Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Author: Sam Freeman (page 1 of 15)

AMA Conference 2019 – Day #2

So I’m on the train back from the AMA Conference after a really useful few days with some space to think, ponder and consider both organisational and personal direction. As always please tweet me @MrFreeman1984 with any thoughts or opinions you might have. Here’s my day #2 notes from Newcastle.

Sabbaticals
I loved Dan Bates’ talk about his three month sabbatical in Asia visiting theatres and arts centres. I was particularly inspired by the idea of life long learning and the desire to discover how other people do things. I suspect that many of us can be relatively insulate, often whispering words of condemnation about how “other people do it”. There’s an open mindedness that feels incredibly useful – being able to learn and (buzzword) grow by sinking into unfamiliar cultures and practices.

Data and Learning
There was plenty of chatter on day 2 about data. What particularly struck me was about how we must look at fact and not add too much of our own narrative. I was also struck by the cult of segmentation (of which I am part). On the one hand it seems that some organisations have hundreds of tiny segments looking into motivations, frequencies, artforms etc… while others have none. I suspect the right amount is in the middle – at a level which is financially and workload(able) achieveable and where we use facts (and not conjecture) to construct segments.

Geeks in One Place
It was good to have a few break catch ups with a few fellow data geeks exploring the possibilities that self-created data analysis platforms can offer. Particularly inspiring was the layering of census data, and also target and income monthly averages! I have much work to do to get my data projects up to standard!

Creativity
There was much talk about creativity not being the sole domain of the artist. It was brilliant to have it pointed out that artists are no more creative and have no more right to creativity than anyone else. It made me think about why our community isn’t more at the heart of our creative and curatorial conversations from inception of a year.

A Great Night Out
Top night out on the Wednesday evening. It was a lovely social, chilled out feel. It was fun chatting to people from (amongst others) the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre, the legends of York Theatre Royal, Brighton Dome, Liverpool Everyman and many many more. It’s exciting to be at a place where everyone had exciting stories both of their work but also the pride they have in what they do (and also, on occasion on how they kicked fake penguins in their youth). Also a special shout out to those who ended up with me and Crayg in the weird bar at 2am with the guitarist playing Britney Spears covers. Hideously brilliant.

Conference Overall & Improvements
So, in conclusion… Well I think the conference was one of the best AMAs I’ve been to – there have been big structural changes that have pushed the networking and kept the sessions short ‘n’ sharp, which means it has a power and pace that is impressive. What would I look at? I think there’s real scope for more technical workshops, the “how to” or “idiots guide to” sessions – particularly around pacing, remarketing, adwords, data and analytics – I’d also love to see more experience based platforms (like Dan & Jo’s) – the main keynotes are for out-of-sector inspiration, the breakouts are more practical – also, maybe a career path session – for people to chat and ask experienced hands about how they ended up where they are and what they learnt on the way. Overall though the AMA team should (IMHO) be very proud.

AMA Conference 2019 – Day #1

Ever since I came to my first AMA Conference (in Newcastle the last time round!) I’ve always written up my notes, thoughts and opinions. Sometimes, I must admit I’ve been a bit harsh, I’ll also caveat that by saying that sometimes I’ve not been clear enough and sometimes, well maybe I got the level just right. Anyway, here’s some thoughts below which are, I must stress, my opinions alone. I’d love to know other people’s thoughts too!

Day one has been generally a really positive day – it’s been great to catch up with colleagues from around the UK and Newcastle/Gateshead is a lovely city to be visiting. Since I last came to the AMA conference the programme seems more cleverly put together and its more (to take what a colleague said) more of a Edinburgh Fringe style – a pick and mix where sometimes you land well and othertimes it’s less exciting, but crucially, none of the sessions are too long.

Finding Time
One of the things I’ve been struck in conversation is how the pace of what we do has accelerated hugely over the last 5 to 10 years while staffing teams have generally got smaller and budgets have shrunk. Everyone’s trying to do more and, for the large part, against the odds succeeding. However I wonder if there is a cost in terms of innovation, exploration, quality and our own health and wellbeing? It seems that we speak extensively of what we must do and add in, but little about what we stop doing to make time.

Being Kind
I loved Alan Lane’s talk. I like kindness and sometimes worry that we sometimes forget in our roles of relentlessly chasing money so that our organisations survive, that we’re here to make people’s lives better and happier. There’s a really interesting thing about a number of theatres and the organisational and operational models that underpin them which is this (and whisper it): they’re not fit for purpose. If we were starting from scratch with an organisation today they probably wouldn’t look like many do – but the space to change, explore, learn and the right to fail are not afforded to them at the level required for institutional change (I should also mention that I think economically we’re fucked as well, after all how can you deliver permanent financial growth without stepping on people or the planet? We need a new way.). But maybe there are small steps we can all, individually take?

Fundraising & Members
There were a few chats about fundraising and membership. It seems to me that we’re on a repetition cycle and while I think the breaking of silos is admirable in terms of ensuring that people think more holistically in an organisation, there were things that I felt I’d heard before, just with membership instead of friends.

Programattic Advertising
I’m sorry, I didn’t get it. It seemed to be a new word for funnelling and then remarketing to audiences with different (unnamed) platforms. One of the strengths (and weaknesses) of the arts has been to dip into technology and adapt it for our use. This felt like something we’d seen and done before with a new label.

Future Proofing
I loved the Traverse Theatre’s scheme (of which I cannot talk in depth on here) – it was innovative, clever and heartwarming. Most of all though I admired the candidness of an organisation that can say that they had to be in the right place organisationally before they could put it in place. Genuinely inspiring.

Growth
I said one for them all. I said I don’t believe you can change and grow. I guess it’s been drilled into me, you can’t change, once you’re in a position you can’t change. I’ve considered career changes more than usual in the last 3 months and Melanie’s talk honesty flicked a switch in my head – I’m so negative about my non-theatre marketing work because in my mind, because I’ve not been doing stuff from a foetal moment that I can’t do it to a great standard. So here – bold statement – I could be a very good comedian and also, I’m a good director and have reviews to prove it. Stage one, belief. There. Let’s reach for growth.

Data relevance
I’ve had a lovely chat with the Purple Seven guys about some of the analysis they’ve been doing. I’ve also had some good chats last night that led me to try a few things, most notably to think about relevance. I’ve been worried, looking at graphs that I occasionally blow things massively out of proportions – I see a graph with an upward incline and I think (momentarily) that I’m God, while the reverse sends me into a panic. But there’s a way of searching for statistical significance and well as trends using trend lines (duh) and also standard deviation. A couple of examples below: tweet me later if you wanna have a look at my Tableau stuff as I’ll be at the conference with my laptop tomorrow!

So any figures outside the grey areas are statistically relevant and significant, the colours are financial years (2013/14 – 2019/20) and the data presented is a random collection of months, venue, films and ticket types (y’know to keep our secrets safe!)

And Finally… Do I know you?
I’ve had a few people mention that a) Crayg (Theatr Clwyd’s Digital Guru) is the face of the AMA as he’s been on all the e-mails and b) that a few people recognise me from something. Turns out its from a video speech I made in Sheffield for ACE earlier in the year. I didn’t share the video at the time, but, having listened back, I can confirm it’s not total shit. So yeah, enjoy.

I’ll also add a caveat to that by saying I was in a conversation with someone for nearly 40 minutes where they called me Simon and I was was too embarrassed to say anything so, y’know, not a known quantity.

#ArtsMarketing – F**k me I’m Tired.

I’ve become conscious that I’ve not written much on this blog about Arts Marketing for while.

A few reasons really – firstly we had an incredibly tragic death in the family (so blogging about work didn’t seem that necessary), secondly I’ve been feeling like I’m drowning at work much of the time so the necessary motivation to get home after 9 – 11 hours at work and write some more about my job felt like something that might push me over the edge, and finally, and frankly, I’ve had a few months of feeling like, well, that I have nothing useful to say (I still feel like that – it’s why I’ll never be a consultant – and also paradoxically why I’d probably make a great consultant).

So why now?

Well I’m going to the AMA Conference in Newcastle for the first time in 3 years and I find myself thinking about what I want to get from it in advance – apart from a massive hangover, multiple fried breakfasts and at least one person drunkenly telling me how they want to cause violent harm to their CEO/AD (delete as applicable) because their CEO/AD (delete as applicable) has a objectional opinion about something that’s “JUST PLAIN FUCKING WRONG”.

Ahem.

Anyway, in the past I’ve been very critical of the AMA Conferences (I’d go so far as to say, being a bit of a twat about them – read here), so I thought I should at least put down what I want to get out of it now so that if I end up writing how unfulfilled I feel then we can easily see that its largely my overly demanding expectations rather that the conference itself (which is run by some very lovely, talented, genuine and insightful people – please don’t hurt me) – so here goes with the list:

Data
I’d like to have some interesting conversations on how people are collating, visualising and decypering data. As I’ve written about here and here I’ve been doing bits and pieces with Tableau (I’d love to compare with what other people have made..) for a while as well as having a few extra things I’ve made in excel for deal creation. If there were also conversations around how people have practically used Audience Finder and had successes that’d be amazing too!

Tiredness/Relentlessness
It’d be lovely to talk about how people deal with the work life balance thing. Particularly with venues who are producing and receiving. I had a conversation about 18 months ago about thinking about what we “stop doing” – it never really progressed, it’d be fascinating to discover if anyone has “stopped doing”?

Cool Things
Is anyone trying any new cool stuff? I’m conscious that as I get older and my work gets further consumed by budgets, invoices and tracking that I no longer seem to spot the random cool things (in part this is another reason for going to the AMA conference). So what are the twitters of tomorrow, the facebooks of the future, the instagrams of the instant?

Gig Report: Warrington – 8 May ’19

I’ve not written a gig report for a few years – when I first started I used to write them after every gig, but then as 10 gigs became 20, became 100 I stopped – I think I stopped because I stopped progressing and feeling like I was getting better – of course that may be because I kept changing what I did constantly… Anyway, it’s back (for new readers wondering if i’m going to write about other acts I was on with, I’m not, this is a self-critique not a comedy wank-off).

Tonight’s gig was in Warrington, the site of many a fun gig for me, 90% of which have been at the Albion Pub, and 10% of which someone offered to sell me meat, or, more specifically, four steaks that they’d nicked from work.

Quality.

The gig was a pub gig, the type where you arrive and think “holy fuck how am I going to get through this”. Let me set the scene – flat stage, next to a busy bar, chairs facing away from the stage – table of six at the front all hammered (at 6:20pm) on 4 separate bottles of white wine, the football playing the Champions League (sound on) on 3 TV screens, people bringing their own fruit (easy-peel oranges), a man asking me if these “so called comedians” would be “good or alternative” and a league pool match in the next room.

So how was it?

Actually quite good fun, the room was distracted and hard to be honest, I got a massive boost from the MC who threw every adjective in existance into my introduction which really helped. I decided on a strategy of hitting fast, hard and silly. Essentially trying to pull concentration on to me by talking to audience members with single comments, doing a bit of material, more comments, a bit of material, all with the air of desperation to try and get the “we’re all in this together feel”.

I also deliberately sped up – there’d been quite a lot of backchat earlier in the gig and I wanted to control the space and mute it as best I could.

It nearly worked. A few mistakes on my part. Firstly I’ve not had a solid defined set for a few years and it really shows, remembering what I can go to and from is essential, there was a bit of note checking. Secondly I kept getting focus but then either stamping on lines OR, worse, getting distracted and talking about something else. Thirdly, I don’t trust my flights of fancy enough – there was real potential for playing with the idea of a Travellodge penis (opposed to a boutique penis) that had fun and stupidity in it, but I chickened out a bit and went to material, that FELT like material. Killer. I was hampered a bit by Tottenham scoring in the 97th minute (not my fault), and my exit offstage was a bit shabby (I tried to get booed off and they didn’t really go for it) and I also chickened out of a few jokes, largely at the landlord’s expense that I suspect would have smashed it or got my face smashed in.

Overall a fun evening, the first time in a long time doing a stand up set and not storytelling or musical stuff, but also a fuck-load of fun. So yeah, ask me to do a gig.

Night x

Grief’s early days.

I’m conscious that I don’t often write deep and meaningful blog posts – let’s be honest, it tends to be mildly amusing arts marketing observations, occasionally stuff about life as an open mic stand up and then the annual new year’s resolutions that I’ve failed to keep. I mention it because this is, or, more accurately, might be, one of those. If you’re wanting amusement then this probably isn’t for you.
Thanks, Sam x

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief recently and, more specifically, how to write down my feelings on grief, what it means to lose someone and how it changes your outlook on life.

A month or so ago Mark, the brother of my other half Louise, passed away unexpectedly. He was 31. There were no warning signs, there was no long illness or gradual fading. One moment he was there and the next he was not.

Last year he’d married the love of his life in Abu Dhabi, and together they were in the midst of planning their English wedding this summer. He was enjoying life in Dubai, the business he ran with a close friend was doing well, his beloved Tranmere were winning and he was happy, you could see it – when they both stayed with us at Christmas, when we went to watch Tranmere and when the three of us argued over what to watch on Netflix before all falling asleep – happiness.

I’m not going to go into the details of what happened. It was quick, he was with people he loved and who loved him and, mercifully, he would have known little, if anything, of what was unfolding.

I was with my Louise and her Mum and Dad as the news came through and it was something that will haunt me for a long time. The anguish of losing someone so young, so unexpectedly, is brutal, it’s crushing and it makes your soul break and your heart cry. A mother losing her baby boy, a father losing his son, a sister losing her best friend, a wife losing her husband, and a family losing the future they all dreamed was just around the corner.

Over the last weeks I’ve watched the three of them deal with this tragedy, been to the funeral which was one of the most touching, graceful and warm occasions, and seen steely-eyed determination to get through it. People with broken hearts have shown humility, generousity and humour – when you can still smile, and look to find the good in even something so horrible then, I think, you are, undoubtedly, a great person.

I was trying to work out what to write – this blog is where I do my mental reconciliation, where I try to work life out – not writing something for so long felt, feels, increasingly weak. Mark was a teacher, his passion and job was around education, about learning, so, I thought it would be good to write a few of the things I’ve learnt through this – so that if you, god forbid, find yourself in a similar situation, supporting those you love and feeling helpless at times – so that you’ve a few thoughts to help make the first few weeks not better, but manageable.

Eating is important
Noone wants to eat anything, it’s entirely understandable, but people need to or they get tired, stressed and even ill. Soup is a good starting point, as is pizza (I found) and other savoury foods. Avoiding sugar is probably a good move as it’s bad for sleeping.

If you ask people if they want something then the chances are they’ll not be interested or say they’ve eaten (when they haven’t properly) – instead, make it and give it to them on a plate. Make the “we’re eating now” decision a few times, you might get rejected a couple of times, but ultimately it’ll help.

Decaf Tea
Buy and distribute decaf tea – I wish I had. Sleeping will be hard enough without the effects of caffeine. Also not drinking too much too late on – waking up at 3am for a massive wee and then having your mind run wild is exhausting – rest and the relief of sleep is really important.

Everyone grieves differently
Some people are really vocal, some people are quiet. Some people grieve in public, some alone. All of them are fine and right. It’s important to let people know that, and also that people deal with things in different ways and that’s fine also. Sleeping more and not sleeping at all might be reactions that are polar opposites but are both equally valid reactions.

There’s no right answers
This I found really hard – you want to answer the questions you’ll be asked – the why’s and the speculation – I think sticking to what you know factually is a good start – faith and religion might be useful, but I think that’s for the person you’re supporting to decide. We live in a universe that is near-infinite, where the possibilities are endless, and we are a small grain of a sand in a huge desert – we don’t know what’s next, what’s right, wrong, what’s a bigger plan or what isn’t – what we know is fact.

Get some indigestion pills
This is a really odd one and it might just be me. I found that I was eating really irregularly, feeling stressed and panicked at points and was also eating late at night and crap food (don’t do this). I got terrible heartburn and felt ill and my stomach was a mess. The heartburn made me a bit worried about my health (because we never think it’s the most likely thing – aka heartburn). Rennies helped, Gaviscon was better.

Time is measured in months and years not days and weeks
I noticed that with grief and loss the way we relate to time is different – times that were previously innocuous suddently take on new meaning – new sadness-filled anniversaries begin – one day since, one week since, this time last month – you question when the pain with go away (and people do and don’t want it to go away), and people don’t believe the pain could ever lessen.

Be patient, accept that there will be pain, you will suffer on anniversaries (but that you have a choice whether you observe them or not) and that a month, a year later it may suddenly feel fresh and painful again. Then, be more patient.

Switch off the TV, go for walks
TV storylines are invariably morbid – you don’t notice until it’s the one thing you’re looking out for – switch it off and walk in fresh air, go for a coffee, eat an ice cream and visit parks. Talk more than watch, about anything. Maybe even go to the football.

Don’t feel guilty about not crying
I don’t cry when grieving. I stare at things. I feel I must be stoaic and do the right thing. I concentrate on not missing things: work mostly. I don’t cry. I make stew. I clean my car. I cut the grass. I don’t cry. I felt bad about it. Turns out I’m an inside myself mourner and that’s okay, but…

…you might just be building it up inside…
Putting off grieving, or ignoring how you feel while focusing on everyone else is that, like the magma chamber in a volcano you’re liable to errupt without warning in floods of snotty, uncontrolled tears and have to hide in the gents at work for half an hour.

What I’m saying is that you need to find some time for yourself too. Find someone to chat to or someone who can just give you a hug and say are you okay. Tell them early, tell them you might need a chat and occasional pep talk and it’s easier. It makes a tremendous difference.

3 things I’ve found out.

I’ve been pondering between a couple of ideas recently. Idea #1 is a storytelling show that, ultimately, I’ve started writing and will be astonishingly good. I mean it’s better than “the storytelling set” on myth and legend so. Yeah. Idea #2 is about putting together a projection show thats based on interesting new things I’ve learnt in the last year with some sort of tenious through line. This is on the back burner at the moment, but I thought I’d write a few things down that I’d learnt recently that, for one reason or another, I find endlessly fascinating. See what you think.

Alaska is really big.

I saw a map in The Guardian this week which showed the size of Alaska compared to other places (for those interested in how our world maps are distorted please got to youtube and type “map” and “West Wing”). Alaska is seven times bigger than the UK, and is bigger than all but 18 countries. What I found most interesting was that if you put Alaska on top of the continental USA then it’s nearly one third of the land mass. It was also bought from Russia by the USA for $7.2m and only became a state in 1959. More on “statehood” later…

Swimming hurts more than rowing

I’ve started both rowing and swimming this week as part of a desperate effort to get fit and put behind me the health issues I had in 2018 and early 2019 (in short pneumonia, infection, breathing issues, feeling sad and panicking about having a heart attack – I didn’t, phew). Anyway, I bought a rowing machine for £20 and have been doing bits. The pain is mostly legs and shoulders. Swimming however feels like someone has put a tube in me and drained all the life force out of me afterwards – then the next day I feel a bit more energised. I’ve been monitoring a few things more regularly – peak flow, heart rate, O2 saturation – let me tell you, when you’re ill and you have Amazon you will buy medical equipment you don’t need and trying to get back to how healthy I was ten years ago…

Amelia Earhart was fascinating

Amelia Earhart was a pilot, famous for her feats of daring, flying around the world in dangerous planes (as they all were at the time), and, of course, for doing this in a time when this wasn’t regarded as an activity for women. She and her co-pilot went missing, presumed dead, but there’s new theory that they became stranded on an island in the South Pacific called Gardner Island. The “evidence” is rather circumstantial and not binding – part of a plane, make up and evidence of people living there. It’s also distorted by the fact that this island has a bit of a history of castaways. There’s a romanticism about being in a deserted place. I think I found it sad, that she died away from friends and family, either of injuries from a crash or from the lack of water on the arid island, after achieving so much at just 39.

How to successfully market a theatre show according to audiences.

I recently found this blog post in my wordpress drafts (there’s a few others in there I might dig into at some point soon too) – it was written after a particularly shitty day at work, and then, feeling that it mightn’t be as good as my rage-addled mind suspected – I temporarily binned it – that was on 6 December 2016. So, better late then never, here it is. Enjoy x


Marketeers rejoice.
The audience has an opinion on how to do everything better.
We’re all saved.

I’ve had one of those days.

One of those days where people insist on telling you how you could sell a show/event better, suggesting that “it’s easy”, and that maybe you’ve simply not tried things that seem incredibly obvious to them (maybe they’ll suggest you should be fired for someone who knows what they’re doing).

Let’s ignore reality.

Let’s ignore budgets, time limitations, multitasking, public safety, avoiding breaking the law or indeed reason – what’s the point in factoring those in –  and instead focus on fact – the fact that everyone who works in marketing knows as they’ve been told it a thousand times – everyone can market a show/event better than you.

So here goes. I’ve done marketing for a while. The audience has spoken, the marketing isn’t working (although the tickets are selling which is curious). So let’s open our ears, our mouths and our hearts and absorb some wisdom.

  • “Just put some posters up”
    A regular one. If you put up more posters then people would come because ultimately we’ve not moved on since the 1970s. Good locations include cornershops, hairdressers, the back of toilet doors in pubs and above urinals. God knows I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone for a piss and also sorted my cultural calendar. They’re dead easy to put up too, everyone is really receptive to taking them and what’s great is that you only have one show a year on so it’s a big winner.
  • Telling the papers
    Have you considered telling people, particularly the papers. What you need to do is get your show on the front cover, and page 3 and the back cover. That way everyone will see it. Essentially you need a member of the cast to kill someone, another to strip and a third to score the winning goal in an FA Cup Final. Many audience members read the Daily Mail and The Express so make those your priorities.
  • Motorways
    More signs saying what’s on on roads. That’s what the people want. It’s what they demand. It should be easy too. Simply print out a sign, stick it to a board (prit stick) and then stake it to the ground. Hell your production department could even make the stakes for you so it’s practically free (apart from the printing and installation). All that free advertising as motorists speed by at 80mph. Even better are junctions, on blind bends, with hills, with regular pea soup fog.
  • I haven’t seen it
    That lone gun customer who proclaims that because they hadn’t heard of it the marketing must be terrible. This sample-of-one should be the backbone and basis for appraising your marketing campaigns even if they are a completely wrong fit for the product. Take Vera, a fictional pensioner living in Southend. If she were real you could ring her up, “have you heard of the show?” you’d ask. Imagine the pause, the terror, had your marketing been successful or not? If Vera hasn’t heard of it then her friends (those still alive) certainly haven’t, and you know what that means? More posters.
  • A flyer through our door
    The step up from simple posters you need to put a flyer through the door of everyone. Print is making a comeback. For each show simply print 120,000 flyers and then walk round their houses to post them (they know how expensive postage is). Even better, people can give you feedback as you walk, perhaps they might throw things like tomatoes, dog shit or advice.
  • Let me post to say how badly you’re marketing this.
    The real kicker. This is the worst most gutting moment any marketeer can ever have. That gut-wrenching moment where on your carefully crafted social media message someone writes “I didn’t know anything about this”. So terrible is your marketing that even when the only place to write a comment is under the very thing you’re marketing they still, against all the odd, don’t know anything about it. Even worse is where someone who isn’t you finds out about your event, from someone who is you, then tells people and people say, “their marketing is terrible, people should be talking about this.”

Follow these top tips and you can lead your organisation to marketing success*.

*Obviously this is a piss take, but seriously, the trends are interesting, individual comments are sometimes useful, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Arts Marketing is a skill and it’s about balancing lots of spinning plates and trying to let as few smash as possible, it’s unlikely you’ll ever engage every audience member or do a perfect campaign, all you can do is the best with what you’ve got, learn as you go along and try not to offend anyone everyone.

Holidays, Ideas and Ponderings

I’m currently on holiday in Lisbon having a bit of a break with my other half. I brought the mini-laptop along with all sorts of high aspirations to write a play, create some art or learn a new skill.

Suffice to say we’ve nailed a good chunk of Netflix late at night.

Anyway, I thought I’d write a short (ish) blog which is essentially a catch-all “My thoughts from the last few days” – for a couple of reasons really, firstly I rarely have photos to add into my blog and it’d seem a waste not to now that I do, and secondly Facebook keeps informing me that I’ve not communicated with the 167 Facebook Fans I have for a long time.

You should know that of the 167 Facebook Fans I have, only 3 of them are people who I don’t know in real life so… Yep, I’m writing this for 3 people. If you’re reading this and not currently following me on facebook, twitter or on my e-mail list then, well, you should join all three (to give you an idea of the frequency with which I send e-mails – at the moment it’s pretty much once every 2-3 years) – of course unless you already know me in which case you following me in those ways will do nothing but erode my increasingly fragile ego.

Lisbon
Lisbon is a very lovely place, steeps hills, coffee shops, old fashioned trams and riverside walks. It’s very relaxed and unpretentious – there’s something slightly glorious about the way that everyone seems beligerant but also simultaneously friendly – I think the most common expression we’ve seen is the shrug as if to say “well they would, wouldn’t they”.

We try to avoid doing anything too much in the tourist trap, but, inevitably fail along the way. We went for a 7 mile walk down the riverside to the fortified tower and monestary (who allegedly make the nicest Pasties De Nata’s – they don’t) just past the main suspension bridge. Beautiful and serene if slightly crippling when you realise this is the most exercise you’ve done in months. There’s a brilliant foodhall and market (annoyingly sponsored by Time Out which takes some of the glow away from it) – with a good mix of cuisine and good wine that’s relatively cheap.

We visited Sintra – much vaunted by many – and it is indeed a lovely town on a hillside with many beautiful houses and gardens built by stupendously rich people one hundred and fifty years ago. If I’m honest it left me a little cold – it feels like the shadow of a previously incredible place and at points a living museum/tourist trap, slightly devoid of normality and real life that I find so endearing in other beautiful towns and cities.

On the other hand Cascais (just down the coast) was a delight, lovely beaches, few joggers, the odd surfer face-planting into the waves and great views of the ocean. Really worth getting the train to Estoril and then walking down the sea front – I will caution that we’re here out of season and there’s enough British ‘inspired’ bars to make you suspect that this beautiful place may become a dickhead magnet in high summer.

Markets
Having spent a bit of time in a few markets in the UK, Seville, Lisbon and Copenhagen I’ve come to the conclusion that the UK’s a bit behind the times. What separates out the mainland European markets from the UK is how they seem to focus on environment as much as the stalls. UK markets tend, it seems (although maybe I’ve visited the wrong ones) to be a random mix of stalls, tricky to navigate for the uninitiated, not necessarily encouraging dwell time, and often a bit underloved and inconsistent. The Lisbon one cleverly unifies the marketplace with common brand identity, pays particular attention to the public areas making them feel welcoming and almost intimate, they play music to set tone, use the venue lighting to create a warmer ambience and focus on quality messaging rather than cost (that’s not to say they’re not good value). I wonder if there are cheap implementations that could be stolen and applied to UK markets. I appreciate that the natural reaction to this might be gentrification, which is why it’s about finding the balance I guess.

Motivation
As I said earlier I brought the laptop along to do something creative and have resolutely done fuck all. I’ve been thinking about motivation a lot. I wonder if I’ve been trying to do things I’ve been not at all motivated to do at the cost of not discovering new things I might be motivated to do. To elaborate. I’ve been trying to write plays since I was 15. One was good, one was average the rest have been pretty dire – I also, don’t particularly enjoy the process of writing them – it feels like i’m fulfilling an obligation not to fail rather than pursuing a passion. I wonder if the reason I struggle to feel motivated to write plays is the fact that now, 20 years on from being a 15 year old Ayckbourn wanna-be, I’ve changed.

The question is do what? I know it has to be more immediate, no waiting around for some tedious director of a London theatre to reject it 9 months after sending it with a note to say that due to their new green policy it’s been recycled (this is deliberately me being a dick head btw – I’ve been rejected by people around the UK – and in fairness everything I’ve sent them has been bad). It needs to be something I get the credit for – I am egotistical enough to get frustrated when my work has rarely been on by the fact that actors get clapped. Suggestions welcome.

Sales Reports
This is a Head Of Marketing question really. Everytime I go on holiday I have the same dilemma – keep the sales reports turned on or switch them off? I’ve tended to go with on as I get so anxious without the daily reminder that I’m not good enough at my job that it ruins whatever I’m doing. I wonder if turning off is really possible in the arts?

Asking the big questions
It’s also occurred to me that, in the arts, more specifically theatre, we spend too much time working through the small issues, the stuff that, I suspect, if we ignored, would lead to nothing happening. I guess my question is how do you have the big conversations you don’t know that you need to have to make sure you challenge the status quo and keep having conversations that offer a balance of both revolution and evolution? Devoted and disgrunted anyone?

No. But thank you for the offer, it’s very flattering

Sam

And finally… Drugs.
When we were walking home this evening a charming fresh-faced youth approached us and offered me weed (aka. Drugs). I was quite taken aback, clearly he has bad eyesight or a poor understanding of Marijuana’s key demographic. Anyway, I got flustered, said “no” but also “but thank you for the offer, it’s very flattering”. He looked confused and walked away grinning.

Finding Balance

Recently I’ve become acutely aware that I can be somewhat of a negative grump. Now I have excuses for the last 2 months – I’ve been poorly, and am currently smashing down a new set of drugs that have so many side effects it’s laughable (it’s worth knowing that the accompanying leaflet suggests that I could become either “hysterically energetic and happy” or “suicidal” – No middle ground on that one then).

But back to the point.

What I’m talking about is being a bit down on achievement and ability. My amazing other half has started a grateful diary – essentially, every night, before you go to sleep, you write down what you’re grateful for – major and minor, funny and serious – one of them included the fact that when I get into bed I lie on her side first so it’s warm when she gets in. I know, a hero.

It’s a good thing I think – it reminds us amid the creeping negativity, the stress and the torrent of news flung at us, that we are lucky, and there is good in the world. An bed warming heroes.

I use evernote to keep track of my daily to do list – essentially so that I can scroll thought things and work out what I need to do now and next. But very rarely do I look through at the things I’ve done – I spend so much time thinking “what next” (thank you The West Wing) that I rarely look at it. I think it may be a useful exercise – it’s good to remind yourself, every now and then, certainly not more than bi-annually, that you’re not fully incompetent.

So here’s the five that I’d forgotten about – that panicked me or stressed me, that I did and then instantly forgot. I hope it’s interesting and maybe you’ll look to see what yours are too.

  • I worked with a brilliant illustrator Rosie Brooks (link to her) to make a sweet as pie image for a show called Llew a’r Crydd by the amazing Emyr John. Both were a delight to work with and I thought at the time how lovely it all was.
  • We discovered that doing hyper localised, regionalised and slightly OTT comedy club facebook ads is really effective for driving people to join facebook events – sales for the comedy night have been up and I worked hard on making it better.
  • The marketing team along with Sean Kerrins (link to him), a brilliant designer, redesigned the season brochure making it cheaper and better and the current season is going very well.
  • The theatre is currently having the most successful classical music subscription season it ever has – in large part due to Anthony and Ambrose’s top programming, the stirling help of Stephen and Christina of TRG and me designing stuff that did, if I dare say it, persuade people to buy.
  • I made a great Tableau (more here) data visualisation sheet for work (more here). I’m dead proud of it – it’s incredibly geeky but I spent my time on it and I’m glad.

P.S. Regular readers don’t despair, we’ll be back to misery and graphs next week. For those also wondering how the anxiety thing is going – much better in the last month or so – turns out that being physically ill is distracting – that said I’ve become preoccupied with dying from whatever webMD says is the worst thing each and every symptom could be – I may have scurvy and/or a pulmonary embolism – I need to get off the internet – so up and down really.

Resolutions 2019

Every year, about this time, I write myself a list of resolutions to achieve over the following 12 months while also going through the list of resolutions that I wrote the previous year, and marking how successful I have been. The idea is that I have a bit of a focus over the year and can feel a warm sense of achievement about what I’ve done.

So to start with here’s my 2018 year’s resolutions (how I did is in teal!)

  1. Perform for two weeks at Edinburgh Festival – I’d like to do my show “Truth” at the fringe and hopefully get at least 1 review and maybe (maybe) 5 people a show (wild ambition)!

    FAIL
     – I applied and failed to get a room. I also tried to perform the show twice separately which both failed – the first in York where the gig was pulled by the venue 10 mins before it was due to start and the second in Liverpool where no-one turned up and me and the venue manager sat on the stage, in front of 70 empty seats with him telling me some people might come later, 30 mins after the advertised start time.
    “Was it harrowing?” I hear you ask. “Yes. Yes it was.”
  2. Give one free day of theatre marketing consultancy to a theatre that needs a friendly helping hand and support.

    FAIL
     – I offered myself to a few people and put it on facebook/twitter/linkedin and the world took a collective shrug.
  3. Write & perform a new storytelling show, it’ll be 5 stories all about love, loss and change. 

    FAIL
     – Not even close,  I do however have the plot…
  4. Go to the gym at least 15 times over 30 days so that I break my exercise-free existance and die less young by binge-fitnessing.

    FAIL
     – However this should be caveated by the fact that I bought a rowing machine (which I’ve used less than 15 times over the 7 months I’ve had it)
  5. Perform at 33 gigs throughout the year, essentially for 11 months of the year do 3 gigs a month… That’s how maths work.

    FAIL
     – 32.
  6. Write 6 really great blog posts about theatre, comedy, arts marketing or just life in general, but they’ve got to be phenomenal articles.

    FAIL
     – I wrote 5 that I was happy with which are: Using Data In The Arts, Are We All Using The Wrong Tools, Theatre Marketing, My Ideal Theatre and Part One
  7. Write and direct a WIP of a new comedy theatre show called The Don (a two-man amalgamation of The Godfather, Scarface, Reservoir Dogs etc..)

    FAIL
     – Not even close.
  8. Go to Aberystwyth where Hinterland was filmed. (If you’ve not seen Hinterland then seriously, take a look!)

    FAIL
     – The closest I got was Anglesey
  9. Raise £500 for charity through either gigging or by doing something silly?

    FAIL
     – Didn’t get on it.
  10. Write 5 new comedy songs to be used at comedy gigs (and recorded into an album)

    FAIL
     – Didn’t actually write one new song that I used.

So overall a pretty poor year with a new low of 0 out of 10!

And so to my 2019 resolutions

  1. Write six blog posts
    I’ve an extensive list of things I’ve been meaning to blog about over the last 12 months – titles include some Arts Marketing geeky ones like “A Brand In Transition”, “Making Data Useful” and “10 things I’d happily send to Room 101” to more jolly ones like “My Favourite Restaurants Ever”.
  2. Buy a house
    Mental this one. I’ve put off buying a house for so long – essentially a worry about job security and prospects and where I live next. I was also going to put it off due to Brexit but that may or may not happen and may be in the next 3 months or the next 3 years.
  3. Perform at 40 gigs
    Yep, this one is back. I run a gig with Pete Selwood and Ben Powell so this should be easier now. It’s also linked to number 10!
    Count to date: 1
  4. Storytelling show
    I’ve been making storytelling bits for a while and they are generally pretty good. It’s essentially my homage to Daniel Kitson and Will Adamsdale but without their wit or skill. However whenever I do storytelling people want more and whenever I do musical comedy people want storytelling so yeah, the people have spoken.
    Started…
  5. Visit People
    I am shit at keeping in touch. So I’m going to aim to see more people and stop what is currently happening which is my gradual conversion into a hermit. If you want to hang out then message me now!
    Seen: Matt & Dom
  6. Join a Political Party
    Another one I’ve pondered for a while. It seems mad that I have a good education and job and yet the closest I engage with the general lunatics who run the nation is when I don’t vote for them every few years. So it’s time to up my game. In case you’re wondering – either Lib Dem or Green. No I will not be joining the Labour Party.
  7. One Free Day Of Free(man) Marketing Consultancy
    I offered this last year and no fucker too it up so here it is again. I’m not a consultant but I know a bit about Arts Marketing, particularly in venues. So if you want me for a day, either under the radar or strapped to a desk then get in touch. All I ask is that a) you don’t pay me, b) you’re honest and c) you work for a not-for-profit.
    Done 2 x 2hr sessions with theatres and have a 3 hr session planned in for March.
  8. Write a Play
    I did this. I wrote a play in 2018. Was it good? No. Was it funny? Occasionally. Was it, due to the constant political changes out of date within 1 month? Certainly. Did David Hare do a similar show at the NT that is undoubtedly like my play but more worthy and less enjoyable? Indubitably. So let’s do that again and continue keeping David Hare unknowingly on his toes.
  9. Keep Track Of My Hours
    I’m a dick when it comes to work. I’ll do a 60 hour week and not really notice. Apart from I get tired, ill, a bit stressed and then fall over (eventually). So this year I’m going to track my hours, I’m going to try and not work more than 40 hours a week (which is more than my contract anyway), but I’m going to try and work smarter in that time. Yes so far (Jan)
  10. Get Fit
    A bit generic, but I’m terribly unfit at the moment. This isn’t a smart objective. I guess it’s a fingers-crossed thing!

If any of these sound up your street, and you’d like to help/take part/take advantage then please get in touch.

Cheers, Sam Xx

Things I can control, things I cannot & everything in between…


“In an era of stress and anxiety, when the present seems unstable and the future unlikely, the natural response is to retreat and withdraw from reality, taking recourse either in fantasies of the future or in modified visions of a half-imagined past.”

Alan Moore

I was reading through a few of my posts on here, wondering what to write next and I noticed that my posts largely fall into 3 categories.

  • Serious posts about arts marketing
  • Non-serious posts about arts marketing
  • Posts about comedy and/or health and well-being

I’ve been reading lots of articles about mental health over the last few months, in part because I have friends who have mental health issues, in part because the challenges we all face interest me and, in part because I have my own from time-to-time.

It’s not something I talk about tremendously often, or, at the very least, something I try not to, certainly it’s something I find faintly embarrassing, like someone who enjoys the music of Toploader or supports Manchester United but has never seen a game at Old Trafford. 

On Lark Lane in Liverpool last week, I was watching the football with a mate, and, after the classic initial greetings, observations on the pros & cons of Klopp’s gegenpressing and the merits of James Milner (England’s best player) my mate turned to me, and with a wry smile said, “how are you actually beneath all the facade and deflection?”

“Yeah, fine”

Which is both true and also not true. 

Yes I am, largely fine. Life isn’t bad by any stretch, I’m really happy at home, I have my health, and Newcastle have won two games in a row. Also I don’t deflect. It feels like complaining about life is, frankly, a little churlish. I have a good job, friends, family, a new nephew who is the cutest child ever and sure Brexit is round the corner and Jeremy “The Saviour” Corbyn is being a bit of wet blanket at the moment with his principles and steadfast beliefs (who likes winning anyway), but overall, it’s all okay. 

I’ve also just watched Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, which is about the men and boys of World War One, a beautiful documentary and work of art, that I think really connected me with that generation. 

It’s fascinating watching the men on horses, riding through the mud to be able to think that members of my family (particularly my great uncle Rich – of whom we have a picture of him in uniform and on horseback) went through that. The past has never felt so close. My only sadness is that my Nana (who died a year or so ago) never got chance to see it as I’m sure she’d have got more out of it than I did. 

I sometimes feel a bit stupid writing this blog, but I write it because there’s stuff I’m comfortable saying (very little of genuine emotional value) and things I’m comfortable writing. I think detaching a bit, via this, helps in many ways, helps to make that disconnect that allows me to actually write about what I feel or think. It’s also not always read. a good proportion of what I write on here is live and visible but never actually shared more widely, it’s the process of writing which offers the partial catharsis.

So what’s been on my mind?

I guess a couple of things. The future (shocker) and also creativity. The future relates to general things to do with not having kids, or owning a house, or being able to actually make proper roots. And the creativity thing is to do with a crippling doubt I have about anything creative I do.

The creativity thing is an odd one. I suspect that working for a creative organisation in the role I do is possibly the worst things for it. Theatre’s divide into creatives and non-creatives, so despite having professionally directed and made small shows, I feel, pretty frequently, creatively inferior. It’s noone’s fault, it’s very much my own insecurity, and my inability to push for doing creative projects links to that. There’s a comfort zone I’m in. And I don’t count my marketing work as creative.

Yet I’m not always sure it’s an inferiority complex or insecurity. It’s a safety, risk averse thing too (bizarre when you consider the stand up thing). But that’s not really what this post is about (we’ll save that for another time).

Truth be told I’ve been having an issue with anxiety in the last few months, I think maybe 8 or 9 months, probably a little longer and it’s been getting worse recently.

What do I mean by anxiety?

At the gentle end I find it hard to turn off, I constantly feel like I should be doing something better, or solving a problem. There’s a negative streak that starts to hit after that, a relentless pessimism, that I try and hide as best I can. At the harder end, it can mean me curled up on the floor in my house, finding it hard to breath, as if someone is standing on my chest, my head thumping and spinning and tears rolling down my face.

The gentle end has been years, the harder end has been more frequent recently, and in the last 3 month really much more.

Get a grip. 
You need to learn to relax.
It’s not worth getting stressed about.
There’s nothing you can do right now.


It’s really hard not just to say fuck off. 
As if it’s that frigging easy. 

It’s a cycle of thoughts and actions that make it worse. Combinations of tiredness, trying to work my way out of it, constant needs to check and double check, self-blame for everything, and trying to be what is expected.

So there we go.

The Bigger Picture: Using Data In The Arts

****Please Note: This is unremittingly a blog about theatre marketing, data and being smarter****

How it all started

About four months ago I was sat in a meeting at the theatre I work for as conversation bounced round the table. Every now and again a question would be asked or a statement stated – “how did that show do?” or “this year’s going much better/worse isn’t it” and I’d jot down the bit of information I’d need to run 3 or 4 reports by the next meeting to answer.

“If I have to run another shitting sales report they want a “minor tweak” to I will go on the rampage…”

A little while later I started to think, well, this was all just a bit silly. After all the data we need to make smarter decisions is sat in our box office system. In fact, there’s probably far more data in there than we know what to do with. But while we can run reports the process is incredibly time consuming and, crucially, the report will answer only the basic question we ask of it.

Let’s think about that most simple of question, raised countless times, “how did that show do?” You see that’s not the question which, when answered, helps you make a great decision. Exploring it a chain of questions might go something like this:

How Did That Show Go? > Was that just a bad year though? > How did it do compared to other shows in that year? > How did it go compared to other similar shows? > Did our members buy it? > Was it a shocker of a dog-shit show so we comped it to the extent of 300 tickets a night BUT because artistically it got 4 stars in The Guardian our collective memory has gone a bit awry?

It’s never ending and simply running reports destroys your time. Let’s imagine that every report takes 5 min to run… How many reports would get you to the answer? 5? 10? Would you have to get new reports made? Maybe it’ll take a day, week to turnaround? In the meantime a poorer decision might have been made.

Sometimes you need Jazz Hands…

So I found myself in this position wondering what to do. I also wondered how to use data to persuade people. Data is only as useful as the influence it can have and if it’s presented in a shit Excel chart then some people will turn off to it. So I needed something that would visually be simple to read, could answer questions fast, was completely customizable and, crucially, was pretty as a picture so that I could use it to show non-excel geeks.

I’m not interested in… Wait… Wow… What a lovely graph…

The solution has been Tableau (link here) a data visualisation piece of software where you import a .csv file in, move the data around and into different formats and then explore the data. It’s obviously a bit more complicated than that but you, yes you, reading this, can do it.

Below are  some images of some of the dashboards that I’ve created as part of a Tableau file I’ve affectionately named Data Cruncha.

***Obviously much of the data is fake as the real version has actual financials in – use them to get an idea as to what’s possible!***


Filtering The Data

The first thing to realise is that you can have near-instantaneous data to play with. This search criteria is a really simple version that I made to look at the data. It can run on whatever datasets you want in whatever combinations you need.

This one can filter by:
# Month (but it could do year/hour/day/week)
# Genre (depending on how your data is labelled)
# Who Produced The Show (depending on how your data is labelled)
# Venue (my theatre has 9 distinct venues…. sigh…)
# Whether a ticket was complimentary or not
# Whether a member purchased or not
# Or just looking at a single show…

You can essentially search by whatever dimensions (or categories) you have in your original data. So if you had an incredibly insightful box office manager who added in the show director into the show setup then you could potentially search by that. This ease of filtering is really important to know as it instantly updates every graph, chart and map you will see in the next few images.


Sales Dashboard

This is exactly what it says on the tin – it pulls together all your basic sales data. Things to note:

  • You can set up tooltips (the Dad’s Army box), essentially pop up bits of info that appear when you hover over data these can be populated with whatever you need.
  • You can group the data in columns or lines or bar charts, by any time period.
  • Each graph is made separately and then assembled on a dashboard. You choose what goes on which dashboard. This is great as you can start to visually see correlations in the data.


Behaviour Dashboard

This is (also) exactly what it says on the tin – it pulls some of the data about  how your audience interact with you.


Mapping

A quick and easy way to use top line postcode data (e.g. CH7) to look at where you audience is coming from and how it’s changing.


Target Setting Dashboard

Want to look at how a range of events performed – perhaps need some guidance of the best case and worst case scenarios? What’s interesting about the cinema data below is that if you look carefully you can distinguish between Live Screenings and Standard Films without a filter…


Donations Dashboard

You’ll also have line-by-line data on merchandise, donations and any transaction fees. All these can be reported on and explored.


Heatmapping

This is the quite cool one. It’s useful for understanding how people book your tickets and which seats are in higher demand. You can then answer how well the house dresses itself. For reference the stage is at the bottom and red seats are the ones which have, on average, been booked most in advance (opposed to looking at frequency it’s been bought). Essentially if you want seat E16 our most popular seat then you’ll have to book 134.3 days before the show’s on… ish… (This is a real bit of data, but only for last year’s production of a touring comedy that sold out…)


What next?

Top question. Here’s my answer…

  1. Well if this is of interest then please tweet me @mrfreeman1984 with something cryptic like “#TopData” or “‘#CoolGraph”.
  2. You should also download the free demo version of Tableau which is available on their website and have a play with it… It’s really easy to use and it’ll help you try to learn if it’s going to be good for you or not.
  3. If you want to have a chat to me about what I’ve made or have a 10 minute online demo then drop me a tweet and we’ll see what we can do. (If you want a more in depth chat or me to make you something on a freelance basis either for money or free (if i like you or your theatre) then also get in touch.)
  4. Be fucking brave and not a massive wimp. Four months ago I tried this for the first time, I’ve been playing (yes, playing) with it in my spare time, learning by failing and then improving. It’s changed how I think of data. So give it a go.
  5. I’ve so far only scratched the surface of what this can do, of how it could be used organisationally… If you use this then get in touch, we’ll swap ideas and both become smarter.

I hope this is useful/interesting.

Best, Sam x

 

 

 

What next..?

Last week was, challenging. Basically I was meant to do a solo show in Liverpool and while I was there, sadly noone else was and a show is nothing without an audience. It made me think, question really, what I do. I’ve not written a play for 5 years and every time I write something I get angry with whatever I write (usually about 5,000 words in) and delete it. My stand up  isn’t great and the musical comedy stuff I’ve reached a point where my inherent lack of musical ability is a real glass ceiling. The stand up shows, which I love, I don’t have enough confidence will actually ever go anywhere. Finally directing is a dead end with my job as it is. So I feel like I need to work out what to do, something that I’m actually driven to do rather than something that just makes me furious. Of course this will read as reactionary but it’s not a particularly new feeling, just one I’ve not articulated really until now. I guess the question I’m asking is whether art and the pretentions of being able to make art has died a bit inside me. I think maybe it has. Maybe it’s just hibernating. In which case how do you revive it? How do you find that inspiration? Or is is just a little buried in feelings of weariness and an inability to turn off.

I’ve put below, the last script I was writing. I was about to delete it, angry that it’s not great, but instead I’m putting it below because it encapsulates the issue. It’s directionless. It doesn’t make a good point and when it does it’s either oblique or worn on a sleeve.

Read here (PDF): The Last Boy Scout

I’m doing a solo show in September

Hey Everyone,

This is a long post (sorry). Just over a year ago I wrote a show, “Truth” which I performed at 81 Renshaw Street on a double bill with my good friend Rob Thomas as a work-in-progress. The show lasted an hour and was a reasonable success, so much so that I decided that the following year I’d go to Edinburgh, win the panel prize, quit my job and become an urban comedy legend. Suffice to say I didn’t get a room in Edinburgh (100% bitter), was therefore ineligible to win the prize and am still working in marketing. Then about 3 months ago I was asked if I wanted to do the show in York by a mate, so I drove to York and people actually turned up to see it, annoyingly however this was massively undermined by the fact that the venue cancelled the gig for no apparent reason 30min before I was due to start. Only a 6 hour round trip but who’s counting.

SO that gets us here. My good friend Alastair Clark (and top beard grower) asked me if I wanted to do the show for Liverpool Comedy Festival this year which I duly agreed to. The problem is that there is a real risk that noone will turn up. I’ll be frank now, the show is good, it’s funny but if it had gone to Edinburgh then I would now be wallowing in thousands of pounds worth of debt. It’ll also, I think, be the second, and last time I perform the show, so a real opportunity to join the 23 people who saw its first performance and say “I walked close to the sun”.

It’s on the 18th of September at 9pm (yes it’s late), and it’s £5 to get in (or £7 if you see Jack Lewis Evans’ show as well – which is, and this is a press quote, “snappy” ★★★★ Wee Review).

So please, if you read this do one of 3 things:
1) Share this post and/or the event
2) Come to the gig (if you hate it I’ll buy you a pint afterwards)
3) Say you’ll attend on the event below (even if you don’t that’s ok).

So that’s about it really. Thank you for reading.

Lots of Love, Sam Xx

Are we all using the wrong tools?

Broad beans wot i grew

I’ve recently found out that I like gardening.

It’s relaxing, pulling out handfuls of weeds to leave a bare patch of earth looking like the set of Apocalypse Now, watering vegetables that steadfastly refuse to flower or fruit and trying to work out what the hell you do to keep things in pots alive. Two months ago my spade (handed down from generation to generation) snapped in half and since that moment I’ve been using a trowel to try and dig myself out of a metaphorical hole.

I found myself, about 4 months ago, thinking about data in a similar way to my efforts digging the garden. There must be an easier way.

The theatre I work for uses Spektrix (other systems available and will work in a similar way in terms of data export) and, while the reports are nice and user friendly I found myself needing something a bit more, well, spade-like. The issue with reports, particularly PDF downloads, is that they serve fairly singular tasks very well but don’t allow you to really explore and question data, not in a free flowing and speedy manner. You run a report, read a report, amend and repeat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s faster than most other systems I’ve used and is pretty good for basic applications but, greedily, I wanted more.

I was trying to do some analysis on the cinema we run, ask questions of the data to find out how programmes have changed and developed. What’s working and what isn’t and also, how we’re doing to date – better than last year? Worse? The same?

So I started off by downloading a row by row seat sales history for a show – pulling a range of data – from venue, date and genre, to days booked in advance, sales channel and event name. I threw it all into excel and… Well, a massive ball ache. Excel died pretty much instantly. The file size was huge (as an .xls) and the data I could gain from using smaller data samples was barely a step above my starting position.

But I gamely soldiered on, and through trial, error and some excessive swearing extracted some interesting data from a raw data file.

(fake data set)

(Full disclosure – I made a fake data set for all the charts in this document – sorry, some of the info in the real ones are sensitive and so I did some mocking up to show you what it looks like!)

So here’s what I ended up with (filled with a fake data set) – a clever, pivot table powered chart with filters based off a single large data table. So it could filter data quickly, provide answers to some questions and, visually, was workable.

The visual part is important because data is only as useful as its ability to persuade power to change or make a decision. This version has various basic dimensions and metrics but is limited by the cleanliness of the data underpinning it – my ability to make multiple pivot tables work together and also time. This took fucking hours, late at night, time that could be better spent writing blogs about brochures (which you should totally read btw – it won’t be at a conference any time soon and is interesting as a debate starter).

This chart looked at shows on a instance basis (each line is one performance of a show), interesting sure, but not actually that huge an upgrade from old reports. It’s also hamstrung by the challenges of updating and adding data. I’m not a programmer, or a mathematician, or a data scientist – I’m an enthusiastic amateur and geek who wants to make some charts to see if I can sell more tickets.

This table, while a little useful is essentially all just a bit tedious – I thought maybe the problem is the tool I’m using.

I’ve always used excel because it’s on every computer I use and, well, I’m quite geeky so its always made sense to use it. It can also do some really basic heatmapping (there’s a “how to” – click here – but beware, I did this 3 years ago so if you decide to do it there’s now definitely better ways) and data tables, but, if we’re being data led and trying to make decisions that are less gut reactions then maybe I need a better tool?

Typing in “data visualisation tools” I came across Tableau.

Now, before I start waxing lyrical about this I’d like to say that other systems are available, that while it’s relatively simple to use there is a learning curve and “yes, you should get me to come and show you how it works sometime” (or visit me, much easier, we can go for cake… yum).

Tableau claims to “help anyone see and understand their data. Connect to almost any database, drag and drop to create visualizations, and share with a click.” A bold claim, and, largely a claim that it delivers on.

There’s an important point to make before I go any further too. Why do this?
Everytime I talk to anyone in marketing the resource they’re missing is time. Not budget, or inspiration, or creativity. Time. We, as an industry, need to look at how we make efficiency savings, a minute at a time to allow us to do the jobs we’re meant to, to find time to make that difference. Our 40 hours a week needs to work harder and smarter.

Lecture over.

Tableau allows you to import a CSV file and then simply drag and drop dimensions and measures into visualisation. I currently have a CSV file that has nearly 1.5 million lines of data that is a) easy to update and b) is powering about 30 different, instantly update able and explorable graphs and charts.

I was originally going to go through a step-by-step process of what I did but instead I want to show you the results and talk through what they do… If you want to give it a go then please do (there’s a trial version of tableau available for free) and if you want to chat about it with me then drop me a tweet (@mrfreeman1984).

Here’s some of the things I’ve made – all easier and fast to filter… (I made a fake dataset for these too…)

(fake data set)

A basic sales dashboard, that can look across any venue, show, genre, date, time etc…

Q – how quickly can you find out average capacity across a series of shows, year on year? I can do it in 14 seconds…

(fake data set)

A really simple dashboard that looks at customer behaviour (this is the really basic one… I’m hiding the juicy dashboard for this).

Q – If you wanted to know the difference in audience % booking online between 3 different programmes of work across 5 financial years how fast can you find that out? 1 minute 30 sec?

(fake data set)

A really basic mapping exercise using the postcode area and districts that then looks at where you’re getting weaker and stronger, oh and can be filtered by venue, show, genre, date, time etc…

Q – In the postcode your venue is in is it getting more or less people this year, so far, than last year? 20 seconds to find out.

(fake data set)

And this is a bit of an odd mix of data… In this (fake) example we see that 2017 in March had loads more visitors from a few postcodes… Know why? Not a clue, but knowing it means I can start to find out..

Obviously I’m overplaying the speed thing, it takes a while to learn and get set up – but in comparison to excel and manual reports this is like using a tractor and plough in you back garden instead of a trowel and spoon.

So, in conclusion, ditch excel, try a specialist data visualisation software, explore and ask questions and buy me cake.

I hope this is food for thought. Please let me know how you get on.

Best, Sam

 

 

 

Theatre Marketing: A Brochure Conundrum

(This is part of a series of blogs I’ve mentally entitled “things that might be interesting at a marketing conference” – please retweet if you think this is interesting and comment at the bottom to let me know your thoughts! Thanks, Sam x)

(Click image to zoom)

I’ve recently started writing the new marketing strategy for the next 3 years for the organisation I work for (Theatr Clwyd – this blog though represents my views only and not the views of the organisation). The last strategy, linked in with the business plan had gone quite well, it’d been relatively SMART and going through it after two years I found myself ticking lots of things off. What I wasn’t ticking off however was a sense of achievement, a sense that there had been a fundamental sea change that was really pushing at and questions what we do.

As I started jotting down new ideas I found ideas that I, and I’m sure many people have written a thousand times before, and as I read the list as it was, it isn’t that bad, if I handed my notes in then people would undoubtedly nod. However it felt like something was missing at the core of what I was writing.

We’ve been working recently with TRGArts, an American company, similar to Baker Richards who do pricing consultancy. Like all consultancy it is, in part, about telling you things you know but don’t necessarily want to hear. It is infuriating in some parts (on-the-ground and in-the-sky thinking don’t always match), reassuring in others and also challenging. It’s made me think about how we work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not had chance to put anything into action aside from the TRG mandated ideas, and my own thinking has mostly taken place after a short cry and drive in my car, but overall its been a good thing.

And so as I looked at my list of notes I had a moment of shock when I realised that the thing that was missing,  the staple of theatre marketing, Old Familiar itself, was the humble season brochure.

Season brochures as all marketeers will tell you are three things. They’re a massive pain-in-the-arse to produce, they’re incredibly expensive and, crucially, they drive sales. We know they drive sales because we see it everytime we drop a brochure – sure, they’re supported with e-mails and launches –  but they are the workhorses of our marketing toolkit. They also occupy an odd position – unlike practically all other marketing materials – in that they demand the attention of people who normally would have nothing to do with marketing. Everyone has an opinion on how this, the shop front should look. What noone has an opinion on is how it should work.

It seemed to me, looking at that list that if the brochure is such a key bit of marketing for us (which is it), and if it brings in as much money as it does from our core audiences (which it does) then it should, at the very least have a bullet point in my marketing strategy. I’m a visual person so I started to sketch out how it currently works for us and how I’d like it to work in future – this is the image at the top of the page – the following bullet points explain how it works.

  • In the centre of the diagram are 12 circles – each representing a month – the orange circles are when we tend to programme heavily, the blue circles is the winter period where Panto and Christmas dominates (which feels like a slightly different time of year) and the pink circle is for August when we currently go dark.
  • There are two boxes surrounding some of the circles, these show when we tend to produce work that has the highest impact on the organisation – the most important for us to get audiences to. There’s a period in autumn and also spring. There isn’t one in the summer generally as it’s too hot. These boxes represent the times we need our brochure to work hardest for us. The other time is Christmas however the advance sales on this begins in March so it’s a year-round preoccupation.
  • The dotted line splits the ideas. Everything above the line is what we currently do. Everything below the line is what we could do if we wanted to work differently.
  • The small arrows are individual solus direct mails.
  • The small arrows with 3 multi coloured dots are grouped mailings which might contain genre-specific mailings.
  • The big arrows are season brochures with, in brackets, the number of pages they contain.
  • The green fading lines that emanate from the season brochure arrows represent where the brochure is most effective – so the closer to the drop date the more impact a brochure has.
  • Finally the line at the top and the bottom indicate which parts of the year are most and least supported by our brochure.

Please of course bare in mind that this is a small part of a much bigger picture – nothing works in isolation and this idea includes this – also that this is largely conceptual.

Top Half: Before

The top half of the diagram shows what we currently do. We send 3 brochures a year which are all 64 pages. They’re incredibly big because we work bilingually (if you think creating you brochure is tough and expensive then chat to us…) and we land them at the following times:

  • April – to get the summer season in, support the family arts festival, begin panto and autumn pre-sales.
  • July – for the autumn season and panto – if it goes in August we worry it gets ignored as it’s holiday o’clock, and September is too late to make an impact on shows in September and October.
  • November – for last minute panto sales (occasionally late programmed ice rinks) and to sell the spring subscription, again it’s battling against Christmas if it’s too late.

This strategy has a few issues. Firstly we leave ourselves with dead zone, where the brochures impact is reduced, it’s been out for a long time and sales off the back of it are at a minimum. These are annoyingly aligned with some of our best producing periods but moving the dates doesn’t help us as then we don’t have a sufficient lead time to get advance sales. As a result we balance out the brochure dead periods with increased solus mailings. It also means that the most supported time of year in brochure terms in July, which is also largely a time of little financial gain organisationally.

Bottom Half: After

This strategy looks at a hypothetic 6 brochure year, where we reduce the size of our brochures (we still trail things but not in as much depth – but more frequently), we make them specifically for mailing to already engaged audiences (after all they’re expensive, why throw them out into the abyss, we can also tailor the supporting messaging) and we try to reduce the number of solus mailings which have a lower ROI. The key here is that they’re for already engaged audiences and no longer a one-size fits all piece of print to cover multiple bases – we’d also look at what supports this in terms of distribution (that’s cheap and cheerful), and also digital.

The 6 brochure strategy has the potential to ensure we’ve no dead zones of brochure engagement throughout the year, that our key parts of the year are covered by multiple brochures and we serve shows in March and November better.

The print cost is comparable (64pg x 3 a year vs 32 pg x 6 a year), but design costs are more. The postage charges are more but then, hopefully so is ROI (and you’d redirect some of the postage costs into the brochures).

We’d be moving from a 3 season cycle to a more perpetual on-sale technique which means that some of the pain of producing brochures can be spread out, as and when a show is booked. There’s still an issue with how to make it less of a pain in the arse (arguably when it becomes such a frequently produced piece of print there’s a reduced focus on it to the same extent) although you’d hope that shows would appear in multiple brochures so you’d aim to move away from a “sign off” culture to a “I trust you to sell my show” culture. Interestingly we produce 12 film brochures a year which are turned around in 3 days to little or no ill effect. We’d also have the increased flexibility to be reactive: Artwork doesn’t work? Change it in the next brochure! Famous cast member added? Add it in the next brochure?

Major shows would appear 3 times, while smaller events, gigs where late booking is more common, would get exposure in a timely way (few people book for comedy club gigs 7 months in advance). You could also theme each brochure so they’d have a specific focus – not every brochure would contain info on everything the organisation does – it varies to give space and accepts that we don’t need to tell people that we do good community work 6 times a year.

So that idea. What do you think?

I’ve a few more images I’ve been designing up – interested?

Would I Book Myself?

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote anything on here – a few reasons really, hyper-busy at work, a few gigs and just generally feeling like I don’t want to write anything – suffice to say the numbers of visits my website has had has really dropped off (apart from in the Ukraine, where I am either incredibly popular or someone is desperate to break into my site). Anyway, it’s been 2 months, and I have something to say.

I had a gig tonight, it was okay, I was headlining and it was a paid gig. I wasn’t terrible, but I also wasn’t brilliant. But as I was driving home I felt, as I have a lot recently after gigging, a little hollow and, weirdly a little sad. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for a while and here’s where I’ve ended up (in bullet point fashion).

  • I don’t like my set/material/musical comedy
    This won’t be a surprise to some people, I’ve known it for a while and been in denial about it I guess. It’s lowest common denominator, shock comedy hidden behind me trying to be quite affable. If I was watching I’d admire the commitment but not the art. That’s precisely the problem, it’s not art, it’s formulaic and, well, it’s not me. I was told that I have “a dirty mind” by a comedian I respect very much. That’s the nub of the problem, I can think it up but it’s not who I am, I can’t live the filth, fundamentally my beliefs are out of kilter with my stage performance.
  • It’s been 6 years of going nowhere
    I did a comedy course in 2012 and then started. I mentioned this to Louise yesterday and she, wisely, pointed out that I’d never really pushed for gigs or myself, it’d always been a hobby. The reality is I don’t want to do comedy clubs (at the moment, maybe I never have), or weekends at the store. Sure I like gigging and performing in front of people, and I feel compelled to do it regularly, but that’s once a fortnight not nightly. 6 years has taught me what I don’t want to be, and given me ideas of what I could do but I’ve not really heeded what I’ve learnt.
  • The only bit of stand up / comedy I’m actually proud of is Truth
    I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve been proud of in those 6 years and I can get to 2 things. The first is Truth (link), the show I wrote last year, did once, and then, after failing to get an Edinburgh venue, never did again, the second are my storytelling sets (but only outside the context of a comedy club). Sure I’ve enjoyed smashing the odd gig (I’ve died a fair few times as well), but those 2 things filled a hole, briefly, that gig smashing (or dying) never really came close to.
  • People laugh but say nothing after
    You might think I’m beating myself up a bit, but it’s about pride and feeling like I’m making something worthy of even being remembered. At the moment I come offstage and, while people have laughed, there’s no follow up, noone’s compelled to ask me about what I did, because it’s disposable, empty, there’s a moment of a laugh but then nothing more. The storytelling sets had that, the show had that – they had flaws and weren’t perfect but they weren’t throwaway.

Ultimately I asked myself would I book myself? Or, under what circumstances would I book myself?

Here’s my answer – “no I wouldn’t”.

Why not? Well it’s crass comedy, it’s quite well performed but that doesn’t make it good, it makes me stage comfortable. It’s not clever, it doesn’t change your perspective on the world, it’s, simply put, not the sort of thing I’d book or be arsed about watching. The only circumstance I’d book me is for a footballers dinner or as a contrast act to provide variation to the evening – the problem is I’d rather be the thing I contrast.

So where’s that leave me. Well, I’m going to knock the musical comedy on the head for a bit. Also stop doing anything paid (luckily my 2 paid gigs of the year have happened and everything else booked in is new material). I love playing piano, and singing, but I can do that at home. I’m going to gig less and only do new stuff that is me (even if it means that I die on stage much more). I’m going to try doing some different things to see what fits. Get back doing new stuff and taking risks, maybe do some non-stand up things, try and find out something I’d exceptional at and love, rather than something I can turn my hand to.

I’ve never had a deadline for when I’d stop doing comedy, it’s been a hobby, and if it’s ever going to not be one then I need to find my niche or where I feel fulfilled. 6 years to find out what you don’t want to do is, I think, money well spent, but only if you twist when you find yourself stuck.

Night x

Who has been the smartest football team of 2017/18

It occurred to me, and I imagine every football fan who doesn’t support a Manchester-based team this year that the odds have been stacked heavily in the favor of Man Utd and Man City. On a very simple level just by the amount that has been spend on the respective teams.  It got me thinking about the notion of buying success and also what success looks like.

In footballing terms it often feels like Transfer Expenditure = Success – that has a strong element of truth – think of Blackburn during the Walker years or when Chelsea first became a force under Abramovich – but then there’s also places where this isn’t true – Leicester winning the league under Ranieri.

The plaudits will, undoubtedly be out for Pep Guardiola, who has won the league with a team playing stylish football in a team that exudes style and panache. However does he deserve the plaudits over Klopp, or Benitez, or Sean Dyche? In a world where money is so important – after all, how many times have we berated a chairman for not spending – who really has made some smart moves? Who’s over and under achieving?

I took the net spend figures for the season for all the EPL teams to work out who has spent the most. Now obviously this doesn’t take into account historical team spend, wages etc… We would expect newly promoted teams to spend more to raise the quality of the team, after all Huddersfield have not been a EPL team before. What I’m saying is that all you’re about to read is flawed, okay?

So if we assume that the more you spend the better your team should do (which seems reasonable based on internet football forums about how to make a football team better) then the table should read like this…

Team Net Spend (£m)
Man City -£225
Man Utd -£156
Everton -£77
Chelsea -£69
Brighton -£65
Watford -£53
Huddersfield -£51
WBA -£48
Crystal Palace -£45
Leicester -£38
Bournemouth -£34
Tottenham -£20
Newcastle -£20
Stoke -£14
Liverpool -£7
Arsenal £3
Burnley £14
West Ham £16
Swansea £17
Southampton £31

We’d expect City and United at the top of the table and then Southampton and Swansea at the bottom. Curiously you also have Arsenal and Liverpool down the bottom too.

I then ranked all the teams by spend, took the actual league table and put that alongside it. Essentially to see whether our theory of Money = Success is correct. Inevitably it is not.

Spend Position League Position
Team Position Position
Man City 1 1
Man Utd 2 2
Everton 3 8
Chelsea 4 5
Brighton 5 13
Watford 6 12
Huddersfield 7 16
WBA 8 20
Crystal Palace 9 15
Leicester 10 9
Bournemouth 11 11
Tottenham 12 4
Newcastle 13 10
Stoke 14 19
Liverpool 15 3
Arsenal 16 6
Burnley 17 7
West Ham 18 14
Swansea 19 17
Southampton 20 18

Still some familiar names at the top and also the bottom.

So it would seem that we have it Pep has made the most of the extra cash and won the league. So is he the best manager?

I think maybe not. Pep has merely met expectations. Sure he’s won the league, but he’s done it with the biggest budget. What’s interesting are the people who’ve overachieved. The people who have made the cash transform into a higher points total than their budgets should really allow.

Spend Position League Position Difference in positions
Team Position Position Position
Liverpool 15 3 12
Arsenal 16 6 10
Burnley 17 7 10
Tottenham 12 4 8
West Ham 18 14 4
Newcastle 13 10 3
Swansea 19 17 2
Southampton 20 18 2
Leicester 10 9 1
Man City 1 1 0
Man Utd 2 2 0
Bournemouth 11 11 0
Chelsea 4 5 -1
Everton 3 8 -5
Stoke 14 19 -5
Watford 6 12 -6
Crystal Palace 9 15 -6
Brighton 5 13 -8
Huddersfield 7 16 -9
WBA 8 20 -12

So I added in a column to examine the difference between the two. What’s fascinating is that in this flawed chart Klopp is substantially the best manager, closely followed by “recent failure” Arsene Wenger and my favourite manager Sean Dyche.

Now of course this is hugely flawed. Liverpool and Arsenal have a longer history of major investment in the team than Burnley and the same goes for Brighton and Huddersfield so judging based on one season is pointless. Yet, as an indicator, I’d make a strong case for Sean Dyche as manager of the season, maybe even as a manager to turn to to maximise resources.

I’m tired now and as I read more into this the inherent flaws in my logic become ever more apparent.. Tweet me and let me know what you think, this seemed interesting to write at 11pm – the question is should i do more and do them properly? Night x

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Thanks for reading this. If you’d like to receive infrequent e-mails about my upcoming gigs, things I’ve made or simply fun things then please sign up below (I won’t share your deets and you can unsubscribe at any time).Either that or follow me on facebook or twitter. Thanks!