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Do two wrongs make a right?

You’re a failure? Congratulations!

Anyone who has played a sport knows there comes a point when, if you want to achieve somethingBlog 13
magnificent, you need to ‘have a go’. I play cricket (well, a version of the game anyway) and as a batsman you’re supposed to go through a specific sequence when you come in to bat: ‘play yourself in’ and then gradually accumulate a few runs – nothing too fancy – just singles – unless you spot a bad ball. Before long though, depending on the situation, you will have to leave your comfort zone and try something more adventurous.

You could march down the wicket and hit the bowler ‘over the top’. It’s a risk, because you might decide to do this before the ball is bowled and you can’t be certain how it will be delivered.

Sorry if I’m losing you here, but the point is – you could carry on accumulating runs carefully without being out – but if you need to score runs quickly (in order to win) you will have to increase the odds. Greater success comes through taking a risk.

We’re taught to avoid mistakes. As Ken Robinson puts it, ‘there’s one right answer and it’s at the back of the book.’ (Ted.com, 2006). There’s a good reason for this of course. It’s difficult to argue that 2+2 does not = 4 and if the alarm system doesn’t work when there’s a fire you’re in trouble.

But if we want to innovate, create or push the boundaries then we need to risk being wrong. In our sphere of work this is important. I mean, how ridiculous to think that thousands of people would enjoy seeing a mechanical elephant walk through London or that you could let people in for free and ask them to pay what they want or that you could write the lyrics for an opera using Twitter.

It’s not easy having a new idea and trying to carry it through. There’s opposition all around us, we might be shown to be stupid or perhaps, in these perilous times, failure might lead to us losing our job.

But as several commentators recently have shown, some of the best ideas require you to take a chance. Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error’ gives the debate a slightly different twist by pointing out that we are often wrong when we think we are right (and vice versa).


The Big Picture

The point is surely about seeing the bigger picture, risking short term failure for long term gain. There seem to be two important elements involved in making this happen.

Firstly, you need to be operating in an environment which is supportive; one which does not seek every opportunity to chastise failure. We can’t all work for Google, but we can take note of their 20% principle or of Innocent Drinks’ creative approach, as outlined by Dan Germain at the AMA Conference in 2009.

Do you have a boss who supports you in trying out new things? Or do you encourage your team to provide fresh ways of thinking, new ways of doing things? It’s a risk because it means letting go and sacrificing a little control.

The second important element, which Schulz outlines so well, is that ultimately you must have an idea of whether you are being successful. Trying something different is wonderful and being wrong could be a step in the right direction, but this does not mean we should keep going with something that isn’t working for ever.

So, evaluation is essential. And when it comes to measuring our arts marketing, there’s no excuse, because we now have the tools at our disposal. This has been one of the most significant changes in our profession in the last 20 years. Did we really spend all those years devising ways of measuring how effective our direct mail was (this pre-occupied me for most of the 1990s)? Now we can do the same thing (or something very similar) at the push of a button. We don’t have to employ an expensive research company; we can do it ourselves. If you don’t know where to start, try the ADUK project. It’s straightforward and effective.

I will take a risk here and mention Kolb/Honey and Mumford’s Learning Cycle (a risk because you’re going to shout ‘cliche cliche cliche’ at me) but this model surely has validity because of the way it links together the process of learning: try something, reflect on its success and change what you do next time.

Leaving the comfort zone

The other side of the coin is continuing to do what you’ve always done, never leaving your comfort zone because you think that what you are doing works and always will work.

But imagine the careful batsman again and the inability to see the big picture. You could keep accumulating runs (it may look like you’re doing your job) but if you need 6 an over to win and you’re scoring 5 runs an over no matter how stylish and impressive your batting (how wonderful your website looks) you will lose (go out of business).

Don't get off the train Diane Ragsdale speaks of ‘never wasting a crisis’  as it is only usually when we enter a crisis we evaluate fundamentally what we are trying to do – it has to shock us out of our complacency. 

Apart from Diane Ragsdale, at the AMA conference  this year, there are also a couple of sessions which deal with the issue head on. Shelley Bernstein, from Brooklyn Museum, will be talking about ‘Learning from mistakes made as part of being an early adopter’ and Jane Donald from Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Peter Muir from Glasgow’s Concert Halls will be talking about ‘Learning from mistakes during a period of organisational change’.

Both sessions will be convened in a way that encourages people to share their own examples but what is said will not be explicitly repeated outside the room.

So, please feel free to come along and share your wrongdoings. I’m very much looking forward to sharing mine. I’ve got loads.

Jonathan Goodacre

Do blogs put bums on seats?

In this post, Laura Evans, Website Officer for Theatre Royal Plymouth, looks at the qualities of a good blog using her experience of the theatre's Backstage Blog.

Laura has worked within the arts and web marketing for ten years as marketing manager for an internationally successful web development company, self-employed copywriter and international traveller …

Laura Evans 1

Our Backstage Blog started as a bit of an experiment.  We were all a bit dubious about it – would it take up too much time that would be better utilised elsewhere? What ‘voice’ should it have? Would anyone read it (apart from my loyal sister)?  And of course, pondered the more commercially-minded amongst us – would it actually put bums on seats?

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The blog kicked off at panto-time with a sneaky peak inside Joe Pasquale’s dressing room. (It wasn’t very glamorous, and a bit smelly, in case you were interested). It was an insight into the Theatre Royal that had not previously been available – even staff had not seen a celebrity dressing room before.  This fresh, transparent approach started to generate quite a lot of interest and in the weeks that followed the BBC picked it up featuring it on their website and then later on our regional BBC radio station.

So far it had been good PR, if nothing else, so I kept it up.

Joe's Glam Dressing Room

That was about six months ago but the blog is still evolving and finding its ‘voice’. 

Blogs work best when you get a real sense of the voice of the person writing them.  They are less formal than articles, more conversational and encourage a dialogue between the author and reader. This is difficult, however, when preparing a blog as a representative of a venue. It requires a careful balance between accommodating the wide variety of objectives and concerns of various departments, and not allowing it to become a corporate ‘box ticking’ exercise.

An organisation has to be prepared to take risks with a blog.

It’s very hard to evaluate the tangible results of our blog; if we were to measure its success by the number of people who go directly from the blog and pass through the checkout on our website, we’d have pulled it months ago.

However, the blog has been an excellent communication tool that (often unintentionally) supports our organisational key messages.

We are very keen to overthrow the exclusivity of theatre, making it as accessible as possible.  I’ll not pretend that there isn’t a financial benefit to encouraging first-time theatre-goers or infrequent attendees to attend more frequently; but the aim of the Theatre Royal Backstage Blog is to offer a level of transparency to the organisation as a whole through a more relaxed and informal medium.  One that we hope, in time, will develop audiences.

Commercially speaking, the Backstage Blog also plays a key role in our marketing activities.  For one, it is an excellent search engine optimisation tool; the frequently changing and topical content is favoured very highly by search engines and in turn supports our overall web marketing strategies.

Furthermore, the blog is a unique platform for sharing and showcasing show-related content outside of the usual sales environment; an interview with a cast member or an insight into the set design for example can work to generate interest in a production or raise awareness of the work that we do.

I try not to ever become complacent with the day-to-day life of the theatre and always remember that passing through the stage door, bumping into a celebrity and feeling the buzz of a matinee performance is a very unique experience and one quite enthralling to visitors. It helps if I retain this sense of ‘viewing everything through fresh eyes’ when I prepare my blog entries.  Usually I’ll hear a quirky anecdote from someone in passing, or notice something odd backstage – see Mr Gooding’s Used Monkeys – and make it my business to investigate and share it with my readers.

I am always surprised at how generous people are with their time when it comes to sourcing material for the blog but I think people like talking about their work – even when I’m really stuck for material I’ll just have a chat with the visiting company manager and a neat little story will  unfold.Dancer-with-rosin[1]

I think the trick is to keep a blog up to date, keep it honest, inject it with personality and keep entries short (rap on the knuckles for me on that one!).  It should be something that readers can dip in and out of – not an ongoing saga that requires back reading.

I asked my colleagues what their favourite blogs were; here are some examples that we’re actively engaging in, for one reason or another:

http://www.painesplough.com/blog/ – short amusing entries that are personal and engaging. (Inspirational; I must stop wittering on!)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog – Highly rated and justifiably so – the King of Arts Blogging?

http://fionaatcentre.wordpress.com/ – A witty and revealing insight into the life of the now Chief Executive at The Curve Theatre, Leicester.

Going back to that question of whether blogs do actually put bums on seats, our blog is still in its infancy, hence the answer for us is probably no, not directly, not yet.  But, the advantages in terms of increasing exposure of the work we do, communicating with a wider group of people on an entirely different level and further supporting our social media efforts, are undeniable.  And, according to the stats, people do read it.  Not including my sister, or those visitors that stumbled across the blog accidently whilst looking for ‘jokes about fat dogs’ or ‘what French people eat for lunch’, the blog gets several hundred readers on publish day – and these may very well be people who otherwise may not engage with the Theatre Royal at all.

Used Monkeys 

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