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What Happened at Spektrix Conference 2014?

Chris Marr is an alumnus of Spektrix.

If you follow us on Twitter (or many of the organisations we work with) you’d have been hard pressed to avoid the #SpektrixConf last week. Our second annual Spektrix Conference, very kindly hosted by The Place, gave us the chance to bring almost 300 arts, culture, marketing and technology professionals together. We weren’t looking to talk about Spektrix or our roadmap. What we really wanted to do was look at some of the bigger-picture ideas and trends that are affecting the arts as an industry, whilst sharing some tips and recommendations for overcoming the obstacles we face.

(Some of) the #SpektrixConf 2014 delegates.

After a quick introduction from Michael (Spektrix co-founder and MD) it was Kenneth Tharp, Chief Executive of The Place, who started the day. The perception of the arts industry (and arts marketing) as simply chasing ‘bums on seats’ is crude and unhelpful, argued Kenneth; our first keynote speaker on the other hand, Capacity Interactive’s Erik Gensler, took a rather different view. Introducing some digital marketing lessons from his work with cultural organisations in the US, Erik (a self-proclaimed ‘butts on seats kinda guy’) took a pragmatic but uncynical look at the state of digital marketing in the arts today.

This divisive notion of bums on seats introduced a key theme that appeared throughout several of the day’s sessions – how can we avoid feeling uncomfortable around accepting that we have a product to market in the arts? Compared to big retailers, e-commerce giants and other companies vying for public attention, audiences expect something very different from arts organisations; this is particularly so when, whether it’s through youth theatre and outreach programmes or the development of new work, the impact of arts organisations extends far beyond just selling tickets. But when faced with an uncertain future in terms of public subsidy and funding, what can arts organisations do to ensure they can continue sharing their work?

Erik’s session took us some steps closer to solving this issue. Rather than simply repeating the mantra that content is king in arts marketing (although it is) Erik gave us three recommendations for reaching out to audiences in the way that they want us to; spend more money on digital media, because that’s where people are; all arts organisations need to become media companies in order to speak to people the right way, and; use data and analytics to make smarter decisions, preventing any wasted resources. Have a look at Erik's keynote speech slides on Slideshare.

Great digi marketing keynote from Erik Gensler @CapacityInt "Facebook ads print money" #SpektrixConf

— Philippa Barr (@PhilippaBarr) November 19, 2014

This happily (although by no means co-incidentally…) leads into another key theme from the day – data, and what it can tell us. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a ticketing and CRM system provider, this one got us a bit excited at Spektrix. Katy Raines’ session shared the findings of the first ever Spektrix aggregate data analysis, delving into what the data we can gather from our clients tells us about how well the arts are performing commercially. While not completely discouraging, the outlook from this analysis has not been particularly good news. We’ll be sharing our aggregate data report in full at a later date, but here's a sneak preview at our findings:

Despite the (almost) audible gulp from the room full of arts professionals at this point, Katy soon calmed our nerves. Whilst the Spektrix data uncovered where there’s a need for change in the arts, Katy shared these four opportunities for improving the picture:

  • Increase the number of people on our database we can talk to
  • Make our communications deliver better results
  • Reactivate first timers quickly
  • Enable and support our sales staff to upsell more often

@katyraines Diddly-squat has changed in terms of arts marketing in the past decade according to data #SpektrixConf pic.twitter.com/LD4fC7FpRr

— Alienation Digital (@alienation) November 19, 2014

Once again, this final point touches on the issue above (see ‘bums on seats’) around arts organisations acting in a commercial way to generate revenue. But surely there’s something to be said around fundraising and development here too? Should we focus on upselling and convincing people to give us a few extra pounds, or put more effort into finding major (or minor) donors? For many, I’m sure, the answer is a resounding both.

Our two fundraising sessions enabled us to explore this further at the conference, looking at two different approaches to making ‘the ask’ in the arts. Kate White and Jane Rice-Bowen of the National Centre for Circus Arts began with an almost-too-good-to-be-true proposition: ‘How to get an American philanthropist to give you a million dollars in a few easy steps’. These ‘easy steps’ were not, in fact, quite so simple. Finding themselves in a position, in 2013, to successfully cultivate a major donor (in the form of Aileen Getty) was no co-incidence, but the result of several very clearly articulated steps.

Jam jar armies, anyone? @NationalCircus on new approaches to fundraising at the #SpektrixConf pic.twitter.com/hVG7BI1WSS

— Spektrix (@spektrix) November 19, 2014

After integrating fundraising into their entire organisation and articulating themselves more clearly as a charity, Kate and Jane advocated greater investment in fundraising and development; just as Erik Gensler did earlier in the day, advocating that arts marketers invest more in highly profitable media channels. Kate and Jane explained how increasing their development team and investing in research tools like Prospecting for Gold gave their newly-articulated culture of fundraising some real clout. Finally, (and again, see ‘bums on seats’) came Kate and Jane’s most crucial piece of advice: fundraising needs to stop being a taboo subject. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Sharing her thoughts on finding, building and maintaining relationships with donors, our second fundraising speaker Aliceson Robinson echoed this final point, but from a donor’s perspective. If you don’t ask (for what?) you don’t get (what?). Donations of money, of course, but what about time, energy and passion? Discussing her work on the National Theatre’s Young Patrons scheme, Aliceson looked at how harnessing and developing people’s propensity to give doesn’t have to just mean speaking to High Net Worth individuals.

Aliceson Robinson leads our second fundraising session at #SpektrixConf 2014.

Younger people might not have the money to make a major cash donation to your organisation (at least not at the moment…) but what they can offer is their time and energy, for free, because they care about your organisation. Think about their social capital too; if one young person cares enough about your organisation to share something about you on Facebook, then you’ve just gained free coverage to a brand new network of young people, who also might donate their time and energy to your cause.

The energy of young philanthropists (almost) gives me a neat segue into our final conference breakout: quick-fire Lightning Talks. I won’t go into each talk in detail here, as we will be sharing slides and audio from this session very soon. However you should expect quick wins and neat pieces of advice on topics from web development, putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and sacred cows…

Very interesting case study on dynamic pricing from @theMACBelfast. 12% increase in ticket yield in yr 2. #spektrixconf

— Sam Scott Wood (@SamScottWood) November 19, 2014

A crash-course in sacred cows from The MAC Belfast's Áine McVerry.

Before retiring to The Place’s exceptionally well-stocked bar, we ended the day with our final keynote from Jane Earl, Chief Executive of Rich Mix. What makes organisations go wrong, and how can we fix it when they do? Jane looked closely at this question, sharing her experience of running local authorities, and from her time spent answering to Home Secretaries as the chief of a new strategic agency for tackling crime. Now working in the arts, Jane offered valuable advice on implementing and managing change in organisations; crucial leadership skills for anyone looking to introduce the ideas we discussed at the conference with their wider organisation.

The awkward moment when an organisation has taken the 'not for profit' concept a little too much as an instruction. @nogmum at #SpektrixConf

— Kenneth Muyiwa Tharp (@KennethTharp) November 19, 2014

I have done little justice to all of our speakers on the day here, in this whistle-stop tour of what we discussed. I hope it’s possible to see the common (and conflicting) themes and ideas that ran throughout the day, and which continue to buzz around all of our heads in the Spektrix Team. A huge thank you should go to our speakers, as well as to everyone who joined us for the conference. See you next year!

Huge buzz at #SpektrixConf. Great speakers, brilliant to meet other ticket sellers and the mozzarella balls of the gods. Wish I could stay!

— Andrew Collier (@andrewcollier) November 19, 2014

Did you join us for the #SpektrixConf 2014 and would like to give us some feedback on the day? Get in touch on hello@spektrix.com.

A Charlie G, a Charlie W, and one or two beers to end the Spektrix Conference.