Show sidebar

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

AMA: Adapting your message …

Categories: Learning things, Useful/interesting

Arts Marketing Association 2015 conference banner

This year's Arts Marketing Association conference was held just down the road from Supercool HQ at The REP (plus a drinks reception with our friends at mac birmingham).

In the spirit of sharing and learning and stuff, here're some tidied-up notes on the first session I went to – I thought this'd be a useful one as we have several clients with a very similar core audience demographic to Northern Ballet.

[My thoughts/asides are in square brackets.]


Adapting your message to reach different target groups

Laraine Penson – Director of Communications, Northern Ballet

“Focus on the user and all else will follow” Google Truth

– Northern Ballet’s current core audience are middle class, middle aged, white, well-off Telegraph and Daily Mail readers who shop at M&S and Waitrose. 1.9m households in the UK fit this MOSAIC profile so it’s an important demographic. MOSAIC is a good segmentation tool to use as it’s used by corporates – so if you’re looking to partner with corporates, you're making it easy to compare audience/client profiles.

– Print and email are most liked by this demographic; though their presence is growing on social media. Northern Ballet would’ve liked to advertise in Waitrose magazine, for example, but the cost is prohibitive so instead they advertise in car parks near M&S and Waitrose stores. [Think laterally]

– Learning more about the audience included finding their primary reason for attending arts and cultural stuff:
    - Captivation
    - Emotional engagement
    - Appreciation of artistry
    - Shared experience
    - Visual spectacle
    - Anticipation
    - The ‘afterglow’

– Northern Ballet have been sending short emails a couple of days before people come to see a performance with info such as character profiles. This help build people’s anticipation, and helps them to feel better informed about what they’re about to see. A huge barrier with ballet [and also classical music] is “What if I don’t understand it?” / “Will I get it?” [I love the idea of giving people these added extra bits of information in advance, so the experience starts a bit earlier. Deeper knowledge = deeper engagement with the company/venue etc. Giving people a clear idea of what to expect also takes away some of the risk of committing – though in this case they’ve already bought a ticket.]

– 5 years ago Northern Ballet rebranded with the main changes being to imagery and tone of voice. They’ve invested a lot in very high quality photography – which Laraine says has really paid off – and they now make sure every show has a professional-looking, high quality set of ‘emotive’ imagery. [The core thought being “show, don’t tell”, which I wholeheartedly agree with.] They also have this sort of info. on their website. Another branding change was to overhaul their copy and tone of voice to be more ‘experiential’ [rather than explanatory and/or salesy].

– To expand audience, they experimented with reaching out to new ACE-defined audiences who should (according to Culture Segments segmentation) be receptive to them; Fun, Fashion and Friends, and Dinner & A Show (nearest crossover with core audience). They ran an ‘experience’ for glossy mag journalists, supported by a range of corporate partners: East Coast trains brought people to Leeds; they had a Great Gatsby-themed make-up demo by MAC cosmetics, lunch at Harvey Nichols, saw The Great Gatsby ballet, and stayed in a partner hotel for the night. It cost Northern Ballet nothing but the tickets, and the time it took to put the package together – everything else was covered by partnerships. They got coverage from every publication invited, including a follow-up piece on Vogue’s website with a competition (to win a ‘package experience’) which reached approx. 2m people.

– The secrets of effective messaging: keep it short (no more than 30 words), truthful, credible, relevant and clear. And repeat it. Repetition makes sure it’s heard, reinforces and reminds people of core message/s. [Repetition makes sure it’s heard, reinforces and reminds people of core message/s … wink]

– Consistent messaging across diverse channels = engagement.

photo of Laraine Penson's talk

[No need to squint – the text from the slide pictured is below]

–  Some internet-related stats:

  • The average Brit checks their phone 50 times a day
  • 46% of 18-24yr olds check their phone every 15 minutes
  • 77% of adults in the UK have broadband
  • 20% of viewers abandon video after 10 seconds (so put your most important message first)
  • YouTube is the second most popular search engine [Hmm. More accurately, it has the second most popular search function on the internet – I dispute it being a ‘search engine’. Though I can be a bit of a pedant …]

– Northern Ballet tried making some 'teaser' trailers, and they didn't perform anything like as well (in terms of views) as trailers or snippets of film of the actual productions. [Again; showing people exactly what to expect is popular]

– Direct mail is still a very effective form of communication – as long as it's well targeted and well designed; specifically for the people you're talking to.

– Provide moments of magic to make your offer the easy choice for people.


Up next: Notes on Influencing Upwards: Asking the Right Questions by Mark Wright of People Create.

Making CBSO faster

Recently we launched a new website for the CBSO built on Craft CMS, it was a pretty exciting project for us all and was a lot of fun to work on. It was also the first time we got to use our new Box Office system that I’d spent the better part of 3 months building as it needed to display events and integrate with the Spektrix ticketing system to let users purchase tickets.

Whilst that went pretty much to plan one thing that didn’t go particularly well to begin with was the site speed. Initially our load time for the upcoming season was a whopping ~6.5s - which really wasn’t good enough - so shortly before launch I squeezed the most out of Craft that I could using it’s inbuilt caching.

Caching is where the system stores a copy of the page so that repeat requests for it can be fetched much quicker as it doesn’t need to be rebuilt. I also moved all of our static assets over to Amazons CloudFront CDN. Both of these worked great, and in combination with each other took page load down to a much more reasonable ~1.3s which we were pretty happy with.

As we moved through the initial few weeks of the site having gone live we started to notice that it was really obvious when a page had just been updated (either by an editor or our continual synchronising with Spektrix) and that these newly updated pages were back to the old 5 to 8 second load times. So I set about implementing two things; Varnish and a plugin to keep things permanently cached, yet up to date.

Adding Varnish shaved nearly another whole second off our upcoming season page, which is now a snappy ~800ms for the initial load and ~500ms for repeat views. Here’s our final numbers in real time:


We were still hitting an issue with updating pages though, this time because Varnish was still serving the old copy of the content. To get around this I wrote a plugin that integrates tightly with Craft to allow editors to just press save and not have to think about any of this nonsense. Behind the scenes my plugin waits for Craft to finish purging its own cached copy of the page, then purges the same content in Varnish and finally forces both systems to update their own caches. This now means that all website users should never see a long page load - they should all be under a second (provided their internet connection is good).

And finally, if you’re at all interested in the much geekier version of this post - then you can read the technical breakdown over here on our engineering blog.