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Supercool’s Dozen

Categories: Our work, Silly


Today is a milestone in Supercool’s history – it’s our 12th anniversary. (That’s 144 months. 626 weeks. 4,380 days.)

Supercool started life during the UN’s designated ‘Year of Rice’; two weeks before Facebook and three months before Gmail launched. Hmmm, they’re perhaps not great examples for our egos. Although we’ve (intentionally, of course) not spent our time becoming a world-dominating corporate force, we have had the pleasure of working on an ever-increasing number of fun, challenging and exciting projects. And we get to work with some fantastic people too, so we really couldn’t ask for more.

Thank you to all our ace clients – from WMS, who’ve been with us since the beginning, to the most recent addition to the Supercool fold, Longborough Festival Opera – for choosing to work with us over the past 12 years.

To mark the occasion, here’s a song all about 12, courtesy of Sesame Street …

2015 – A year in review

Categories: Our work

All I want for Christmas is

All we want for Christmas, in work-related terms, is for 2016 to be not dissimilar to 2015.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have added some fantastic new clients to our portfolio this year – from as far north as Aberdeenshire right down to West Sussex on the south coast – as well as continuing to work with lots of old friends.

Our 2015 started with a bright and colourful splash – the launch of an all-new vintage-inspired fashion brand and website for Lee & Lawrie, as well as an incredibly well-received re-brand, season campaign style and new website for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

CBSO branding, print design and website

In the spring we welcomed a new member of the team – Josh (Ainsworth). Which means we now have two Joshes – The Joshi? Both of whom also have surnames beginning with ‘A’. And both of whom are developers. Meaning no little confusion in the office at times. Hmmm. We’ve plumped for Josh 1 and Josh 2 for the time being as Backend-Josh and Frontend-Josh just didn’t sound quite right …

In the summer we worked on some ace projects – including websites for Stratford Circus arts centre in East London, author and knitting designer extraordinaire Sarah Hazell, and architects Sjölander da Cruz.

Stratford Circus, Sarah Hazell and Sjölander Da Cruz

James and I also found time to attend the Arts Marketing Association’s annual conference which was held in Brum; I wrote a series of blog posts about some of the talks, including a fairly popular one about 'sweary spaces and loyal fans'.

One of our biggest achievements this year was launching three complex and very different websites within a matter of days of each other – Chichester Festival Theatre, Sound (Scotland’s festival of new music) and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Chichester Festival Theatre, sound and Birmingham Royal Ballet

It just shows what a small team can get done … though, for the sake of our nerves/sanity, we’re unlikely to repeat this time-defying feat anytime soon.

Early autumn saw us kick-off a new website project with our most scenically-located client – Longborough Festival Opera; a boutique country house opera with stunning views of the glorious Cotswolds. (And their productions are nothing to sniff at either.)

Their all-new Spektrix-integrated website will be launching soon, but in the meantime here’s a sneaky peek:

Longborough Festival Opera website sneaky peek

As if all that excitement wasn’t enough, in mid-November Josh (1) and his wife welcomed a new baby daughter. Awww, a Supercool baby!

So, what’s in store for Supercool in 2016?

Amongst other things … a refreshed website for our friends Guthrie & Ghani, the second stage of our work with Chichester Festival Theatre, and brand new websites for one of the UK’s finest concert halls and a national ballet company.

It looks like 2016 will be another busy year, so here’s to a relaxing festive break!

Warmest winter wishes, and all the best for 2016 – from Supercool.

AMA: Sweary spaces and loyal fans

(Another in my series of write-ups about this year's Arts Marketing Association Conference which took place here in Brum.)

The AMA Conference Wednesday afternoon keynote “Audience Inspired Visioning” featured several speakers. I’m going to write about two of them – Alli Houseworth and Richard Evans.

I just want to start though by quickly explaining my use of 'f***ing' asterisks in the write-up of Alli’s talk.

I’m not one for censoring – and have even been known to use blue language myself – but I don’t want this post to be blocked by those with more sensitive filtering. And you know what the word should be.

[As previously, my thoughts and/or afterthoughts are bold and in square brackets.]

Alli Houseworth's tweet from the stage, before her talk

A Stupid F***ing Lobby Experience

Alli Houseworth – Method 121 (for Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington DC)

Alli Houseworth was Director of Marketing and Communications at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, and now runs Method121 working in digital engagement.

– Woolly Mammoth Theatre has a large lobby area which wasn’t being utilised, so they decided to experiment using as a digital engagement space; the Digital Lobby Experience.

– They didn’t have a huge budget, so planned for lots of the tech to be re-used – e.g. they picked iPads over other tablets as they already look nice, are simple to use and familiar to the public, and could be re-used by staff afterwards.

– They made sure people weren’t left floundering when it came to tech by having ‘Creatives’ in bright orange t-shirts on-hand to informally talk people through how to use the tech, and/or to discuss the work.

– The first Digital Lobby Experience was called the Stupid F***ing Lobby Experience, in honour of the play being shown at the time, Stupid F***ing Bird (based on Chekov’s The Seagull). [Ha!]

– One of the ‘experiences’ was a magnetic board, with individual words from Chekov monologues that people were able to rearrange into their own prose or poems; the idea being they’d then tweet their creation. [I did something very similar in my final exhibition at art school! But there was no Twitter then …] But of course, people don’t always do what you expect, and most folks ended up posting a photo to Instagram. No problem! The team re-jigged the exhibit to make it Instagram- rather than Twitter-focused. [Being this quick to notice and react to audience response is great – and will stand out.]

– The … Bird set designer was put in charge of a Pinterest board, showing her inspiration for the look of the show. [Share behind-the-scenes stuff.]

– I’m not going to write too much more about it, instead this Washington Post article describes it much better.

– For another show, folks were asked to photograph themselves in a booth, and the images were projected onto the wall, live. This was massively popular as people love seeing photos of themselves. [I'm not completely convinced this is true of Brits – though I guess the queues to be on TV talent shows hardly says 'shrinking violet' …]

– For the Detroit lobby experience, 1950s household scenes of a living room, barbeque etc. were set up, with much more subtle hints at how to engage – such as the hashtag printed on napkins. Not quite as big on engagement numbers this, but new ways of doing things are always worth a try.


Prepare audiences prior to performances – they’re more likely to get more out of it. (Someone ran out after Stupid F***ing Bird, looking at the set designer's Pinterest board and yelling “It all makes sense!”) [That’s what it’s all about!]

Photos rule – especially photos of people.

[I can’t let the opportunity pass to give a big round of applause to Woolly Mammoth’s fantastic graphic design. I love it. It has a great sense of style, and really represents how the venue relates to its audience; it’s confident, loud and a lot of fun!]


A lovable Gran of a museum

Richard Evans – Museum Director, Beamish

Beamish logo

– Richard described Beamish, which is in County Durham, as “a living museum that’s like a lovable Gran.” [Audience won-over, right there]

– He was going to attend the conference in his usual work clothes, but the train ride in full costume put him off. [Shame. But never fear! I found a nice image – if you ignore the creepy doll – on The Journal’s website.]

Richard Evans, Museum Director at Beamish – The Journal

– Beamish used to be funded but is now completely independent; and thriving. Despite being the most expensive museum in the UK, and in one of the least-well-off parts of the country, they have massively increased their ‘loyal regulars’ – that is locals who have season tickets, and use them. [Wow! That’s brilliant. I can't completely explain how they’d done this, but in general it was down to thinking like a ‘punter’ rather than an arts professional/historian.]

– They introduced season tickets, which have proved very popular. And people are using their passes with increasing frequency too.

– Turnover has grown massively and visitor numbers have doubled, so the museum is doing what non-profits do with ‘profits’ and reinvesting it back into the museum. Richard was keen to point out that he does not receive performance-related pay … [Ha!]

People’s motivations for visiting the museum aren’t necessarily what you think they are. They’re not bothered about preserving the agricultural heritage of North East England – they do want to have fun, and benefit from all the social interaction that goes with an attraction like Beamish.

Richard anecdote No.1: He overheard some people saying they’d had a lovely day around the town – but that it was a shame they hadn’t found the museum. [!]

Map of Beamish

Richard anecdote No.2: A woman approached him to let him know her husband had recently lost his job, and that it’s expensive to have a season ticket to Beamish. BUT. She wasn’t complaining – quite the opposite – she went on to say that they were putting £1 in a jar every week to make sure they can afford the season ticket next year too, as they don’t want their kids to be left out of such an important experience. [Wow again! This place really has their local community on-side.]

– Continually improving and changing has been part of their success.

– The next Beamish project is a 1950s village, and they’ve put the local community at the heart of what they’re doing. They had a public vote to decide which local’s 1950’s house would be recreated *precisely* as part of the new development. (The winner was Esther who has lived in the house since it was built.) [An excellent story, meaning more positive local press = perfect]

– As the new 1950s development falls within living memory, they’re having to be open to people’s feedback – even if that's being told they're mistaken! “Nope, that’s not how it was. Sometimes the history books are wrong.”

– Focusing on individual stories within the community is important to Beamish's philosophy.

– The next goal is to increase visitors from further afield. [I guess this could be more tricky – although I sense the majority of the audience were up for visiting by the end of what was very entertaining talk, so there's an extra 650 visitors.]


Digging deep – people will pay (lots) for arts and culture if they can see the value in what you're offering.

How to create growth – match what’s possible to what’s needed. Simple!


More from the AMA Conference 2015:

Influencing Upwards
Adapting your message to reach different target groups

AMA: Influencing upwards

Categories: Learning things, Useful/interesting

(Another in my series of write-ups about this year's Arts Marketing Association Conference which took place here in Brum last week.)

Oooh, this seminar sounds lofty! (And, errrr, sorry but maybe a bit creepy?*) I chose this session as I decided it’d be useful to go to a more generalised talk, rather than something very specifically geared towards arts marketing. Spoiler: it was a good choice.

[My thoughts are bold and in square brackets.]

Influencing upwards

Mark Wright – Director, People Create

– Mark runs People Create and introduced himself as something of a leadership teacher and troubleshooter; often working with people not necessarily open to learning from him. He works for mega corporates, so a room full of arts marketers seemed quite nice. He used to be a sculptor [!]

– People are getting more physically isolated from each other, while at the same time becoming more socially connected through the internet etc. – which makes for a strange new dynamic.

– According to a quick poll using the AMA app, for people in the room, the biggest barrier to influencing upwards (i.e. immediate bosses or higher-ups in the organisation) was that people find it difficult to formulate their thoughts quickly enough. [It’s a shame this wasn’t expanded upon – it might’ve been useful for lots of folks.]

The context for influence

  • Be relevant [Obvious but worth reiterating]
  • Be exceptional
  • Be unexpected [A bit of a crossover with ‘exceptional’ – something exceptional is by its very nature unexpected isn't it, as it's not the norm?]
  • Be visible [Don’t hide your achievements – be proud and take credit for them]

– Mark used the example of a Christmas gift he sent in the early days of his business. Large corporates would send pricey bottles of wine to his clients as a ‘thank you’ for their custom but there was no chance he could do this – it would just be way too expensive. Not just too expensive; he very simply couldn’t afford it. So, he made fudge [or was it cookies?] and got his kids to write personal notes to each client, supplier, associate etc. Awwwww! The gift had a great reaction – and as Christmas approached the following year, people started asking if he’d be doing the same again as they’d loved it last time [They remembered! So he had to make it again …]

Drivers for influence

  • Reciprocity [You scratch my back …] – it’s personal, intimate, characterful, and it takes effort. This creates a predisposition towards, and sense of, obligation.
  • Commitment – stick with your strategy and build it slowly; there’s no need to jump to an end goal right away.
  • Belonging – make people feel it’s okay to take a certain route/decision as others are doing it too.
  • Liking – if people like you, influencing them will be much easier. People decide with emotion, then rationalise with logic.
  • Authority – if you seem in charge, you will instantly be more likely to influence others. Apparently tall extroverts are perceived to be more intelligent. [So a quiet 5’2-and-a-half” person would have to work extra-hard to appear authoritative? Rats!]
  • Scarcity – SELLING FAST! LAST TICKETS REMAINING! etc. You know the deal. A deadline is a driver for influencing – due to fear of competition/missing out.
  • Credibility – if folks trust you, of course they’re more likely to take what you have to say on board. Check out the ‘trust equation’:

The more credible someone finds you, the more reliable they know you to be, and the more ‘intimate’ you are with them – meaning human-like in this context, nothing untoward – the more trust they’ll have in you. But only if you’re not super-selfish.

If it’s all about you-you-you and what you’re getting out of it, that’ll cut into people’s trust in a *big* way.

Types of influence

    – using logic, data, case studies etc. as proof of what you are explaining. Dismantling the arguments of others.
    Asserting – offering rewards, and suggesting negative consequences of not taking action.
    – engaging in conversation and finding common ground. Being empathetic, vulnerable and questioning.
    Attracting – sharing a vision and aspirations which describe ideal outcomes. Use of metaphors and stories.

People generally tend to favour one of the above types of influence over the others, but using a mix is most effective – different people respond best to different types of influence. So, cover your bases.

[Which one are you? I’m most certainly a persuading type – I love me a bit of factual evidence! I wonder if that makes me predisposed to being more influenced by others’ persuading?]

– Mark asked us all to create new roles for ourselves within our organisations; we should all aim to become Direktor Grundsatzfragen. It’s a German term which roughly translates as Director of Fundamental Questions. Ask the stuff no one else is asking. [Cue slide featuring an image of an elderly gent with long grey hair and a wise-looking beard. NOTE: Funny pics of old guys get the laughs.]

– He points to a Brazilian psychologist [if I’ve found the right guy, he’s actually Chilean] Marcial Losada’s research which, very quickly explained, shows that high performance teams and individuals are the ones who ask the most questions. Good questions – i.e. open questions – which actually tease-out information. Frequent good questioning leads to improved performance/results.

[I’ve found some further reading about Losada’s project with Barbara Frederickson, aiming to find a mathematical formula for happiness. Zoiks!]

– Okay, so now we were running late. Mark put up a slide saying Apter’s Motivational States but had no time to talk about it, so I wrote it down. [I've subsequently found a link about it: – I can see why we skipped past it; that stuff is going to take some explaining!]

– To sum-up: ask good (open) questions, use different types of influence, be relevant, exceptional, unexpected and take credit where credit’s due. Okay!




*My fears of a slick snake-oil salesman were unfounded; he seems like a nice guy. Or at least he influenced me to think he was! I even forgave him the fulsome use of clipart …

Having live-polling of the audience via the Guidebook app didn’t work brilliantly smoothly (we were pretty rushed, so the results weren’t discussed) but as an idea to get folks involved, I like it.

Perhaps because this was all new stuff to me, and/or because to was generalised rather than arts-marketing specific, I felt like I got quite a lot of useful, practical stuff from it.


Up next: (Very brief) Keynote notes on a stupid f***ing lobby experience and an expensive yet loyally-frequently-attended living museum …

In the meantime, you might find my write-ups from the AMA Conference 2013 useful:
David Carlin, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
Kim Mitchell, MoMA
Owen Hughes, Wolff Olins