The Arts & Everything in Between

May 1, 2023 | Duration: 61 min

Live from RECHARGE! Panel Discussion: Augmenting Data in Your Decision Making

Data, data everywhere and no time to take a look (surely there is a poem about that right)? Data is everywhere, demographics, behavioural, social, impact – you name it – there is a measurement for it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed especially if you are time and resource constrained. But rather than burying your head in the sand – or worse – firmly digging in your heels while repeating “this is fine,” Recharge’s panel offers some practical and realistic ways to get to grips with your data in a way that makes the most impact with your limited time and resources.

Join, Fiona Bell, CEO, Thrive Audience Development, Gail Jones, Communications Manager, Crescent Art Center, Becky Stewart, Assistant Arts Information and Education Officer, Island Arts Center, David Kinghan, Digital Content Manager, Ulster Orchestra, Miriam Crozier, Marketing Communications Manager, Ulster Orchestra, and Louise Boyce, Theater Manager, Alley Theater and learn how to use your data to do things better, but also make it easier and more streamlined for your team. The panel shares their insights and tips on battling the perma crisis in the arts and culture sector and the inevitable barriers you face.

Can numbers solve every issue? As the panel tells it, probably not, but it might make things ever so slightly easier – especially if you are up to your ears in phallic lollies.



Investigate new ideas and learn from your arts, culture and heritage peers! Join us every few weeks as we interview arts industry experts and their take on the biggest issues facing the arts and culture world today. You’ll get ideas to try and practical tips, plus hear from arts and culture managers working in every role from marketing to management – and every area – from theatres and music venues to festivals, museums, heritage sites and more.



Got a great topic for the podcast? Want to share your story with the arts and culture industry? Get in touch! [email protected]



A big thank you to our Recharge panel who took the time to not only be part of the workshops and research, but also to share their ideas and insights with others.

Fiona Bell, CEO, Thrive Audience Development,

Gail Jones, Communications Manager, Crescent Art Center,

Becky Stewart, Assistant Arts Information and Education Officer, Island Arts Center,

David Kinghan, Digital Content Manager, Ulster Orchestra,

Miriam Crozier, Marketing Communications Manager, Ulster Orchestra,

Louise Boyce, Theater Manager, Alley Theater,



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Speaker A: Welcome to the Arts and Everything in between podcast brought to you by Ticketsolve.


Lucy Costelloe: For those of you who might know me, my name is Lucy. I’m currently head of marketing for Ticketsolve. If we’ve met online, I’m more of the Instagram photo down here, always wearing a headset. If we meet on Instagram, I’m always standing at a wall. And if we meet in person, hopefully I’m giving you a hug or shaking your hand. Today, I have the privilege of giving a quick insight into a bit of a project that we’ve been working on here at Ticketsolve, and I have a fantastic panel as well who have joined us too, and we’ll get into that a little bit later. So, hello. This is what we’re going to call the Arts and Culture Collective, and this is a project that we’ve been working on where we designed a think tank workshop because we wanted to know exactly what the challenges that you’re currently facing are. We want to know a little bit more about them as well. How are they impacting everything that you’re doing on a daily basis? How are they impacting the long term goals that you have? How are they impacting the way your team’s feeling and the way that you’re operating? We received funding from the Irish Research Council as well to conduct this project, so we’re very excited about that as well. Our first big initiative was the ACC, the Arts and Culture Collective. And if I was to summarize it into one piece of feedback that I received, it was not your average therapy session. If that line sounds like something that you might have said, you’re probably the person who spoke, who said those words to me. So thank you for that today because you’ve made it onto my slide. But what it looks like is a group that took place online, and we had a series of different cohorts of Ticket Solve customers and wider organizations as well, outside of Ticketsolve. And we all came together because we wanted to know one simple question. Is there a way that we could be using data a little bit better or a lot better to do what we’re doing now better or make it easier, make it more streamlined, give us maybe a bit more of a roadmap into what we should be looking at when we’re feeling really uncertain? Because I think it’s fair to say over the past couple of years, we’ve been feeling really uncertain what the Ticket Solve Arts and Culture Collective looked like in numbers. It was five online or five workshops, four of which were online, one which was conducted in person in Northern Ireland. And we have representatives from that cohort here joining us today, have to remind myself, but it was 38 participants, with a total of 28 organizations as well. So with that, I’m going to hand it over to the chair of our panel today, fiona Bell, who is CEO of Thrive and we’re going to do just a quick introduction for our panel.


Speaker C: Hello, everybody. Today’s been like a big grip hug, hasn’t it? We’re going to try and continue that. So anybody with the data imposter syndrome, take it off and set up beside you. So we’re just going to have a data confessional conversation today. I’m, as Lucy said, the CEO of Thrive thrive, for anybody who hasn’t heard of us, are well, we still haven’t really cracked how we talk about ourselves in terms of what we do. And it depends who I’m talking to. So today I’ll say we’re the data and research people. Sometimes I say research and data people. We’re a sector support organization based in Belfast. So working with both ticketing data but also general research into cultural engagement, the reality of cultural engagement, what does that actually mean in terms of who does it, what they do, where they do it, how they feel about it. So your big topics next to me.


Speaker D: Hi, I’m Gail. I’m from the Crescent Art Center in Belfast, and I am the communications manager there. I just like to, first of all, set some context for the Crescent Art Center because hopefully that’ll kind of help you understand my perspective when we’re talking about data. So I am part of a core team of six, so that includes our CEO, four senior management team members, which is a technical manager, a finance manager, customer services manager, myself, and then we’re supported by one coordinator. Other than that, we’ve got no teams, we’ve got no box office manager, we’ve got no fundraising manager. That’s it. At the Crescent, we’re open six days a week, nine to ten most days. We do 30 weeks of courses and.


Speaker E: Workshops throughout the year.


Speaker D: We have a live events program. We have lovely hub. There’s a lovely hub. Organizations like Fiona who have an office in our building, we do a book festival every year. We’re also a beautiful Victorian building, and we’re home to a colony of Swiss, which is really interesting fact. And I also really love data. So self impressed.


Speaker E: Hi, I’m Becky. I do marketing. I don’t like the word marketing because don’t think it fully encompassed well, it does fully encompass everything I do, but it’s sort of a big word and I think some of us would get a bit stuck with it. But I come from the Island Arts Center, which is a council arts facility, so it’s the Lisbon and Castle Ray Council facility. So we’re sort of an art service. We do a lot of things on top of just being a programmable center. And my bread and butter is social media. The website, sending out emails and trying to figure out a little bit of data alongside that to actually make it worthwhile and whether we’re doing paper, no paper, what we’re going for and all those side of it.


Speaker C: Thank you.


Speaker A: Hi, I’m Dave. I am the digital content manager at the Elstore Orchestra. So me and my colleague Lou, the digital platform lead, we would produce a lot of video photographics content and post it on social media.


Speaker F: Hi, I’m Miriam. I’m the Marketing Communications manager for the Ulster Orchestra. Unlike Gail and Becky and Louise, we. Don’T have a box office of our own.


We are primarily based in the Ulster Hall in Belfast, secondarily at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, and we also go out to regional venues around Northern Ireland. But we don’t have our own box office. So we’re in a very interesting position where we are trying to make sense of a limited amount of data that we have, partly from box office figures, partly a little bit from vital statistics, and mostly just winging it.


Speaker G: Find the theme here. My name is Louise Boyce. I am the Alley Theater manager in Straban. We’re the only theater owned by Dairy City and Straban District Council. Quite like everybody else here in regards to structure, et cetera, we’re very limited staffing. I don’t have a box office manager. I do have a marketing officer who is here today and a beloved without her, Emma. But there is just so much work to be conducted on a day to day because we have a theater, an exhibition space, a small museum, services space, bar, hopefully a cafe soon. Again, the box office itself. We do have a box office system, obviously, but we work very closely with ticketsolve. But in regard to the data that we could be utilizing, it certainly could be exposed, we could be exposing and using that much more. But again, funnily enough, we didn’t even know if we were going to be here today because we’re so short staffed. But I was encouraged to go by my manager and I’m glad I did because I got so much already. So I feel very motivated to go back and do the millions of things that I was supposed to do today, but I’ll do them tomorrow. And we’ve got allstar orchestra and tonight.


Lucy Costelloe: So just to give kind of a quick insight into why we wanted to really emphasize the introductions of the panel is this session isn’t designed to make anyone feel like we should be doing more, going home feeling, oh, I don’t do enough with my data. And that’s something when I have been speaking with each member of the panel that they really want to emphasize as well. We’re all humans, we all have the same emotions. So they’ve come up today on stage just to share their real experiences of how they’re using it and the desires that they have in answering some of the questions, the big questions that they have around the challenges that are facing the sector. So I’m going to hand it back over to Fiona anyway for just at the start of our first question.


Speaker C: Yeah. So I suppose that’s what we had a quick run through yesterday, and that’s sort of what we were talking about. We didn’t want it to be one of those waggy finger sessions where you hear lots of things and then it’s just another big stick to hit yourself with about how much you should be doing that you aren’t. Before I ask the question, wouldn’t be like me to hold the mic. In previous years, my first job in the arts was a general manager of a venue, which also involved being the box office manager. I’m old long enough in the tuts to remember when this is what they used to be called computerized box office systems came in, and I remember at the time going, what in the name of God do we need a computerized box office system for that? Paper, pencil and paper and pencil is working perfectly fine for all of us because guess what, I can identify the handwriting of the person who took that booking, and I know who didn’t give the parking instructions when they were taking that call. Let’s say I’ve been on a journey with the data since then, and now a bit of a data gig. I didn’t think it was I didn’t think it didn’t really anything with the numbers. The clue was when I was looking at survey results and going, oh, well, that’s interesting. I wonder why that is. And that’s where the love of data come from. So luckily I’m in a data job now. So that’s worked out well. We expect lots of cultural organizations up in the north, and one of the things we are fascinated by, we do an annual survey of what people are doing and what information they’re actually collecting and using. There has been a shift in recent times, people moving slightly away from demographics and moving much more into behavioral let’s not even talk about impact simply because well, I suppose what does age tell you in terms of your audience behavior? Somebody had said to me, donald Trump and Mick Jagger are the same age, but do they act in the same way? So that’s what the question is to the panel. Gail is the data gate? Yes. So what data you actually use on a day to day basis?


Speaker D: Well, I don’t use data on a day to day basis. A like, so what I thought, let me be context about what data I collect from, so where I collect my sources from. So it would be Tickets all, it would be Facebook, it would be MailChimp, and it would be Google Analytics, because we do so kind of we have so many cogs to our organization, what I have to do is instead of being like, I need to run all these reports, like, there’s so much to do. And I suppose, to be honest, probably encouraged me quite a lot in this, but what do I actually want to know? So it’s going beyond looking at, okay, great, we took £1000 for that kind of show and great, we’ve got these new customers on our database. But what I’m starting to challenge more is about, okay, great, we’ve got these customers, they come to this one show. So actually, what else can I do with them? And to me, it’s about then taking that data and using it and sharing it with my colleagues to be like, great, we’ve now got customers who come to this sort of show or they come to these courses. Let’s now focus on looking at programming for who we’ve got rather than trying to attract new customers. And I love looking at crossover as well. I think crossover is one of the ones I would regularly look at. So, again, we may have a course and workshop program here, we have a book festival program here. But I think the crossover between these kind of these audiences is so minimal. So I think that’s really important. And that’s probably some of the stuff I’d look at regularly. Definitely.


Speaker E: My use would be a lot more low key. I would start my morning, I open my computer. I do not use ticketsolve. I know I’m at ticket Solve conference as a spectrix user, but I go on spectrix. I open up my sales, I look at what tickets have actually sold, and I go, okay, that’s sold out. And I do little things like I go on Canva and I use the data to make sure I can update which of my tickets have all sold out. So I put it on there and I update and say, these are all sold out. And then I go on my social media and I look at my social media and go, because I schedule everything in advance. I go, better not advertise that. If it’s already sold out, take it off. So I do a very simple daily, this is what’s sold, this is my actions I need to do. Because if I market something and say, buy your tickets for this fabulous show, someone goes online, they say, I saw this was out on your Facebook 2 hours ago, but it’s sold out. All well, that was very quick, wasn’t it? Everyone bought their tickets in 2 hours. No, it’s little things like that, which is my day to day bed and butter, which is just check what stats are out there at the moment. Daily, check that. And what do I need to action on it.


Speaker F: I think for the Ulster Orchestra, we’ve got sort of in a sense, we’ve got two sets of data. We have our ticket sales, which is what I would look at, and my colleagues on the marketing team that I work with, we look at sort of every week with the ticketing report that we get through from the venues, and we sort of check in with our regional venues. We’re in Straban this evening, so we’ve been in touch with Louisa’s team as well. We’re doing that sort of basic sales reporting stuff. But because of the limitations we have and what we get and how we can analyze that beyond us knowing things like, oh, people are booking an awful lot later than they used to. We’re kind of in a difficult position at the minute, and we’re really trying to find our way through how we can use that data to better understand our audiences and how we can work better with our venue to get more useful information than just our sales report. So that’s one set of the data that we have that we look at. But Dave, in terms of our digital stuff, has access to a whole lot of other stuff.


Speaker A: Yeah, well, I mean, it’d be similar you Becky, because we deal mainly with social media posts. It’s basically saying the engagement and the likes. And something we’ll maybe come on to a bit later on is we’re trying to develop new audiences online. So in recent times, we’ve been looking more at the demographics of who our followers are across the different social platforms and seeing if there’s anything we can do to increase certain audiences. And also in terms of raising profile, there’s also things we can do or we’re looking to do with just getting followers who may not even come to the concert, so may not even live in Northern Ireland or Ireland. But if it gets the orchestra known, that builds profile and kind of spreads the news of the different kind of work that we do. So, yeah, that would be.


Speaker G: Again, there’s some similarity here with notions that you have yourself now, Emma would do a lot of our marketing analytics on a monthly and a quarterly basis like the Google, and my main concern as a manager is getting that occupancy in the theater. All right, so I’m always keen on those box office sales and certain shows because I can liaise then with Emma and marketing or what is it that we have to do pending on the agreement as well. If it was a house show, then I need that to definitely sell out now, quite like yourself, I’m noticing, especially probably this last six months, trends are there was that eagerness just after COVID and people were getting back into the theaters and everything was just selling out. It was nearly 100% capacity there was so eager that older age grip wasn’t coming out over 55, but anything under that, you knew programming ways if you put on a comedy or whatever it was going to sell. But there’s so many walk ups this last while, so I’m like, for God’s sake. But it is so challenging then because I noticed that very much there in January, I thought took away Rascar too, and put on a couple of shows that I thought would do well. But up to the very last minute, I was going, oh, I really needed it to hit certain numbers, you see. And well, they did, thankfully, but I thought they went back to them bad habits of deciding what to do at last minute, whereas you were kind of protected in some sense when people had to book upon common, when we were looking at those trends with the legislation through COVID or just after COVID and whatnot. But I would look at the seals. Seals is a big thing for me to look at daily. All right. Probably the main thing. I leave quite a bit up to Emma in regards to marketing and presenting reports, then to myself on a monthly basis on the impressions, what her reach has been and the likes of that. And that’s where Emma’s expertise would be. And I rely heavily on others to feed the data to me. But I would like to be nafter at it. I would like to have the time to understand it better, understand what is it that I really need, why am I just fighting fire and just looking at this type of data, just to see, gosh, is this show going to go on? Or do I have to reconsider? Or things like that? So I’m probably not at where I want to be, but again, it’s other factors that are quite challenging at the minute. And what I thought was brilliant this morning, there was I think it was Maria was saying about mental health in the workplace. And, you know, when you were going back just after COVID, you were just written just to get things back to normal, get those percentages and audience participation up, feeding into different strategies to see where we’re really at. What was the alley against the Northern Ireland average of people returning? And actually, I got a moment there today, including for myself, was, what about everybody’s health and well being that everybody that is stretching themselves because their team is so small now, I did do we have days, mental health, well being days with what staff in that? And they seem to work out well. We do have a be well app and stuff like that, too, but probably didn’t focus on it enough throughout that journey because there’s still challenges resource wise, post COVID. But I thought that that aligns very well when we’re looking to reach the data that we maybe had pre COVID. That does have an impact, then, on trying to reach all that. You’re stretching people. People are possibly burning out, given that they’re all so that focus and data and health.


Speaker C: Brilliant. That’s great. Thank you.


Lucy Costelloe: So if we’re going to summarize this up, and I did make a few presumptions here, but there’s two ways that we could look at the current situation that we’re in. If we’re feeling that it’s not broke, do we need to look for a resolution? Or is what we dreamed of when we were sitting at home in 2019 of what the future of the reopening of the sector would look like, bringing in more digital technology? It would be very streamlined, or how was that actually looking in reality, is it a bit chaotic? Are we feeling stretched? So we’re going to get a lot of interaction, hopefully from yourselves. So I’d invite you definitely to take out your phone jump on Slido. This is your opportunity to get involved in the conversation that we’re having with our panelists today. So we’ll be using slido as a tool, and we’ll use that as well for our Q and A. So I’m just going to give you a quick kind of insight into how some of the conversations were really structured. So when I was designing the think tank workshops and bearing in mind that I was bringing the busiest people that I know and taking their time and bringing them into forums, whether it was online or whether it was in person, I wanted to make sure that we could do something that was going to be meaningful. And I found this poll from 2016 and it was on a blog on the Arts journal that wanted to understand what are the big challenges facing the sector. So I saw that this was 2016 and I thought, right, this is great. We’re going to revisit this question now in 2022. 2023. So back in 2016, some of the key themes that came up was funding, relevance, changing tastes. We also had technology diversity as well, and a small segment that was others. What I predicted would be that this whole entire pie chart would look totally different for 2023, that we would see new slices added. Some will be taken away because it has been a significant period of time and we have gone through a significant period of change as well. But when I really got down to looking into some of the responses that came back, so our conversations were collaborative. We spoke about them, but we also used sticky notes because sticky notes are really scientific. So we jumped onto sticky notes and we mapped out some of the challenges that we were facing. And to be fair, and I really tried, I really wanted a new pie. There wasn’t one sticky note that came up that couldn’t fit into one element of the pie that was presented in 2016. But then I thought, right, well, it must be totally different. We must be seeing bigger slices over here and smaller slices down here. But to be fair, there isn’t hasn’t been a huge change. So what that means is the challenges that you’re facing today currently, and some of the challenges as well that our panelists spoke about, they’re not necessarily new, but we might be facing them in a new climate and we might be feeling very different. We’re still feeling very uncertain. So this is a workload that I took from one of the sessions that we had. It was actually the session that was conducted up north. So some of these terms might feel quite familiar. Concerns, challenges, last minute bookers, uncertainty, COVID burnout staff. But what we’d like to do today to get you involved is ask you, on behalf of your organization, what are some of the biggest challenges that are impacting your team. And what we want to do is we would just want to make sure that what we’re doing is correct. So you’re basically backing up the evidence here. Thanks in advance. And what we’ll do is we’ll hand it then over to the panel as well, because we’ve already spoken about some of the challenges that are facing us and I’m going to let Fiona take it from here. And some of the words that are.


Speaker C: Being brought up, I’m interested to see if one word that wasn’t on the word cloud that I could see. I wonder if it’s going to come up here. Loyalty. I’m obsessed with audience loyalty. You mentioned engagement and retention earlier on there. We run a box office benchmark in the north and we run it every year, and I don’t know why we run it every year, because it tells us the same thing every year, which is that loyalty is the biggest problem facing performing arts organizations. 70% of the people who come once don’t come back. That’s massive. Somebody type it in just so we can go on the thing. So we have a record of it, folks, on the Papmarin, anything up there that doesn’t loyalty good. And there’s some capital letters, too. Well done. Oh, God, they’re coming second fast now.


Lucy Costelloe: I think it’s fair to say consensus is where we’re feeling very similar, so we’re getting a good read for the temperature of the room anyway. So in a short video, and just to say, I have robbed this from a presentation that took place last week in London from Robin Cantrell Fennick of Arts Professional. But it’s so fitting, I felt I had to play it today. I hope I can play it.


Speaker C: Now.


Speaker A: If you had to pick a word that described your year, what would it be? Well, every year, Collins, the dictionary people publish their top ten words to reflect our ever changing language, and the one that was picked is the word of the year. Perma crisis.


Speaker G: War.


Speaker C: Chaos.


Speaker G: Instability.


Speaker C: Brexit.


Speaker G: Inflation.


Lucy Costelloe: Well, there is now a new word to describe all of this.


Speaker G: Perma crisis.


Speaker E: There’s a bit of a sigh of relief, isn’t there? We’ve been in this constant perma crisis.


Lucy Costelloe: Collins’s word of the year is the perma crisis.


Speaker E: Perma crisis.


Lucy Costelloe: Yes. So Collins word of the year never appeared on our word cloud. Feels a bit strange, but I think that’s because it’s an entirely new concept of where we are today, how we’re feeling, what we’re doing, when we’re doing it. We’re trying to get back to where we were, but we’re doing it technically in an entirely new climate. This idea of a perma crisis, it’s the crisis after a crisis. It’s the crises coming after more crises, what’s going to come down the line? And again, it’s just that feeling of a little bit of unbalanced. We’re trying to get bums on seats, we’re keeping the lights on, and we’re doing so much within our organizations. But just to put it into the wider context, technically we’re doing all of this through the perma crisis. So what I did then, from there is I went back to my pie chart and I thought, okay, well, how can we look at mapping out some of these key concerns and what is it that we really want to understand from our data? And this will just give you an idea, and there’s no pun intended here because of rising costs, which you’re all also having to deal with, anyone here working within a building, you’re well familiar with rising costs, but I added a new layer onto the pie chart for 2023, and this is what it looks like. It’s evenly ish distributed. So then I asked everyone who took place or who took part in a workshop as part of the Arts and Culture Collective. Can you tell me a little bit about the priorities that you’re facing as an organization? And everyone came together and discussed what priorities are currently? Should they look like what we think they should look like, actually? Do we need to revisit our priorities? And I’ve mapped the priorities then onto the challenges that we are facing onto the pie chart, and this is what it looks like. So we can see here now that the sticky notes, our scientific sticky notes, are starting to become a little bit, I suppose, scarce or disparate, and they’re not as clustered as they had been previously. So the next question that we asked as a group, as a collective was, okay, well, how are we using our data and how can we map that to ensure that we’re using it for our priorities and our priorities, that we’re trying to make our priorities, to resolve these key challenges that we’re facing as well. And this is what this looks like. So this is currently just an average, a very scientific average of actually how we’re using the data in terms of challenges, priorities, data usage and concerns. So it’s quite heavily skewed down kind of towards that smaller pie chart there, which is technology. So I thought, okay, this is interesting. Maybe we need to actually revisit how we’re using our data and why it’s going to hand it back over to Fiona because she’s going to ask our panel and they’re going to resolve this issue for us.


Speaker C: No pressure. So I think we’ve already heard what people are using it for, which is your basic functionality. How many tickets have you sold? How many more do you need to sell to break even or make what you need to make? So let’s dive into what’s stopping us do more at night. I think we all know what the answers to that are going to be, but maybe they’ll surprise us with some. New insight that’s not we don’t have enough time or people.


Speaker D: Gail okay, so we have actually been doing a lot of internal conversation about this recently. We’re no longer going to apologize for not having enough time or capacity. We’ve accepted it. We’re just going to move on past it. So I think that’s really important to do. I no longer blame my time or my capacity. So what am I doing about that? So for me, one of the worst challenges is when, oh, Gail, here’s a comedy show. Can you just sell that? Why is the show not selling? It’s like, well, A, we’ve never done a comedy show. B, I’m trying to sell, like, all these different things. Like, C, where was I meant to pull these audiences from? So what I’ve been trying to do recently is I, at the present, love data the most. And it’s about trying to get people in the organization to kind of look at data themselves, to think about who we currently have on our database, what might be the opportunities in Belfast itself to kind of attract new audiences. So for me, it’s about being a bit more I hate this word cleverer with our data and trying to see who exists. So stop trying to attract new audiences, and instead, let’s look at who exists on our current database and actually try and program and actually program for those that exist already rather than going for new. She’s going to challenge me.


Speaker C: I am, because new audiences came up on the slido board and new audiences versus existing audiences. The loyalty conversation is something that fascinates me because I don’t understand the constant push for new audiences when we’re not getting the ones who are already coming back to come more. Is there a general sense in the room that people are being pushed towards always finding the new? And where do you think that push comes from? Is it internally or is it that funding driven, showing your value by working with new all the time? Let’s say, for example sorry, I’m talking about theater. As always, we’re in municipal theater. It’s part of our job to reach out to every group and every part of whether they’re people in the city and county, people who generally don’t groups from silence seekers, for example, groups that don’t traditionally engage with so we task these are the people that we normally engage with shows to them because then we’re letting down. Okay, so it comes from that social function of venues. Okay, so then my tolerance to that would be, are you structured to do that? Are you resourced to do that?


Lucy Costelloe: We won’t edit that out.


Speaker C: It’s the trying to do everything with no resource and no capacity. But anyway.


Speaker E: Just on thinking about loyalty and stuff. So one of the difficulties that we’ve had as a center is that along the lines of the eco and the budget side of things, we had gone as council as a digital first. Unfortunately, that kind of translated more as a digital only coming back from COVID And if we’re talking about loyal customers, our demographic in the main town that access the arts center are of an older generation. So we’ve had a really big problem with the fact that our first season back, we only started back in September. So our first season back, we went digital only. And those people who would have accessed the art center before, who did hear on the grapevine, all their back and doing shows again, they walked into the center and they said, have you got something I can take away? And we didn’t because we were hitting alongside the data, alongside the we need to be saving money and we need to be going more eco friendly. We shouldn’t be producing as much paper, we shouldn’t be putting as much time and effort into that as well. We actually found a huge gap where we actually weren’t hitting that loyal customer base and instead we have actually been reaching more new audiences because we weren’t focusing so much on the digital before. So it’s just been a bit of a balance of in some ways it’s been great because we’ve had more surveys and stuff from especially arts workshops and stuff in the last term that have been new. Never been to the arts center before, and that comes through social media because my role didn’t exist a few years ago and we’ve been able to have more time and effort into that. But then we’ve lost some of those loyal customers who would have always been with us because of a barrier in using data and saying we need to go digital first doesn’t quite work. So we’re looking at ways around that at the moment as well.


Speaker F: In terms of barriers for us, I’m going to let Dave talk about our digital sort of life and what that looks like in terms of how that but for us, in terms of our venue based activity, I have a story for you that sort of sums up our major barrier, which can be summed up in two words, which is phallic lollies. Bear with me, it will make sense. I was trying to get hold of our box office manager and over the course of about four days, and I just could not get hold of it. And eventually somebody said to me, I’m really sorry, Siobhan’s up to her ears and merchandise, we’ve got the dream boys.


Lucy Costelloe: In and.


Speaker F: It was completely ridiculous. But at the same time, it sums up our major problem. We’re, yes, probably a major client for the Ulster Hall, but we’re one of many. So we are not always going to come first in whatever they’re doing. Fund of house because the box office manager could be sorting out dream boys merchandise as she was with the phallic lollies. And that means that if one of our customers happens to phone up to buy tickets for an Australian Orchestra concert on an on sale day for a comedian like Joe Lyset or Sarah Milliken. The box office staff quite rightly because they’ve got a massive on sale, they’re not going to prioritize our customer, they’re going to want them to get off the phone as quickly as possible because they know they have a queue of people waiting to buy tickets for Sarah Millicard or whoever. We’re one of a number of clients and while we have a brilliant relationship with the box office, with the best will in the world, we can’t expect them to always be thinking about the messages that we as the Ulster Orchestra, want them to give to our customers, who are one of many for them. So in terms of the barriers that we have, it’s about messaging, it’s about making sure that we get the information that we want when we don’t actually run the box office and we’re reliant on them making as much time for us as they possibly can. And that’s a really difficult thing and it’s an ongoing conversation and it’s just one that we have to sort of find ways through. And we have also come up against things like, similarly to Becky, that whole going digital first, that actually became digital only. We actually managed to exploit that a little bit because we continued to produce a season brochure and continued to leave it in the Ulster Hall. So when people went into the Ulster Hall looking for the Ulster Hall brochure, there wasn’t one, but there was an Ulster Orchestra one, so they got to take that away instead. And we’re quite sure that we did get some new customers from that because that was the only piece of print that was available there for them to use. But that’s, I think, probably one of our biggest barriers is that because we don’t control the box office, there’s so much of the data that is gathered that is just a little bit outside our control and we just can’t rely on what that is on any given day. So that’s our big challenge there. But digital might be different.


Lucy Costelloe: There’s nothing like a little bit of brochure monopoly to really get those bookers in. If it’s okay, we might just flick on to We’ve some nice questions just to get through. So as you can tell, you might get a sense that we like metrics, those of us who are up on stage, and we like them in different ways, especially when they’re really, really useful and they give us the answers that we want. But we also need to make a reference to two new ticket solve colleagues that I’m going to introduce to you and reintroduce some of you, because I know there’s a lot of attendees who have attended or who are members of various different cohorts of the arts and cultural collective. So you’ll remember these colleagues, so please hump up the energy there a bit, but geo burns is what we call a ticket solve, our dashboard guru. So geo is always on the dashboards, and it’s one unified system, making sure everything’s coming in, the answers are there and that we can see everything in real time, and that’s absolutely fantastic. My other colleague, though, is Adrian Reed, who we nickname a whiteboard warrior because there’s no list that’s left unticked that Adrian doesn’t have eyes on. Adrian also knows every single member who comes in at Christmas to book for pantos, and they also get Christmas cards with the panto brochures. And Adrian knows all this because Adrian does it every year, and they’ve been doing it for seven years, since they’ve joined the box office team at at their organization as well. So why are we talking about Asian and geo? There’s a lots of different dynamics in terms of the use of your data. Your data could actually lie in the visitor book that you keep at the very entrance of your organization, or it could lie within your sales dashboard reports. It comes in lots of different ways, and it really does surface through your teams in particular, like how many box office staff are here today who know the names of loyal audience members or probably know the last four digits of their card. I hope not too many, but you never know. So I just think it’s important just to kind of get a sense of the room as very clearly on our panel. We do have a good sense of geo and Adrian’s as well.


Speaker C: Oh, okay.


Lucy Costelloe: That’s jumped right off a little bit of both. 88. That’s nice. Okay.


Speaker C: I used to bump into people and be able to tell them their address. I don’t know where that sits with GDP. Oh, yes. Okay.


Lucy Costelloe: So we have a few dashboard gurus and we have a few whiteboard warriors, and that’s exactly what we want, because we really want to emphasize what’s important here today isn’t necessarily that everything lies within the numbers. It’s very much about your use and your influence over data within your organization. So I’ve just put this up because this is one that we actually asked you earlier to fill out, so we were hoping for those results. A little bit of both. Thank you for clarifying that you are the audience we were hoping for today. So when we asked when you’re using data in your day to day work, what does that look like? Lots of you feel pretty confident, which is a nice number to see. But the majority of us, it’s fair to say we’re feeling a little unsure we’re using it. We think we are. We’re not sure if we could be using it better, but we know that every day we still have fires that we’re fighting, and we need bumps on seats. So what we want to do here today is kind of challenge our assumptions around data as something that’s metrics and living within your reports. And it’s fair to say that organizations are feeling pressure to use data to be data led, data driven, data influenced. What’s coming out now is there’s more pressure on organizations? Because this quote, I think, sums it up in terms of your commitment to inclusion within your organization, unless you’re looking at your data and scrutinizing it and being transparent as well about your data, you can say that you’re fully inclusive. So there is a pressure there to be using it, and it’s not necessarily just to be using it to get bombs on seats. There’s a pressure to be using it across all of your strategies and policies within your organization. So what we want to really hone in on today is data is about you. It’s about your team, it’s about your organization, because without you, there would be no organization, and without your organization, there’d be no data. So we need them all to be working simultaneously. This is an engine that we want to start to fine tune on. It’s also important to say that you can’t solve every question that you have with a number. As much as we might like to try, there are sometimes that we’re going to have to use our gush or intuition as well. So what we want to start to talk about is value. Now, what parts of information are most valuable for your organization and when can data be valuable? And sometimes maybe it isn’t. So I’m going to hand it over to Fiona, okay?


Speaker C: We’ll be limited to one person answering, are we at that stage up?


Speaker G: Lisa, we’re close.


Speaker C: As a previous box office manager, I can say this.


Speaker D: You want the one answer.


Speaker C: It was always like, well, you had all the information, but nobody ever asked you for it. So who wants to answer the question about, is data valued in your organization?


Speaker G: Data is very important when we have to report or be accountable. Say, for example, where you may be putting across an argument to say, no, we can’t take those cuts because ABC, here is the data. Why should that be the audience participation? Or it could be the promoters or the economic value that the theater would have to the evening economy, et cetera, like that. So I must say, I probably use them to be in a reactive type of way rather than a proactive type of way. Now, I do as I say, different members of my team send me reports every month or whatever, but that’s so that I have them at a quick glance, should I have to respond to maybe any queries or do any reports for committees, et cetera like that. But I suppose in a sense, then, I like to say yes in my heart, right? But my brain is doing the reactive stuff, and I do want it to be a wee bit more meaningful. But again, it’s that resource and it’s the firefighting that is the reason why I would be thinking it’s important.


Speaker C: Thank you.


Lucy Costelloe: I might just pick on one member of the panel, Fiona as well, because I know we moved on quickly from the last question, but Dave, you’re being bullied here. Do you want to have a quick topic? Because of around the project that you’ve been looking at, you mentioned you were growing a digital audience for the orchestra.


Speaker A: Yeah. So like I said, it’s looking at different types of audiences. We have the people who come to our concerts regularly or subscribers, but we also have kind of a second audience online, which I think skews younger than the kind of regular concert goers. And from my point of view, producing content for social media, it’s trying to produce content that hopefully will encourage a younger audience to come and see the orchestra or at least make them aware of what the orchestra is doing. And it’s not just concerts. It’s also the learning and community engagement work that the orchestra do in different schools and care homes and things which I think not everyone has an interest in classical music, but with those kind of feel good stories, I suppose you would call them, and kind of community outreach, I think that kind of appeals to everyone. I think everyone can enjoy music. It’s sometimes about breaking down those barriers. I think classical music can sometimes feel a little bit daunting, maybe to people who don’t know much about it. They don’t know if there’s, like, rules about what you can do and what you should wear and things like that. So a lot of the time it’s trying to kind of, I guess, humanize it or just show behind the scenes or make it more accessible to people that you don’t need to know everything about the pieces. I certainly don’t. But it’s just to kind of show people like, it’s just good music and you can enjoy it. It’s sort of difficult for us in the social media world because it’s all about short form content and it’s very hard to get across 40 minutes symphony and 30 seconds or whatever. And obviously there’s issues around copyright and using the music. So it’s tricky, but we’d find it’s about telling stories and the posts that do well, our stories about the pieces, but there’s stories about the people that everyone can relate to.


Speaker C: Here’s a hard question. Do you count those online audiences who are following your social platforms and looking at short form content as audiences? Yes.


Speaker A: Otherwise.


Lucy Costelloe: No more tough questions. So the next part of our conversation just informs around this idea of insights. So we have been speaking and using the word data, but what if we actually stopped using that word? Maybe there’s an argument to be saying that if we are having constraints around time and capacity, it’s not data that we should be diving straight into. It’s our insights. It’s everything that’s telling us what we need to know. So a big question came from the ACC workshops around, but actually what is it that we want to know when we go to Data? What do we want to know? What do we need answers? We’ve lots of questions, but do we really want to know or do we really know what it is that we want to know? So I put up a pyramid here just to kind of, kind of bring you into the room of some of the conversations that we’ve had. So if I was to say that Data sits down here at the bottom of our pyramid and then up from Data, we get our information. So that’s when we start to learn a little bit more. But it’s not until you get quite close to the top that you start to see your insights. So rather than going all the way down to the bottom and trying to trickle our way up, perhaps we should just be cutting straight to the top in times where we really need to know what it is that we don’t know what we want to know, but we need to know it. So it’s fair to say that Data has something to tell us, but unless we know what it is that we want to tell us, we are entirely in charge of the story that we’re presenting. So what I’m trying to hint at here is there’s the possibility that the data that we’re looking at could be biased by the way that we’re looking at it as well. So it’s important to always consider that storyline within your data. So we’re going from data to information to insights, straight into our data story. We’re going to make a decision and we’re going to action something from that decision because we know exactly what is working or what isn’t working or the changes that need to be made. So back to our pyramid. Maybe it’s not even the top segment, but a small proportion of the very, very top segment that’s going to give us those actionable insights, the insights that tell us something that we need to do next. Pushing the boat out that little bit further in the practices that you’re making. You know your brochure is working and you know it’s working well. How much more can you push the boat? What is that actionable insight that will tell you how to get a better result from the brochure that you’re working on, or any practice really. So I love this analogy and I have used this within the workshop and I’m going to go back to my line because I have to do it now that we’re famous. There is no product placement within this panel session. Fitbit do not sponsor us yet. So the Fitbit analogy, for those of you who are wearing a smartwatch or have a Fitbit on today, you’re probably looking at your steps and you’ve been sitting a while. So don’t worry, we will get those steps up later. But if we know that we have seven and a half thousand steps, but our aim is ten, the information is telling us that actually you’re down on your steps. What’s the insight you need to make another two and a half? And what’s the action? Going to go for a walk? Are you going to go for a run? So this is what we really want to focus in on. What is that action that you take when you go to your data? Is there an action point there? Over to you, Fiona. Another one to answer.


Speaker C: So this was about some stories in practice of where a piece of data has sparked some change. So either a change in how people think or a change in what they do. Gail, I’m giving you this one.


Speaker D: I’m assuming you want me to talk about pay what you want.


Speaker C: Yeah.


Speaker G: Okay.


Speaker D: So for in fact, you probably remember the date better than I can. For 22 valfast Book Festival, we did a Pay What You Want scheme that came about because one of the one of the events somebody was putting on, they said to us, actually, we want to kind of make the event really accessible for their participants. So okay, right. Maybe put you on. But actually, we were already thinking kind of myself and the CEO, that our pricing strategy was going to be £7 or zero. As a festival, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking around who are we to deem and set prices for events? So who are we to decide who is a good quality product and not a good quality product? I E what should be free and what should be not? So then we pulled in Fiona into a conversation. And I can’t remember how the conversation went, to be honest, because it feels like a long time ago. But we came to the conclusion, why don’t we just do pay what you want for every single event? Let the customer decide what they want to pay for and what they deem off value. Because I think we all perceive different events to be a different value in terms of some of the data that I can kind of recall from Pay What You Want. Have you done, like, a traditional pricing strategy? I E if we had a household name, you paid premium product sorry, premium price, we would have had a greater income. The income, I think, would have been double. And when we kind of did some analysis afterwards, but from a Cosmos perspective, I think it was something like I think was it something like we had a 50% increase in donations. We had customs, were able to come to the festival more often. Can you remember what else it was?


Speaker C: They came from new places, but just we worked with the crowds, and Alex, who’s here today, helped them go through the data. And it was very interesting because when we talked to them individually. They all felt that there’d been a big rise in new audiences, that they were seeing lots of different people. And like all of them said, all of you individually said that from different parts of the venue. And when you looked at the data, it was the same numbers of new audiences, but it felt entirely different because it was the same numbers in terms of quantity, but they were doing much more within the program. So, again, there’s your data bias in.


Speaker D: Action and people who, because of COVID I think there was an example that a customer services manager gave to you, wasn’t there was somebody who had fallen. I think they’d become homeless during COVID There’s no way they could have attended the book festival had it not been pay what you want. So when we say, Pay what you want, it range from zero to 25. So you could come and see Ian Rankin for free if you really, really wanted to, or you could pay £25. And I think we did a recommended price of £7 and most people paid the £7. So we’re at the point now of deciding what the pricing strategy will be for this year’s festival. We’re likely to go ahead and pay what you want again and I think we may increase slightly that recommended price. But the fact that donations yeah, I think donations were 50% increase for us for the present, our earned income model is 70%. So the fact that we can increase on donations is really good for us as well.


Lucy Costelloe: Amazing. Thank you. So we’re getting very close to the end. But before we do, because we’re talking so much about data, there’s two things that I think the panel will agree we have to touch on before we finish our presentation. And the first concept is this idea of analysis paralysis, which, after spending quite a while talking about data, is a little ironic. But it’s a really important point to get across the fact that the more information that you consume, rather than giving you a clear path of what that next step can like or would look like, it can actually become like a cloud within your mind. And this is a scientific term, I believe, analysis paralysis, where’s Dr Column fallon. But it can be a real barrier to your team and how you make decisions. So it’s really important not to get too bogged down, but also to still be diving in to those actionable insights as well. So who else could we ask but for a little bit of advice on what it is when we feel like we might just have too much information on our plate? And how do we avoid that? How can we keep that map clear?


Speaker C: So this is your top tip, your one small change that’s going to make all the difference.


Speaker D: I know it’s meant to be one person, but my biggest advice is don’t go in blind go in, know your questions before you start doing your data, otherwise you get lost.


Speaker E: Just kind of know what you’re looking for. And I always find I like to action really, really quickly. I don’t like just looking at something and thinking, oh, that might be good, I’ll take it to 3 million people and ask them about it. It’s just see something, think, okay, that’s something I can act on straight away and just do it. If it’s a simple step by step just action it, then that analysis isn’t just sitting in your head, you can just get it out there on paper.


Speaker F: I don’t think I have anything different to add. Just be focused.


Speaker G: As again, it’s just reiterating. What everyone else is saying is, do you need it? What is it you need and how will you use it and who will benefit?


Speaker C: I mean, I doubt that one, and that’s a really good one. Have a little voice in your head that’s going to say, well, what are you going to do with that? And if you don’t know the answer, don’t ask the question. If you don’t know how you can use it or what on earth you’re going to do with the results, that’s not the right question.


Lucy Costelloe: Which brings us on to the final thing that we want to leave you with, and it’s this idea of having data guilt. And I don’t know if anyone’s ever felt this before, you might want to raise your hands. It’s that little question when I asked you, are you Geo or are you Adrian? And most of us said we’re a little bit of both, but did any of us wonder, would we like to be a little bit more geo? Absolutely, I definitely would like to be Geo. I’d like to have everything on a dashboard, but did anyone ever say, oh well, I’d like to be feeling a little bit more Adrian? The way our teams are structured and the way that your organizations are operating at the moment, everything that you’re doing is absolutely fantastic. And again, the panel and myself and Fiona, we want to iterate that you’re doing the best that you can. So sometimes when you feel like you should be doing more, or you should be having time to look into your data, or you’re annoyed that you’re fighting fires and that you don’t have time to put your strategic planning together, you’re not alone. And data guilt is something, and we’ve spoken about it a lot. So our top advice for data guilt.


Speaker C: I’d love it if we could just ask each other. We all tend to be quite secretive with our data because of that whole notion of competition. And we’re all in competition with each other, and we can’t reveal our secrets, but a second pair of eyes on a set of numbers and what that’s telling you, and a bit of context around it would really help, I think, to avoid the. Data guilt.


Speaker D: I was just going to say ask tickets all.


Lucy Costelloe: You.


Speaker D: Yeah. I always say this to other members of the team, don’t spend hours looking for the answer. Like just ask tickets all. They will help you really quickly would be my one bit of advice.


Lucy Costelloe: No product placement.


Speaker C: Anybody?


Speaker G: I mean, it’s fine. I actually like that answer because I did go and do that last week.


Speaker F: Brace yourself, Fiona.


Speaker C: We also have a person, so thrive. I’ve been having the same sort of conversations for a long time and it’s like we really want people to use their data more but they don’t have time. There was an opportunity came up in the north to get a person, which rarely happens. So we got a person and we have Alex. We have your hand. There she is. Said person, which is about giving support to people around either to complement the beautiful work that tickets all do, but sometimes you just need somebody sitting beside you to go, no, that makes no sense. Or here’s an extra set of eyes. Or if you just tick that box, you could set that report up or even making those actionable insights. Sometimes it’s the context that you need to make sense of it. So she is freely available and as.


Lucy Costelloe: Well as that, there is a wider network now that’s being formed. I would really like to thank our guest panelists, gail, Becky, Dave, Miriam and Louise. They’re just representing the Northern Ireland cohort that we have today. But we have various members of our cohorts who’ve been here in Republic of Ireland. And thank you so much for joining us in the first step of our workshops. But we’ll be having plenty of conversations around that and around some of the teams that we’ve been talking on today. So if you are kind of curious about, well, how am I using it within my own organization? I’m facing those challenges. I’m feeling a bit of analysis paralysis. I have the data guilt. Please do come and join us. I hope the QR code works. If it doesn’t, you know where to find me and I know where to find you. So I hope that we can continue these conversations going forward and thank you so much.


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