Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

AMA Conference 2019 – Day #1

Ever since I came to my first AMA Conference (in Newcastle the last time round!) I’ve always written up my notes, thoughts and opinions. Sometimes, I must admit I’ve been a bit harsh, I’ll also caveat that by saying that sometimes I’ve not been clear enough and sometimes, well maybe I got the level just right. Anyway, here’s some thoughts below which are, I must stress, my opinions alone. I’d love to know other people’s thoughts too!

Day one has been generally a really positive day – it’s been great to catch up with colleagues from around the UK and Newcastle/Gateshead is a lovely city to be visiting. Since I last came to the AMA conference the programme seems more cleverly put together and its more (to take what a colleague said) more of a Edinburgh Fringe style – a pick and mix where sometimes you land well and othertimes it’s less exciting, but crucially, none of the sessions are too long.

Finding Time
One of the things I’ve been struck in conversation is how the pace of what we do has accelerated hugely over the last 5 to 10 years while staffing teams have generally got smaller and budgets have shrunk. Everyone’s trying to do more and, for the large part, against the odds succeeding. However I wonder if there is a cost in terms of innovation, exploration, quality and our own health and wellbeing? It seems that we speak extensively of what we must do and add in, but little about what we stop doing to make time.

Being Kind
I loved Alan Lane’s talk. I like kindness and sometimes worry that we sometimes forget in our roles of relentlessly chasing money so that our organisations survive, that we’re here to make people’s lives better and happier. There’s a really interesting thing about a number of theatres and the organisational and operational models that underpin them which is this (and whisper it): they’re not fit for purpose. If we were starting from scratch with an organisation today they probably wouldn’t look like many do – but the space to change, explore, learn and the right to fail are not afforded to them at the level required for institutional change (I should also mention that I think economically we’re fucked as well, after all how can you deliver permanent financial growth without stepping on people or the planet? We need a new way.). But maybe there are small steps we can all, individually take?

Fundraising & Members
There were a few chats about fundraising and membership. It seems to me that we’re on a repetition cycle and while I think the breaking of silos is admirable in terms of ensuring that people think more holistically in an organisation, there were things that I felt I’d heard before, just with membership instead of friends.

Programattic Advertising
I’m sorry, I didn’t get it. It seemed to be a new word for funnelling and then remarketing to audiences with different (unnamed) platforms. One of the strengths (and weaknesses) of the arts has been to dip into technology and adapt it for our use. This felt like something we’d seen and done before with a new label.

Future Proofing
I loved the Traverse Theatre’s scheme (of which I cannot talk in depth on here) – it was innovative, clever and heartwarming. Most of all though I admired the candidness of an organisation that can say that they had to be in the right place organisationally before they could put it in place. Genuinely inspiring.

I said one for them all. I said I don’t believe you can change and grow. I guess it’s been drilled into me, you can’t change, once you’re in a position you can’t change. I’ve considered career changes more than usual in the last 3 months and Melanie’s talk honesty flicked a switch in my head – I’m so negative about my non-theatre marketing work because in my mind, because I’ve not been doing stuff from a foetal moment that I can’t do it to a great standard. So here – bold statement – I could be a very good comedian and also, I’m a good director and have reviews to prove it. Stage one, belief. There. Let’s reach for growth.

Data relevance
I’ve had a lovely chat with the Purple Seven guys about some of the analysis they’ve been doing. I’ve also had some good chats last night that led me to try a few things, most notably to think about relevance. I’ve been worried, looking at graphs that I occasionally blow things massively out of proportions – I see a graph with an upward incline and I think (momentarily) that I’m God, while the reverse sends me into a panic. But there’s a way of searching for statistical significance and well as trends using trend lines (duh) and also standard deviation. A couple of examples below: tweet me later if you wanna have a look at my Tableau stuff as I’ll be at the conference with my laptop tomorrow!

So any figures outside the grey areas are statistically relevant and significant, the colours are financial years (2013/14 – 2019/20) and the data presented is a random collection of months, venue, films and ticket types (y’know to keep our secrets safe!)

And Finally… Do I know you?
I’ve had a few people mention that a) Crayg (Theatr Clwyd’s Digital Guru) is the face of the AMA as he’s been on all the e-mails and b) that a few people recognise me from something. Turns out its from a video speech I made in Sheffield for ACE earlier in the year. I didn’t share the video at the time, but, having listened back, I can confirm it’s not total shit. So yeah, enjoy.

I’ll also add a caveat to that by saying I was in a conversation with someone for nearly 40 minutes where they called me Simon and I was was too embarrassed to say anything so, y’know, not a known quantity.