Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Category: Marketing (page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

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




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 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.

An idea, a graph and a calendar

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here so, finding myself incredibly away at 12:46am I thought I might as well write down some thoughts about what’s happening and what I’ve been thinking about recently.

Regular readers will know that I finished writing a play, Opposition, in December and sent it to loads of theatre’s to get feedback. It was the first thing I’ve written since Floating and I didn’t have huge hopes for it. So when the rejection letters came in (the many, many rejection letters) I wasn’t overly surprised. There is, of course, an argument for not sending work that, deep down, I knew probably wasn’t good enough to theatre’s – but then it marks the end of a process – the unread play is a pointless thing. It had some of my best writing inside it but was structurally weak and lacked a strong enough, simple enough premise. It was like an onion, delicious in small amounts, layered, but a full one makes you cry. The letters always hurt (except the Royal Exchange who actually give good constructive feedback unlike many places) but I though, ah shit, never mind, that’s that.

Then, as is always the case I had an idea for a play last week and decided to write it in 64 days. But why 64 days I hear you ask. Well that’s aligned to the Bruntwood prize deadline. For a while I’ve always had a nagging suspicion that if I can’t write a play in a month then it’s probably going to be a bit shit because it means the idea is fundamentally flawed. So Floating was written in a week, Revenge in a month and Opposition took 6 months. Go figure. Anyway, so I’ve made a graph of the number of words I need to write on a daily basis to get it done in time with three drafts – 500 words a day – not a lot considering that I’ve written this, so far (284 words) in less than 10 minutes. I find the graph thing is useful because a) it monitor’s my progress, and b) it’s motivating in that you don’t want to fail, drop under the line of success and miss the deadline. So this is it, in 30 days I’ll either have a wonderful play, or I’ll be writing a blog about marketing.

I’m conscious that I’ve not written anything deeply entertaining and relevant for a bit. I have a few blog titles in my head but am unsure which to do (I suspect they’d work better as 10 minute presentations), if you have an opinion then get in touch.. Here they are…

  • My Biggest Failure – about the things I’ve got wrong doing marketing but what I learnt from them?
  • My Precious – about the most important thing marketeers never have: time.
  • An Interim Brand – this is about creating temporary brand for organisations to get stability under high pressure. We all do huge amounts of consultancy, spend months and months on branding, but sometimes there has to be interim solutions.
  • Telling The Story – this is about writing the Theatr Clwyd mission story (rather than statement), how it effects what I do and how I do it and why I think it’d be a useful way for arts organisations to engage the public and also their own staff.

Okay, so it’s gone to shit right. I have, as you’ll gather from this blog, big issues with my confidence about comedy. My last gig was amazing, but I have voices in my head that tell me it was shit and that what I do isn’t good. I can talk about it, I can be told to the contrary, but ultimately it makes no difference. I think time is an issue too, as is my work-life balance. I’ve a few gigs coming up which I’ll list at the bottom, I think I need to plan days massively in advance where I should finish work early and do a gig. Yeah. Less than good news. Oh no, wait. I have written 3 new songs, all of which I’m happy with. I’m also probably going to do Liverpool Improvathon (which is excellent) so, yeah, come to that.


  • 10th April – Southport – MC – The Barrel House (Sold out I think…)
  • 13th April – Liverpool – MC – Lennon’s Bar
  • 27th April – Liverpool – 20 min – Pros & Coms, Lark Lane
  • 31st Aug – Liverpool – 20 min – Pros & Coms, Lark Lane

Oh, and if you read this blog, please join my mailing list – it’s good to know people read this, and if a few more people join I might be prepared to do e-mails of stuff 🙂

30 mins thoughts: 5 opinions I have about arts marketing

I have, recently, found myself writing fewer blog posts about arts marketing and my work.

This is for a few reasons. Firstly I’ve started a new job so spare time has dissolved into a thing of the past, along with worry-free sleeping and relaxation. Secondly I’ve found myself struggling to know what to write about. I am constantly conscious that although I’ve worked in the arts for 10+ years and have been a Head of Marketing for 7+ years that I do not regard myself as a consultant, nor as an expert.

That in some ways goes to explain why I’m being incredibly non-committal with this blog – it’s opinions not fact, it’s experience rather than research. Anyway, I thought I’d write down a few things that have crossed my mind recently. If you like this then do comment below. If you don’t like this then fuck off*.

  1. No-one cares about creatives
    This is a pretty simple one I imagine that many marketeers will relate to. Often we’re told that a creative team, or company, or writer will sell a show. This isn’t always the case**. Yes, sure, there is a small minority of audiences who might recognise a creative name, past credit, or understand that an Evening Standard award is an honor, or even what the word “Brechtian” might mean – but generally, with the large proportion of your audience, “normal people”, they don’t. Very few creatives or companies have followings in regional theatres to make a substantial difference to the bottom line. There are exceptions of course, celebrity, major national companies (RSC, National) and (did I mention) celebrity. We mightn’t like it but this seems to be the reality. What they care about is story – not the context or how seminal it is, or how it’s important to the world today, but what it’s about.
  2. Mixed priorities are a real challenge
    Marketing departments play two games – the one that gets audiences in and the one to make people feel better internally – departments have priorities pulled all the time – it’s a real challenge to prioritise and to work out what to say no to. We have too much to do and not enough time, there is a wayside, something will fall there. That’s okay, just make sure you can explain it and focus on the greater good. Of course defining that…
  3.  Support from Executive and Artistic Directors
    I am incredibly lucky, I’ve an Executive and Artistic who are supportive of me, our department and the challenges of what we do – we celebrate together and we commiserate together. Without that my job would be immeasurably worse and less enjoyable. It’s not about carrot or stick, it’s about enabling and supporting – it seems from colleagues in the industry that this isn’t universal. For any artistic types reading – ask, if the show’s not selling, where is the problem, is it the marketing or is it the wrong show at the wrong time? Finger pointing at marketing about what’s not working is like trying to ride a cat, it’s incredibly hard to do, keeps moving and often has limited value other than to alienate the cat.
  4. The need to be fascinated and excited
    The best people are those who try new things, are excited about things and will spend endless hours fascinated about your cause. They will make a difference to any organisation. If someone keeps showing you “interesting***” stuff, has crazy ideas that “just might work” or are never satisfied then keep them (or abduct them).
  5. Connecting with your audience
    With every show we should ask why should people care about this show now. And not just the theatre-loving segment, all segments. As an industry I worry that we pay too much attention to the accessibility of shows in terms of pricing but forget about the very content, the narrative, the type of work we produce… I also worry that we’re too white, left-wing, Guardian reading, liberal and broad minded. Did anyone in the Arts anticipate Brexit? Or Trump? Do we reflect society, influence society or transfer our values on to society.

*only kidding. Or am I?
** Shock erupts
*** could be incredibly dull stuff…

Gig Report 4 & 5 and some stuff about theatre…

It’s been a week or two since I last put my gig report online so I thought it’d be high time to keep up and write up what’s been happening. Well, I’m now up to gig 5 of my return and I’ve still not died hideously on my arse…

Gig 4 was Danny Mc’s gig at Alexanders in Chester. I arrived horrifyingly early to discover that I was both the only act and only audience member. Turns out I was very, very early. A nice crowd of 25 people came down and it was a fun, nicely set up room. I tried a couple of new bits with some bits that I know are solid. So “70s TV Star” as a reoccurring theme was tested and seems to work nicely to keep people on their toes, although disappointingly I did the two setup verses and then entirely failed to do the big payoff punchline – if I remember to do it then I’ll be a happy man. My dialogue was a little too whimsical and I needed to develop the punchlines and throwaways that litter those sections more to get that gradual build to support the main punchlines. I ended with “I love you” which is replacing “David Cameron Song” as my closer at the moment. It’s not quite strong enough, but offers plenty of opportunity to play with the audience and demand their participation.

Gig 5 was in Bolton in a bar called Metro Rocks. The epitome of the “character building” gig, it was, nevertheless, really useful for trying some new things, albeit to a smallish audience. “Finger up my bum” works as a song, particularly if I play with the tempo. I also started playing more vocally, adding ticks and quirks to my vocals that just makes the songs more vibrant (if less musically good). I’ve noticed I’ve shied away from the quieter songs, mostly because they tend to be a bit longer, but also because they’re the more intellectually robust, Guardian reading sections of my set.

My next few gigs are Warrington’s Albion Pub this Wednesday, then Soderfest in Manchester and a gig in Wigan. I feel like I’m closing in on that point where I’d feel confident applying for paid middles, but I’m missing maybe 2 – 3 songs to get a robust 20 and also a better sense of some of the supporting material to ensure it’s rock solid. ALSO, I’m going to invest in a piano case with wheels because fuck me my back hurts from carrying kit. (If anyone wants to offer me a gig then please do, I’m also ready and probably won’t disgrace myself).

Meanwhile life in theatre land has been, well, pretty hard tbh. I’m having a period of feeling like I’m running at full pelt pretty much constantly but not actually catching up at any point. There’s a really interesting article in The Stage today by a designer saying that the boom in admin jobs has hit technical jobs. I don’t know why but my initial reaction was fuck off.

My second reaction however was more moderate.

I think there is a common lack of understanding across venue departments about what everyone does and the time it all takes. When I started in marketing the departments were bigger but since then the channels through which we have to market have increased while the resource has decreased. It’s about the understanding of roles and how we communicate what we do**.

I think what annoyed me was that I think it’s probably naive to assume that there is a singular cause and effect – that admin jobs have simply cancelled out tech jobs – it’s not as simple as that – yes that will be an effect there’s also an economy of scale, of outsourcing and competition, of changing technologies, of space and equipment that has mean that it’s happened, rightly or wrongly (I don’t know which), over the last few years. The comment is the kind that divides us rather than recognises that we are in an industry that is evolving and changing at a tremendous pace and that the effects are not limited to a single group.

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with a friend about theatre and he said that the problem with theatre was that it sees problems and considers that working harder is the only solution. He said that  working more efficiently would lead to better long term results but it’s often overlooked for the short term sweat. An inevitable effect of the grind, the constant churn of the day to day. I think that’s something we miss and need to find again. How do we complete our work more efficiently to create time, to enable us to ensure the quality of what we do is reflective of the great art onstage? To ensure that we are creative in a way to compliment the stage? To ensure that the day to day is automated and the important, life and business changing stuff gets the care and attention it needs?

That question is not one for 12:20am on a school night – but it’s one I’m going to ponder and get back to you about*.

Night x


*I wonder if I should write a blog about the 10 things to make us more efficient in theatres? Useful?
** Originally I wrote a pissy tirade in here about people saying they’ve not seen posters when shows aren’t selling. It didn’t seem that constructive in the context of the post.


AMA Conference Notes & Thoughts – Day #1

I’m up in Edinburgh for this year’s Arts Marketing Association conference which is this year about relevance, or, as they’ve catchily titled it, On A Mission To Matter. I’m going to write up more extensively once the conference as ended but here’s a few bits and pieces I’ve thought about today.

  • What is the role of theatre?
    In the subsidised work is it acceptable for our mission to be purely art-form focused. Certainly many organisation have something that’s about giving (or inflicting) the arts upon people, like a harsh matron, forcing children to have their medicine. What if the art was more secondary – as a tool for social cohesion rather than social cohesion being a side effect of the arts. How would that effect process, roles and responsibility and how art is created?
  • Impact statements?
    It seems we write endless statements – mission, aims & objectives, artistic – the impact one, what we want to do to the world around us seems like a more progressive version that places the greater good above organisational and individual need.
  • What does good look like?
    How can we use data to monitor sales more effectively and use conditional formatting to help focus departmental attention – its one where I have a few reports that do this but one combined one would be great.
  • Audiences
    Our main focus should be to identify what puts people off about our organisation and fix them. That sounds dead simple. I wonder if sometimes we forget that.
  • Marketing isn’t flyers, marketing is dead?
    Lots of individual conversations about how marketing depts are changing the role of what it means to do marketing to enact organisational change and the barriers that come up (“it’s not your department”) – how do we use data to drive decisions and how do we manage organisational improvement in a practical way – there’s also a lot of talk about understaffing and unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and also the quality level that can be achieved. Seems we need a chat about efficiency and using technology and IT systems to enable workflow rather than disrupt it.
  • Come in
    How do we welcome people into the theatre. Interesting how in restaurants if we’re not doted upon and shown where to go we get pissy but often in theatre we leave people to their own devices and intuition. Should we have a maitre dee (sp?) role to meet, greet and seat people?
  • Tonica
    Look like a really good company to get working on digital analysis. Do we spend too much on design and function while failing to pay for robust evaluation and analysis. How many theatres have someone who does solely analysis but across the entire organisation? Is it the missing link?
  • Dashboards
    How do we create and use dashboards to monitor organisational performance and how do we make these easier and simpler to assemble? I did one for Unity Theatre while working there and am wondering if it’s time to look at one for Theatr Clwyd.
  • Audiences
    Do we appeal to ego and the idea of aspirational living enough? How do we analyse space and function to find the best fit. For example if you’ve a stunning view is that where the tables for daytime food should live?
  • Food
    Simple question – would people instagram their meals? If not then it’s possibly not good enough?
  • Rules
    How do we identify the unmentioned rules that we abide by, challenge them and then, if necessary change them? Is it about personnel shift or is it about the way organisations operate in a less siloed way?

The art of the season brochure

Today I signed off Unity Theatre’s season brochure – the last of my six year tenancy as Marketing Manager (I’m going to Theatre Clwyd and am dead excited as you will undoubtedly discover over the next 6 months!) – and I felt a wave of emotions briefly as I said “yes, print it”.

The first was relief, that was quickly overcome by sadness that that was it, done, and that was even more quickly overwhelmed by reminiscence. I can chart the progression of Unity’s marketing and its development over the past 6 years through the brochures most clearly – each one filled with battles won and lost, decisions correct or not, lessons learned – many of these side-by-side with changes in my life, my progression as a marketeer but also the solidification of an element of Unity’s brand over time.

I wanted to write a little bit about it to help clarify my thoughts about them, but also because they often get overlooked in marketing conversations. We regularly (and rightly) talk about social media, digital, CRM, experience management and more, but rarely about the place of one of our staples, the fibre of the marketing world, keeping us regular – the humble season brochure.

I appreciate that as I write this some people will read this who’ve abandoned them, others will be sticking rigidly to them. This is not suggesting that the way we worked is correct for everyone. The opposite, you should market as effectively as possible to the audience of your venue and your community – do what works not what’s necessarily fashionable or demanded by board members or friends.

BrochuresWhy not get rid?
I remember about 10 years ago when I was starting to get into Arts Marketing attending an AMA conference where marketeers were confidently proclaiming that now we were entering a digital world that “brochures were dying” and predicting they would be deceased within 5 years. That never happened, nor did any of us predict that youtube would catch on, myspace would die and that people would ever find 120 character sentences (or tweets as they became known) interesting.

I was part of this “they’ll be dead crowd”, so why didn’t it happen? It didn’t happen for a few reasons, some economic, some brand and some job security led. Economically we were getting a good bump from sales when they were produced, not huge advanced bookers but a good chunk. In addition our website, digital profile and online booking was terrible and needed an overhaul and it made economic sense to distribute the brochure with lots of shows in rather than loads of different flyers (over 40 shows a season). The print we were receiving was pretty bad too – it had an air of the unprofessional at times – this was an easy way to gloss over that. However there was a limited budget of which it was eating far too much, it lacked clear brand direction, it wasn’t the most exciting or dynamic or USP led thing but it was tangibly doing a job in sustaining audiences effectively within resources.

Brochures2How Unity’s changed?
I had a mentor who said to me that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and I think it’s quite true. What’s also true is that once Rome is built (or certainly the foundations are there…) you forget what things looked like before.

The change in Unity’s brochure happened over 2-3 years really – at the time I found it frustrating that the change didn’t happen quicker, but in retrospect it was necessary as lots of different things were aligning at the same time which is not an immediate transition. We never had enough money to do a full rebrand so instead changed things gradually – it started with rewriting copy, trying to remove the jargon, anything superfluous and really define who it was for: audiences (yes I know that’s vague, but I’m opposing this to people who work in theatre all the time). Sentence lengths shortened, academic language and jargon was phased out, plot and content came to the foreground, form and style to the background and the number of arguments with companies increased hugely as we ripped their copy apart and reassembled it for our use.

Brochures3Then came a design step change – we started thinking about values, what our work encapsulated, what was important to us. We also, ordered every brochure from every other theatre in the country and went through them with a fine tooth comb. If there was something clever we highlighted it, if the tone appealed we cut it out, if we hated it we found out exactly what we hated. It was a useful exercise in finding the things that we related to, that were exciting and dynamic. We had a challenging moment with our long standing designer and eventually parted ways and so auditioned (such a theatrical word, I mean “went through tendering”) from 8 designers to see a) how they related to the brief, b) whether we thought we could work with them, c) if they brought things to the table and d) price.

We had better copy, a designer who related to the theatre, our way of talking about the organisation was becoming, dare I say, less serious and we had found an aesthetic that worked. We changed the size of the brochure from a 150mm square to A5 – this cut costs dramatically, reduced our postage costs (for packaging) and we sourced the printer (rather than designer) meaning we could shop around a bit more.

This began a period of time of “bringing together” which was essentially of aligning all the elements of Unity which had previously felt pretty disparate. We updated the website (with usability and navigation top of the agenda), examined our mailings, looked at how the building presented itself as we looked around and generally tried to improve everything one step at a time.

With the brochure we started a process of deconstruction after every brochure – we used audience and staff feedback to gradually refine what we had. This usually involved taking two brochures apart, gluing them to sheets of A3 and writing “this is shit” with massive red circles over anything that didn’t quite work, putting down new ideas and also using the retrospective knowledge of shows that didn’t sell and applying them to what we’d done to get “what we’d have done differently”. That was then applied to the next brochure and so on.

The brochure covers began as quite dark with a bold colour, reflective of where we were at the time, but also, in a city filled with great venues, something that helped make our brochure stand out and look dynamic and different against the others on offer (please note, I’m not saying better, just different). Then as we progressed we had natural development – firstly to place the shows at the core of what we were doing, then to go brighter and then to offer something completely different to coincide with a new artistic director.

As we progressed the content became tighter and tighter, the formatting became more exacting and the deconstruction kept continuing (top tip: always start by talking about what works otherwise you’ll feel drained after the meeting!). We made sure that the tone fitted our brand identity and also increasingly matched the positive audience perception but also the work that we put on stage.

Brochures5I was incredibly lucky in having a succession of Marketing Officers and Box Office Managers who were liberal with their opinions and were passionate in leading the charge. I can’t stress enough how important they were in making things develop and move forward. Two things that spring up that’s useful for brochures 1) make sure you’ve someone with a good bullshit detector and 2) be prepared to compromise sometimes. The bullshit detector is incredibly useful because we all write with a voice that is unique to us – sometimes it will sneak into things we’re writing (copy for example) and needs to be sought out and put right. In my case I can occasionally write “bullshit”. Or, more specifically, overly complicated complex sentences with an excessive amount of exclamation marks. Sometimes when you get deep into “brochuring” or “the marketeers burden” you can need this jolt to get you back on the straight and narrow and stop you hallucinating reviews and shows that are “unmissable!” The compromise element is that sometimes you can’t win every battle, it’s better to pick and choose what you’ll compromise on and give yourself more time to work on something else – after all time is finite.

This has all led (that was quick) to our latest brochure – the one I am most proud of – that I signed off today. It is thinner than all the others we’ve done, cheaper to produce and takes the smallest amount of the marketing budget than it ever has. I know there will be an error in it that we missed – there always is. I know that in a years time I will look at it and think it’s shit because the new thing I’m working on will have surpassed it in my mind. It will sell tickets. It will drive audiences better than its predecessors. It will tell people what Unity is about.

And it is throwaway.
The only place remembering those brochures past is this blog now. Something that’s worth remembering – it has a job to do and then it’s gone.

The future?
This kind of brings us back in full circle. Is the brochure still the thing? Will it be here in 5, 10, 15 years time?

I was thinking about this a lot recently and trying to define my thoughts. A couple of points below which will change in time, they will, I’m sure reverse, contradict or, upon finding something new out, be deleted from my consciousness completely. Here goes:

  1. They won’t die but will evolve – they have a function which is to drive audiences to the website as well as inform. There is room for editorial which few have really approached – for helping people understand what we do and why, and, for many of us, explain why we’re worthy of their time in a less sell, sell, sell, way. This feels a distance off at the moment…
  2. People like the tangible – ever noticed how people still go to real shops even though amazon exists. Some even go to bookshops. Some people find it hard to connect with digital everything. I like to scribble on my Edinburgh brochure, make notes, pass it to people. That’d hard to do with a PDF. For that reason I think they’ll survive. Maybe simplify, become more listingsy… Not everyone is a digitally-savvy, tablet-using, apple-loving, pdf-opening, hipster-bearded, digital native. They shouldn’t be excluded.

I’m aware I’ve not covered loads of stuff – from segmentation models, how we did distribution, the rise and fall of the mini-brochure, linking online and digital, why we removed the logo from the front cover (its become off-brand… oh the irony…) and also the merits of various paper stocks in relation to their brand values. However I hope this has been interesting to you marketing geeks – as always please share this article far and wide, send me a tweet @mrfreeman1984, follow me on facebook (click here) and leave a comment underneath.


Best, Sam.

Arts Marketing: Six things I wish I’d known…

I have been given two pieces of rock solid theatrical advice in the past 15 years and both I’ve used when directing shows. The first was from a now-acclaimed performer and creative who said the key to any show was to “get in quick, say what you have to say concisely and get out quick”. The second was from a brilliant and respected Artistic Director having a flippant moment with the brilliant “audiences will forgive a multitude of sins when you have a nice set”. The first I think applies to much in life and the second when put into the context of me being about to direct a show I’d written, rather galling. Both however were effective and have driven my logic around theatre, firstly that it’s about not wasting time and secondly it’s recognising that theatre is more than the words.

As many people now know I’m leaving Unity Theatre where I have spent the last 6 years as Marketing Manager. Inevitably as I wind down this part of my career to move onto a new and exciting future I start to think about the changes I’ve know, how they’ve effected me and what I wish I’d known 6 years ago when I started. With that in mind I thought I’d write down 6 things, not top tips (I’m not quite that arrogant) that I wish I’d been told at the start. If they’re useful please tweet me or comment at the bottom of the page.

rome-colosseum-1480086-640x480 #1 | Rome wasn’t built in a day
This took me a long time to realise and it only really sank in when Paul Clay, a brilliant arts manager, said it to me. When I started I believed that I could turn everything around in a year, that everything that needed updating, systems replacing and ideas formulating, could be done in 12 short months. It doesn’t work like that. Good change, I think, is built brick by brick and not imported wholesale – especially when your organisation is not overburdened with cash. Unity’s website development took 3 years to reach where it is today – not perfect by a long stretch, but a mile away from where it started. Having a clear idea of the endgame is key, but it has to be tempered with reality. I had a running phrase with one of my Marketing Officers Paul (who is an amazing musician) that “This time next year it’ll all be perfect”. Invariably it wasn’t. We’d reach a year later and yes, by the standards of 12 months ago things had improved, our expectations had risen, meaning that we were looking for the next step rather than taking in the step we’d already taken.

writing-1560276-640x480#2 | There’s rarely a definitive right answer with creative
I once had an argument where another arts marketeer described something I wrote as “awful”. I, internally, described them in slightly less pleasant terms and got wound up by it. There is no definitive rights or wrongs with creative (e.g. images, copy etc…). There are factor that effect its success; whether it speaks to your audience (which is different venue to venue), whether it fits your brand identity etc… but ultimately the mark of success is whether the show sold. I would also be wary of directors, actors and others who tell you that they’re the most qualified to write or create images. As a marketeer we are the ears and eyes of the public – we have to filter through the arts bullshit, through pretention, and find the gems, those bits that will relate to as wide an audience as possible and not just the people who work constantly in the arts, on shows or with other creatives. When you’re being concise and making a strong sell (or invitation) your role is to sell tickets and the brand. It’s okay to say that, well, actually noone has ever bought tickets because of the lighting designer or the DSM apart from family members (sometimes that can also extend to the writer and director) – people want to know what it’s about first, what it says second and who says it third (unless you’ve a star). Bare in mind that even as I write this I can remember exceptions to the rule – so also remain flexible.

As a final aside to this I am also of the opinion that “experience” can also be, on occasion renamed as “baggage”. Also just because you work in marketing or admin makes you no less or more a creative person than anyone who defines themselves as creative – it’s merely that they happen to be being creative differently – if they think they’re better than everyone because of it then be wary (or shoot to kill).

notepad-1192373-639x839#3 | Never be content with the status quo and fail regularly
The point where something needs to be looked at is the point when someone says it doesn’t need to be (and also when they say it does too). There will be a moment when you’ve redone the website, sales are going well, the e-bulletin is hitting, social media is bobbing along and you’ve upgraded everything. Don’t stop. Don’t f**king stop. Start re-examining, don’t be satisfied with where you’re at, look to what’s next. Sometimes you have to experiment to try new things – we discover improvements by failing. If you’re trying new things and failing regularly, so long as you’re learning as you go and implementing those failures it’s no bad thing. Our aim is for long-term success not short-termism. A to-do list can be good for this (but also occasionally soul destroying).

anger-management-1422668-640x480#4 | Management and leadership are different and are not limited to managers and leaders
This is a general thing. Management is about making systems work and managing them – leadership is about having vision, pushing in a direction and taking people with you. This can happen as a CEO or as an usher and anywhere in between. They’re different skill sets and they’re not always in Ben Hur type situations, but recognising these moment and supporting them and when other people are doing them can be really rewarding. Oh an shut up more. Let people talk. I don’t do that enough. Listen then speak. But obviously not everyone at the same time.

owl-chatting-1385170-639x426#5 | Sometimes everyone doesn’t need to give their opinion
Those meetings where we all gather round to chat. It feels lovely and democratic, every opinion is heard, angles looked at. They are useful for an hour maximum – once a year – everyone can have 5 to 10 minutes – but invariably people leave disappointed if you don’t follow the path they suggest. There are things that need group chats and things that don’t – it takes a while to distinguish between the two and sometimes you’ll get it wrong – but I would encourage action in most situations rather than endless debate. Try it, get it wrong, learn from it. It’s faster and while you may occasionally look like a dick so long as you have humility occasionally it’ll be fine. Also, for some things people will never know. Changing how you write a mailing doesn’t need debate, just do it. Worse case scenario is that someone will get pissy with you. They’ll get over it.

the-cliff-1529309-640x480#6 | Have faith
Sometimes we forget we were employed because people believe in us, our skills, our opinions and our ability to make the right decision. I’ve had points where I thought “what the shit am I doing” and “am I making a terrible mistake”. Those doubts are natural. They make you redouble your checks and work harder to make things effective. There will be a point where you’re on the precipice (for me it was a new brochure design and rebranding), you’ve done the work. Jump.

Oh and have a marketing friend or friends. Ideally outside your organisation. Chew the fat with them. I go for cake with the brilliant Sarah Ogle and it’s amazing how just sharing an issue, frustration or an idea can lift a dark cloud or inspire a new thought.

The right (& fight) to experiment in arts organisations

The last couple of weeks have been tough for me professionally at work. It’s the classic story, too much happening all at the same time, a feeling of helplessness, being overwhelmed and needing to find some order, some way of making sense of what appears unexplainable and undecipherable chaos. I think this is a pretty common feeling not just across arts marketeers but also everyone who works in the arts (or should that simply be everyone who works).

I found myself on the bus home with ideas, frustrations and conversations rushing around my head and I wondered if life couldn’t all be a bit, well, easier.

One thing I’ve noticed in the arts (my only real point of reference) is that for a creative industry we are remarkably uncreative when it comes to working practice and experimentation when it doesn’t directly involve the art form.  I started to wonder whether, if we were starting from scratch tomorrow, whether we’d continue to work in that way?

I also had a meeting with a consultant last week and two things were apparent. Firstly that I would be helpless without that consultancy and secondly that experience was the necessity in resolving that helplessness. Apart from are those both true? Now I have had time to digest and step away from the sales pitch environment the first section (“helpless”) I can identify as the sign of an amazing sales pitch and the creation of need.  The second element, experience, can be incredibly true, but it reminded me that experience can also be defined differently – baggage – and that it can be difficult to sometimes tell the difference.

In our working lives we often continue to work in a particular way because experience has taught us it’s the best way. But this experience is probably not entirely ours, I’d like to bet we’ve never really challenged the concept it’s built on. Let’s take office working – we’re often told (explicitly or implicitly) that working in an office is the best environment for work – but is it – maybe in the 1980s when connectivity was a challenge, but is it still true? If you need silence to concentrate and a radio is blaring out 90s classics is that the best place to work? If your mind works in diagrams and moodboards but you can’t put drawings and ideas on the wall is that the best place to work? Or does it take away from the experience and erode the joy in achieving our work goals? Of finishing that project? Of creating something great.

So I’ve written down the things that would help me work better (and some possible solutions). See what you think? What would your list be? Chances are different, it’s personal preference to make the work experience better. Maybe comment at the bottom?

  1. Space, space, space
    I have the world’s smallest desk. It’s about 1 meter wide and I feel hemmed in all the time. I like to be able to spread out, look at things at the same time, compare and contrast. At the moment it feels impossible without intruding. It’s also the same in a virtual sense. I have a single monitor that although widescreen doesn’t make it easy to move between projects which often use simultaneous workspaces. I long for a wall, blank wall space which i can write directly on, stick ideas on, make moodcharts, add photos, themes, an actual pinterest board in real life. When I think I stare blankly into space, searching for inspiration. They help.
  2. The end of paper
    Paper, everything is on bloody paper. I make notes at a meeting, or pop an idea down and end up with reams of notes, all unattributed, all unlinked to projects, all potential goldmines (or coppermines) untapped. What I want is all my notes digitally held – notes written on a tablet, added to project files, conversations placed in the same place. We’re incredibly wedded to microsoft office but what about collaboration software? We use wunderlist and it’s great in many ways, it helps me keep an eye on what my team is up to but also when I feel like I’ve not achieved I can look at what has been done, it’s motivating to an extent. I want work syncronised. I want to get files when I’m not at my desk. I want 100% access 100% of the time. That’s not to say that I’ll use it. But if I’m in a meeting I want to be able to open what i need at that moment. Oh an if we could kill off outlook too for something that doesn’t erode my soul that’d be great too…
  3. A change of scenery
    My desk has a tiny window to the left and a tiny window to the right but no view at all. The Brontës had the splendor of moorlands to write in, Wordsworth had hills, even Dan Brown’s desk overlooks something. We need to find a space that inspires. A perfect view mightn’t always be possible but what can I do to make it more inspiring?
  4. Personal development time
    I think sometimes we need time to step back, take a deep breath in, try new things and move outside the day-to-day. I was incredibly lucky under three Marketing Manager (Rachel Chapman, Antony Dunn and Abbigail Ollive – all three ace marketeers) that they gave me the freedom to learn new things, try ideas, do silly things like social media (at the time a new thing) and develop new skills and in areas I didn’t expect. How can we continue this throughout our careers, so that learning and the simple joy of discovery and growth is inbuilt in our work ethic?
  5. Guilt free breaks
    Okay, this is 100% me. I feel bad about taking breaks. There was a theatre I worked in where all the tea breaks were synchronized so that in the morning everyone would have 20 mins break together. It’s slightly authoritarian in one way, a bit like the school bell, but actually is this the space where the communication and ideas can happen? We can still talk about work but actually connect, throw ideas, laugh, unwind for a moment? What if the tea break was where every good idea came from and we’d never found it out? How many great ideas have come from meetings and how many have come while chatting over coffee? What if that break was paid because we recognised it helped morale, and was a space for conversations and networking?

That’s it from me – just barely scratching the surface. Some starter ideas and thoughts there to consider. You may hate them, you may love them, you may be indifferent. If you’ve liked this blog post please share the post on twitter or facebook and leave a comment below – follow me on twitter or facebook, oh and join my mailing list!

P.S. In other news I’ve hit a peak of creativity outside work. Currently I’m working on (deep breath) a new proper play, new storytelling show, a half hour TV pilot which we’re filming in Feb, new projection stand up show and a semi-improvised show which combines every Gangster/Crime film ever (possibly also with GTA5) in an epic 1 hour 2-hander. If you want to know more about any of these then get in touch! Best, Sam.

Translating the brand (part one)

***These are just a few thoughts I’ve had, you may disagree with them but if you do then please share why at the bottom or tweet me***

I’ve recently started work on the early stages of a capital redevelopment and the re-branding opportunity that accompanies it for my theatre. We’ve a limited budget that needs to be spread thinly and so I’ve started examining this myself rather than get consultant in. I am aware, it should be noted, that my perspective is compromised, but I’ve done this before, albeit in a different way to the ideas below and I think it is still fully acceptable to do this in house (but importantly with support), also the ideas are still in development. I’m also a firm believer that with rebranding there’s no real wrong or right way to do it, you find out if it works in implementation (and even then I think it takes a while to come to fruition or disaster). Some methods may mitigate these risks but they’re still options not rules.

Capital redevelopment and re-branding  should go hand-in-hand, it’s an opportunity to create a good, well-managed, high-quality cohesive experience for both customers and artists. However it is not a simple process and, over the past few months we’ve stumbled upon some interesting, and I’m sure you will find familiar questions. Continue reading

Cats, dogs and why we live.

Firstly, before you read any further, let me drop a couple of truths before you read any more (then you can decide whether I’m going to waste your time or not).

  1. This blog post is heavily related to arts marketing and theatre
  2. It is also related to the idea of owning a dog (even though I want a cat)
  3. And it touches on working practice and happiness.

Want to read on?

Here’s your chance to go…

Right, now that I’ve got your full attention I want to talk about a couple of ideas that I have found are dominating the arts and the direction I think we should be going. To start with a few trends I’ve noticed. As always, all opinions are my own and not reflective of any of the organisations I work for.

  • We’re time poor, in static environments non conductive to work and under stress
  • There are highly stressful pinch points throughout the year
  • Wages are remaining static (at best), or are drastically decreasing through inflation, increased hours (we’re all working pro-bono but are in denial about it) or simply through budget cuts.

I’ve also noticed that there are other elements touching my life away from work.

I’d like to own a dog for example (actually I’d like a cat but my other half is allergic…), I’d like to do more writing and creative work, I don’t exercise enough or, and I appreciate this is a contrast, drink in a non-binge fashion enough. It seems that work is increasing encroaching upon life. This naturally begs the question which we all ask from time to time: are we living to work or are we working to live?

I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the centre but slanted towards living to work. What I know to be true is that life shouldn’t revolve around feelings of stress, helplessness or occasional panic, nor should we accept stress, being time poor or wages as “part of the job.”

I’m a firm believer that there’s an issue in the UK where we mistake someone who is good at their job for hard working. After all someone can be shit at their job and hard working – the hard working is, it could be argued, symptomatic of lacking the efficiency to work a sensible amount more effectively.

See what I did, I repurposed hard working to mean something different there. Think about it, we wouldn’t approve of hard-drinking, hard-drug taking, hard-liners or excessive amounts of Laurel and Hardie. Yet when it comes to work we take pride in it. I do it too, and it’s starting to get tiring. We need to work easier, smarter and happier.

A friend once told me that the biggest problem the arts has is mistaking efficiency as a foe rather than a friend. That the prioritisation of getting work done shrouds the greater issue, that we don’t ever look at how we can make that work simpler, faster to do, to free up more time for life and creativity. We doggedly stick to systems that we have always know rather than ever really focusing on how we find an easier way. Yes, sometimes the easier way results in a lower quality of something, but we need to look at balance, efficiency, about whether the needs of that thing outweighs the greater good of the saving in energy both emotional, mentally and physically.

Let’s go back to our list from earlier – so where could we look at ideas surrounding this – i’m going to use examples from my own role.

  • We’re time poor, in static environments non conductive to work and under stress
    We need to look at how to free up time and reduce stress. Why not take a week or even better a month and look at where time is being absorbed. For me it is unfocused meetings, e-mail and lack of flexible working.

    • Meetings should have a clear singular objective that has to be achieved within 30 mins not drag for hours, and decisions should be made at the end – the decisions need to be tracked, progress monitored, and not through e-mails and meetings, through specialist software that manages projects efficiently and effectively. How much time would we gain? Would projects work more efficiently?
    • I trawl through 60+ e-mails on a daily basis – how can I reduce this to focus on the really important?
    • Flexible working is tricky – I work in a busy, uncomfortably small office where there is no space for having quiet space, or being away from people – I realised that if I work from home I do 2 days work in 1 day – how do we replicate that at work? Is one environment appropriate to all tasks we do? I wouldn’t write a play in a busy office, why would I write a business plan or strategy?
    • I’d like a dog, they’re relaxing and calming and bring joy. I work better when I feel joy, relaxed and calm. Would this added feeling make me work better at the cost of 2 x 30 min walks a day and a dog in the office?
  • There are highly stressful pinch points throughout the year
    We need to take a serious look at pinch points. For me three times a year I have near unbearable stress when I put together a brochure. It is, however, at its core, to each element, not a stressful activity (design, writing, pricing). The process that we work to create brochures merely compresses 50 shows going on sale, and everything associated with that into 2 – 3 weeks. Why not have a rolling season? Lose that stress, develop a system that is adaptive and flexible rather than operating within the constraints of the three season structure? What else would need to change? What would be the benefits rather than the costs? Would anyone underwrite us (ACE?) to try this so we don’t avoid change to avoid falling on our arses. How do we mitigate our fear of the unknown?
  • Wages are remaining static
    People do not work in the arts for the money it is said. Yet the arts are still hemorrhaging some of the best staff. Clearly it’s a factor. If we can sort the first two issues to make people more time rich, less stressed and working more efficiently (ideally with a pet) then we should look at addressing the wage problem in a creative way. Maybe not with higher wages but with better conditions. What if you did a 4 day week on the same wages? Or worked 6 hour days instead, again for the same wage? What if you were happier, more motivated, less stressed, more time rich, more efficient and paid for your time more reasonably – would that make us all work better?

I appreciate that people will invariably say that either a) that’s not how the world works or b) (and this is to be blunt) make excuses for why none of this is possible. The question I wonder is that if the arts doesn’t address the status quo, the increasing difficulties that the workers in arts organisations have, how can it expect to sort the issues the whole industry faces organisationally, sociologically, ethically and morally.

The arts are about change for the better, to find a vision for a new hope through reflection or ambition. They need to find a place in the 21st century and discover how they can influence the development of society and humanity in a world that increasingly feels to have lost the wonder, the clear eyed wonder and joy of simply living – and this it needs to start at home.

Big statement? Yes.
Big ideas? Maybe.
Starts from the smallest but bravest of changes? Definitely.

If you found this post interesting then please read this one which I wrote a few weeks ago! Click here!

Any thoughts or comments please tweet me @mrfreeman1984

The Future Of Arts Marketing (and Theatre)


On Wednesday I attended the Spektrix Conference at the Lyric Hammersmith which was, at it invariably always is, incredibly thought provoking. One of the lightning talks took a fictional look at how theatre ticketing might be in 2020, looking back over the past 5 years of innovation that is yet to happen. It was funny, interesting and insightful and it made me think (along with other things) as to the changes that have happened in the course of my career and the direction I think we’re heading.

In many ways when I think back 10 years to when I started in Arts Marketing the world has changed hugely – social media, the rise of youtube, website development and online sales – the idea of cloud computing was foreign those years ago. However these changes while seismic have not registered highly on the Richter scale (to continue the metaphor). Invariably change happens at a much slower rate than we expect. Also, by the very nature of change, not all of us are early adopters, innovations happen, and some are kept whereas other fall by the wayside. Two that spring to mind are twitter and second life – both were picked up at the same time but only twitter has been widely adopted.

So where does this leave us, and me? Well I started to think about the things that I’d like to look at over the next 5 to 10 years, the changes I think will actually be adopted, the directions we will go and the places we will see. Some of these are arts marketing, some are my inclination about more organisational issues.

  1. Brochures still won’t die but they’ll be redefined.
    We’ve been saying it for 15 years – “in 3 years time noone will do brochures” – and yet, invariably we still invest huge amounts of time and effort in brochures. I still think they have a place, they offer a different audience and a tangible, touchable, real connection to an organisation – however, I think they’ll become shorter as they increasingly become portals to digital-only content. There will also be reconsideration of programming cycles. Films aren’t programmed seasonally so why is theatre? There’s a strong case for a rolling cycle of work, especially in a world where long term planning for customer purchasing, particularly on lower value items is becoming less and less. Also, why stress ourselves our 3 times a year going through a brochure process.
  2. Content to become king (at last)
    The next five years will see the content led marketing move to the foreground, the homepages will become feasts of interesting information. What we see at the moment is content about the shows and artists – what the future will bring is podcast and more video but also, content around the themes or context of the work. If there’s a play about immigration expect work about the Syrian conflict, surviving as a refugee and about the history of migration. The future of marketing will belong to the geeky data analysts and the content creators.
  3. Personalised experiences
    We will see websites customise to audiences when they log in (catching us up to Amazon). Logging in will display a what’s on list ordered by things we think you’ll like – we’ll already know your favourite seat (and get you them or ones close by) – we’ll tell you about how your last donation was made and will send you personalised details of travel – your recent purchases will have info about what other people thought, we’ll even give you the podcast from the Q&A you attended. Also the box office will link to the bar and the restaurant – we might even suggest a new beer we’ve got in stock or a special our chef thinks is just right for you.
  4. Route controlled logic tree marketing (automation)
    Time will become more valuable than anyone expected – writing great articles takes time. As a result we’ll look at how we can automate our systems. What if for a comedy show each article we wrote was linked to the sales page through the CRM and CMS, each blog, podcast, video. So that the e-mail that is sent to customers sends the top 3 bits of content as well as the show, or maybe even instead of the show? What if we set logic trees for a shows, a strand of work, a season of work – so that activity is planned, created and then constructed to your specifications according to need. A customer never clicks on the podcast? No problem, they get directed to blogs instead. Customer donated to an organisation fund? No problem, the latest bit of content about the project is taken and sent to them.
  5. Live streaming
    I don’t think Live Streaming will replace the Live Experience. But I think it will act as a strong incentivisation for audiences in theatres that can’t do the scale of ambition that is NT Live. What if each theatre had 4 webcams, 3 on the performance and in the foyers? No sound, not great quality, just seeing art in motion? Would it work? Who knows – all i know is when I visit the Minack Theatre live stream it makes me want to go to Cornwall.
  6. Live digital feedback feeding the experience
    No more static FOH screens. Feedback being generated live feeding into the displays and website. Would it be moderated? Who knows – part of me thinks that if it isn’t then people will trust it more. We should encourage people to tweet pics of the set, themselves at the venue. This feedback will, I suspect, be collected, but the question remains as to how it is used?
  7. Experience flow to become key
    There is, at the moment, in many venues a disconnect between the marketing, FOH, Box Office and Bar experience – mostly because they’re run separately with oversight not necessarily concentrating on the implementation of brand and values. Expect FOH, Operations, Box Office, Bar and Marketing Departments to merge and work as one team offering a more consistent experience, translating organisational values and brand more efficiently than ever before. Some venues are doing this already…
  8. Marketing to be renamed Communications, then Content Delivery, then Data, then back to Marketing.
    If #7 doesn’t happen then expect this. It happens every two years or so with little or not meaningful effect… Still means some new badges.
  9. Programming and Participation Departments to merge
    Programming and participation sometimes work too separately – they need to interact holistically and with real synergy so that they are wholesale leading how the audience experience is deepened at enriched from the earliest stages of conversations about work – some theatres do this incredibly well, the programming being shared more will open up new opportunities and possibilities.
  10. Changes to work ethic, roles and creativity. (post burnout)
    Expect tough times. Working hours have increased, stress has increased, pressure and workload has increased. Something will snap and that something will be staff. We need a wholesale change in work ethic. Increasing working hours is not a solution, merely a sticking plaster on a symptom. We need to look at efficiency of how we free up time and develop systems to make life easier. Let’s bring in 30 hour working weeks as standard on the same wages as 35 or 40 hour contracts. Let’s encourage 1 day in 10 working on a creative project. Let’s work out how to cut down e-mails. There is a logic that the happier, the less stressed, the more joy and creativity we have in our jobs the better and more efficiently we work (with less sick days too). Why are we not seriously looking at making our lives more enjoyable – we need to break systems causing issues before they break us.

I appreciate that much of this has been said and done before but I’d love to get your thoughts, views and opinions. I am as always looking for the odd freelance activity to run as an added extra in my life of arts marketing so if you want to chat through any of these let me know!

As always these views are my own and do not represent the views of anyone I work with or for (nor Spektrix, I merely had the thoughts while at their conference!).

Best, Sam x

Marketing DIY: Intermediate Heat Mapping (Genre)

In the last Marketing DIY post (here) we talked about how you can do a basic heat mapping of your auditorium. We took basic data contained within your database to look at how long prior to booking people actually booked their tickets, used this as a basic measure of demand and then mapped it using conditional formatting to get an insight into how the booking of an auditorium works. Simple, not perfect, but useful.

But what do you do next? I gave a few examples of ideas you might have to increase revenue, but there’s probably more data you need to examine (particularly in regional reps where you have a broad variance in programming) before you should make your decisions about how to do your pricing. One example, which I’m going to touch on here might be variance in genre.

Let’s start with our hunch. I go to the theatre a lot and know that the experience of going to a comedy night varies from a theatre show – some people just hate that direct contact, they want to avoid being “picked on“. Equally, I have a suspicion that families always want the front row and that, in a rather more silly example, for circus shows that people love the side seats. So far, just a hunch, so how do we test it?

For this example for ease of explanation and to make it a little easier to write this blog post I’ve created some data based on an entirely fake 9 seat venue called “Sam’s Theatre”. The venue has had 4 shows in this example – comedy, drama, dance and physical theatre.


In my sample data the addition of the genre column (which is an event attribute) means that we can start to slice and examine the data in different ways. Our first port of call is, like in the previous post to put the data into a pivot table. As you can see on the right we have our fields of information, so by row we’re looking at the individual seat (this is what we use to build our heatmap). The values we’re looking at is the day’s prior to booking – in the values box there’s a dropdown called Value Field Settings and set the Summarise Value Field by Average.


So we’ve essentially got what we had before and we can build our heatmap using conditional formatting.


So here’s our heatmap which is the averages of all our data from across my (admittedly limited) four show season. What we can do next is use a tool in the pivot table to examine the data in different ways (pivot table tools > options) called the slicer. This allows us to look at slices of data. In our example above we have currently two unused columns of information – show title and genre. The effect is to only look at portions of data and to give us a visual representation of what is happening.





So let’s imagine that we’ve used a few years data, across multiple shows. Now this information becomes useful in setting pricing going forward and potentially identifying where demand might be, where price boundaries are and how we can increase yields. Conclusions in this example might be:

  • Comedy: Could we increase prices of middle row and reduce back row price?
  • Dance: the side seats are less important, can we reduce prices of these, or should the middle be more expensive?
  • Drama: 3 price bands might be a good idea? Perhaps we could look at then how we incentive customers to trade up?
  • Physical Theatre: the back row could be cheaper but no point discounting the sides?

This, as I’m sure you’ll realise, a really brutalist and unsubtle example.

Even when using much bigger data sets it’s important to bear in mind the many other factors to look at when examining pricing. How does it fit in with brand, organisational ideology, programming etc… There’s also things like clarity for an audience, organisation, staff, maybe there are errors in the dataset, perhaps there was one show where seats were booked consistently months in advance. As a result this should be a guide rather than a definitive answer to all pricing questions I think.

This is all the pretty basic end of what’s possible to look at and explore – if you’d like to know more, bounce ideas or even a little bit of (and I’m loath to use the word) consultancy, then drop me a tweet @mrfreeman1984 or contact me through my contact form (or at darklaughs(at)

Best, Sam


Marketing DIY: Heat mapping your auditorium

Heat mapping your venue has always been an incredibly good thing to do. It allows you to look at where you can place pricing bands, squeeze additional income and even develop accessibility. But can you do it yourself? I think so, and so, over the next 1,159 words I’ll be going through the process of how to do it.

The information I will be using will be from a small studio theatre (Unity Theatre) and for a single show (Hal Cruttenden) – but the principles remain, all I’ll be missing out is a section on aggregating data (which is pretty simple, feel free to tweet me about it). I’m also using the Spektrix box office system which is very nice (other systems are available).

So, where to begin.

We know that heat mapping essentially measures demand and preference, it tells us which seats are coveted more that others. We need to start with the raw data of what’s happening in every seat. I’m using a new sales report for this (no need to ask Spektrix to build you anything!), with a simple single event selection criteria and various outputs.


So we’ve got three bits of data, seat which gives us the seat number, event date/time which is the day of the performance and date confirmed which is when the ticket was purchased. Obviously if you’re a bigger theatre you add in area as well to separate the stalls from the dress circle etc… So we run this report and we get an excel report that looks a bit like this.


Now this information isn’t terribly useful at the moment. What we need to do is get number of days prior to the performance each ticket was booked.

Now, if you chat with Spektrix they’ll direct you to an analysis report for this, but with excel you can get the same result (and also at an advanced level look at loads more detail – e.g. looking at shows in relation to genre to answer questions – do people sit further back when there’s stand up on or do they move forward?).

So we add a new column D called Advance Booking (Days). We take the Event Date/Time and minus the Date Confirmed. This gives us a numerical value for the advance. As you can see in my example, that ticket was bought on the day so is a proportion of a day (0.2 days in advance).


So we apply this to all our seats – if you do this over a month or years that might be 200k lines of data, so be prepared. Also your PC will slow down a bit. Some unsold seats may register as #VALUE! which means that excel can’t do the sum as it’s impossible. Don’t worry (although it’s unlikely to be an issue with bigger data sets). There’s other ways of eliminating these seats and also using multipliers to assess unpopular seats that are simply rarely used to ensure that any bias is counteracted!

Now we have our data we’re going to insert a pivot table. This allows us to aggregate our data (although quite unnecessary in this example!).  So we create a pivot table that looks a bit like this:


Now we need to translate this into a seating plan. This is the boring bit. You have to recreate your seating plan on excel. Dull. Sorry! I’ve not made my tremendously attractive and it’s a really simple plan but you can see underneath how it works. Lots of boxes and seat numbers. Then comes a period of data entry, essentially linking the data in the pivot table into the plan. So the data from A10 goes into the box for seat A10 – simple. I’ve also rounded the figures to make it all simpler (but rest assured it doesn’t make a difference – it just hides the detail!).


As you can see I’ve added in some of the numbers. So seats A16 & A17 were booked 90 days in advance (yey) and seats A10 & A11 were released at the last minute so bought on the day (yey). Of course when you use aggregated data from multiple performances you get a much clearer picture on how your auditorium is working – because I’m demonstrating with just one show the results will be blocky! It’s also worth mentioning that if you have different areas you can split them across different sheets in excel – there’s some lovely functionality you can use to keep consistency which is particularly useful if, for example you are looking at touring versus homemade shows or looking at different genres. Be aware that in my data there are gaps in the mapping as the performance didn’t sell out!


So here we have (some 20 mins later) our completed seating plan for the performance of Hal Cruttenden (comedian) at Unity Theatre. Not all the seats sold so they have ### on them. Some are house seats (J 5 – 9) and wheelchair seats (A5 – 7). The next thing we’re going to do is add conditional formatting.

This formats the information in the chart/seating plan depending on conditions we set. So for example you could say that on any seat where people booked over 30 days in advance you want to put a star. You select the format of a star to any box that meets the criteria (booked over 30 days in advance). The newer versions (2010 onwards) have some pre installed versions.


As you can see there are lots of options so you can really set your own boundaries. However for us I’ve gone simple for a traditional 3 colour scale – so red seats are the higher numbers, green are lowest, and orange in the middle. For most people you won’t need to get any more complicated than that! So how does my plan look?


This is just a sample with one show but we can learn a lot from it. Red is popular seats, green are less popular.At the moment the entire auditorium is the same price ( all £8 as this was a preview). This information might encourage us to:

  • Increase the price of tickets in the centre block front 4 rows to £10
  • Reduce the prices of the tickets on the periphery (particularly E20 & E21) to £6

We can also see an anomaly. Have you spotted it?

Seat E4 – they’ve clearly misunderstood the seating plan and booked two seats across an aisle. Maybe two people with long legs? Maybe they should pay extra for the extra room?

This would, basically, create 3 price bands potentially which would increase ticket yields (I’ll tell you how to do that another time, again, great for spreadsheets!). There’s also the final question about accessibility. Well we’ve opened up the pricing a bit now, originally all the seats were £8, now there’s a range of options from £6 – £10.

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please tweet me @mrfreeman1984 if you’ve enjoyed reading it or, if you’d like a chat about me doing some low cost heat mapping on your seating plan with some added extras drop me an e-mail through my contact form.

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