Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Author: Sam Freeman (page 1 of 15)

Gig #1 – Commo Comedy (MC)

Firstly this isn’t my first gig. Every year I make new year’s resolutions that are big objectives to achieve over the year – one of them for 2020 is to do 36 gigs over the year. As I a) blog and b) a few people I know read these when I did them years ago I thought that for one year I’d revive the habit and keep a log of how I’m doing.

I’ve been trying to work out what comedy and stand up means to me. I started in 2012 and was proactive for a couple of years and then, slowly but surely it became a hobby rather than a career ambition. I’m not good, not any more, I’ve stagnated at a level where, I’m unlikely to embarrass myself on a gig, but equally I’m unlikely to progress. I tried to work out what happened around 2014/15 that made me lose the dream – I was pretty good for an open act at that time, but something broke and I ended up (not entirely unhappily I should add) as a hobbiest.

I suspect now, looking back, the break, the hit was a few things – being a little bit depressed and anxious and having a huge self confidence crash that came from a couple of things happening at work that dynamited my creative confidence (I still find myself apologetic for feeling creative, as if simply having creative or artist in your title makes you a fountain of good ideas). I had a few encounters with pro acts who told me I wouldn’t make it (harsh but it’s sink or swim and i don’t begrudge them) – and I stopped doing stand up, I walked away from the stuff that was working and felt exciting (to audiences if not me) – I messed with storytelling (which in fairness was pretty good but a dead end really), musical comedy (average at best with lots of heavy bags), and trying to find a comedic voice.

I never found that comedic voice and it haunted me ever since – the closest voice I got was a low grade poor man’s Mark Watson – not unique or anything different. After a while I told myself I was happy to just do the odd gig, watching friends soar and maybe running the odd gig or two.

That’s a slightly sad opening to this blog but it’s the truth – I lost it, whatever it was, and never really found it.

Now the gig.

Tonight I was MCing. Commo is the gig I run with Pete Selwood and is lovely, chilled out and generally pretty friendly. The opening was probably the best MC opening I’ve done for a long-time – it felt fluent, I naturally went into stories I’d forgotten, had opportunity to play with the audience a bit and did one of my clapping intros that I love so much and that bring the crowd together. It was a solid opening if, as I tend to be, with a bit of shambles. No means perfect but not bad.

Next break was much harder – the fluency had gone, I found myself hitting classic MC tropes (jobs, relationships, yawn….) which came across as stale and unimaginative and my head wasn’t sharp.

I generally have a couple of pints at this gig – I’m worse when I have a beer, even just one. It’s the ability to think laterally, to notice things, to concentrate and mentally ask questions of the room, of the audience that disapates so quickly. When I’ve done paid MC work I never have for the same reason and it’s always much much better. The audience were also a little distracted – a long first section that’s very, very alternative, meant that it felt that keeping the energy and, more importantly focus of the audience was gone.

Zoomed through a bit in the final section, acts on and off, but then decided to try some material I’ve been writing for a bit about pubic trimming (yep). They didn’t go for it – I suspect because it’s a little gross and also because when I go gross, or a bit dark then I tend to lose audiences – my face doesn’t suit it, nor does my stage persona match any sort of dominant or sexual character. As Pete frequently says “you’re not a sexual being” and, comedically at least, it’s true (just only when I’m comfortable and relaxed) – talking about sex, unless expressing my naivety or confusion, loses the audience’s empathy with me and with it their willingness to laugh at and with me.

So… My performance, probably a 5 out of 10. A few strong moments in the first half, a frantic opening and some good building blocks put in place, but not capitalised on them and looked fatigued and a little pissed by the end.

Resolutions 2020

It’s that time again, when everyone insists they’re becoming vegan, joining the gym and never drinking again shortly before, two weeks later, walking home from a nightclub, pissed and off your face, clutching a lamb kebab after calling someone at the bar a “gym wanker” because they said you had no will power.

Long-term readers will know that every year I write myself a list of around 10 things I want to achieve over the coming 12 months after discovering how unsuccessfully I achieved the previous year’s list of unlikely hopes and aspirations. My success has varied massively between around 50% success rate (a particularly proactive year) and last year’s epic failure of 0 out of 10 (click here to read).

It’s funny looking back to see the things that have remained consistent and the things that have changed – I’ve pretty consistently since 2014 for example promised to write a new play, something I’ve steadfastly avoided doing – while 2014’s overly optimistic “run a half marathon” wouldn’t even get close to the list some six years later.

Anyway, here’s last year’s evaluation followed by next year’s aspirations – enjoy, and, as always, if you like to help me out with any of them then please just get in touch.

2019’s Resolutions – Resolved.

  1. Write six blog posts – DONE
    I actually did this one – they weren’t all about Arts Marketing, but after all you can have too much of a good thing.
  2. Buy a house – FAIL
    Mitigating circumstances with this one – it was a hard year, with various major family things plus a job merger where I thought I might be made redundant. Also, with brexit and the election houses coming on the market crashed.
  3. Perform at 40 gigs – FAIL
    Not even close. Probably my worst year since I started.
  4. Storytelling show – FAIL
    It’s actually pretty far along being written, but ultimately I didn’t perform it and noon but me has read it.
  5. Visit People – HALF
    I didn’t really if I’m truly honest.. I saw a few people so I could maybe have a half point, but it’s not a success.
  6. Join a Political Party – FAIL
    I voted Labour but politically I’m Green. TBH I was conflicted.
  7. One Free Day Of Free(man) Marketing Consultancy – HALF
    Only a half for this one too. I did some for a group of theatres, but ultimately it was 4 hours and not the 8 I promised. I was going to do more for a company I’m very fond of in York, but life got in the way.
  8. Write a Play – FAIL
    Did I fuck.
  9. Keep Track Of My Hours – DONE
    I did this – as part of my drive to improve my mental health I started tracking my hours. Its made me more sensible. I still eat at odd times and every six weeks I gain a week of TOIL statistically, but it’s a start.
  10. Get Fit – DONE
    I’m fitter than I have been in five years and I have abs. Yeah, you heard it. I started going swimming after getting pneumonia and anxiety and panic attacks and its become a habit. I go three times a week generally and I no longer feel sick going up stairs.

GRAND TOTAL FOR 2019 = 4 out of 10

And now on to the coming year…

2020 Resolutions

  1. Perform a Storytelling Show – I’ve been writing a storytelling show for the last 4 months and, while usually horribly modest, it’s got the potential to be good, maybe very good. It’s called Every Little Thing You Every Noticed (But Didn’t Want To Mention) and is exactly the type of pretentious but quite clever show you’d expect me to make. I need a venue and someone with faith in me to force me to do it.
  2. Comedy Songs x 10 – I used to smash out the comedy songs when I first started. I’ve been trying to pinpoint where I slowed. I suspect it was when my kit stopped being just always set up. Anyway, I fancy writing them again.
  3. Film Shorts – I’d like to make some (x3) short films – the premise is that it’s me writing a story that comes to life, but I voice all the characters and it’s quite self deprecating, probably about love. I like the idea of a man meeting a woman in a coffee shop and even though it’s his story and he’s writing it for his own benefit he still gets rejected.
  4. Edinburgh Fringe – I’d like to go as a punter for a week. I’d like to get pissed, watch shit and very good shows, hang around with mates who are now obscenely talented.
  5. Buy A House – Carried over from last year!
  6. Vienna – I’ve always wanted to go since watching the film Before Sunrise. It’s the old school buildings mixed with a grafitti underworld sort of feel that appeals. Also I’m a massive fan of old European cities – so Seville, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Krakov I loved – reconstructed ones like Berlin I like less..
  7. Gig like it’s 2013 (36 gigs please) – I stopped gigging. It’s a combination of being scared, tired, sad and having anxiety about it. I used to love it, for the friends i made and the people I met. I’d like to again.
  8. Keep Swimming – It has been really good for me. I need to a) keep going and b) learn how to front crawl without near drowning.
  9. Let Rip Occasionally – I’ve gone soft and it pisses me off. I used to let rip at people saying stupid things, or, more likely people who were believing their own myth. I think dropping a few more grenades is needed.
  10. Do something I love – It’s no big secret that I do what I do at work because I can and know how rather than because I love it. It also makes me anxious, sad, stressed and sometimes panic attacks. I also struggle to see the different I make (my team ironically, I’d say make a big difference – I just feel a bit impotent in what I do) and am always worrying about the next thing. I’m not sure there’s a solution other than do something different. So it’s down. The biggie for 2020 – so something I love rather than something I just do. Maybe getting some coaching along the way.

So that’s it – comment below if you’d like – or text me, message me or DM me.

Thank You For Your Complaint

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for getting in touch to tell me how outraged/disappointed/angered (delete as applicable) you are because we no longer offer [insert complaint here] any more – I understand how frustrated you must be and I’m glad you’ve got in touch with me, a “moron/so-called expert/failure of a manger/incompetent pen-pusher” (delete as applicable) to inform me how you could do things better, how things were better in the past and how I should change everything back to how they were straight away.

Your e-mail, laced with moral indignation, passive aggression and entitlement is exactly the sort of thing a liberal snowflake/unsympathetic money-grabber (delete as applicable, or, keep both) like myself needs to get this issue sorted as soon as possible.

But how about this.

How about we push through this a little. Move past the dance, where we move face to face, reaction into reaction, pleasantries hiding truth. How about I tell you what I’m actually thinking when you write to me and tell me how frustrated you are.

I am frustrated too.

I am frustrated that you feel we’ve let you down.

I’m frustrated that we make compromises and they’ve not benefitted you.

I’m frustrated that the world is not a fair and just place, and that everyone isn’t equal, not by a long-shot.

I’m frustrated that I will spend my time explaining how and why we work in a specific way, trying to concisely articulate the nuance and complication that working in theatre, indeed life entails, that the thing that’s offended you has been thought out and that, while it may be something that’s different for a few people it’s, in fact, been done for a greater good, and that after you read my 1,346 words crafted over 35 minutes, sent to you to help answer your query I will be met with a responding e-mail simply saying “Disappointing”.

I’m frustrated that every year is battle to break even so that we don’t have to cut a budget, or a member of staff, or two from the cast of a show, or a show.

I’m frustrated that I frequently look at sales figures and feel physically sick, not that they’re bad (as you, the sales expert tell me), but because I feel I have to obsess over them or all this might crumble.

I’m frustrated that you can’t see that some people got more than others, and those winners are predominantly older and white, who got houses when they were cheaper, University educations when it was free, the world when it was less carboned, who are obsessed with blaming the young for all the problems in the world and don’t seem to see that maybe it’s the person who mixed the ingredients rather than the people who take it out of the oven are responsible for how the cake tastes.

I’m frustrated because I didn’t mix the ingredients better.

I’m frustrated that there are people who can’t see shows, because they can’t afford it. More than that I’m frustrated that people can’t afford their bills, to heat their houses, to feed their kids, and suddenly theatre feels pointless in comparison.

I’m frustrated that it feels like over every horizon is a cut and someone pays for it. Over every horizon is a cut, there isn’t enough money, not for this, we only have money for bailing out banks, for the economy, for what?

I’m frustrated that noone seems to realise that growth-on-growth-on-growth cannot last forever. Not without crushing people.

I’m frustrated that I’m tired all the time. And that I feel helpless and hopeless increasingly. And that writing this will undoubtly piss someone off.

I’m frustrated that we’re not doing well enough. Not just you and me, or the town, or the theatre, or the arts, or the UK. All of it. The world. We’re not doing well enough. We get one chance at this and this is what we have.

I’m frustrated that you wrote to a stranger, who’s doing their best, who works their arse off, with a tone that you wouldn’t use in real life, you made them feel shit, you made their drive home feel sad and 99% of time your mind is already made.

I’m frustrated that I’ve probably done the same thing sometime before.

So I’m sorry. I honestly am. I’ll do my best for you, I’ll try and make you feel better. But let’s be realistic, we’re all just doing our best trying to navigate an uncharted land without a map or compass, let’s show a little more compassion right?

All my controversial thoughts about how to run theatre right. Not wrong. Like you might do it. Yeah you.

So, here it is, strap in, I’ve got some truth bombs to release, I’m going to let rip, welcome to the fast lane of opinions, the deep fat fryer of fact, I may even use CAPS LOCK, or maybe Randomly Capitalise Words for little or no apparent reason, underlining get ready, CRTL + U, prepare to have what’s morally right smeared into you face, yes you, in this blog.

Are. You. Ready. For. Controversial. Opinions.

***silence from the crowd***

Are… You… Ready… To… To… Ermm… Hello…

Oh, wait a second, hold on a moment, it turns out I don’t have any controversial opinions about Theatre, Marketing or pricing, nor do I have any truth bombs to let off, I’m not even sure where the fast lane of opinion is.

Now obviously I’m being a knob – maybe you were lured in by the possibility of conflict – it’s exciting right? No such luck.

There have been a few posts of late with people slagging off how other people run their venues. I mean don’t get me wrong, everyone does it, it’s just rare it’s as up front on twitter. That said we’re closing in on Christmas, and sure, if I’d spent the last 9 months obsessing over panto sales I might release some opinion grenades too.. So… My take..

For all policies in theatre (and for the excitement levels you hoped for prepare for them to slide from this point onwards), and particularly in relation to pricing and how it’s done there isn’t, I don’t think, a right or wrong answer, it’s a hundred shades of grey, a complex mix that relates to and encompasses the audience demographic, the organisation, the type of work they show, the funding they get, the pressures they’re under from outside stakeholders and the aims and objectives of the company – that’s not even the full list.

Every policy (and almost every decision that is made in theatre, and, probably, in life) always, has people who benefit and people who don’t – all of which don’t just relate to audiences and accessibility but also the ability for an organisation to stay open, to pay staff and artists fairly, to meet funding demands, to make sure that the creative engagement work in the community (that is key and vital) still happens, maybe even the number of actors you can afford – that’s not even the full list.

We (subsidised theatre) should, absolutely, and unambiguously, be responsible to make sure that as many people as possible have access to the work on stage – we should be enabling the most vulnerable in our communities to access arts, culture and theatre. We should be doing our best to help those who need us.

But, in a world where arts salaries are not excessive, teams are often slim, arts people work regularly above and beyond and organisations operate to break even, we should remember that despite that decisions are, in my experience, for the most part, made with audiences at the forefront of the mind, but also bearing in mind that…

  • Accessing theatre is harder if the theatre is closed down.
  • Accessing theatre is harder if the subsidy is reduced to an extent where offering any discounts is impossible.
  • Accessing the arts is harder if to keep a theatre open all the education, access to the arts and creative engagement teams are cut.
  • Using the arts for real good and change can be impossible if engagement projects with the most vulnerable groups don’t happen.
  • Accessing theatre is harder if infrastructure is cut so that people don’t know what’s on, there’s noone operating the venue or noone is around to chat to audiences and be that reassuring face.
  • Audiences don’t always do what we want them to, don’t always think about the bigger picture, aren’t all socialists and want the best for society in general (but many do!).

What works for one venue mightn’t work for another, but it feels tricky to deal in absolutes, to say what one organisation does is wrong or right.

There’s a clarity question of course, decisions we make we should be accountable for – if we say tickets are From £XX we should be able to tell people how many tickets were that price, how to access them, why the prices work that way and, if people can’t get prices at that starting price then what other options are there to help those who can’t afford to access the arts if not instantly, then in changing and motivating behaviour. (I also suspect we spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on price as a barrier to engagement while the art itself gets off quite lightly…)

I spend my life desperate for simplicity, but simplicity isn’t always easy or, indeed the right solution when the overall picture and process to reach a decision is complex and nuanced.

I have huge admiration for the work of many theatres, from those who make decisions to have single ticket prices with discount/concession led additional access points and those who use dynamic pricing to offer a wider range of prices providing access points in a different way. Which is right? Who knows, possibly one of them, possibly neither, possibly both.

So there we go. I’ve said very little, had few firm opinions other than to say, context is important.

Here’s a final little sign off though – if theatre’s are being forced to act more commercially than ever before, if there are more in need than ever before, if we feel tired of always having to make compromises to get by, if we frequently have to get by, then maybe the problem is society, capitalism and the world in general.

So that’s depressing.

Night x

P.S. As a serious note, if you read this on twitter and decide to retweet it then make your tweet magical – along the lines of “You won’t believe what he has to say about Arts Marketing” or “The bad boy of Arts Marketing speaks again” or “So. Fucking. Nuanced” – Any of those will be fine x

All the things that make me cry.

Things that make me cry or weepy (updated list):

  • Babies being born and handed to sobbing fathers/mothers/relatives
  • Outstanding sporting achievement against the odds
  • People passing away and everything that goes with that
  • Chipped goals by Lionel Messi against Real Betis
  • Not knowing what to do next at work
  • Having to ring the gas/electricity/council tax/broadband people
  • Any film that uses deliberately emotive music, often a string quartet, to indicate a character losing or gaining everything.
  • Puppies and kittens or really old dogs and cats.
  • Peaceful sleeping babies in documentaries fronted by Kathy Burke

I’ve been feeling a bit sad recently – it’s not just crying. There. Said it. I’ve been feeling a little bleak, a little miserable, occasionally quite anxious, not feeling great about myself, with niggling doubts and this dark fog that seems to drop down and cloud things around me. It’s not unusual. Sometimes I go through periods, where I feel sad and there’s no real reason for it. That’s what I tell myself – there’s no real reason – or that it’s a thing that just happens semi-regularly or, or… Or is there? Is there a reason why life feels hard?

I appreciate this is a little bit of a soul-crushing opening to a blog post – this is a bit of a post for me rather than you dear reader. So here’s the stuff that’s got in my head at the moment – some are rational, some are irrational, some are silly and some are sad.

  • Someone from work who I didn’t work closely with but who was always lovely and nice to me and was a good, moral, selfless, honest person passed away unexpectedly.
  • I’m feeling like I’m drowning a bit in work, but, unlike when it’s happened in the past, i feel stuck and inert in my ability to do anything about it.
  • My wrist hurts (insert wanking joke here) – it’s either Carpel Tunnel, a sprain or a minor break – but it hurts and is annoying.
  • My asthma cough has upped its game a bit.
  • I’m missing meals, getting distracted by things so not eating or drinking enough.
  • When I do gigs I can’t see anything good in what I do but at the same time miss gigs if I don’t do one. I consistently feel like I’ve let everyone else down.
  • I feel both exhausted and out of my depth.
  • I’m writing a story and I think it both might be good and also shit. I suspect noone will ever hear it and that I’ll never finish it because the voice that says “you’re not good enough” won’t shut up and I don’t feel like “a creative” – working in a creative organisation in a non-creative role is, incidentally, inadvertently terrible for creative confidence.
  • I’m obsessed with what happens when I die. Is it a void of blackness or what? I find getting to sleep each night hard as I don’t want to close my eyes and not see my other half again. I feel acutely that I have no faith – I don’t believe in God or Jesus or Allah or anyone really – I feel hollow for it and surprisingly alone – conversely though faith has to be found rather than told it’s there.
  • There’s no houses coming up for sale where we want to move to at the moment. It’s stressing me out – I took this big step and saw a mortgage advisor and felt ready and it’s ground to a halt with twatting-Brexit.
  • Achievements don’t make me feel good, just stressed and anxious that the only way is a steep descent. A sell out show or show doing well at work is the worst for this.
  • I’m worried I’m wasting my life – particularly with my career.
  • I’ve become incredibly broody – we watched a programme about babies being born and I had a cry all the way though.
  • When the gym stopped accepting upfront payment for using the gym and instead insisted that I get a direct debit. I was furious. Stormed out. Fuck them and there stupid system. I’ve now rejoined because all the other gyms are dicks too, but at least this gym is a dick within walking distance. I also only go swimming there.

Them, the things swirling in my head. When I write them down and think about them it feels easier somehow. I think about the solutions or remedies. But I also realise how quickly stuff can build up and overwhelm me if I’m not careful. I have ways of dealing with this stuff but if they start to slip or get sidelined then it turns into a house of cards on a windy day. I deal with this stuff by:

  • Regularly having a walk at lunchtime
  • Eating breakfast.
  • Having lunch and a break of at least 40 mins every day.
  • Finishing work at 6pm
  • Going swimming on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday to do 30 lengths
  • Taking my inhaler everyday.
  • Going to bed and to sleep before 11pm.
  • Only doing gigs when I can leave work early and go in my own time or on my own terms.
  • Gardening.
  • Cleaning my car.
  • Doing all my work invoices.
  • Having holidays
  • Having weekends with nothing on.

How To Annoy Everyone In Arts Marketing (or, Arts Marketing’s Technical Problem)

I got back from this year’s Arts Marketing Association conference feeling quite pleased with myself – this is unusual – usually I return with feelings of inadequacy or guilt, and/or the feeling that tweeting at post 11pm, half-cut on cheap white wine “My Harsh Opinions About Everything People Are Doing Wrong” wasn’t, after all, such a smart idea.

Instead this year I returned home actually having actually enjoyed the conference, having felt actually inspired by some terrific actual speakers and with the solid knowledge that the one brutal tweet I’d actuallybeen tempted to send had been intercepted by one of my colleagues when, in a rare moment of clarity, I asked “if this would piss everyone off”.

As I write this now there are two things you should know.

  • I’m unsupervised.
  • I’ve not drunk any wine (white or red).
  • I write this as a memo to myself as much as a thought for others to ponder.

Or three maybe.
So here goes.

I’ve had lots of conversations in the past month about Arts Marketing, the career I have chosen and the industry in which I work. I’ve been struck by the huge number of passionate, theatre-literate, creative, enthusiastic people who work in the arts – it is both humbling and inspiring – I look at these people with much admiration – if theatre marketing was powered by passion, enthusiasm, theatre-literacy and creativity alone then our auditoriums would be full with smiling, Guardian-reading joy-mongers, Brexit would never have happened and we’d be talking about what to do with all the renewable energy we had left over over a bowl of home made hummous.

But it’s not – and that’s where this blog post gets problematic.

Let me start this with a caveat – being world-class (or even just good) at some of what I’m going to talk about is not essential for all job roles in arts marketing – teams need balance and too many of one thing can be a bad thing, but it’s useful to have some of what I mention in every organisation (I think).

I will also say that writing this makes me feel slightly uncomfortable – not least because I realise skill deficiencies in myself and my ability to lead effectively sometimes. I’ll also say that writing this had helped me appreciate more the brilliant mix of skills and balance I have in the team in which I work and how they help drive us forward (as well as hide some of my glaring inadequacies).

We absolutely need people with empathy, skilled networkers who can juggle companies, artists and performers, people who can write copy to make your heart sing, and those who can look after and manage the egos that frequent our organisations.

But it seems that there’s a lack of something else – the less arts side, the side that’s marketing and not just arts – I’m talking about technical skills.

Arts Marketing as a discipline has changed immeasureably over the past 10 to 15 years – when I started we had a small group of digital marketing people across Yorkshire venues (myself at York Theatre Royal and Alex Croft at West Yorkshire Playhouse being part of the core group) who would share our ideas about the new digital dawn that was errupting around us – we’d chat about, play and experiment with new technology – E-mail, Myspace, Bebo to name a few – they didn’t all last.

Like many people I learnt on the job supported by random courses every three months, supported and encouraged to try new things by incredibly foresighted managers, and, like many people of a similarly geeky disposition I was drawn to the new tech. I had time to experiment, to try new things and learn what I was doing. I factually don’t know whether arts marketing has become a faster moving, more intense, more relentless industry since 2005. It feels like it has, and having spoken to people returning after a while away, they seem to think so too.

That relentlessness means that more is expected of everyone. It can seem that after 10 – 15 years of regular salami-slicing of budgets and staffing that we carry more weight than ever before. So it also feels that time is even more at a premium and, consequently the ability to learn skills isn’t there as much.

Here’s an exercise for you to mentally try – how many of these can you , or can someone in your team do, both strategically but also in implementation to a high level? How many of these could you innovate with, to really use to make a difference tomorrow (if you had to)?

We’ll start easy and get gradually harder.

  • Boost a facebook post
  • Create a twitter ad
  • Create a PPC facebook campaign
  • Implement facebook remarketing
  • Create a PPC text google adwords campaign
  • Create a PPC display google adwords campaign
  • Optimise a PPC campaign (facebook or google)
  • Analyse a facebook or google campaign
  • Set up remarketing
  • Distribute a podcast or video campaign
  • Know your CSS from your HTML
  • Know what the facebook pixel does.
  • Conduct data analysis of all the trends in your organisation
  • Use google analytics to find problems and opportunities
  • Add personalised recommendations to a website
  • Send highly segmented, audience-defined, personalised mailings.
  • Make (film & edit) a short interview video
  • Measure the ROI of mailings and e-mails
  • Successfully be able to measure ROI of any of the above
  • Identify success based on metrics for any of the above

Talking to people at the AMA Conference, more often than not these technical skills seemed lacking – they were in the “we must get on that” category of to-do jobs – the problem is these need to be the job.

Of course you may be sat reading this thinking – “actually dickhead” (because you’re pissed off with the tone of this article) “I think you’ll find we outsource lots of these things to external companies – we don’t need those skills inhouse”.

Don’t you?

Let’s say that we don’t need those skills in house – that what we need is the ability to co-ordinate and manage a range of skills – after all, we don’t print our own brochure – most of the time we don’t design it? But with both those things I would argue that we can come to a quick and effective aesthetic and creative judgement about quality (even if they are based on opinion and not fact) – our bullshit detectors are much more refined – these are areas that are our bread and butter.

I once sat in a meeting virtually (Skype) to discuss the progress of a marketing campaign for a big show i was tangentally connected to. As the conversations progressed I found myself hearing phrases like “that was a good ROI”, or “it’s getting impressions but not clicks which is great” – all I could think was “prove it” – prove that it’s a good ROI, that the “impressions but not clicks” are actually great.

The more I listened the more I felt intimidated and flummoxed by the jargon – the more I listened the more I realised that the digital campaigns being paraded as successful fact were evidenced little more than a print distribution campaign – but I said nothing – after all who are we, the non-experts, to challenge those reading numbers off ipads?

You might contine to ask:
“Do I need to know the intricacies? That’s what experts are for?”

How do you know if what an expert tells you is true?

We all bullshit with confidence from time-to-time – the question is who is doing it too much and writing cheques they simply can’t cash – how do we tell? Also, and let’s not forget this, not everyone can afford to work with a digital agency, or pay a consultant, or hire someone to manage their PPC campaigns – it’s expensive and we’re all, largely pretty poor.

Of course everything can be monitored to an extent. Accurate (or quite accurate I should say) ROIs can be created – it’s just that most of the time we don’t because it’s relentless and checking on the success of one thing that’s done is delaying the creation of something that’s not done. I think that in a time-poor world the tools that’ll help us find peace and better numbers are the tools we don’t have time to learn, don’t have time to do and are the tools we’re ill-equipped to use.

So where’s this tech deficit coming from?

I also have a suspicion that we as an industry are not all that fond of outsiders. I know of a few people outside the arts who’ve had extensive marketing experience, but little experience “in the arts”, or who can’t “talk in depth about their long-held love for theatre”, or who “have qualifications in what we do”. They’ve not got interviews – “not worked in theatre”. Maybe I’m being unfair – and there is a possibility that I’ve happened upon a particularly small sample – and don’t get me wrong as a failed director arts marketing has provided me a place within theatre – but shouldn’t we be hunting for marketeers to join us as much as arts lovers? Balance in arts marketing, as with the force, needs light and dark, good and evil.

Perhaps I’ve stumbled on a few exceptions. Maybe they generally simply don’t come to us because we don’t offer enough as a career? If you’ve the technical skills what’s the lure of a badly paid, often underappreciated, long hours job in the arts where your creative ideas will be often ditched because someone WITH THE TITLE OF CREATIVE thinks they know how to do the job better than you. Hard to work out why they’re not joining us. And god forbid (for most people, I feel like an exception for this one) anyone would have an opinion on what we actually make. What are the five P’s of marketing again?


As a tangent but still part of the same thing…

I also noticed that as I looked around the AMA conference that I am increasingly feeling old – it felt a little like Arts Marketeers are taken out to pasture at 50 and are never seen again – but where is that experience going? Are we losing talent and experience because the job is grinding people down? Are we losing talent and experience because the job (which has never been 9 – 5) is incompatible with a healthy life, with family life? And if that’s the case don’t we have a shitting massive problem?

I mention this because how we work and our ability to retain people has an effect on the strength of our industry – if people are lured away to pastures greener (and I don’t just mean Spektrix) – then are we losing that experience and mentoring ability within the sector?

So here’s my thoughts:

One, we need more technical knowledge in our teams.

Two, we need time to be able to analyse what we do and we need the skills to do that properly and make proper judgement calls.

Three, we need time and the only way to get more time is get more tech skills, find more time to analyse and then to learn what to stop doing more effectively.

Four, we need to work out how to diversify our teams and attract those who generally avoid us – and how to work out how to make what we do more attractive and better without simply screaming “but you get comps”.

So what else… The solution?

That’s how these are meant to end. With solutions and vision. So here’s two ideas, simple, actionable (if you happen to run an arts council or two) – you’ll read it and think I’m an idiot pointing out the obvious, or that you already do it (in which case tweet me the link!).

  1. More technical courses – simple stuff – all at a low cost and delivered regionally so people can get there. A series of simple 5 hours (bring your own lunch) on “how to set up analytics” or “facebook ads beginners” or “reporting a mailing’s ROI” – all hands on, instructed, with no inspirational stories of outcomes, just raw, bloodied raw technical learning.
  2. Quantitive, large-scale research on communicating with audiences (not just the audiences and creating another bullshit segmentation model that, frankly, puts an individual’s face on someone you’ve never met and are making broad assumptions about) – what’s the best method of reaching people on X, Y & Z. We’ve hundreds of venues. Then use that to feed point 1.
  3. A Balance Of Inspiration and Learning – The AMA conference was great, but it was predominantly inspiration with occasional learning by proxy – let’s throw a few brutally hands on sessions in there. With worksheets. Or a Quiz. Maybe?

That’s all from me. TBH I struggled writing this post – let me know what you think – it’s not one of my finest or most useful I suspect.

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.

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!

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.

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”.


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:

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!

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.


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 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.

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.

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


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)!

     – 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.

     – 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. 

     – 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.

     – 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.

     – 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.

     – 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..)

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

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

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

     – 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.
  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.


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.


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




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