Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Arts Marketing: Preparing For What’s Next

Or ideas of things to do over the next couple of months…

I’ve been in a weird mood since Christmas – a kind of grumpy, unfocused, curmudgeon, working hard but also not feeling like, well, I’m actually making a difference.

Now, of course, some of that is the destabilising effect of being in lockdown, missing friends, drinking too much of my special hot toddy (recipe at the end of this article) and generally finding Covid a bit too much.

In the last week or two though I had a bit of a moment where I realised that this might, just might, be a good point to try and think laterally, go back to the pre-2020 list of ambitions and dreams, and maybe tick off some things that might help both me and the theatre I work for in the future.

So here’s a selection of things I’ve been looking at, thinking about and working on. Some of them are incredibly mundane and none of them will blow your mind. What they might do is help you find that glimmer of inspiration to cast off your curmudgeonly jacket of covid-ness, and take a step forward.

I’m also conscious that many people might be on furlough, or reduced hours, so I’ve tried to put easy-wins down here. I hope you like it, and, as always, tweet me at @mrfreeman1984 if any of this is useful. Oh and you may disagree with some of these, in which case that’s fine, we don’t all have to agree on everything.

#1 – Make a brand identity document

I realised about 18 months ago that the brand of the organisation wasn’t actually written down anywhere. That’s not to say we didn’t have a brand and identity, we had a clear idea of tone, aesthetic and also how it works in our decision making process, but it just wasn’t written down. We had a couple of new starters in the Communications team and so I started to download that information into a document – a guide rather than rules, written by a human for a human to make implementing brand ideas and to get consistency easier.

So what did it include? Well lots of obvious stuff – where logos go, colour we like and don’t, fonts and spacing – but then also bits to do with copywriting and accessibility, then bits to do with how we react on social media, what we aim to do with website pages and content – how we’re storytellers and that needs to be more focused on. Mostly its a reiteration of kindness, acceptance and support that underpin how we work and what we aim to do.

It’s far from a perfect document, and it’s not finished, and I fully expect to get 5 brand consultants get in touch about how I’m doing it wrong, BUT it’s given me clarity, helped focus and also sparked discussion about who we are and why.

#2 – Check in on seating plans and transition plans

I’ve gone back to seating plans and ideas for social distancing in our auditoria again. It looks like there is a possibility (in Wales at least), that in 2021 we may have to deal with three configurations of seating – 2m spacing, 1m+ spacing and then, possibly, no spacing. All three of these present a huge amount of issues. Audience research as the pandemic took hold seemed (and I paraphrase massively) to show that people’s opinions move with the herd (awkward turn of phrase), and like weathercocks turn in the direction the wind is blowing, usually defined from a combination of the media and government policy.

Did I think being a mask seller would be the #1 business in March 2020?

Did I think everyone would lose panto in March 2020?

Did I think hand washing was the complete solution in March 2020?
I’ll be honest, I did think that singing Bohemian Rhapsody while washing your hands did seem a little optimistic for defeating an airbourne virus…

My point is that there have been huge, monumental changes over the last year and so predicting what will happen and nailing your colours to the mast seems a little risky.

2m spacing is a ballache – let’s be honest, it kills off everything and isn’t practical for anything commercial. 1m spacing is, actually, more doable, with the exception of major blockbusters it gives a capacity which, while not good, is workable. 0m spacing might be the most problematic – because it’s going to feel scary at first. Or it might not. Who the fuck knows.

My main thought is working out how we can increase capacities and change plans simply and easily – how we can avoid the unreserved model and deal with seating in advance rather than being reactive later on.

I’m also conscious that lots of people are looking at different options for restart – zonal unreserved, fully unreserved – I’ve been looking at how we can give certainty to audiences while also maintain flexibility – I’m also conscious that change breeds confusion and where that confusion manifests is always an unknown. I want people to feel the familiar, but with an extra layer of security.

#3 – Surveys for the future

I’m redoing our audience post-show surveys. I’m probably going to lose a whole load of info about Covid and measures and replace it with broader, more long term measurables around experience of your visit and using Net Promotor Score a bit more before going into depth if people score low. I’m also going to look at how it can be more segmented – members and new attenders need something different I think – members to make them feel listened to and appreciated and are more willing to go into the minutia of what we do. New attenders DON’T NEED A FUCKING MASSIVE QUESTIONNAIRE AS IT’S NEEDY AND CREEYP. Ahem. Maybe we’ll just ask if they’re planning on coming back eh?

#4 – Answer the new attender question

I’m writing a single A4 page about how we work with new attenders. I’m a big fan of flow charts that look at the touchpoints in a journey. Of course there are always points we don’t know about (when they don’t buy the tickets for example), but I think there’s a principles of new attenders we need to sort. So, for example, do we meet and greet new attenders? Do they get a 50% off the bar first visit discount? Maybe a free ice cream as a welcome? What about a note on their seat, and then a £X off voucher to use on a future show (in the next 6 months yeah?).

#5 – Simplify where you can

I think this has become a bit of a pet project for me in life as well as something I’m trying (although not necessarily succeeding) to do at work. I naturally try and find cool solutions, where it’s clever and you go, “wow, that’s both cool and clever”. But some of the time it’s easy to lose sight that there’s a simpler solution. I’ve also been trying (although not necessarily succeeding) to factor time into the equation – time is a commodity of which I have a finite resource.

As an example. We send out membership cards. It’s a card with a membership number written on (by hand), glue dotted onto a letter, which goes with another letter, folded (by hand) and placed (by hand) in an envelope, before the address is written (by hand) on the front. Normally I wouldn’t find time to look at this process – after all it’s the process of sending a card. Apart from when we look at scale this one process eats time over the course of a year that could be used for better things.

So. Why not a mail merged postcard, redesigned and redirecting people online in lieu of vast quantities of paperwork? Why not one that people cut out themselves? Why not one that is facilitated externally on a weekly basis (not daily)?

# 6 – Sort the office

Our office has gone from 9 people to 1 (occasionally 2). Realistically it’ll never be a 9 person office again because working practice has changed in the last 12 months – we’ve all got laptops, we’re mobile, our servers work and we’re less paper dependent. I think working from home isn’t something I want to do full time, but equally I don’t think full time office working is right either. We have to offer flexibility, save on petrol costs, help with the work/life balance. People have kids and they should see them.

However, when I am in the office i’ve noticed that, frankly, it’s a bit harrowing. I remember watching Ally McBeal, and documentaries about Google and other tech startups and thinking “that looks like a nice place to spend time”. Even though our office will be rubble in 12 months it’s still important to make a space nice, and a good, calming, productive place to be.

#7 – Write a ‘stop doing’ list

I was encouraged to do this when we worked with TRG (other flavours of arts consultants are available) and I failed miserably. Essentially everything seemed important, there was nothing I could stop doing and even now it makes me feel sick to think of stopping something. Everything is full on, and urgent and needs communicating that I sometimes forget that the job is working out how to find space and clarity to communicate in. Also, we all have a finite amount of time (Ground Hog Day anyone?!) and the job will never be done, so we must choose what’s important.

P.S. This is genuinely the hardest thing on this list, if anyone has done it then please message me because I REALLY struggle with this.

#8 – Do a website audit

This is the thing I’m most glad I did recently. I used and mapped every page on our site then colour coded them – green meaning it’s great, orange meaning needs a rewrite or work and red meaning non-existant or shockingly bad. Barely 10% of our site is green.

There are pages we don’t look at often, or that get added to, or that have things just popped on them. It’s rare that I get chance to read it, rarer still as if I know nothing about the organisation – with fresh eyes things suddenly jump out.

  • We give facts & statements we don’t tell stories.
  • We don’t say why we do things just how or when
  • We like name dropping people who you’ll never have heard of
  • Quotes have a habit of being longer than the Bible
  • We don’t structure information to make it easy to find
  • We need to close projects – when a project ends then it should say its ended, BUT AlSO we should say what it did and the difference it made.
  • The really dull pages are both really dull (T&Cs, Complaints, Contact) but also read as if they’ve been written by an auditor of a faceless corporation rather than someone creative.
  • There are pages that aren’t fun.
  • There are pages where we’ll mention something but provide no easy link to get there.

Now this is me taking my eye off the ball. And sure we’ve had covid and it’s been an exceptional year etc… But I’m not 100% sure my eyes were on this pre-covid, and this is our shop window. It’s a bit messy. It’s almost Woolworths. It comes from, you guessed it, not enough time…

Finding time should probably be #1 on this list.

#9 – Sam’s Special Hot Toddy Receipe

Basically this drink is perfect for comatosing you after a hard day.

  1. Boil the kettle.
  2. Get a cup – fill it 1/8 with fresh orange juice
  3. Add 1/8 of cheap, cheap whiskey
  4. Add 1/8 of cheap, cheap whiskey
  5. If it’s a Monday then add 1/16 of cheap, cheap whiskey.
  6. Add 3/8 of boiling water
  7. Get some honey. Not the nice stuff. Not manuka. Honey that has been in the back of the cupboard for 6 years and you have to break it apart with a lump hammer.
  8. Add the honey and stir.
  9. Keep adding honey until it’s drinkable and your teeth tingle.
  10. Drink in the goodness and thank God you work in the arts.

#10 – And finally a show…

Look, lots* of arts types read my blog and most of the time I offer myself up at the end of them if anyone wants to have a chat about arts marketing or anything really as I think we should all stick together etc…

Anyway, this is a bit different. I made a show, it’s not perfect but I think it’s kindda nice, I’m working on version 2 at the moment. I’d love to perform it in a venue, Christ I’ll do it for free**, I just don’t want it to sit on a shelf and never get done. So… If you can… there’s more information and a video, please have a watch, pass on to programmers, ADs or even just friends – like I said, I’ll do it for free. Click here to have a watch.

*statistically between 27 and 438 per blog post.
**genuinely will, buy me a twix afterwards.

Oh and also to say, I work with an amazing team in the C&G team at Clwyd. They really are a bunch of legends, increasingly I’ve noticed that the things I think need doing are already done before I ask, they’re efficient and work together amazingly, and they are supportive, kind, talented and good humoured.