What are we counting?

Roger is not going quietly, and here is his latest, originally published by Arts Professional here: https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/article/what-are-we-counting

This version is updated.  Roger has more questions than answers about the quality metrics system that Arts Council England’s larger NPOs will soon be required to use.  He was surprised to find the Arts Council of England’s only response to the original version of the article was to query his comments about the ACE contractors Culture Counts.  Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide have now published an article in Cultural Trends ‘Counting culture to death’ severely criticising the Quality Metrics concept.  Liz Hill reports in Arts Professional on that here: https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/only-fool-or-knave-trusts-quality-metrics-say-academics

Counting what counts?

People keep asking me what I think about quality metrics, the audience research system that Arts Council England (ACE) will shortly require its largest National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) to use.

When I try to answer this complex question, many immediately tell me they were asking confidentially and don’t want their own views known. I hear a lot of reservations and many worries, but everyone seems reluctant to say anything during the current NPO application process.

Whilst understandable, this is not helpful. It is surely essential to embark on a proper discussion of whether this will deliver reliable results for NPOs and ACE, and to address people’s concerns.

Uneasy questions

I have been a champion of audience data for a long time. I conducted my first year-long audience survey at the Vic in Stoke on Trent in 1969, supervised by Keele University. I have been commissioning research surveys for over 40 years and the Arts Council published my book ‘Boxing Clever’ on turning data into audiences in 1993. And I have collaborated with them on many audience initiatives, including the drive to place socio-economic profiling tools at their NPOs’ fingertips.

So, I ought to be welcoming the concept of quality metrics and what Culture Counts proposes to deliver for Arts Council England. I can see why Marcus Romer (read his blog from 27 September) would welcome the voice of the audience, as end-recipient of the art, into ACE thinking. But I am left with a lot of uneasy questions, mostly methodological.

Unreliable research

Most people with any knowledge of research methodology are asking the same questions, because this type of research is inherently unreliable, yet a lot of reliance is being placed on the findings.  The recent experience of surveying potential voters in the polls prior to the UK election on 8 June have rather confirmed the unreliability.

The Arts Council’s own former Senior Marketing Officer, Peter Verwey, constantly reminded arts marketers of the inherent unreliability of audience surveys, unless there were controls to manage the sample. Even then, reliability depends on respondents understanding the questions. If you ask a question and the respondent can’t ask for clarification on what the question means, then the answers can’t be relied upon. But if explanations are given, then bias creeps in, depending on what is said to them.

Sadly for Welsh National Opera, the majority who said when and where they had seen an opera, turned out to not actually have attended an opera at all.

At the Arts Council of Wales, we used Beaufort Research to check respondents’ understanding of some simple questions about the arts, including: “When did you last attend an opera?” Sadly for Welsh National Opera, the majority who said when and where they had seen an opera, turned out to not actually have attended an opera at all. The public have a very different understanding of the words we use to discuss the arts, and this can have a significant impact on whether survey questions are completed.

This is an inevitable drawback of quantitative research. Researchers have to decide in advance what precise questions to ask and have to constrain answers to a fixed choice. Qualitative write-in answers can’t produce reliable, comparable results, even though narrative answers can provide the richest source of our understanding of what a specific audience member thought.

Biased responses

Audience surveys have other equally large flaws. Peter Verwey’s joke was that the survey samples usually comprised “anyone who had a working pen/pencil when the survey was handed out”, though that has presumably changed to whether people have an email address and bother to open survey emails.

Surveys conducted in foyers after performances are inherently biased in that they capture only those with time to answer. And even “there is an app for that” only suits the tech savvy.

Analysis over the years shows that completion is biased in favour of the most supportive members of the audience and those keen to make their views known, sometimes complainants. You can overcome some of this by ruthless random sampling – only looking at the feet of the people to be selected to answer the questionnaire, for example – and similar techniques can be applied online. But the bias, of who actually responds when invited to, remains.

These days, when we are capable of creating a socio-economic profile of attenders who book tickets, we ought to, as a minimum, be expecting the quality metrics methodology to include a check for the representativeness of the sample.

Incomparable performances

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that audience surveys are inherently situational. They can only reflect what happened in a particular venue on a specific date and time, and gather the opinions of the people who both attended and chose to respond. If you have ever been a house manager and experienced the difference that a large group booking can make in an audience, you will understand the potential variability.

This makes comparability from one performance – let alone event – to another very difficult. Researchers have known about these issues for decades and therefore attempts to measure or assess impact based on audience surveys are always approached with huge caution, even if conducted for a single venue or a single performance.

Unexplored impact

Arts Council England’s own 2014 literature review by WolfBrown was clear about this: “the literature raises questions as to the plausibility of aggregating survey data across organisations and artforms, due to the highly personal and situational nature of impact, and because of differences across the forms themselves.”

It can be argued that valuing art based primarily on the experiences it produces, in fact devalues the work itself. Can you really tick a box to encompass your opinion? Indeed, post-event surveys primarily measure the ‘experienced impacts’, perhaps within a day or so, and ignore the ‘extended impacts’, probably weeks or even years later (typically assessed through retrospective interviewing and longitudinal tracking studies).

And while we try to understand these impacts on each individual, what role did pre-attendance marketing, the venue, pre-show talks, the people who attended with them, and the rest of the audience, have on the experience? Some researchers have expressed serious concerns about comparing self-reported audience experiences across different artforms and contexts because of the huge range of impossible-to-control variables being measured in these, in effect, crowd-sourced reviews.

Flawed evaluation

I had expected recent reports, commissioned by ACE, to provide the answers. I was surprised to find the final report on the quality metrics national test was assessed and written by two staff from the company that ran the pilot scheme, John Knell and Alison Whitaker. So the researchers were being asked to mark their own homework. Highly unusual, regardless of their integrity.

The Arts Council did commission an independent evaluation, from Nordicity (though the researcher is not named) though this only examined the experience of the organisations participating in the National Test, and not the methodology used in the pilot or the internal processing of the resultant data.

serious concerns raised by participant organisations about the methodology

Nonetheless, that evaluation reported some serious concerns raised by participant organisations about the methodology, saying “the majority of consultees questioned the reliability of the resulting data because of the sample frame, in terms of its representation and size” and commenting that “this aspect evidently impacted the organisations’ use of the data, with organisations unconfident to draw any firm conclusions, unable to ‘convince’ programmers of its value, and unsure of what ‘robust’ would look like in practice.” It went on to say “consultees suggested a number of areas where unintended bias or skewed data had the potential to be introduced. It is evident that these elements contributed to consultees’ overall opinion that the resulting data did not accurately reflect the quality of their work.”

Knell and Whitaker’s report makes no reference to statistical significance or reliability, or the representativeness of audiences; and despite references to “highly sensitive aggregation” there is no explanation of the basis for that data aggregation, except for some crude geo-location, artform, gender-based data-merging. It’s impossible to discern how they have overcome the huge problems of situational audience surveys and event comparability.

There is also no explanation of how audience responses are related to the other elements of the triangulated quality metrics research process, namely peer responses and internal assessments. Neither is there an indication of how respondents were selected. Indeed, the report is more about the findings of the surveys than testing the reliability of the methodology or its underlying fitness-for-purpose and statistical reliability.

Sampling problems

Obviously it is easiest to select survey respondents from ticket bookers with email addresses, and some of the organisations that participated in the pilot research chose people with particular characteristics, or a certain frequency of attendance. Some indicated that they wanted to input the data findings into their CRM systems. Did they select target samples accordingly?

Some added extra questions of their own to the survey, which in themselves might have affected understanding, response rates and completion. There is no explanation of how these additional questions were tested for respondent understanding. Also, only ‘30 responses’ is cited as an acceptable minimum for an event to be evaluated. How does this relate to the total attendance? There is no rationale given for this low number and no indication how an event with 30 survey respondents will be compared with an event with 300.

What’s more, there is no indication of how any of this will be possible under the new General Data Protection Regulation and its specific granular consent regime, which could further reduce the number of attenders available for survey and the use and processing of their responses.

The better news is that over 19,000 surveys were completed in the national test. This is clearly a large sample in UK terms, but size is not enough, especially when the integrity of the sample is unclear. We can’t rely on the national sample size if we need local reliability. We need to understand the reliability of the findings for each individual organisation in their unique catchment area. And we need to know the profile of the survey respondents in the context of both the universe of NPO attenders, and the actual attenders at each individual organisation.

Finally, there are of course other providers of post-attendance survey tools, and arts organisations already carrying out frequent surveys of attenders are worried about wear-out from over-surveying core attenders. All their other surveys are intended to understand audiences better and guide marketing, operational and audience development issues, not inform critical ACE grant award decisions.

ACE has a lot of questions to answer

I write this because I find ACE has a lot of questions to answer if it is to reassure arts organisations about the methodology and the quality of its proposed metrics. Just what is it counting, and exactly how?  The researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide have confirmed the academic concerns about using such research methods.  They write that metrics-based approaches to assessing cultural value “invite political manipulation and demand time, money and attention from cultural organisations without proven benefit”.

Their paper, ‘Counting culture to death’, refutes the “widely held belief” that “a set of numbers can provide vindication, or at least insurance, in the constant struggle to justify public funding”. They conclude that attempts to quantify cultural value are not delivering on their promises, and bring “destructive” unintended consequences.

The paper states that using indicators and benchmarks to assess cultural activities, “which exhibit no obvious capacity for scalar measurement” is a “political act”. The “ostensible neutrality” of this approach is, they say, “a trick of the light trying to launder responsibility for judgment in the competition for scarce resources”.  It is certainly clear to me that relying on an unreliable methodology could have dangerous consequences for the Arts Council.

This article is Rogers personal opinion and does not reflect the views of his colleagues or any other organisations.

Troy Kirby Podcast interview with Roger Tomlinson

Roger is not going quietly:

Troy Kirby of the renowned SportsTao in the US followed up on Roger’s ‘Getting Permission Wrong?’ piece by interviewing him for his regular podcast – up to number 775 – and the two had a conversation which ranges over management use of data, attitudes to ticketing and the Box Office, customer relations, ‘big data’, communications, sales teams, and even pricing, discounting and comps.

http://troykirby.com/ep-775-roger-tomlinson-uk-ticketing-consultant?tdest_id=321128

Getting ‘permission’ wrong?

Roger is not going quietly…

I am not the right person to discuss the implications of the new General Data Protection Regulation, approved by the EU in May 2016, whose draconian penalties apply from May 2018. I have been frustrated by the attitude evidenced by most arts organisations in how they relate to and engage with their attenders, specifically their ticket purchasers, since the 1990s, when email exploded, having learned nothing from the experiences of the direct ‘snail-mail’ years.

I wrote my first book ‘BOXING CLEVER: Turning data into audiences’ in 1993, published by the then Arts Council of Great Britain. Though it pre-dated the use of terms such as ‘Customer Relationship Management’ and ‘Permission Marketing’, it echoed the likes of Don Peppers’ and Martha Rogers’ The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time (also published 1993) and Seth Godin’s later Permission Marketing (1999). It is worth setting out how this is defined. In 2008, Seth re-described it thus:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention”.

Putting respect into arts marketing is a key value for me. The direct marketing revolution experienced in the UK from the 1970s into the 1980s relied on getting people to sign up to receive brochures and mailings, which in the days of mostly on-the-phone and over-the-counter bookings meant dialogue was needed to comply with the law and obtain the contact details from people. People gave permission to receive what they hoped would be relevant, personal, appropriate communications posted to them in their homes. Later, the rising volume of credit card payments meant some venues started to ‘capture’ customer addresses without necessarily explaining the contact implications, and this started (or amplified) customer suspicions about direct mail, especially when many mailings weren’t relevant, personal, or appropriate communications.

This was when I found I thought differently to many other arts administrators. Running Theatr Clwyd in North Wales, for example, I thought it seemed essential to have more than enough staff to answer calls and serve purchasers, and indeed to encourage them to extend their dialogue to understand and inform the customers better, perhaps advising them of other events they might be interested in seeing, booking them a table in our restaurant, etc.; what I later found was called “up-selling”. Essentially, customer contact hopefully got permission to add people to our mailing lists and started to create the relationship we wanted. My colleague Mike Grensted was then very sensitive to what we might send out to those people to reflect that relationship; wonderfully he once sent our subscribers a photocopy of the marked-up printer’s proof of our next season brochure to give them priority to renew their subscription!

the sales staffing culture seemed to be to ensure the minimum number of people were on shift at any one time

Elsewhere the sales staffing culture seemed to be to ensure the minimum number of people were on shift at any one time, with Box Office queues and call waiting times almost a badge of success. When as a consultant after 1988 I started delivering customer care training and helping arts organisations optimise their sales processes, the fundamental issue was always the time to enable staff to serve customers properly. Many venues had the same staffing levels and shift patterns all year round, depleted by holidays as staff took them, regardless of pantomime on-sales, brochure releases, etc. Yet it was easy to work out that an extra member of staff in most cases only had to sell one extra ticket per hour for the venue to be better off (even based on margin retention). Without the extra people, the sales staff were under pressure to speed through transactions, and door sales were a missed opportunity for getting permissions. One large concert hall contracted me to help them optimise their sales process to eliminate 19 seconds from transactions, since that was the average time making sales calls too long for the staff complement to get through their typical call volumes…

That pressure meant Data Protection got in the way of speeding through sales, and managers and sales staff were reluctant to spend time seeking permission from purchasers when their contact details were captured during payment. I proved that an extra person on door sales could easily help process all the customers so permission could be asked if a venue really wanted to. Our sector did not cover itself with glory when a number of Theatrical Management Association (TMA) members decided to lobby their MPs in the Parliamentary discussions about the provisions in the 1998 Data Protection Act. They received somewhat quizzical replies, advised by the then equivalent to today’s Information Commissioner, pointing out that these provisions were already law in the 1984 Data Protection Act; more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Given the embarrassment, it was agreed with the Arts Council of England, the TMA, and the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) that I should write a “good practice” guide to the 1998 Act – actually an official status under the Act – which was published with a Foreword welcoming it from the then equivalent to today’s Information Commissioner, Mrs Elizabeth France, whose staff in Wilmslow had been very helpful and supportive during the drafting process. The Guide was published and promulgated with seminars around the country, encouraged by the Arts Council England regions and the AMA. Of course, given the law, my emphasis was on getting the right permissions from the customers.

arts organisations essentially asking how they could avoid complying with the law

I began to have to field lots of questions about interpreting the new law, and I maintained my dialogue with the staff in Wilmslow. They did point out to me that they received quite a few calls from arts organisations essentially asking how they could avoid complying with the law! The Act clearly and unambiguously required arts organisations to say who they were, what they would be doing with their customers’ data, whom they would be sharing it with, and to get permission from the customer for the chosen communication methods. Treating customers with respect should make this easy.

There were ways to make the process easier – large printed notices on display in Box Offices, recorded messages before calls were answered, full details printed in brochures and programmes, but the key fundamental was that the customer’s permission be obtained properly. Wilmslow told me of various complaints that people were being contacted without their permission, and they and I deployed some ‘mystery shopping’ to understand what was happening – permission was simply not being asked for. The irony of course is that most of these venues now had computerised ticketing systems which could easily track the ‘permission’ levels and identify which staff were complying with the law. One large venue trained up a new team of staff to obtain permission and indeed sell a paid-for list membership, and simply fired the old team members who did not comply. But the culture of selling under pressure persisted, as did non-compliance, and therefore lack of respect for customers. This seemed a matter of regret to me.

Why did/do some people in the arts talk about “bums on seats”

Why did/do some people in the arts talk about “bums on seats” (horribly “butts on seats” in the US) and treat valued customers whose “hearts and minds” they need to relate to, as if them purchasing tickets is a necessary evil, and returning customers are a necessary nuisance, de-personalising them in the process? Does that explain the terrible mistake of introducing booking fees and charges on top of the advertised price, instead of putting these inside the price? Do we see people just as income providers and not as customers we need to persuade and retain?

Note that for most marketing purposes the 1998 Act effectively pre-dates email marketing and on-line ticket sales, though many arts organisations were early adopters of websites. As the email explosion happened, the EU introduced new rules on privacy and the UK enacted in 2003 the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, known to insiders as PECR (pronounced “pecker”). Something odd happened. As computerised ticketing systems had already introduced Internet ticketing engines, they had busily ensured their software complied with the 1998 Data Protection Act, and email was just another communication method. Now PECR had a lot to say about permission regimes for email and SMS, but to my surprise was largely ignored – surprise because it introduced an assumption of consent if there was a transactional relationship i.e. an on-line ticket purchase (with various notifications given to purchasers in the process). Odd and ironic that systems weren’t quickly modified and processes changed to enable this easier permission regime.

Email marketing suddenly made direct marketing an inexpensive method – mostly the time spent crafting the message and selecting the targets from the customer database – and the desire to share customer data for e-marketing campaigns, especially between presenting venues and touring companies and artists increased. By 2005 Arts Council England was unhappy at the frequent complaints from touring companies and artists about venues refusing to share data, and Tim Baker of Baker Richards and I were commissioned to ascertain the state of play. We were clear that the 1998 Act and PECR should be enabling data sharing, provided the appropriate permissions had been obtained. We held the view that purchasers would give permission if they were asked appropriately by venues, and the right respectful dialogue and processes could get those permissions.

Essentially, we quickly confirmed that data was not being shared because the permissions were not being properly obtained, with some venues belatedly discovering that with a stretch PECR could justify them contacting only their own customers. This was an interesting moment, because the Information Commissioner, still being helpful, suggested that arts organisations could jointly notify purchasers that their data would be shared with venue and the touring company or artists performing, and permission be assumed from their ticket purchase (this no longer applies).

Welsh National Opera (WNO), under the enlightened direction of Peter Bellingham, were keen to manage their relationships with their attenders, especially those they realised could be attending in any of a number of venues, chasing their repertoire. They did not want to be over-mailing these people, to manage their communications, and needed to understand their behaviour and frequency, so wanted to know who they were, where they went, what to see – the world of big data! By prolonged negotiations, they secured agreement for the data to be shared and appropriate permission regimes to be in place, at all the venues they toured to. It was somewhat laborious and involved manual interventions but it worked. Why am I telling you this? Because when Arts Council England proposed their data sharing conditions for their National Portfolio Organisations, Peter realised he needed to re-visit their data sharing. Deep analysis by Ed Newsome of the data they had, told them something wasn’t working as it should.

I think we hope that most of the established attenders for the arts are in fact repeat attenders

I think we hope that most of the established attenders for the arts are in fact repeat attenders, so will be coming back to buy more tickets. This ought to mean we want to recognise returning customers on-line as soon as they arrive on the website, so we can serve up tailored content. In practice, most websites are set up not to recognise returning customers until they fill in their details to make payment for a new transaction i.e. at the end of the purchase process. (Some system suppliers boast that their system then adjusts the prices in the shopping cart to reflect their status!). This meant for WNO customers that in most cases the procedure of serving up Data Protection notifications, and asking for permissions where relevant, was repeated every time they booked, at every venue.

When Andrew Thomas of www.TheTicketingInstitute.com investigated, he discovered some systems allowed customers to click past the Data Protection questions (possibly an unintended “feature”), and then the system changed/over-wrote their Data Protection status to effectively a ‘not answered’ status, so no permission recorded for anything. WNO discovered that meant some of their most frequently attending customers, such as their subscribers, were not selected for contact, even for brochure mailings as well as regular email updates. This is when the permission regime and the relationship with the customer is likely to collapse. Some of these customers with high frequency attendance patterns but apparent ‘no permission’ status were phoned, and they made clear that booking for WNO and agreeing to receive communications did not mean being bombarded with (what I call ‘shouting louder’ email) messages about booking for that venues’ pantomime; relevant, personal, appropriate communications?

Unfortunately, not only the customers know that. When ACE, The Audience Agency, and I, met the Information Commissioner’s staff to update our guidance on sharing and the necessary permissions, I was reminded that the staff in Wilmslow are, of course, arts attenders themselves, and able to talk from their own experience about booking with venues. A previous Information Commissioner had served on the board of one Manchester music organisation. Our sector’s unsatisfactory ‘do minimum’ compliance is all too visible. The Information Commissioner’s staff remain very helpful, but perhaps not as friendly as in the past.

How did we ever get here? And why does the General Data Protection Regulation apparently so disturb some people? I go back to first principles, that we need customers to volunteer their permission, freely given, and that is the start of our relationship with them, as a valued customer likely to return; that we need to treat customers with respect, as people in a valued relationship.

We want customers to look forward to our brochures and emails, offering them great going-out opportunities, experiences to enjoy and value. My mantra is ‘stop selling and help people buy’, getting them into a relationship with us.

Mark Hazell at Norwich Theatre Royal has made the point for many years that if they know someone is a “friend” he can write and talk to them differently, because being a “friend” means something about their relationship. That is true for all types of relationship, based on frequency, interests, what is attended, who attends, and so on.   We don’t have to keep asking them for their permission. And ideally we would give them an on-line tool to edit and update their records (less messing about for changes of address or email, chance for self-completed profiles and preferences, and more up-to-date accuracy). We want customers to look forward to our brochures and emails, offering them great going-out opportunities, experiences to enjoy and value. My mantra is ‘stop selling and help people buy’, getting them into a relationship with us.

Now our sector seems to be reducing Box Office hours (while travel agents are re-inventing their High Street stores to “help people buy”) and we are pushing for/hoping for more on-line sales. That means we need to re-think websites, and make them mobile friendly, and understand who we are communicating with. When we email them and they read on their phone or tablet, when they visit our website from those devices, we know precisely who they are – so why aren’t we recognising them and treating them as the valued customers they are? With respect?

Obviously I am the wrong person to talk to about permissions, as I don’t understand our industry.

 

Roger Tomlinson

2 May 2017

If you do want help or advice about the application of the General Data Protection Regulation, I recommend you contact Andrew Thomas andrew@theticketinginstitute.com about system processes and website flows and Leo Sharrock leo.sharrock@theaudienceagency.org about the permissions for data sharing, profiling, research, etc.

Time to step back

Roger Tomlinson confirms he is now “mostly retired” and shares some of his views on the state of the arts.

I closed down my business – Roger Tomlinson Limited – on 31 March 2017 – marking 49 years since my first paid job in the arts. I am not going quietly, and will still tweet and blog, though I suspect my perspective will change.

My friend and colleague Andrew Thomas andrew@theticketinginstitute.com is now the owner of www.TheTicketingInstitute.com and I have passed to him my technology and procurement practice, which he has already been making such a success of. I hope it won’t feel unfair to him, but I’ll be passing over to him the baton of helping address data protection issues in the UK, and liaising with the Information Commissioner.

My work in New Zealand, which I have much enjoyed ever since Cath Cardiff at Creative New Zealand invited me to their country, I have passed on to new consultants coming out of their arts organisation experience: David Martin david@shoretix.co.nz and Michelle Gallagher michelle@smartsense.co.nz would deserve recognition on any international platform. In the US I particularly enjoyed working on Project Audience with friend Alan Brown at WolfBrown alan@wolfbrown.com who has pioneered so many in-depth research processes and admirable studies to inform our thinking, and I am still collaborating with Ron Evans of Group-of-Minds ron@groupofminds.com , working on a new book together.

I remember the time when a spreadsheet was an A3 sheet of paper you drew yourself

And my friends and colleagues Debbie Richards and Tim Baker at Baker Richards have long been the ‘go-to’ consultants for pricing, audience development strategies, loyalty, memberships, segmentation, and have even developed some impressive software tools to automate much of their detailed analysis processes. And I remember the time when a spreadsheet was an A3 sheet of paper you drew yourself, with columns and figures in pencil which you completed manually, with no automated calculations or ‘fill-down’ options. My colleagues in A.R.T.S. in the 90’s – Hugo Perks, Stephan Stockton, Mel Larsen – enjoyed the glorious opening up of opportunities that Macintosh ushered into our working lives.

We have come a long way over the decades, and I have enjoyed trying to be at the cutting edge of understanding the potential of the new technologies and deploying them for the benefit of arts organisations and audience development. “But you’re an old guy” said a young woman when I was challenging her arts organisation to wake up to the realities of the digital world in terms of marketing and communications. Well my favourite quote is “there is nothing permanent in life, except change” and we have to embrace it. I retain a concern, shared by friend and colleague Diane Ragsdale, that somehow the arts, which used to be early adopters and change agents, have slipped behind, and too many can be viewed by younger audiences – crazily that now means under 45 years old – as not being up-to-date and relevant.

There is no reason not to be ready for change.

And that’s despite the sterling work of membership bodies such as the Theatrical Management Association, (now UK Theatre), that made such a difference in the 80’s and 90’s, avidly collaborated with by the great Peter Verwey of the then Arts Council of Great Britain. I am very proud of setting up for the TMA the Druidstone arts marketing course and running it for its first six years from 1982, with funding from all four UK arts councils at the beginning; it is still run every year. Of course, my great love has been the Arts Marketing Association, which I had the honour of chairing, and for which I have attended every annual conference since the beginning: I am steeling myself for not attending this year. It is good to see Cath Hume picking up the baton from Julie Aldridge, and I hope the AMA continues to champion the professionalisation of audience development. And I have made so many international friends through INTIX, who gave me a Lifetime Achievement Award, and where change is a constant topic of discussion; it is good to see Andrew Thomas extending that ethos to the Ticketing Professionals Conferences in Birmingham for which he deserves huge credit. There is no reason not to be ready for change.

I remain very fond of Theatr Clwyd in North Wales because of a very special time setting up and running that complex in the 1970s but what pleases me most is to see current Artistic Director Tamara Harvey re-creating the original ethos driving us back then, but re-invented, new and different, for today. Every time I look at her programme, I want to attend. We need more arts organisations re-inventing themselves for today, willing to take the risks to commit to the public and open themselves to engagement on the public’s terms. Instead I reel in shock when I see arts organisations damaging themselves beyond belief: I am still incredulous at what the University in Aberystwyth did to their amazing Arts Centre, where I was in at the beginning, the University threatening to undo in a few short months what everyone had created over 40 years. It seems a miracle it has survived and is building a new future.

our ability in the arts to re-invent the wheel

I attended the recent UK Theatre Touring Symposium on 23 March and had to sit very quietly in a session on collaboration when speakers started suggesting forming consortia and partnering together to develop audiences in catchment areas around venues. Tim Baker always reminds me about our ability in the arts to re-invent the wheel. I had helped form nine of what became the regional arts marketing agencies – forming Cardiff Arts Marketing with the late John Matthews in 1983 – and I still feel it is a backward step that we have only The Audience Agency for England, Audiences Northern Ireland, and Culture Republic for Scotland, though pleased at the way that Julie Tait has taken Glasgow Grows Audiences and Edinburgh’s The Audience Business into a national organisation. The Audience Agency under the remarkable Anne Torregianni provide a data-led foundation from which audience development should flow. Could it be that collaborations/partnerships focussed on individual catchment areas will re-form?

I have too many friends and colleagues to try and mention them here. But there are some arts organisations I truly admire, and often that is also because of the people. The Victoria Theatre/New Vic in Stoke-on-Trent was formative and remains a remarkable venture. The ethos and drive of the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow means the legacy of its founders is made relevant today. The Traverse in Edinburgh is a cross-roads of new work which somehow distils a particular Scottish inquiry into the human condition. The Royal Shakespeare Company has been pleasing me for more than 50 years, keeps re-invigorating itself, and, for me, in the Swan offers one of the most engaging theatre spaces. Yes I like the National Theatre in London too, but my heart is with the RSC. Similarly, Welsh National Opera usually offers an emotional experience with their great chorus in full cry, in some radical stagings over the years.

As someone who likes classical music and particularly symphony concerts, it is galling to live in Cambridge and miss the glories of venues such as Symphony Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Liverpool Phil, the Sage in Gateshead, but I will always take my hat off to Louise Mitchell, who transformed Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall and is now creating a new future for Bristol Music Trust and their Colston Hall. I suppose I can admit that I always wanted to run the Dukes in Lancaster – convenient for walking in the Lakes – so am jealous of Ivan Wadeson. And Chapter in Cardiff always seemed to be the venue that capitalised ‘Alternative’ to do something different, and I enjoyed watching Carol Jones lead their marketing for many a long year. I get similar feelings about James Wilson and his great team at Q Theatre in Auckland. And I can only admire what Philip Aldridge and his team at the Court Theatre in Christchurch NZ manage to consistently deliver, earthquake survivors insisting on being in charge of their own destiny.

It always seemed to me to be a remarkable privilege to work with some arts organisations such as the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands, Dramaten in Stockholm (the Royal National Theatre of Sweden with its warm statue outside) and the arts organisations in Malmo, especially Thomas Wickell at Malmo Opera.

still don’t really understand how modern art galleries get designed

I much enjoyed working on feasibility studies and striving to achieve effective venue designs. My business partner Chris Baldwin at ACT Consultant Services pulled off frequent design and budget ‘coup de teatre’ which regularly astonished me. He reminded me recently of the long list of arts buildings we had achieved. I only wish the wonderful ‘new’ Liverpool Everyman was to our credit – we need more new venues with that integrity.   We have certainly seen a massive investment in arts infra-structure in the UK since the 1960’s, though as a lover of contemporary art, I still don’t really understand how modern art galleries get designed, with the exception of Tate Modern as an enjoyable friendly experience. Nicholas Serota and Jeremy Theophilus are the only visual arts administrators who made sense to me.

No brickbats. A previous Databox user talked to me at that Touring Symposium about the legacy of Jonathan Hyams and Charlie Davies in creating that ticketing and marketing solution, which reminded me that we don’t seem to recognise the huge contribution that a few people have made to helping us move forward in the arts with great technologies working for us, and often with degrees of altruism driving their ambitions. The Dataculture ethos that delivered Databox is pursued in his own way by John Caldwell and PatronBase, and Jack Rubin took Tessitura to be the high-end arts solution fundamentally owned by its users; they deserve especial thanks. There are of course many others trying to make a difference. I particularly remember the endeavours of Stuart Nicolle at Arts Marketing Warwickshire (now Purple Seven) and always Leo Sharrock (now at The Audience Agency) in terms of curating/piloting the benefits of what everyone now calls big data. The late Tim Roberts and I didn’t think of it as that (or even CRM) when I wrote Boxing Clever in 1993, or when we updated it into Full House in 2006, published in Australia and New Zealand, and later in Spain. Hard to remember that in the early 90’s with Duncan May (now at Ambassadors Theatre Group) we were trying to persuade CACI to build an Arts A.C.O.R.N. and we proved the concept.

So where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here? Well I am now on the board of The Audience Agency, which I think with the Audience Finder, Audience Spectrum and Show Stats tools is putting on the desks of arts marketers more power than ever before in my lifetime, and almost free. I continue my special relationship as Chair of the Centre for Performance Research, with Richard Gough as Director; CPR is another great survivor. And I see enough commitment out there from a variety of individuals, and some arts organisations, to a changing future in which artists and audiences can find ways to share ‘stories’ to make a difference.

I am not stepping back thinking the future looks good for the arts – indeed the prognosis seems to be the worst in my lifetime. I still regret the regional imbalances in funding by Arts Council England – so disadvantaging to many parts of the country. The damage done to the arts from education policies in the UK and the US will run through generations and undermine both creativity and audiences for the future. Too many government cuts in arts funding in countries across the world, the threat to local authority funding in the UK – likely to seriously undermine the available infra-structure for the arts – and the demographic cycles of the next thirty years, don’t bode well.  I share with Phil Cave and Arts Council England a belief in “representative audiences” but we still have a long way to go it seems, to even understand that, let alone achieve it.

I wish you all success. Thank you if you have been with me on the journey. It can be done. Don’t go quietly.

Onwards and upwards

Roger

3 April 2017

Gateway Lift off for Bristol Aerospace

AEROSPACE BRISTOL will take off this summer with gateway’s VISITOR MANAGEMENT solutions

 

London, UK (March 2017)

Gateway Ticketing Systems (Gateway) supplies Aerospace Bristol with a comprehensive visitor management solution including fundraising, ticketing, admission control, retail solutions, reporting tools and customer relationship management.

 

Aerospace Bristol is a new industrial heritage museum being developed at Filton, to the north of Bristol. Due to open this summer, the museum will tell the story of Bristol’s world-class aerospace industry – past, present and future. Aerospace Bristol’s show-stopping centrepiece will be Concorde 216. Designed, built and tested in Bristol, she was the last Concorde to be built and the last to fly.

 

“We are very excited to open our museum this summer and having Gateway as a partner is central to support and unify our operations from online booking to advanced financial reporting and fundraising campaigns” explains Lloyd Burnell, Executive Director of Aerospace Bristol. “We will take advantage of their industry expertise and knowledge to create a smooth customer experience for our visitors.“

 

Aerospace Bristol will implement Gateway‘s solutions before the opening day. “Being able to capture donations and donor information prior to opening and all their visitor information from day one is a great advantage for Aerospace Bristol. Getting closer to their visitors and knowing what their interests are will help Aerospace Bristol develop offers that meet and exceed their expectations,” explains Andy Povey, Business Development Director at Gateway.

 

To follow Aerospace Bristol’s progress and be the first to know when tickets go on sale visit http://www.aerospacebristol.org/

 

About Gateway Ticketing Systems

Gateway Ticketing Systems is the world’s leading provider of integrated visitor management solutions for museums and galleries; heritage attractions and historic houses; zoos and gardens and theme parks and events. We support our customers with all aspects of their customers’ journeys from ticketing & admission control, food & beverage, events management to CRM & fundraising strategies and reporting. For more information visit www.gatewayticketing.co.uk

 

About Aerospace Bristol

Aerospace Bristol will be a major industrial heritage museum and learning centre that inspires and entertains today’s and future generations, through the presentation of the stories and achievements of Bristol’s world-class aerospace industry – past, present and future. Aerospace Bristol will reunite the heritage from a number of important collections to tell not only the stories of design, engineering innovation and achievement, but also the social history of the people who worked in the aerospace industry and the communities which have grown up around it. The object collection contains over 8,000 artefacts (many ‘at risk’) Bristol-built aircraft including Concorde 216, Bristol Scout, Bristol Fighter and a Blenheim IV (WWII Bristol Bolingbroke bomber, under restoration), as well as many scaled models.

ZSL Moves Forward with TopTix SRO4

Zoological Society of London Streamlines Ticketing and CRM Systems with TopTix SRO

 

London, UK (March 28, 2017) – In a move designed to improve customer service and support its millions of annual visitors and supporters, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) – the international conservation charity that runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, together with the Institute of Zoology and field projects in over 50 countries worldwide – has moved to consolidate five mission-critical systems onto TopTix’s SRO4 platform.

 

In order for ZSL to effectively carry out its mission of promoting and achieving the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, the Society established a number of guiding principles and objectives, one of which is to make efficient and effective use of available resources to achieve the highest possible standards in everything we do.

 

This objective provided the driving force behind a significant move, commencing in 2016, to streamline five operational systems onto a single platform. Over the years, ZSL has added individual software systems to manage and support specific back-end operations, including box office ticketing; fundraising; education and group bookings; online ticketing; and memberships. The goal of this implementation was to unite these diverse functions onto a single, scalable platform.

 

Commenting on the project, ZSL’s Head of ICT Nick Napier said: “We knew that in order to achieve greater efficiency, we would need to streamline back office systems – but, just as importantly, would require 100 per cent assurance that a single platform would be capable of fulfilling our current and future requirements, which are constantly evolving.”

 

In April 2015, ZSL’s Trustees approved proposals to implement the TopTix platform. The first phase of the project went live in February 2016 and ZSL had succeeded in streamlining four back office functions with the SRO4 platform in time for the busy summer season.  This involved ZSL working with its digital agency Catch to implement the SRO API to support all online ticket and experience sales.

 

A second phase of the API development work, commencing in March 2017, aims to deliver the front-end membership fulfillment process onto ZSL’s website, opening up the possibility of future self-service and renewal services for supporters.

 

The unified SRO platform provides a single, streamlined customer record and enables data insights that weren’t previously available to ZSL, including ticket purchase history, donations, gift aid declaration, membership renewal and status. The SRO platform also allows ZSL to streamline the process of capturing additional information required for special events including educational talks, fundraising and challenge events, as well as new visitor experiences such as animal encounters and overnight stays.

 

For visitors, the fully integrated access control platform simplifies entry and enables new “Fast Track” options, whether buying a day ticket or utilizing the unlimited visit option at either of its world-class Zoos enabled by ZSL’s membership scheme.

 

Commenting further, ZSL’s Fundraising Director James Wren said: “The implementation of SRO represents a transformative shift for our organisation and has already improved the supporter experience. All departments, including supporter services, admissions teams, membership, marketing and accounts now work from a common platform to manage our supporter engagement activities.”

 

The ongoing development of SRO continues, with ZSL looking to implement regular new releases that contain new functionality and features that can be used by the charity, as well as planning for any specific ZSL developments as part of  future projects.

 

Karl Vosper, Managing Director of TopTix UK, commented: “We’re excited to be working with such an incredible organisation as ZSL and I’m proud they have placed so much trust in TopTix and SRO. I’m equally proud of the implementation team, both from TopTix and ZSL, in the work they did to get the systems ready in time for the peak summer season at ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos.”

 

Phase 2 of the project is slated to begin April 2017 and will tap into the SRO API to migrate the front-end Membership system onto the front-end of the platform. Once complete, this will replace the fifth system and also enable group bookings online, as part of a drive to provide more self-service across the organisation and from a single platform.

 

 

About ZSL

 

Founded in 1826, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realized through our groundbreaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two Zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit www.zsl.org.

 

About TopTix, Ltd.

 

Since 2000, TopTix, Ltd (www.toptix.com) has been supplying software for ticketing, fundraising and customer relationship management. Our flagship platform, SRO (Standing Room Only), supports over 500 institutions, processing 80 million tickets a year. Our client base including museums, theatres, festivals, stadiums, arenas, sporting organizations, concert halls, and visitor attractions spans 16 countries, including such well known organizations as: The Royal Concertgebouw, the Netherlands; J. Paul Getty Museum, Ravinia Festival, USA; English National Opera, West Bromwich Albion Football Club, UK; Friends Arena, Sweden.

 

Perlan Selects Best Union

Perlan Selects Best Union’s BOS Ticketing Solution to Launch New Glacier Exhibition

Best Union, a global leader in the development of ticketing system technology has recently been chosen by Perlan, Iceland’s distinctive landmark attraction, to supply the Best Overview System (BOS) as their new ticketing and sales solution.

Based in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, Perlan (The Pearl) was originally built on 6 huge geothermal water storage towers; in 1991 the tanks were updated and a glass dome structure added. Each year thousands of visitors go to enjoy the observation deck, which gives stunning 360 degree panoramic views plus the chance to see the Northern Lights.

In the summer of 2017 Perlan will open the Glacier Exhibition inside one of the former water towers, accurately replicating an ice cave cut through a glacier section; this is the first step in the creation of an Icelandic Natural Wonders exhibition. Also in planning are an Icelandic flora and fauna exhibit plus a state of the art planetarium that will offer a domed, 360° immersive experience with surround sound and stunning image quality.

Ready to step up to Perlan’s new challenge the Best Union Group has over 25 years’ expertise providing a broad range of high-performance ticketing systems, with an extensive network of clients spanning 38 countries. As a company, it is uniquely placed to provide innovative solutions for electronic ticketing and access control, plus the tailored development of sophisticated platforms and services for the advance real-time distribution of tickets online through multiple channels.

BOS’s dynamic platform will offer Perlan the benefit of real-time ticket management, with high volume sales handled efficiently through one central system. Tickets will be sold on-line, on-site and through a network of distribution services enabling real-time access control and providing a fully integrated solution.

Perlan will go live with websales through BOS from 31st March, 2017 in anticipation of the Glacier Exhibition’s summer opening.

Commenting, Perlan Marketing Manager, Helga Viðarsdóttir, is pleased with the development:

“Nothing like the Glacier Exhibition has ever been seen anywhere in the world, and we are so proud to feature it at Perlan. Travelling through the cave, visitors will learn about the glacier’s dangers, and all the secrets it keeps. Now is the perfect time to partner with Best Union and enjoy the benefits that the BOS system will bring to our business, both from a management perspective and user interface. It will help us build on our intent to become the biggest visitor attraction in Iceland.”

Patrick Morsman, Sales Manager at Best Union UK, agreed: “This is an incredibly exciting project for the Best Union team and we are delighted that Perlan has chosen our BOS system. They are a forward-thinking business with big plans for expansion. We’re confident that BOS will give them the flexible tools needed to grow footfall, and look forward to a successful launch of the glacier exhibition and all of the other amazing attractions that are on the way.”

For more information on Perlan visit www.perlanmuseum.is

About Best Union

The Best Union Company was established in 1999 in Bologna and listed on the Italian Stock Exchange in 2008. With offices in France, Italy, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States of America, Best Union Company S.p.A. is one of the main players in the design, production, sale and management of electronic ticketing and access control systems and the organization of hospitality and security services for public events, cultural and sport events, trade shows and theme and amusement parks.

Best Union is among the few global companies who are able to offer integrated hard and software systems and the services required to stage sports events, cultural initiatives, trade fairs, shows of various kinds and to run entertainment and theme parks.

Syx Ticketing Secure Postal Museum Contract

Syx Ticketing wins another new customer in the UK

Leading provider of ticketing and admissions management software solutions, Syx Ticketing, has been selected by The Postal Museum to provide ticketing and POS for its grand opening in 2017.

The Postal Museum will open in mid-2017 in central London, revealing the surprising story of the first social network.

On top of inspiring galleries packed with incredible objects, exciting stories and engaging interactive displays, The Postal Museum will offer the chance to explore an incredible hidden piece of Britain’s industrial heritage deep underground. Mail Rail at The Postal Museum will offer an immersive subterranean ride through the original, miniature tunnels of this abandoned network for the first time in its 100 year history.

Syx will provide ticketing and point of sales solution at The Postal Museum’s ticket desk, and its retail outlets. Online ticketing, bookings and group bookings are processed via the cloud-based version of the ReCreateX software solution which is hosted on Syx Automations’ secure datacentre.

 

Lauren Pattison, Head of Operations at The Postal Museum commented: “From mid-2017 Mail Rail at The Postal Museum will be a must-do attraction in London and we want to ensure a fantastic experience for our visitors, right down to the buying of tickets. We’re excited to bring Syx Ticketing on board to help achieve that and look forward to a successful partnership.”

 

“We are so delighted that we have been chosen by The Postal Museum to manage their ticketing and point of sales software,” explained Eddie Lee, UK Sales Manager of Syx Ticketing “We will work with the team at The Postal Museum as they embark on their exciting journey to engage their visitors with exhibits, events and the Mail Rail at The Postal Museum underground rides. By using ReCreateX both in-house and on the web they will be able to enhance the visitor experience greatly.    

This new contract comes hot on the heels of the high-profile deal between Syx and The City of London Corporation announced in November to provide ticketing solutions for the Tower Bridge Exhibition

Make it Social Announces Significant Ticketing Partnership

Scottish technology start-up, Make it Social, has partnered with the musical ‘Wicked’ to launch the West End’s first social booking service.  Make it Social’s unique software will enable fans to book as a group but pay individually for the show.  This simple but innovative concept is designed to make life easier for friends and families to go to events together.  ‘Wicked’ is currently playing in London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre, an Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) venue.

Barry Grant of ATG said:  “We are delighted to be working with Make it Social and ‘Wicked’ to launch this new booking platform in the West End. There is a real need to make organising social groups easier for everyone and harnessing this new technology does just that.  We look forward to extending Make it Social to other productions throughout 2017.”

Eddie Robb, CEO of Make it Social, added:  “Our technology is about bringing people together in the real world to have fun experiences, build relationships and create memories.  We are delighted that people going to see ‘Wicked’ will be able to benefit from our truly social platform – it’s a really exciting opportunity.”

Luke Shires, Managing Director of Joe Public – Sales & Marketing Directors of Wicked added: “Joe Public is proud to continue our tradition of industry firsts through this exciting partnership with Make it Social – now in its 10th year, Wicked continues to grow from strength to strength, and this truly interactive social booking platform for small groups will make it easier than ever before for audiences to enjoy the hit musical.”

 

SS Great Britain Goes with Gateway

Brunel’s SS Great Britain goes live with Gateway’s visitor management software

The Gateway solution at Brunel’s SS Great Britain includes ticketing, fundraising, membership, retail and web sales and CRM

Gateway Ticketing Systems Ltd (Gateway) has been chosen to partner with Brunel’s SS Great Britain. The new revenue management and CRM solution will allow Brunel’s SS Great Britain to sell tickets, memberships, merchandise, and food and beverage along with collecting donations, on the front desk, over the phone and online. This will play an integral role in building stronger relationships in the future and tracking visitors to, and donations for, the historic site.

 

Brunel’s SS Great Britain is TripAdvisor’s number 1 tourist attraction in Bristol. The SS Great Britain is the world’s first great ocean liner and the most innovative steam ship of her time. Launched in 1843, this iron-hulled steamship revolutionised travel and set new standards in engineering, reliability and speed.

Brunel’s SS Great Britain. Image credit: Max McClure photography

 

The Gateway solution will allow Brunel’s SS Great Britain to improve the customer experience and build stronger relationships with its visitors.

 

“We are very excited at the prospect of working with Gateway. With a proven record of delivering projects with some of the UK’s biggest heritage attractions, Gateway proved themselves to be best suited our complex needs. We look forward to utilising their industry expertise to ensure the experience for our customers is the best it can be. I have no doubt that we will go from strength to strength as we grow the collection and attract more visitors together.” said Louisa Pharoah, Director of Development, SS Great Britain Trust.

 

“Being the chosen supplier for Brunel’s SS Great Britain is fantastic news for Gateway Ticketing Systems. We have spent much time and effort in recent years working with charitable organisations to support revenue generation, and improve customer relationships, and we look forward to sharing this with the team there. With the opening of a new museum in early 2018, it is imperative that Brunel’s SS Great Britain have the best software to support their mission,” said Andy Povey, Business Development Director at Gateway Ticketing Systems Ltd.

 

For more information about Brunel’s SS Great Britain visit www.ssgreatbritain.org

 

–  ENDS  –

About Gateway Ticketing Systems
Gateway Ticketing Systems is the world’s leading provider of integrated visitor management solutions for museums and galleries; heritage attractions and historic houses; zoos and gardens and theme parks and events. We support our customers with all aspects of their customers’ journeys from ticketing & admission control, food & beverage, events management to CRM & fundraising strategies and reporting. For more information visit www.gatewayticketing.co.uk

About Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is the world’s first great ocean liner and the most innovative steam ship of her time. Launched in 1843, this iron-hulled steamship revolutionised travel and set new standards in engineering, reliability and speed. Today, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is Bristol’s number one visitor attraction (as voted by the public on TripAdvisor) and home to the Brunel Institute, housing one of the world’s finest maritime and Brunel collections.