Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

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



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