Benchmarking Best Practices with TRG Arts
TRG Arts’ Senior Consultant, Tom Stickland joins host Lucy Costelloe to discuss how to use data and metrics as the foundation for strategies that help build loyal audiences for arts and cultural organisations.
Tom explains the importance of identifying your organisation’s definition of success and aligning metrics to long-term goals like patron loyalty and revenue resilience and avoiding short-term targets.
Using TRG’s approach, organisations should look at historical data to set realistic growth projections and benchmark against industry data if gaps in your own data make it necessary.
But what data should you focus on? Tom suggests focusing on key metrics like earned revenue percentage, patron activity rates, churn/attrition, data capture rates, and per cap ticket revenue and regularly measuring progress throughout the year rather than just at year-end.
These sorts of regular checks, with small experiments – and being able to embrace failure when some experiments inevitably fail – is how your team can learn to quickly adapt and course correct versus and still hit all your long-term organisational goals.
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About Our Guest
Tom is a senior consultant with strategy and policy experience specialising in theatre, festivals and place-making, having worked with Theatre Trust and HQ Theatres. TRG Arts is a consulting firm specialising in arts and cultural organisations providing data-driven strategies and solutions to help arts organisations maximise their revenue, improve audience engagement, and achieve long-term sustainability.
Welcome to the arts and everything in between. Podcast. Brought to you by ticketsolve.
Lucy Costelloe: Hello and welcome to this episode of The Arts and Everything in between podcast. My name is Lucy Costello. I’m head of sales and marketing for ticketsolve. And today I’m delighted to be joined by Tom Stickland, senior consultant at TRG Arts. TRG Arts specialize in four areas to help organizations flourish, that being consumer relationships, financial stability, organizational frameworks, and people centric teams. Today we are listening to Tom who’s going to guide us through some of the steps that we need to consider in order to make sure that we have a firm understanding of our data. We’ll be talking all things data, benchmarking and metrics. Please allow me to introduce Tom to the podcast. Tom, hi, good afternoon. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of The Arts and Everything in between podcast.
Tom Stickland: Thank you very much. It’s a real pleasure to be here.
Lucy Costelloe: Tom, this is an episode that’s been in the making, I have to say, probably for a few months now, so I’m really looking forward to it. And we’ve had some nice collaborations between ourselves and it’s nearly like a way to kind of tie it all together, nearly. And some of the learnings that we’ve come across between ourselves.
Tom Stickland: Yeah, it’s been really interesting to work with you and some ticket sold clients over the last few months to start asking some of the questions that we’re asking clients all of the time about what loyalty means for them and how they’re benchmarking themselves against other organizations and how we can help them.
Lucy Costelloe: Absolutely. And Tom, I would say it’s nearly tradition of the podcast now before we kind of get started, we always like to provide an opportunity for our listeners to become acquaintance with yourselves if they’re not, but I would imagine they’re definitely familiar with TRG Arts. So if you would just maybe give us a quick intro into kind of your experience, what you’re doing currently with TRG Arts and also anything that will kind of give our listeners kind of a quick snippet into some of the topics that we’ll be diving into.
Tom Stickland: Sure. So TRG Arts is a US based, data driven consultancy firm we like to call ourselves, which is to say that we try to make sure that we’re giving people advice that’s really rooted in their organization and the way that their organization works. And we work as a strategic partner for arts and cultural organizations around the world to build resiliency primarily through building loyalty from patrons, thinking about who you have coming to your organization, who you want coming to your organization, and how you keep them. We work in depth and try to really unpack where opportunities lie and also build systems and processes that mean that everyday ways of working in these organizations have patrons at the very center. And by patrons we mean anybody, not just the donors. We mean anybody who’s coming through that door who has a connection to the organization feels that the organization is there to serve them first and foremost. That is the high level version of what we’re doing, and the data tells us how they behave. I’m one of a group of senior consultants in the organization. My background has been working in all sorts of roles with theaters and orchestras and dance companies on big change projects. Whether that is ambitious programming for the Cultural Olympiad or big capital projects, I’m always interested in how we can take action now to support these treasured organizations, to sustain themselves and their communities for years to come. At TRG, the big projects that I’m involved in these days are all about building loyalty, to rebuild and grow primarily in this kind of recovery and rebuilding phase, really thinking about what we want the audiences of the future to look like and how we make sure that we are building those organizations for long term sustainability.
Lucy Costelloe: Thank you so much for that, Tom. From any of the conversations that we’ve had, I definitely feel your approach is this idea of this kind of transformative change to take something that sounds like this big project and to start to digest it into smaller steps. And obviously the key guiding point on that is to go back and to look at data. Recently, we co hosted a think tank workshop with organizations in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. And something that you really emphasized through the workshop and through the think tank was this idea of what does sustainable success look like and that it’s going to look very, very different for different organizations. But the key ingredient is to make sure that there’s longevity, there something that you can bring forward into your future strategies that you can look for for next year. And I think for me, that’s been like a real learning for myself to actually understand what this idea of sustainable innovation looks like in our sector. And you mentioned the word as well, resilience, taking some of the steps that TRG Arts have created. Resilience provides strength and strategy to organizations. Yeah.
Tom Stickland: And strategy is the key word there, I think, Lucy, because once you have identified where the opportunities lie, and you build a strategy, and you stick to that strategy, and you build all of your activities around some key strategic principles, then actually the work can become lighter because you have built the systems and you are repeating and you are refining your processes rather than trying to sell every ticket in a fire sale at the last second. For every performance as you really kind of feel the grip of the fear that we’ve all been in situations in arts organizations where that’s overtaken the big strategic vision of actually, what does our long term growth look like? And how do we make sure that we have a reliable audience who are going to come back time and time again? Increasingly, anybody who’s coming in for the first time, we invite and welcome them to take the next step, to move them further along. A kind of a loyalty ladder view of engagement so that we know the more you bring somebody into your organization, the more you welcome them, the cheaper it’s going to be to bring them back. The more reliably they’re going to be coming back, the less strain that puts on the organization. And then you can take that step back. Does this team best function to further our relationship with our patrons, with our audience, at a holistic level, rather than the fear and the grind that a packed schedule of shows can be?
Lucy Costelloe: Absolutely. Actually, one of my colleagues, or shall I say kind of a friend of the sector at a festival in Bristol said it so well to me one time. She said, sometimes in the sector there’s this kind of feeling where you have to be busy. If there’s an hour that’s not marked on your calendar, you’re not working, you’re not doing a good job. If there’s not a show on sale every week, if there’s not a program there that’s jampacked from every minute, every hour, you’re not doing your job. And I think this kind of culture that we have towards this kind of busy b approach is actually really unstrategic and doesn’t give us that time for deep thinking. So I suppose before we get started, because what we want to hook onto here is this idea of really fostering loyalty, that loyalty is the key ingredient to success for so many organizations. And it’s what we’re always focusing on. And you mentioned it to me there a few months ago when we first started our series of conversations, and it was this idea of this loyalty ladder. Could you take our listeners through what is a loyalty ladder or what does it look like for an organization?
Tom Stickland: Right? So we know that people tend to join our organization. Well, every person who joins our organization will have come for the first time. They’ll have stepped in through that door and they’ll have bought one ticket to see a show and that will be their first experience. Everybody has a first experience of an organization and that is that first rung of the ladder, that first one time ticket buyer. And what we want to do is make that person feel like they want to come back again. Right? This isn’t rocket science. The idea of that then, is identifying what is the appropriate ask for each individual at each stage of their relationship with you. So as that relationship goes through, they might be coming multiple times in a season or they might be coming multiple times in a season and donating or and becoming a member. And so it’s the power of and here is that what is the next step that we’re going to invite somebody to take to more deeply embed them into the organization. We know that the more connected to your organization somebody is, the more recently they’ll come, the less time there’ll be between their visits. The more they’ll give, the cheaper they will be to acquire, to bring in, to see other works. This is the kind of the magic principle of patron loyalty for us is recency frequency and that monetary value and how that grows over time, those are the building blocks for that ladder and the ladder is different for it. We always show kind of as a staircase to clients and say we just want people to take the next step. And that step isn’t necessarily the same for every organization because it’s going to depend on your programming, it’s going to depend on your audience’s ability to take that next step. And the data will tell you what they are ready to do. You want to be looking at who do we have in each of these buckets and how do we make sure that we are building a pipeline of the new? The loyalty principles are not about going, oh, we’re only interested in the people already in our database. We need to feed that loyalty ladder. So the question is how many people have you got coming in you? How sticky are they? What is your attention rate perhaps might be a key metric for you as an organization to go how many people are coming to us and they’re once and done and we never see them again? Or how many people are we getting to come once, one year and then come back and how soon are they coming back? That might be a metric for you if that’s where there’s a gap in your pipeline and every organization is going to have a slightly different set of pots and a slightly different step that they would like organizations to take along the way. But the data will tell us this is so often what we have to keep going back to is that we as an organization are the worst at anecdote, right? We would say, oh, well, people never do that, so we just don’t do that. Nobody who ever comes to a family show will become a member is the sort of thing that people might say. But they don’t actually go into their data and be like, actually this is one of our most loyal segments. We know when they’re going to come, we know what they’re going to come to and we can kind of plot that patron journey and it all cycles back to that point of putting patrons at the center, right? If in one sentence we could get there, it would be like is your organization centered around your audience and your patrons? Is it serving them? First and foremost, the data is going to help us there to identify. But the other thing I need to say early in our conversation here to everybody is data doesn’t do, people do. We are a data driven consultancy firm and people think that that means that we would come and point them at some numbers and then hand them a report and walk out the door and it absolutely doesn’t work. If we did that, nothing would change. The point here is us going, and what are you going to do about it? Because the data doesn’t do it. And we need to create the opportunity for people to find the opportunities through the data, but then also think about what those next steps can be and test and learn and grow these organizations step by step. There is not a magic formula here that we go, here are the exact metrics for every organization that we would tell you you have to test. It’s always different. Always different.
Lucy Costelloe: But there’s no secret ingredient.
Tom Stickland: Well, there is a secret ingredient, but it’s the people. The people is a secret ingredient. Inspiring your teams to respond to data, that is the secret ingredient. There’s no secret formula that makes them do the thing.
Lucy Costelloe: It just shows, I think, exactly what you’re saying. It’s about finding that actionable insight. So I think in terms of where we know where we want to go, as in we know that we’re going to have an insight there that’s going to allow us to make a change or to make an action. But before we get there, Tom, the key question that tends to come up every now and then is how do we understand what we’re looking at or how do we understand what we should be looking for? I have a lot of conversations that tend to be like, does the data come first or does it come after? Do we make a change and then assess or do we look at what we’ve got, use that and do something a little bit different? I guess I’d love to hear what your approach would be if there was a blank canvas and we were to put number one on the canvas for our steps to understand your data.
Tom Stickland: Yeah. You can only start with asking yourself the question of what does success look like for us as an organization? Does that mean we as an organization are here to have as many people through the door as possible? Is that what success is like? And actually, you need to be quite critical about your coming to terms with what that success statement is for your organization, because is it that you need to get as many people coming through the door as possible? Is it that you need to have a new audience of a specific type? Young people, more young people? What are the success categories that are important to you? Or is it just that we want to be able to keep the doors open in five years time? Is it that we want to be here and we want to be doing good work and being able to support the work that we want to do in five years time. And I think there is a temptation to the short termism of what success looks like. And if you’re an arts organization board or the senior management team, you’ve got to be looking at three years minimum five years probably in terms of what a success measure looks like, because then you might actually make it happen. If you set yourself a short term success measure, then it’s going to pass or fail. And then, so what if we set ourselves a time frame and a clear success vision, we can start looking at what the key metrics are that are going to get us there. So we might look at what is the total, the word resilience that we were kind of batting around earlier and thinking like, in reality, for a lot of arts organizations, that means growing your earned income so you’re less reliant on fluctuating public sector grants or charitable grants, right? This is a story told a thousand times by different arts organizations is resilience for us. Looks like we want to be able to support ourselves more. And so in order to do that, key metric there is absolutely what is your patron earned income? Like, what is your ticket sales, your donations, any subscriptions, any kind of hospitality sales? What is that earned income figure? And maybe that is the key metric. Maybe the key metric is that as a proportion of your total revenue, so that you are more resilient in the sense of even if you grow as an organization and you grow your grant making, don’t then do that at the expense of your earned income. Because then you might have a bigger organization that you need that bigger proportion of earned income to be able to survive in leaner times. The longer term view helps you identify what your key metrics should be. And as I say, they’re different for different organizations. And it could be that you’re a long running organization, has a really strong earned income perspective, but you’re worried about the pipeline of your audiences and worried about actually we’ve got this really loyal group of audience members who are diminishing. They might be older, they might be moving away, there might be a change in the demographics of your area. And you’re thinking, how do we manage to kind of maintain a steady pool of our most loyal audiences? And it could well be that you have metrics around those early stages of the loyalty ladder and say, okay, we want to reduce our first timer attrition. We want to make sure that people who come here for the first time don’t go away immediately, never to return. So that might be a key metric that it all depends on what your success measure is. And you’ve got to have a success measure that looks beyond twelve months because otherwise you’re just going to pass or fail.
Lucy Costelloe: And this kind of goes back to looking at something really quite large like a five year strategy, especially after everything that’s happened with the sector and not even making reference to the health pandemic. But we’re talking about shifts in policy as well. This year we’ve seen that come in from Arts Council of England and for a lot of organizations, the change that could potentially happen next year feels daunting. But to break it down and revolve around this idea of a success metric and your success statement as well, I think that’s something that every week, every month that teams, especially senior management teams, should be thinking about. It’s like, why are we doing this? We know why we’re doing this. It’s very much within the culture of our organization and this is what that looks like. And then as you start to see the audience members, they might only return for that same kind of genre of programming, but they’re going to return next year and for the following five sequences thereafter. So I think that’s a really great kind of objective to have for an organization. So we have our success statement or our success metric, I think looking at lapsed customers and making sure that the people that we’ve worked so hard to get through the doors for the first time that they’re going to come back. But what should we be looking at then? How do we set ourselves if we’ve never done so before? How do we set a target that first of all is motivating, I suppose, for our organization, but it’s attainable and then it’s sustainable as well going forward.
Tom Stickland: Yeah, I mean, the data is going to guide us. That’s going to be my answer to every question that anybody’s ever asked me. The data is going to guide us. We need to look at what growth is achievable in terms of setting it like we have a success metric. Sure, we’ve talked about, but what is the target? How do we set that target in a way that we are comfortable as achievable and how do we project in a way that isn’t just based on hunch and anecdote, which, as I say, our sector is very, very good at. And we can see growth often in an organization, even an organization that is struggling. If you look at recent years, you will find a segment that is growing. You will find something, you will find the green shoots somewhere which will show you what a growth projection is beginning to look like. And if we were able to grow a particular area of your programming by a certain percentage, then you know, okay, this is a percentage that our organization is capable of growth for. This did not scupper our organization to take these steps and to grow. And let’s be realistic about what our programming is capable of doing. So often when I’m working on projections with people, they will pull a capacity out of thin air as to how well they’re going to do. And yes, let’s be ambitious and let’s push to do better than we’ve done before. But if you’ve never sold Contemporary Dance at 80% capacity in your auditorium, then it feels unlikely that you’re going to get there for the first time that you have Contemporary Dance in three years. We need to actually challenge ourselves to be rigorous in going, well, what did and I’m not saying that everything’s going to perform as it did exactly historically, but if we set our targets with the context of historical performance and where we go, are we going to outperform this, then how are you going to outperform that? Let’s think about that in the budget stage. Are we going to do this by additional investment? Are we going to do this by bringing in a different type of programming? Like, programming we know is the absolute foundation of what we do and the reason why we do it. And it’s also the foundation of loyalty. People you put on great work and people are much more likely to be loyal. It doesn’t mean that you do great art and people will follow. You have to tell them about it. You have to invite people, you have to build that audience. But if you’re setting an ambitious target, what is the basis of that in data and is the basis of that backed up by your historical performance or are you just hoping I think just.
Lucy Costelloe: On that the idea of maybe some of the pushback that I’ve heard trickle in a little bit as well. I’d love to get your take on this is when we encourage ourselves or our teams to go back and to look at what the data is kind of nudging us towards or what it’s telling us. The first thing I suppose that I come across is that people will say, well, we have a big gap in our data. There’s three years of data, there’s two years of data that we actually can’t use to inform our decision. And now things have changed so much as well. Our audiences actually, we don’t know them, they’re possibly not the same audiences we were engaging with. So we’re kind of starting from scratch. So we don’t really have any insight to go off. And there’s this real argument, or this case to be like, the information is not there, the data is redundant. What’s your take on that?
Tom Stickland: Yeah, we are not operating in a vacuum is my answer to that. And it brings us on to benchmarking and it brings us on to this conversation of if you don’t know how your kind of growth projections look like, then you can look at what the rest of the sector is doing. We compile a benchmark that I’ve spoken about with your clients in the past, about looking at different segments of organizations, sort of depending on size, scale, location, and seeing what growth is looking like in ticket sales and in revenue in each of those areas. And you can model yourself against what those growth patterns look like to get a realistic sense of where you might end up if you’ve been. Organizations were closed for different periods of time during the 2020 closures and 2021 closures and cancellations that happened, it seems, ever since, to some extent. But if you can use benchmarking data to have an idea of how the industry is growing in this time and looking at where most organizations are in relation to 2019, you could use that as a loose tool to project where you might end the challenge with using a benchmark that we always challenge people on doing is that there’s no success or fail versus a benchmark. Your data is your data. You are your own organization, you’re your own program, you’re your own audience. You are unique, but you are following the trends of a sector. And so it’s all about taking that step back and looking at trends, looking at percentage differences that have happened across the benchmark between 2019 and now, perhaps as a comparator, but also looking at your own data and saying, what has our growth looked like over the last couple of years? And yes, most organizations have not fully recovered to 2019 levels in revenue or tickets at this stage. We’re getting there. I expect once we’ve got the data for this full year, we’ll be coming about in line with 2019 by the looks of kind of the advanced box offices that we’re seeing. But it’s been a slow recovery, right? It’s now a long time since 2019. Yes, the benchmark is my first port of call for if if you don’t know the data, look at your peers and see how to plot yourself against that to begin with. The other thing is saying is linking back to why you need to have a long term goal here. Because if you don’t have data from the past, for whatever reason, if you start tracking now, if you start deciding now on some key metrics and you track them consistently throughout at least a three to five year cycle, you’re going to see the trends, you’re going to see what growth looks like. And it might be that your targeting in year one is shakier than it gets to in year two and three and four. But goodness me, you’re going to have a good understanding of your organization by the end of that cycle. And you’re going to have developed the rigor of collecting data and analyzing it. And you’re always going to find new ways to slice that when the time comes for the next success measures for okay, we’ve achieved that and we have the exact audience profile that we were hoping for. So now how do we grow more?
Lucy Costelloe: Next chapter, please. I love that. No, definitely. Absolutely. I have to say, I have seen versions of the TRG Arts and Culture benchmark myself and something that I suppose the tab that I like to jump in on a little bit. And I imagine I remember when you were kind of taking us through it yourself. It’s the tab that you’re drawn to which kind of revolves around this idea of customer typologies as well, this idea of what does loyalty look like for the sector in terms of new audiences returning? And you kind of go up the ladder in itself in terms of loyalty, all the way up nearly to hyperloyal audiences.
Tom Stickland: It’s a replication of that ladder in a very simplified form of saying how often are people coming to your organization? And how do you can see very clearly what that pipeline is looking like if you have a large number of first time bookers, but then when you get to active bookers who’ve been at least three times to your organization, that dips way down, then the question is, how are you taking that journey and that route? And we get into those lapsed. And this is where we all have to kind of test and learn together a bit because lapston stale audiences aren’t quite behaving in the way that they were performing pre pandemic. There are people who you could still invite back, who haven’t been back since closure period, and they are coming back faster than they would off in the before times. So these things do change and we have to track and learn about them. But we do know that identifying people who fall into each of those buckets is a really useful way of then identifying where your opportunities are lying for reactivation, for growth. One of the most interesting sections is that Stailing audience who’ve not been for 18 months to three years, but they haven’t quite fallen off into the lapse category just yet because these are people who we know that once people have not been for three years traditionally. And as you say, it’s changed slightly, but it’s still very close to as expensive to reactivate those lapse bookers as it is to find a brand new audience. The most expensive thing to do is to find a brand new audience. And so for many of the clients I work with, just getting those stale books to come back one more time turns into a lifetime value of that patron many times over. Because that’s the thing to think about here. When we’re encouraging loyalty and we’re spending this money, let’s spend the money to acquire somebody who over their lifetime is going to be worth hundreds of pounds, hundreds of euro to us, rather than one who’s going to be worth the price of one ticket. That’s the mentality here, is that we’re really using our audience development budgets effectively to bring in people into a system that’s going to renew them through. And that’s such a great such a great story that you can tell of your own organization is how many people are sat in each of those pots. They’re telling you. What they are valuing through their behavior.
Lucy Costelloe: Yeah. I have to say it’s something that I’ve kind of experienced myself, where you see actually what that lifetime value which is accumulated for four times plus or for five times plus. It’s that kind of and I think that does get regardless of where you’re sitting in your organization or who you’re trying to present an idea to, or this idea of showing the insights as well to the team to make sure that the change is being implemented or that you’re taking the next step. There are kind of what I would call that jaw dropping factor. And there is nothing better than you know that feeling, Tom? When you’ve worked hard at something and you’ve seen the full team effort, you condense it down to a report after the campaign or after the program run, and there’s just one figure that you’re looking forward to presenting, either to the board or to CEO. And that’s it. It’s nearly like the full stop. It’s like, that worked, that was really good. What do we do? You get that excitement, then it’s like people want to know what are the next steps? How are we going to grow from that? Or what’s the growth? What’s next? How do we grow from this? How do we get this idea to keep going? And I think there’s two things I’ve kind of experienced myself using data. Sometimes it can really motivate you in moments like that. It’s kind of like, what do they call it? Like the mic drop nearly. And then there’s other times as well. It can slightly be like demotivating perhaps where the number isn’t quite what you thought it was going to be or actually like a 1.2% increase or decrease of lapsed. It doesn’t transfer into actually all of the time and the effort that your team have put into something. So I think there’s probably a piece there about kind of balancing those emotions. Data can actually be quite emotional, I think, within our sector as well.
Tom Stickland: Yeah. And I think it comes with great fear, right? This is the thing that we’re trying to overcome here, is as soon as you are starting to measure something and you are starting to manage that thing, you might fail. And not achieving a metric is clear and obvious way of saying we set out to achieve a number that we publicly said internally, probably, but the others knew and then we didn’t hit that number. And it’s obvious, right. Failure is kind of clear there. The value here is identifying a small number, right. So that you’re heading towards something and monitoring throughout the year. We are not just evaluating at the end of that time going, oh well, we were doing all of this work and then we got to the end of the year and it turns out, oh, well, our new customers went down by 5% or our Attrition went up, or anything else. The fact is that once you have a small number, you need to stay on top of it and you need to start orienting your practices around achieving those goals. We’ve specifically chosen some key data points that are important to us to get there. How are we orienting ourselves that everything we do is driving towards that goal and we don’t necessarily know immediately what that best practice might be. And we have to turn our organizations into laboratories a little bit here and say, what is a small test that I can do to say if I just change the way that I’m working a tiny bit, how can I drive towards that one metric that is our goal? After make one change, come back to it a few weeks later and evaluate that change on a really micro level. We’re not writing an evaluation report here. We are just going, this is what I was hoping to achieve. Maybe you did an A B test, maybe you did it two ways. Maybe you just changed one thing versus how you did it the previous on sale. But just changing one thing, evaluating it and saying, oh, well, this did get us closer to where we were trying to go and then you can repeat it. And then that builds into the thing we were talking about, right at the top of wanting to create systems that reduce the need and the anxiety of trying to reinvent the wheel every campaign cycle. If we find out what works, we can then kind of stick that in the campaign plan and move on and each time be just tweaking a little bit to test and learn what the best steps are to getting us towards that goal. And so it’s not a surprise at the end of the year what that number is, whether you’ve succeeded or failed in reaching your goal, if you’ve tried really hard and you’ve identified the reasons why that is, then you can tell that story in the senior management, in those kind of crunch meetings that you need to present those visions. If you’ve been thinking about that metric throughout the year and you’ve been trying to align to it, then the story you’re going to be able to tell at the end of that year of why you’ve got to where you’ve got to and the journey of what that is and the segments that did and didn’t respond is going to be so rich and teach you so much that it might inform what that target should be set at for the next year. Or it might inform something else in the organization. It might teach you things. But if you set these key metrics, you set a small number off them because you do not because otherwise it gets buried, right? And you can tell the story of whichever metrics happens you happens to hit. And whichever metrics you didn’t happen to hit can neatly find their way into an appendix the point here is to go, what are the key metrics? Let’s get a small number off them. Let’s aim towards them. Let’s aim towards them throughout the year. Let’s adapt all of our practices towards hitting these clear goals and then let’s go on that journey together as an organization. Bring the team with you. That is how you kind of have to try and counter the fear that is am I going to pass? Am I going to fail? Is this going to expose me, the fact that these results aren’t going to be hit? Or actually is it going to allow me to focus, allow me to decide what isn’t isn’t important? In the scheme of 1000 jobs that are being asked, of marketing teams and box office teams and all sorts of development teams across the country. What a great prioritization tool to have to go. Actually, we’re only doing the things that further our goals.
Lucy Costelloe: I love that. I was actually wondering, without preempting it, I was wondering would we talk about this idea of the relationship between failure and data a little bit and the word that we kind of all hate. And I think when you were chatting through there, some of your examples, kind of the two things that stuck out for me straight away was that I think the two things and I’m going to hold up my hand, but the two things that I think arts marketers absolutely despise is failure. First and foremost, do not like to fail. I think it’s probably a lot to do with our stakeholder relationship. It’s either coming from board funders, it comes at us from so many different angles. So number one being failure, we do not like to fail and we don’t even like to think about what happens if this doesn’t work. Then the second thing as well is kind of related, but also unrelated is that idea of when someone goes to ask you a question when you don’t know the answer to it. We just don’t like that we should know everything. We should absolutely have all of the answers at our fingertips. And I think that can also add that additional pressure on why I need to be more data driven or data led or data influenced in everything that I’m doing. And then that kind of adds to that kind of idea of what I like to call like data guilt, where I know I have my data, I know I should be using more, but actually I have a list of jobs that I’m going to do instead because they’re also priorities. But yes, I know I should be going back on the data and I feel guilty that I’m not. So it’s trying to kind of balance all of those kind of emotions and I guess where we are in our conversation. Tom, something that I’d love to speak to you about and you’ve actually mentioned it, there is this idea of storytelling and I think it’s a framework, actually, that Microsoft might implement, but don’t hold me against that. I’ll have to double check. But I remember reading something about this idea of data storytelling and how it’s like they have this diagram of all these books sitting on a shelf. So you’re doing something, you’re implementing it, you’re trialing it, and then there’s a book that kind of topples onto the next one and it’s the one that says Data Insight because that’s the one that’s going to push the books either off the shelf or it’s going to create that movement within your story. And I love it. I just think it’s so simple and it’s just such an important part of what we’re doing. And what is it? What is the representation of data and what is its purpose? It’s exactly that. It’s the storytelling. It’s to know what’s going to come ahead in the chapters, what’s the next book in the sequence, and so forth. But that being said, we can become kind of nearly obsessed with data. And I think in society today, who we are and the way our communities work and for how corporations operate is we’ve become very greedy for data is, as they say, data is the new gold. If you have data, that’s all you need. So with that comes this kind of feeling of like analysis, paralysis. We’re reporting on everything. There’s every single metric under the sun. And then we start to see some of the nice vanity metrics as well. Can we call that out? Like this idea of looking at a number because it looks beautiful, but actually it’s worth nothing. It doesn’t drive an insight. It doesn’t give us something that we need to really focus on. It’s kind of putting blinders over or putting a band Aid maybe potentially on actually an issue or a challenge that your organization should be focusing on as priority.
Tom Stickland: Yeah. And look, data insight, data analysis can be incredibly powerful. It can unlock those stories and it can make us go, actually, we didn’t see connections here before, but because of the data being able to be mashed in a certain way, suddenly it opens up a viewpoint of being able to do that. However, in your day to day in an arts organization where you are, even if you are the data super user in your organization, you are not working on a quantum computer. You are not a machine learning specialist. We do do things that are kind of the big data challenge. But you know what? We have experts in their field doing that and that’s where we can do some kind of incredible things that crunch all of the data in your database. You can’t do that in the day to day. And so often the storytelling bit. This is what most of the people who are working in arts organizations are is master storytellers, right?
Lucy Costelloe: Yes.
Tom Stickland: And we can find what key statistics are valuable and it’s so often about it. It’s so often in the presentation of how you draw that diagram of connecting these different dots. Like sometimes if you’re trying to convince a board that a specific metric is actually really important, then you have to show the flow of a few numbers together. That gets you to one place, but they aren’t expecting to see the extreme pivot table that you’ve perfected over half a century. It is to do with going and it all links back to what are the metrics that matter to you and how do you thin it down and how do you present like nobody who you’re presenting the numbers to is going to take them off to a data analyst and do that work either. The point here is that you are communicating as humans and we are using data as our tool, our magnifying glass into going. I could present to you the booking history of every single patron in my organization, but that doesn’t mean anything. If I threw it through a fancy formula, I could break that down and tell you all sorts of different things. You aren’t going to have the time to do that. Sometimes we have to regularly measure, regularly hold ourselves accountable to, and sometimes we might need to occasionally take a moment to step back and make sure that that metric is still doing what we want it to do, but on the day to day. Sometimes it’s something as simple as one of the most powerful metrics that we work with clients on is just measuring the average ticket price, the per cap that you’re achieving on every show. It tells you so much. It tells you about discounting, it tells you about demand, it tells you about all sorts of different things. It tells you about trends in growth. It tells you all sorts of really valuable things. And it’s the simplest thing to calculate. You take your ticket sales, you divide it by the number of people. Let’s not overcomplicate the thing here. Tracking what we call it per caps, the per capita revenue, that is sometimes the most valuable thing. Let’s not try and unless you are the specialist, unless you have a specific question you’re trying to answer, the numbers that you have access to are probably the numbers you need are probably easily accessible.
Lucy Costelloe: Something that I think we forget about so much is actually going back and looking at ticketing data and looking at tickets. And the idea that we can pull so much insight from one metric that everyone in your organization, I think that’s so important as well. We kind of talk about it a lot here at Ticketsolve when we acquire a new customer and we get them ready to go live and we do their data migration and it’s this fantastic onboarding process. One of my colleagues, Darren, works extensively with our team and his motto is, if the data is there, we can bring it over and then you hear this and you’re like, wow. But then his point is, but why are we doing this, and what do we want to achieve? So we’ll go into the data and look at it there, and a big part then, actually, of the migration to ticketsolve. Yes, absolutely. It’s doing a data migration, but it’s actually the training that’s implemented within the team. And as we say ourselves, everybody should be able to sell a ticket, whether regardless if you’re upstairs or downstairs, if you’re in the office, if you’re at the front desk or at the foyer, if someone comes in and is looking to purchase a ticket, you need to be able to get that through the box office and to understand then the power of once you’ve captured that ticket and the information that’s there, it doesn’t just track revenue. It tracks so much more and gives you such an insight. I just think that in itself should give teams a lot of reassurance. After this podcast, the first thing that you should do is look at what Excel when you have to create an Excel spreadsheet, when you have to pull it all out. And if you feel like you’re taking a deep dive into your data or you’re mining your data, please don’t maybe go back and let’s keep it simple and let’s grow on it from there. So, Tom, I can’t believe it, but we’re very quickly coming to the end of our brief. We’ve started, we’ve done the middle, and now it’s at the end. And I suppose as part of what we discussed, that we would kind of have a chat about maybe some of the top tips that you would share from your experience with our listeners on getting started, the first steps to understanding your data.
Tom Stickland: Yeah, and I think it’s a consistent story throughout this, which is simplify your expectations of a metric. Some of the top, like, the top five metrics that I often work with organizations on is just how much money are you getting from your patrons? Like, it’s simple, it’s quick and dirty. How much money are you getting from your patrons versus other sources? What percentage of your revenue is coming from patrons? That is overall a good resiliency figure, right? The next thing is going, how active are your patrons? How much of your database is actually actively coming to your organization in the last year or two? This is a question of going, look, that statistic is going to be different for every organization, depending on the age of your database, depending on if you’ve recently done any hygiene on the database, depending on your program, depending on the kind of churn that your organization tends to see. But how active are your patrons? How many of your patrons can you actually talk to if you’re going to be asking people to take the next step, what is your data capture rate? Who are the people who you actually have the details and permissions for. And sometimes that’s one of the biggest pieces of work we do with a client is to say, actually, we just need to be able to talk to everybody. So let’s actually go on a bit of a data collection mission to get the contact information for people because you can’t ask them if you don’t know who they are. The thing I’ve probably spoken about the most today is about churn rate and about attrition because this is what the long term in setting a long term ambition, that’s a key metric that I would encourage people to have a think maybe that might be your success metric. And then finally that per capita revenue, like what is the average ticket price that you’re achieving? And you can segment that down to different genre. Our most adept clients are tracking that throughout the sales cycle because we want to see a rising per cap throughout your sales cycle, right. We want to see you earning more money as demand is higher. So that might be a key metric. There is five examples of thinking what is important to our organization? Pick a few of them. Maybe pick those five. Is this telling the story of our organization? And what is the growth we want to see? To see the success that we want to see? Simplify your metrics.
Lucy Costelloe: Pick good ones, but no pressure. Tom, thank you so much. That was wonderful. So just to mention to our listeners that you’ll be sharing a series of resources as well, some links to some of the fantastic trgr content. So anything that you might be looking for, please head to the show notes as well and you’ll find lots of good stuff there, including maybe a way to contact Tom for any questions that you might have.
Tom Stickland: Yeah, absolutely. Sign up for the free benchmark as well if you haven’t already from previous conversations because it’d be great to enrich the data further and help you to see where you sit against the other organizations in the sector.
Lucy Costelloe: Most definitely. Thank you so much, Tom.
Tom Stickland: Thank you.
Lucy Costelloe: This was an episode of The Arts and Everything in between podcast brought to you by ticketsolve please like subscribe and share to the podcast. Thanks for listening.
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