Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

AMA Conference 2024

I’ve not been writing on here much lately, a combo of a small child, a show I need to finish (still not done) and work being quite busy mean that, frankly, I’ve not got close. Which, sat here now, is a shame as, unusually, I think I might have some interesting ideas to share – from applying theories of behavioural economics to subscription campaigns, to booking a comedy festival and the challenges of being an artist unattached to any arts organisation… Who knows, maybe I might get to them on a rainy day…

I have been down in Brighton (trendy, nice beach, good food) for the last few days at the AMA conference so, while it’s vaguely fresh in my mind, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts gathered from experiences, speakers and nice conversations while I was there… Here goes…

  • Evaluation – We don’t spend enough time on evaluating and retrospectively assessing our work. I guess its part and parcel of being on the treadmill that is a year-round venue, but creating that space and time would be so valuable… I frequently find myself in a loop about how to simplify and make time for the work we do but lacking the time to do that in an analytical, pragmatic and smart way. This as a benchmark of good practice would be great.
  • Full cups – Everyone has too much on. There isn’t really room for us to do more (or evaluate?) some of the time because were always moving on to the next thing. We forget sometimes that innovation takes time and space. We rarely put in time for R&D for the non-“creative” parts of our organisations…
  • Skill – There are lots of really good arts marketing people out there right now; driven, fresh, smart people. Curiously though was how many said they didn’t always feel valued, which seems a real shame. There’s also a major recruitment issue across the industry and lots of feedback about people leaving when they hit management level. I think this is probably a great moment to be an early career marketeer if you’re willing to move frequently as I suspect if you’re good you could progress incredibly quickly
  • Real ale and IPAs – More one for me really. For years I’ve been a bit of a snob about beers and, more recently since I cut down my drinking (I was drinking too much), I’ve got worse, actively seeking out 0% IPAs from random producers, ideally brewed by beardy men with moustaches, seeking the perfect artisan beer. I started drinking a can of 0% while at the conference – “absolutely delicious” I told the group around me, “probably the best 0% beer I’ve drunk”, before promptly being told that I was drinking sparkling wine. So yep. My tastebuds are shit.
  • Systems – I’ve had a few really insightful chats with some of the ticketing suppliers recently and its been really eye-opening as to how their development has been going. I’ve been particularly excited by Spektrix again (after a period of ambivalence) – there’s a really interesting thing about where that product is at in its lifespan and the behind the scenes work the team is currently doing so that they can really push the boat out and be a solid stable system. It was really impressive, I think they’ll be worth watching again for that unexpected innovation.
  • Other Thoughts In No Particular Order:
    #1 – How do you get a singular figure for emissions for you organisation so that it ties together and creates broader context for smaller green initiatives and projects?
    #2 – What are the understandable metrics around environmental issues for audiences? E.g. We saved 23 dolphins…
    #3 – Should our new venue have hotbins for organic waste and polytunnels?

And finally..

I did a talk.
I’ll be honest, I was horrifically nervous and a little ill, but I think it went okay.

It’s not something I’ve done for over five, maybe nearly six years (I don’t get asked which helps). I think it was a really useful lesson to me about how much time goes into coming up with something even half decent. I think prep for it took around 12 hours of my time, then I ran it maybe four times in its entirety before getting to the conference. Weirdly though I still felt underprepared. I think I’ve not done much where I’ve had the notes readily available on screen and actually I found it tricky to land a couple of markers in what I was talking about with notes in my hand. There’s also a confidence thing as well. I’ve got a little dog, Poppy, and when she’s in our garden she’s very confident, if a blackbird lands on the fence she’ll sprint at it, barking her head off, to scare it off. When the context changes though and we’re out for a walk, she’s suddenly much more shy and less confident. I think it’s a skill that takes a while to build conference speaking – finding that balance between being off the cuff, factually accurate and confident – in a new context.

So yeah, went fine, probably didn’t enjoy the conference as much because I’d built my talk up too much in my head, but yeah, done now (thank god).

Also… A massive thank you to the AMA team, particularly Lucy, who were so supportive and looked after me when I was feeling a bit stressed and rotten on Friday. They’re such a warm, lovely team and great people to have around supporting our industry.


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