Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Tag: Spektrix

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




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: 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.

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.

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