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A forthcoming conference debating The Changing Face of Venues will be taking place in Cheltenham next month. As media sponsor for the conference, ArtsProfessional has invited a number of the speakers to contribute their views. Conference details are at http://www.tickets.com/uk/conference.html

Stop Wasting Your Time

Benchmarking your way to mediocrity? Can?t decide whether you sell paperwork or tickets? Do you think that focus groups tell you what they think you want to hear so they can go home? Can?t bear another workshop on vision building? As venue managers we actually need to make a difference, says Howard Raynor, Chief Executive of the (unsubsidised) Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

Having been asked to provide a view on how to make a difference, I thought I should start by making some time in your busy day. My advice is to start by throwing out some of the more stupid ideas that might be taking up your valuable day.

Make time by not doing the following:

Benchmarking Competing by being average is a dangerous course. Be careful who you benchmark with and be clear what advantage you plan to gain from the inordinate amount of senior management time you are going to waste. Having a unique idea that the public likes isn?t such a bad strategy.

Best Value The audience doesn?t care about the ranking and they don?t buy your graphs or PowerPoint presentations; and rather irrationally everyone claims to be above average. Audiences need inspiration, thought and emotional journeys. These don?t usually come in lever arch files.

Focus Groups have no idea what your company is capable of doing so can?t ask for it. You will get more and better data by direct observation of customer behaviour. Audiences struggle to visualise what they haven?t experienced. Reframing complaint letters as a customer suggestion scheme could be more effective.

Email could be overtaken by the new fangled invention of conversation. If you are the boss bear in mind your team will do what you do, not what you say. What you give priority to has significance to everyone in the venue. The tragedy of life is not death but what dies in us while tend the email garden!

Direct Mail and Subscriptions will put us out of business. Selling tickets by direct mail to the already converted means audience growth is being stifled. Who are your media partners for getting marketing messages back on the street? Direct mailing is efficient but does nothing for those out of the information loop. We need to be developing our marketing strategies to reach out. We need to be serious about the Infobahn and G3 mobile communications and what they could mean to us.

This has probably freed up your day sufficiently to focus on the things that might make a difference:

Alliances Cause-related marketing is a huge opportunity for the future. Look for partners in other sectors to help widen the audience.

New Maps We tend to be reliant on old cultural maps and putting our experience on those maps. Experiences that do not fit on that map tend to be discarded. We are all increasingly finding that old cultural maps don?t take account of what?s actually happening around us. Can we design better a better map for our venue, company or region?

Multi Media is still coming and it?s going to be bigger and bigger. Maintaining the balance between spectacle, technology, thought and emotion is a major challenge of the 21st century. Peer to peer file sharing, the development of gaming to more sophisticated plots, multiple perspectives is a huge challenge. Mobile communications and the wireless world will become more and more integrated into our lives and culture. What does this mean for our companies and venues?

Courage Airtight budgets, restructured regions, new regional agencies, cultural consortia all require us to keep our heads up and to avoid getting lost in easier but less productive short-term activity. Our advantages are and will remain the social nature of going out to be with other people, the intensity of 3D live performance and the proactive nature of great performances. Humans are not wired for isolation in front of a 12? glass plate.

Kaizen Think small and be persistent. This is the opposite end of the courage spectrum - pilot ideas, test new things in front of audiences, try things out, involve the team in business planning and then delegate. Make sure you evaluate and build on your successes quickly and persistently.

Festivals If you don?t have a festival already, make one. You need a test bed for new ideas and risk taking. You need a focal point for developments. The team needs to culminate projects and the audience needs a reference point.

Experience Management Recognise that your audience experiences your events and venue as a whole: the marketing, the arrival, the foyers, the performance/event and the afterglow. It is all one experience. The cleaning, food and drink, car parking, print design, operations and facility management are all part of that one experience. For maximum effect, integrate these teams into the business planning.

Eliminate the Extraneous It?s surprising how much the things that don?t support the message of the organisation actually take away from it. Tatty banners, leaflet blizzards, dirt, broken equipment, poor signs, blu-tak signs, tired tables and last night?s drink glasses all point at a team that doesn?t care. Restructure your organisation to get your priorities addressed.

Eliminate the Incompetent European legislation means that you now have to treat your part-time team like your full-time team and your full-time team now costs more than ever. Personal and organisational development is therefore a priority and as a business you can?t afford people who are incompetent. Training, briefing, involving, delegating to and encouraging the staff will probably make the biggest difference of all.

Howard Raynor is Chief Executive of Bridgewater Hall
e: howard.raynor@bridgewater-hall.co.uk