Other Viewpoints

I was reading an article on Artsjournal.com that mentioned quite a few Broadway shows originated elsewhere (in fact Prymate is opening this week directly from Florida State University which is rather uncommon.) I was wondering if anyone had collated the names of the shows which originated away from Broadway before moving there. I didn’t find any (if anyone knows of an article, I would be grateful for the info) but I did come across a couple interesting sites.

The Door Swings Both Ways

I often talk about how the arts need to watch current business trends and assess how they can be applied to the arts world. I came across a Fast Company article from 1999 that spoke of a class at Duke that examined what the arts have to teach the business world.

“Leadership and the Arts” is taught by Bruce Payne. He brings his class to NYC from NC for four months. The class spends the time going to see theatre, dance, opera, orchestra concerts and art museums and discusses the lessons that can be derived from the experiences.

“In the new world of corporate America, everybody is worried about how to achieve excellence in smaller and flatter organizations,” says Payne. “That means finding styles of leadership that work well with smart, self-respecting professionals. Since everybody knows that hierarchy never worked well — and these days, it works less well than ever — what styles of leadership really make the most sense? The people who succeed in the arts these days are people who have solved that problem. They know how to coach, they know how to encourage, they know how to praise, they know how to love. And they know how to express a vision that excites rather than intimidates.”

The romantic view of leadership sees it as a kind of ectoplasmic magnetism, in which followers in variously sized groups — from teams to cults to companies to countries — are drawn mystically and irrevocably toward a central source of inspiration. A more practical view of leadership suggests that real leaders have identified and mastered a secret tool: emotional observation. If you can watch people — and, by watching them, figure out what makes them do what they do — you might be able to get them to do something else, something better. That leadership principle, Payne believes, makes the theater a perfect laboratory for anyone who wants to brush up on what makes people tick.

There were a couple parts of the story that made me wonder if I should open a consultancy business. There are topics it identifies as important that most arts people know far too much about.

“According to Payne, arts organizations, especially small repertory companies and dance troupes, serve as useful models for a world that reveres the startup. “The performing arts have always had to do more with less,” says Payne. “All arts are essentially entrepreneurial.”

Business books and seminars have picked clean any number of occupational metaphors to teach management and leadership skills — sports, the military, wilderness survival, religion. Yet, perhaps more than people in any of these other fields, people in the arts have learned to deal effectively with impossible deadlines, tight budgets, temperamental employees, and the perpetual challenge of selling a product with a short shelf life to a fickle, demanding consumer base.

For inspiration on creative ways to lead a company — or to chart a meaningful career — there’s no business like show business”

All Around the World

I also came across a website with the results of a world wide survey comparing the social norms of a number of countries on topics like Social Welfare, Sports, Religion, Politics to picayune details like whether a period or comma is used as a decimal point. Another website breaks the responses down by subject area.

It is all very interesting reading and the questions seemed to have been set up so that answers were reflecting the same criteria. For example, being late for a meeting was measured in increments of when you mutter excuses, when you apologize profusely, and when the lateness was intolerable. Many cultures it was 5 min, 10 min and 30 minutes, respectively. In some cases though it was 30 minutes and 1 hour, respectively.

I did wonder about the validity of the survey or at least about the age of those answering the questions when it came to the arts section because everyone almost uniformly answered “You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It’s likely you don’t see that many plays, either,” or a near equivalent. It made me wonder if the reputed esteem that Europeans bestow upon the arts was a myth they liked to reinforce so they could feel superior to the U.S. or if it is just likely that the type of people who spend enough time on the web to answer lengthy cultural surveys aren’t inclined to go see shows.

Nonetheless, it is all very intriguing.

More Customer Service Thoughts

I came across some articles with relevance to ideas I expressed in earlier posts. Before I get into them though, I wanted to add a quick aside and direct people to an additional article I came across on the increasing influence power of blogs.
The first article I came across in an old issue of Fast Company is actually a review of Taking Care of eBusiness, by Thomas Siebel that makes a number of good points that are applicable to arts organizations. The first is in regard to knowing the different channels through which your patrons want to communicate with you.

“Customers with an order or a complaint don’t just call a toll-free number or wait for their district sales representative to arrive. They may turn to email, a Web site, or a host of other channels to do business. If companies can’t make each of those channels work well or can’t integrate information throughout each piece of their sales, marketing, and service systems, well, it’s never been easier for customers to say good-bye and take their business elsewhere.”

The article goes on to say:

“The lesson is clear: Smart businesses coordinate their sales and service efforts across multiple channels, moving information around so that customers’ preferences and history are accessible no matter whether the next interaction is online, in a store, or via a call center. That’s not an easy task, but Siebel argues that the payoff is immense.”

If you have read any of my earlier posts or speech on Arts Management in an Age of Technology, it probably comes as no surprise that I should zero in on this article. The importance of making it easy for people to make a decision to visit your organization and deliver the information they want in the manner they want it is pretty much my mantra these days.

The article continues in the same theme–noting customer preferences and taking the initiative to act upon them and anticipate a patron’s desires. (“Ah yes Mr. Smith, I got your voice mail message. Even though it was garbled as you drove through a tunnel, I saw you usually like seats in row G around 15 &16 so I placed you there before the show sold out.”)

It also talks about having all relevant data available to your front line people. Many a performing arts organization probably knows the value of this since inevitably your newest ticket office attendant will take a call from the biggest donor and tell them there is absolutely no way they can get into the show. Having a field from the donor database that feeds into the box office database noting that the person in question falls into the Super Angel category can avoid such embarrassment.

A few other articles I read reminded me of a Harvard Business Review article on the perfect one question customer survey. The perfect question was how likely you would be to refer the business to someone else. I found a couple more articles that discussed it in theory and practice.

The more theoretical talked about establishing referral programs. It put me in mind of a blog on orchestra marketing in which the author, Drew McManus suggested a adaptation of the Amazon referral program using discount vouchers. Mr. McManus’ suggestion is just one option of the many ways to execute this concept to help increase attendance.

The article that showed someone putting the referral idea into practice illustrated how Stoneyfield Farms got their yogurt promoted by word of mouth. What they did was allow people to adopt the cows who provided the milk for the yogurt after they bought a certain amount of Stoneyfield’s products. This not only increased sales but also gave them the publicity and demand they needed to get placement in supermarkets.

I have seen acting conservatories do a similar thing where people donate money to provide a scholarship for a specific student or just simply choose to adopt a student or two without any monetary commitment. The only bad side of this program is that even though there are students studying design and management, everyone wants to adopt the actors because of their visibility and the other students feel slighted.

Still, this is a possible program for arts organizations allowing people to adopt actors, dancers and musicians across a season. Perhaps money is involved, perhaps not. Certainly a whole club or families might pool money to adopt a performer or director and would get to have dinner with them once during a season or a run depending on the adopted’s availability. (A starving artist is sure to have plenty of availability for free meals!) The larger the group adopting, the better of course because more people have a sense of pride and involvement with an organization and therefore are in a position to boast about their adoptees to others and have an incentive to continue to buy tickets.