to the wider public.”