Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Category: Blog Post (page 1 of 12)

#ArtsMarketing – F**k me I’m Tired.

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

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

So why now?

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

3 things I’ve found out.

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

Alaska is really big.

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

Swimming hurts more than rowing

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

Amelia Earhart was fascinating

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

How to successfully market a theatre show according to audiences.

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


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

I’ve had one of those days.

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

Let’s ignore reality.

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

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

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

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

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

Holidays, Ideas and Ponderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam

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

Finding Balance

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

But back to the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What next..?

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

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

Read here (PDF): The Last Boy Scout

I’m doing a solo show in September

Hey Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Love, Sam Xx

Are we all using the wrong tools?

Broad beans wot i grew

I’ve recently found out that I like gardening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(fake data set)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lecture over.

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

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

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

(fake data set)

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

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

(fake data set)

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

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

(fake data set)

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

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

(fake data set)

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

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

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

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

Best, Sam

 

 

 

Theatre Marketing: A Brochure Conundrum

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

(Click image to zoom)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Half: Before

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

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

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

Bottom Half: After

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

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

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

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

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

So that idea. What do you think?

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

10 years ago (or the trials and tribulations of growing older)

I’ve recently been invited to go to a reunion with some people I went to university with. Different people have muted the university reunion over the past 8 years and, apart from going to visit specific people (usually Dan, Neil and Karen) I’ve not tended to go back that often – for the first few years after moving away because of some memories that made me sad and after getting over those simply time, distance and money.

This time however the right mix of circumstances has meant I’m going – albeit not to the official reunion, more a catch up and drinking session. It got me thinking about what has changed in the last 10 years, and, also, what hasn’t. Luckily, or, perhaps tragically, facebook keeps a pretty good record of some of the preoccupations of the time. So here are 10 things from 10 years ago (also, before you wet yourself laughing at my poor dress sense, check out some pictures of yourself at the time, I imagine none of us are bathed in glory)…

  • First up, I had a look through a lot of photos, going back pre-facebook and it would seem I've had the same haircut from the age of around 14. I'm not sure what made me think, "right a side parting is for life" but apparently it happened. I was a lot more uncomfortable with being skinny and had a habit of wearing clothes too big to hide that - the suit being a prime example.

 

13 thoughts I’ve had this week…

In no particular order:

  1. I’ve been feeding a pigeon that lives, on its own, in our back garden. I wonder if it’s anti-social, has been bullied by other pigeons or is a cock pigeon who all the other pigeons hate. Or maybe it’s because I keep feeding it. I feed the birds because my Nana who died last year would like it.
  2. We got a smart meter fitted. I now know the exact power usage of everything in my house. This has not made me happier, merely obsessive on finding where the errant 11w of power is being used when I switch everything off.
  3. I’m falling out of love with my comedy set again. It’s the fourth time (standup, storytelling, improv, music). I’m not sure I’ve found my voice. I do however love to play the piano – maybe just not for comedy.
  4. When will I give up on the comedy dream.
  5. The garage I use for my car is ace. They accidentally scraped my car when mending it and offered to respray it or do the work for free. I like this because the rest of my car looks like its had a grater run along the side.
  6. I find myself looking to buy a house but finding the notion absolutely terrifying, where to live? The solution is a houseboat which I think would be better.
  7. I have zero motivation to write anything (i need deadlines) and I find my own laziness infuriating – but I don’t think anything would be good. I think Edinburgh failure to get a venue has killed me a bit inside.
  8. I sometimes feel that with each passing day, week and month I’m becoming less interesting and more lost. I was sat amid 5 other comedians tonight and found myself with nothing to say, add or do, is this contentment or apathy?
  9. Analogue delay is better than digital delay and is interesting to play with on a tiny keyboard.
  10. Analogue delay doesn’t, however, make you better at music.
  11. I’ve always wanted a silly car (Mazda MX5 2005 or Audi TT 2003), yet my head tells me this is a stupid waste when people in some countries don’t have enough to eat.
  12. The Labour Party is at its most effective when it is violently consuming itself in a spiral of selfish single-mindedness. That’s why I’ve never joined, it seems regularly hateful.
  13. Most people are not exceptional – is it arrogant to assume that I must be good at something, does everyone think that or is my/societies real problem preventing Maslow’s self actualisation the awareness of being painfully close to the mean rather than star on some higher plain.

Fuck me that’s depressing.

Night x

My Ideal Theatre

In late December last year the playwright David Hare wrote an extended article for The Guardian offering his thoughts about what his vision for a perfect playhouse would be today. It’s a fascinating concept and a really interesting read (you can read it here). Some elements I struggled with and thought were a little naive – “Many theatre organisations are over-full with people who have nothing directly to do with putting on plays” –  whereas other elements made my heart swell with appreciation “computers will be centrally shut down at 4.30pm, so everyone can turn their attention to the night’s work”.

It got me thinking about the nature of theatre, particularly the theatre building. What would I want from a theatre? If I got a major lottery win and could start from scratch what would I want? What would be important to me? This blog aims to answer some of that… I’ve used many of David’s headings to focus this article and added a few of my own too..

If you find this interesting or would like to comment then please do below.

Location

The Playhouse (now the given name for any imaginary venue) will be based in a regional city – Liverpool or maybe Leeds – but it won’t be right in the centre. It’ll be within 25 minutes walk (10mins by taxi or 15min by bus) of the centre and will be on the edge of where the suburbs meets the city. It’s important that it’s close to some nice cafes, coffee shops, charity shops and, ideally, an independent DIY shop. I we were being extra needy, it’d back onto a park and be next to a lake (maybe a bit like Sefton Park). It’d be the kind of place where during the day joggers and dog walkers popped into for a coffee and at night people got drunk at before going for a snog in the park.

Sefton Park, Liverpol

Playing Space

This would be the easy bit – I have a theatre space that I have been utterly in love with since I first visited – Paines Plough’s Roundabout Theatre would be the main theatre – it would be identical with the only concessions being that a) it’s static and b) we install a set now and again. The space should absolutely be in the round – it’s a better experience for audiences, easier to direct in, makes writers work cleverly, keeps set costs down and is just better. It would however have a secondary space (of course) which would be a black box space similar to Theatr Clwyd’s Emlyn Williams Theatre and the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre – beautifully designed flexible space – used for workshops and for alternative touring work.

Artistic Policy

The Playhouse season would go from October to May and would have three elements – a produced season in-the-round, visiting small-scale shows and narrative-led comedy shows. The produced work would be mixed, with a different show every month with a maximum cast of 6 (not in rep though, I think people should be cast for parts specifically) – of the 8 plays a year 3 would be new work 4 would be revivals (contemporary classics) and 1 would be one I wrote (why the hell not). You’d expect to see the likes of Ayckbourn, Tim Firth, Godber, Chekhov, Caryl Churchill and never, and I cannot state this enough, never Shakespeare. Anyone dead for over 200 years will not have their work produced. The studio will have companies like Told By An Idiot, Vanishing Point, Les Deux Mondes and Puppet State. There will be a monthly family show, but largely family work will be focused around activities and fun days. The narrative-led comedy will be provided by Mark Watson, Daniel Kitson, Bridget Christie and other award-winning legends.

Actors

Every actor in the UK and beyond would be desperate to perform at The Playhouse. Conversations with agents would involve the agent pleading to let their high profile actor perform in the latest show. We will however largely (unless it’s Richard Harrington, Tim Key or Hayley Atwell) ignore their pleas. This will be a theatre for the undiscovered gem, for the new talent or the talent waiting to be discovered. I would, selfishly, choose to work with actors I think are amazing – Simon Hedger, Paul Stonehouse, Paul Osbourne, Susie Freeman, Hellie Cranney, Rosie Sheehy and Jamie Ballard would all be gainfully employed (should the right role appear).

Restaurants & Bars

There would be a single restaurant/bar at The Playhouse. A long bar, rustic and beautiful would have behind it an array of delicious beers, spirits and wines. There would be a coffee machine that produces the perfect crema but, people recognizing that coffee-flavoured foam isn’t as good as people make out would largely drink tea, from a pot. The aesthetic would be homemade, warm and friendly. The food would be hearty portions, big flavoured salads with chunks of carbs added on – meaty lasagna delivered by the chunk. There would be nothing bland and there would be lots of chocolate based deserts. Prices would be cheap – £1 for a cup of tea, £2 for a pint of bitter and £80 for a glass of champagne (to keep that demographic away). Yes, I’ve just described Mello Mello (RIP).

Audience & Community

The Playhouse would work throughout the community, particularly in care homes to ensure that those vulnerable people at the end of life see a kind face regularly. A family Christmas show would be free for schools to attend and during the summer term the theatre would be awash with young people performing onstage and participating in workshops. Every Monday performance would be free to those on Job Seekers Allowance and every ticket for senior managers of a) hedge funds, b) investment banks or c) banks would be £150 each. We would have a polaroid camera permanently available so that people could add their faces to our walls. At night rooms would transform into a homeless shelter. The Wifi would work. Nothing would be too much trouble.

 

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2080

It’s the 2nd Jan 2018 and I can’t sleep.

I have a hundred things going round my head and I can’t process them or make sense or decisions about them. Here’s a few of the weird things in my head:

  • If I don’t buy a house soon will I never buy a house?
  • I need to sort out the water bills to direct debit
  • I’ve not written anything of value for 4 years
  • I’m worried about work tomorrow and bizarrely it’s the prospect of HR forms that makes my blood run cold
  • I’d like a dog but am not in enough
  • I’d like a cat but am not in enough
  • I read an article about someone who really changes people’s lives and that felt far from me
  • Do I ever want kids?
  • I watched Trumbo and thought about having a moustache
  • I miss feeling inspired to write
  • I’m really unfit
  • I feel anxious a lot, like too much, stuff gets to me incredibly quickly, most notably anything about bills and money.

Most of all however I’ve been thinking about this:

I am 12,144 days old.
33¼ years.

This day in 2020 – I’ll be 35¼ years.
This day in 2030 – I’ll be 45¼ years.
This day in 2050 – I’ll be 65¼ years
This day in 2080 – I’ll be dust.

In 2080 my body will mix with soil and earth, my mind will have faded and gone and what will remain will be slowly evaporating memories, lost moments and quiet. I will have gone and I’ve no idea where. My mind, thoughts, spirit, feelings, insecurities will either dissolve like the chemical reactions they are, or, what? I’ve no idea what the purpose will have been, if life is a line and not a circle then what’s the master plan, what doors are opened, what difference is made, or are we all, fundamentally, at the very core of our being fighting for meaning in a universe where our existence will disappear in a flash. Will any of it matter?

I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll ever know and it scares the shit out of me.

Night x

Resolutions 2018

It’s that time again – the start of a new year, mild hangover, sleepy from fish ‘n’ chips and sat on the sofa watching Notting Hill – it’s a tale of all time. So firstly to assess last year’s resolutions…

2017 Resolutions

  1. Compere a gig regularly and get that key skill back. Nope
  2. Create 5 short videos that are funny and, crucially, good. Nope
  3. Write 10 new comedy songs and assemble them in an album. Nope
  4. Write a new play, about cricket and murder and send to theatres Nope
  5. Write a new hour-long storytelling show and perform it to wild acclaim. Nope
  6. Write a new stand up projection show about truth and perform it to muted acclaim. Yes, yes & yes
  7. Have piano lessons to make my songs better. Nope
  8. Go to Aberystwyth (the new series of Hinterland is due out soon) Nope
  9. Run a half marathon (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha) Nope
  10. Visit the following people: Bren & Miri, Matt & Dom, Steve & Emily, Suz & Jamie, Dan & Emily, Paul & Fran, Rachel, Nigel & Holly and Robbie and Mrs Robbie. 50% achieved.

So, overall, 1.5 out of 10, so not an entirely successful year for the old resolutions.

Anyway, and now on to this forthcoming year… As always if you’re reading this and you’d like to help me, force me, help motivate me with any of these then drop me a tweet or fb message!

2018 Resolutions

  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)!
  2. Give one free day of theatre marketing consultancy to a theatre that needs a friendly helping hand and support.
  3. Write & perform a new storytelling show, it’ll be 5 stories all about love, loss and change.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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..)
  8. Go to Aberystwyth where Hinterland was filmed. (If you’ve not seen Hinterland then seriously, take a look!)
  9. Raise £500 for charity through either gigging or by doing something silly?
  10. Write 5 new comedy songs to be used at comedy gigs (and recorded into an album)

So, there we go… Any takers?

GIG REVIEW: Performing a show for the first time

So on Wednesday night this week I performed my new show, Truth, for the first time from start to stop. It’s always terrifying when you do anything new in front of any audience, what’s particularly galling is doing some solo hybrid comedy/theatre/storytelling, literally everything can go wrong. So did it?

Well…. No, not quite.

So I’d run elements of the story a couple of times at gigs in Warrington and Leeds so felt confident there was a basis of interest there – no point taking something dull and making it funny, at it’s core it has to at least prick interest. The previous Thursday I’d done the opening 25 mins of the show and it had been rip roaring. Wednesday was different, much quieter, much more nervy but still, for a first draft of a show, successful.

So what did I learn?

  • It’s hard gigging to an audience who know you. There’s an interesting thing about how you break expectation for audiences – things that seem quirky and different to a new audience will seem like recognisable tropes to people who know you better and will, of course get a different reaction.
  • I set the stage up wrong. I need to screen on my left and angled. It’s mostly about where I look and feel most comfortable, but also it’s about staging, I have to dominate rather than the screen.
  • It’s a slow burn. It took the audience 20 mins to get on board and even then I think there were at least 6 who weren’t (that’s okay at this point). Compereing off the top would help to get that warmth into the room a bit (but tricky when you know the majority).
  • It’s not stand up  nor is it storytelling. I need to decide which route to go down, or, perhaps, find a way of segmenting between the two, so that it feels more cohesive – the funny must drive the narrative and visa versa.
  • It needs more jokes. Obvious really, having not written any actual funnies in there it felt obvious where I was overreaching. Interestingly the onion bit about the kebab shop was really successful on Thu but died on Wed – probably because it feels like an attempted joke (and isn’t very good).

There was loads of other stuff too. The show ran at 55 minutes which was good, flowed coherently but lacked reinforcement and call backs to emphasis points that would payoff at the end. The ending split opinion a bit, I think I liked it but it needs to be more comprehensive and explain behind the curtain a bit more.

So the plan is…

This WIP was all about seeing if I had a tangible, workable idea. Yes I do. The next stage is booking a couple of previews further from home and repeating and editing as I go. I think I’m aiming for Edinburgh next year via a few fringe festivals so I’ve plenty of time. I need to think about character and costume (as it has an impact) and where I can simplify the powerpoint to balance the focus between screen and man.

SO… If by any chance you a) run a venue, b) run a gig or c) want to do a double header then let me know. I’ll do it on a bucket collection, I just want it to be good.

I’ve included 15 mins of the show below – because of it’s nature and structure I can’t put the full thing up as it’d ruin it. If you’d really like to see the full version then drop me a facebook or tweet me @mrfreeman1984 and I’ll send you the full video link. Oh and if you saw it and want to feed back then please do in the comments below – it’s really helpful!

Cheers!

Another week of Sam Freeman’s life

I’ve not written a proper “bloggy” post, I realised earlier today, for quite a while. I’ve tended to focus on things with actual purpose or focus, you know things like “my thoughts on marketing” or the classic “please come and see my show on Wednesday at 7pm at 81 Renshaw Street in Liverpool“.

I thought I’d try and avoid that today. Avoid it and simply talk about what goes through my head.

I appreciate that these sorts of blog posts are incredibly self indulgent and if you’re not a fan of that, well, tune out now.  I’ve bullet pointed all of these because, well, there’s clearly no good narrative structure or theme to link these together and it seemed easier. I’ve also added headings, because, well, I’m a writing legend who fundamentally understands that things need a break and clear markers.

  • Petits Filous are overrated
    For years I’ve believed that these tiny pots are full of yogurty joy, tiny foil sealed parcels of dairy filled delight. They’re not. They’re slightly shit, underflavoured shittubs of underwelming and often separating (what is that water on top?!?) disappointment. They’re not good because they sound slightly French, if you need that get a Creme Caramel.
  • Atomic Blonde, Fortitude and True Detective Season One are good, Fantastic Four is dogshit.
    I went to the cinema to see Atomic Blonde with super-low expectations, fully expecting a style over substance film with an obvious pull back and reveal at the end. It almost is all those things, but it’s saved by stylish cinematography, a stunning performance by Charlize Theron and a script that gives enough while never feeling rushed. I’ve also been watching Fortitude and True Detective again, both of which reminded me that the slow burn drama can be as watchable and compelling as shows with dragons. Then I watched the 2015 film of The Fantastic Four which, after a relatively good opening 30mins then spends the remainder of the film pissing on what had the potential to be an interesting franchise, undoubtedly there will be a follow up out soon.
  • I’m not ready for suburbia, I am ready for suburbia.
    I looked at a couple of houses this week in Bromborough and Bebington. We’ve been pondering moving towards the Wirral for a while, essentially we want a garden and a house less ridden with issues. I find myself at a weird point, I definitely don’t want to live in the centre of a city, but nor do I want to live in suburbia where the first thing estate agents tell you is the quality of the schools and the fact that the conservatory is great for entertaining. No it isn’t. So I think we’re settling on a different house that doesn’t make me actively sad.
  • Opinions
    I’ve been struck this week as to how irregularly I actually give my opinion. I am constantly tailoring my responses to make them “appropriate” to the context, but increasingly to prevent people from thinking I’m a massive dickhead.  I find myself softening what I say to avoid other people feeling bad, or, more regularly, so that I don’t sound like a cock (it’s all about me, I’m incredibly egocentric). I guess it’s a good thing, looking out for people’s feelings but at the same time I feel a frustration of holding back constantly (also that people must think I’m very inoffensive). But then noone likes a smartarse and if we spend the small amount of time in this world being disliked then life is going to go downhill mighty quickly. Swings & roundabouts.
  • We don’t all age at the same rate
    I have days where I wonder if I should be doing the grown up thing with my life like many of my contemporaries, birthing a mortgage, buying a child and getting walls I can paint and get insurance for; classic grown up fare. Then I have days where I notice that in many ways I’m more grown up than other people I know. Finally I think, does it actually matter. So long as you’re happy and non-regretful is there a right or wrong, or don’t we find that out until we’re sat alone in 40 years time wondering why we didn’t do things earlier.
  • Jogging hurts but makes you feel better
    We’ve been going jogging. 20 minutes every 3 days after which I feel like I’ve been brutally assaulted. However I’ve found it has made me a bit more chipper, so maybe exercise is the answer. Either that or an inhaler filled with endorphines. Maybe a little less painful.
  • Being a bit sad is okay
    I feel sad sometimes and it feels like a terrible thing to actually say. Now please don’t think I’m depressed, I’m not, it’s just I find myself getting waves of sadness that I can’t attribute to anything in particular. They go quite quickly and, y’know what, I wonder if, for me, they’re actually a good thing, I wonder if it’s a sign of conflict, ambition, of living life’s spectrum, or as a moment to search for something. I also wonder how many people also get it and are told that it’s terrible and that becomes more than what it is. I don’t know.
  • I’d like a dog but I don’t know my motivation for wanting one.
    I like dogs and while I’m not in the situation to have a dog I can’t decide where my increasing like of dogs comes from. Is is the 10 week old Golden Retriever puppy that now lives next door? Is it the adorable greyhounds at work that are very gentle and soft. Was it the 5 month old Welsh Terrier puppy under our table when we went for food. Or is it, just maybe, the constant indoctrination from my girlfriend with videos of puppies being adorable.

That’s it really, as always if you want to comment below (unless you’re Russian wanting me to buy viagra, seriously stop adding comments) then please do, and if you’re in Liverpool on Wednesday at 7pm with nothing to do come see my show at 81 Renshaw Street. I promise it’ll be okay.

Finally, if you enjoy reading this and would like me to e-mail every so often with things I’m doing then do so by clicking here.
Night x

10 things about being an arts marketing manager that I now know…

I’m not at the AMA conference this year, yet, despite the fact that I’ve a habit of being über critical of it, I find myself with a tinge of jealousy. People gathered round chatting about arts marketing, the challenges they face, the solutions they have come up with, a melting pot of arts geeks with fabulous shoes drinking white wine is, at points, glorious. While for the last few I’ve been to I’ve got more from the networking side than the speaker side I think they’re, broadly, a good learning experience and great for building confidence in what we do, how we do it and the possibilities that risk and experimentation offer.  While jealous I’m also excited that another of our marketing team is having her first AMA conference experience and so instead I find myself at work, tuning in via tweets.

My first AMA conference was around 2007 when as a fresh-faced Marketing Assistant I listened eagerly, took everything as gospel and drank so much I got hideously ill on the final day (which I disguised with Red Bull) after finding myself dancing in a Tikka Bar at 4am the previous night. I remember looking round at veterans of the conference and wanting to be them, to do the jobs they were doing. Now I find myself in that position and I wonder what I’d have told the 2007 flowery silk shirt wearing edition of myself to prepare him for the road ahead.

So, here’s the top 10 things I’d mention. If you’ve any to add then comment below.

  1. Don’t lose sleep over sales
    You’ll have a show, probably multiple shows that won’t sell. The one thing that won’t help is being tired, grumpy, staying up until 4am to run countless sales comparison reports and changing the formatting of an ever growing to do list. I can’t state this enough – it is a job – you need to find a balance between life and work and make sure there is a divide. I have seen arts marketeers have near breakdowns through worry. If you feel like this then talk to someone. If you think someone is feeling like this then talk to them. If people are racking up 20hrs of lieu time every week then it’s a sign. Fresh minds approaching what you’re doing beats tired ones every time.
  2. Lose sleep over sales
    Ignore point #1 completely sometimes. Sometimes you have to go hell for leather. Sometimes you have to [insert generic metaphor] or [insert another generic metaphor]. There are times when you’ll have to work late, where doing that extra will make a difference. But, and this is a big one, prioritise the easy wins (which mightn’t be what your creative director thinks or what the cast of the play thinks needs to be done – posters on the toilet doors of pubs can wait) and make sure you take the time off to balance it out.
  3. Knowing what didn’t work is hard
    After each show 40 people will have an opinion on why it did or didn’t work. In a wonderful marketing world you’d evaluate and work out exactly what did or didn’t succeed – in a venue with a fast-moving programme that is hard (or specifically, finding the time for it is hard) – it can be so tempting to get on board with the “wrong image”, “wrong copy”, “no names” bandwagon. Honestly, most of the times the thing for sure you can say is “it excited people” or “noone came”. If it’s the former then survey them, if it’s the latter then, well, wait until you hit a success and spot the differences.
  4. Make friends, stay friends
    This is dead easy. Meet as many people in the other venues near you as possible. Go for coffee, organise drinks, do a Christmas night out. I was incredibly lucky when I went to Liverpool in that Sarah Ogle from the Everyman took me for coffee and cake and we chatted about our respective venues for a couple of hours every month. It’s a support network that is essential, without it I would have found my job infinitely harder. Your problems are never unique, your venue isn’t a snowflake, or a special case, someone else will have experienced something similar – it’s just a question of finding them and asking them.
  5. If/When you fuck up admit it quickly
    Obvious. Seriously, it means you get problems solved quicker. Everyone has fucked up at some point. You’ll feel better having told someone and people will (generally) respect you more for ‘fessing up and taking responsibility.
  6. Pick your battles
    This blog is increasingly turning into Sun Tzu  but it is true in my experience. Most venues project a persona of being nimble, flight of foot and quick thinking – imagine them as a jet ski, dodging waves and errant surfers – in reality most are oil tankers – no one decision turns it round, instead hundreds of processes, steps and moments do. Also, most battles aren’t battles, they’re the start of a series of skirmishes.
  7. Rome wasn’t built in a day
    Thank you Paul Clay for hammering this into my face. Don’t try and change everything straight away. When I started at Unity I though, “well, on day one I’ll analyse, day two I’ll do the change, day three I’ll reap the bounty and on day four I’ll rest, three days faster than God.” Nope. Things take years. One year to move up a level. One year to move something from average to better than average. Ten to go from shit to perfect. Unless you have a huge team and infinite budget in which case knock yourself out.
  8. Noone remembers how things were, only how things could be.
    After you’ve been at a place for a year you’ll forget everything you’ve achieved. Write it down. It’ll be useful when you’re trying to value yourself and also if you need to remind people that, in fact, contrary to popular belief, things have changed.
  9. Don’t be a cock. Or at least try not to be.
    Obvious really. But people remember and everything will come back to haunt you (or save you) in the end.
  10. No-one dies because of theatre
    Sometimes we forget that we make theatre/art. We are in an incredibly privileged position. We should share our passion for what we do. We should be frustrated when things don’t go right. But there is more in the world than theatre. There is love, football, Danish furniture, The Wire, Coffee made by hipsters, birds singing, the sound of the sea crashing onto a beach, lust, sweaty nightclubs, cool bars, hungry children, warm embraces, loss, pub lunches next to rivers and much more… When you feel stressed, want to cry, feel a tear in the corner of your eye, remember this.
  11. And one for luck…
    If you look at something you did three years ago and you think it’s better than what you’re doing now then consider a career change. Constant improvement is what the arts deserve. Nothing more and nothing less.

Please share/like/retweet or comment if you enjoyed this or found this useful.
If you didn’t then shhhhhhhh, quiet time.

Creativity, Confidence and a Show

There are, it is said, two types of creative people. There are those who talk endlessly about the book they’re going to write and then there are those who write the book.

I’ve been feeling over the past year that I’ve been falling, increasingly heavily, into category one. Sure I’ve done gigs, created some new bits of comedy and written a script that could be, generously, described as “pretty poor” but ultimately I’ve not really taken that jump.

I guess there are two problems – firstly, when you work in a sector which is still relatively bipolar, broken into the “creative” and the “supportive”,  it can feel tricky if you’re on the supportive side to feel a confidence in your voice. Secondly, if you get out of the habit of being “creative” outside of your day-to-day, of trying to do the big project where there’s the major possibility of failure (by which I mean “artistic”) then you forget that failure is, arguably, in the early stages of creating something, far more useful than success.

Creativity and the confidence to create is also massively personality dependent. I have a friend who believes that everything they do will be great. They believe in their art, that they can create and fuck anyone who doesn’t believe them. I find it really hard. I naturally defer to others and will regularly venerate the achievements and abilities of other artists and will stay quiet (or more often be massively self-deprecating) about myself. That’s not to say I don’t talk about it (see para 2), I do, but I will try to avoid seeming like a dick even when my head is yelling “I could do it better in my sleep”.

Of course the proof is in the performance. You can’t just sit around waiting for someone to ask you to do something, you have to take the bull by the horns and actually do it. Sure I’d love to direct another play (ideally In A Forest Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute or A Steady Rain by Keith Huff – both of which I’d nail directorially) but realistically one has to be taken seriously to get those chances, and to do that you have to do as Samuel Beckett is famously quoted: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

SO. HERE GOES.

I’m doing a show. It’s a one-man theatre/comedy show about truth. It uses projection and tells a story of something that happened to me in the last year. At the bottom of this blog post is a link to book a free ticket (or click here). It’ll last about an hour and will not be good, it will have possibilities and, more importantly, will be out there.

Of course you might be thinking, “shit Sam, this is really misjudged” or “if it’s going to be shit I’ll give it a miss”. It won’t be shit (just not good). For reference here is a link to a show I did that was quite similar from a few years ago – click here.

So please come along (it’s on the 6 Sep at 81 Renshaw Street in Liverpool). Support me. Book a ticket now (it’s free) so that the pressure is really on for me to work hard at it. If it’s good then tell me, if it isn’t then tell me the following day.

I’m trying not to talk about the book, I hope you can sit down and have a read.

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