Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Tag: arts marketing

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.

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.

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


Spektrix Conference 2014

I’m on my way back from the Spektrix Conference 2014 and I thought I’d pop my musings down. At the moment there are three snoring people surrounding me (one is dribbling), a lady eating a salad that smells like death and a teenager listening to what can only be described as 90s club anthems, because that’s what they are. So, I’m not being impolite by writing this.

Continue reading

Arts Marketing: Now What? (Part 1)

I’ve not written a post about arts marketing for a while so, as I find myself on box office in a quiet moment I thought I’d pop down some thoughts I’ve been having recently. If you work in marketing you may disagree with them – then again I could be about to provide a moment of immense clarity – who knows, this could be either very exciting or a waste of 4 to 7 minutes.

We’ve been going through a period of quiet shows at the moment – it happens every so often – after a period of sell out shows for no inexplicable reason sales crash back down to Earth and a period of soul searching begins – What didn’t we do? Was the artwork good enough? Were the tickets too expensive? Did it just not appeal? Why didn’t it appeal? Are the audience just trying to mentally damage me?

At the core of my self questioning have been a few central point:

  1. Is the % of our budget we spend on season brochures having enough of an impact?
  2. Is there a better more collaborative way than the season brochure?
  3. How can we talk to our audiences in new and clever ways and seek to develop their knowledge of the artform?
  4. How can we foster genuine ownership for the building?
  5. How should we be using our online presence and where does the future lie for websites and social media?
  6. How do we turn our new audience into regular attenders?
  7. Is it possible to produce new work on the small-scale at a price that is economical for theatres?

If none of these points interest you I’d seriously consider turning back right now, seriously, I’d leave, flee.

Still here? Great then I’ll begin.

#1 – Is the % of our budget we spend on season brochures having enough of an impact?

We’re a small theatre and brochures are a heavy burden on the budget, even with vast amounts of corner cutting (It was 55% of our budget, now it’s 27% with new suppliers) with ever decreasing resources (by minimal budget think that each brochure costs £3k and we produce 3 a year!).

Genre segmentation would be one way of increasing impact, however on a small-scale (team of 2 with 110+ shows) it’s not fully practical – also not economically viable with variations of print. This idea is for a very arty small-scale theatre btw…

The brochure has 3 main purposes:

  1. Posting to previous attenders – People who’ve been before and who have a relationship with the organisation. This makes sense – they are the bread and butter audience, they’re more likely to spend money with us surely? OR is this slightly mental? Surely those people are the most informed about the type of work they’re likely to see, they have a relationship with you and if they’ve booked more than once in the past year then you’d hope a positive relationship is there? We want to develop a deeper relationship with these people but they are to an extent a captured audience. So, why not swap the 28page brochure they receive with a 8 page folded leaflet and a redirect to the website – maybe while also reminding people to update their details? We could be even smarter still, instead of sending a brochure about shows we could send a brochure about the organisation, that helps develop that relationship and a deeper understanding of our work and purpose.
  2. Distribution – This old chestnut… Well, each brochure has a high unit price and are placed as essentially disposable literature – gone are the days (for most people) of the brochure that rests on a coffee table (under a glass lid) being read like a Bronte novel periodically. A % of these will be binned by staff, a % read once and then binned and a % will be picked up and used. So, can we assume that these people have an interest so again – need less of the huge brochure and more a starting point – perhaps with links to website (mobile enabled of course) content?
  3. To engage people with the brand identity – Lists of shows only go so far in the brochure context – we should be selling an ideal, a vision, a road to the future – which is maybe why it’d be better to spend budget saved on big 32/28 page brochures and instead reinvest that money in finding a wider audience and offering deeper information with an aim to spread the organisational vision rather than content.

So this is part one.

Written. Yep.

To be honest this isn’t the most well-written thing i’ve ever done but will keep me writing down my thoughts.

If you like what I’ve written then please share AND IMPORTANTLY please leave your comments below.


© 2019 Sam Freeman

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

meIf you’d like to receive infrequent e-mails about my upcoming gigs, things I’ve made or simply fun things then please sign up below (I won’t share your deets and you can unsubscribe at any time)..

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