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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Baker Richards
Photo of theatre with audience
Opening night at the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Marty Sohl

There’s nothing new about SMART objectives, but it’s worth reminding ourselves about this simple acronym. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Timescaled. They make it easy to evaluate success, which means you can create a virtuous circle of developing and implementing strategy, evaluating effectiveness and then driving further improvement.

 These objectives allow you to break your aims down into smaller, more manageable chunks

Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, is how these objectives allow you to break your aims down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Aims or objectives

It is important to distinguish between objectives and aims. An organisation with a mission to serve its local community might express a general aim of increasing the number of young people who attend. Its objectives should then be set much more stringently, because that makes it more likely that the aim will convert into action and have the desired results.

Objectives therefore need to be:

  • Specific: It is no good just saying you want a younger audience. If you mean attracting more 16 to 25 year olds, then say that. And do you mean increasing the number of attenders as a proportion of your audience (which you could achieve by reducing the number of old people), or increasing the actual number of 16 to 25s?
  • Measurable: Increasing ticket sales from 82% to 85% of capacity sold is a specific and easily measurable objective. It is more difficult to measure the number of 16 to 25 years olds attending in a year without using primary research.
  • Assignable: There is some argument about what the ‘A’ stands for. Originally it was ‘Assignable’, and that makes sense. A person (or a department) needs to take responsibility for achieving an objective, and not just a vague organisational commitment.
  • Realistic: There is no point in pursuing unrealistic objectives. It’s a waste of resources. Having defined an objective that is specific, measurable and assignable you might need to take another look at the resources required. This also encourages clarity about what elements of your programme are appropriate for what objectives. If your programme includes afternoon concerts of chamber music in a church with an audience of primarily retired people, just how likely are you to attract 16 to 25 year olds?
  • Timescaled: This is another area where objectives differ from aims. You need to be clear about when you are aiming to achieve your objective, so you know when to evaluate. Otherwise, how will you know if you have succeeded?

The starting point

In order to set a specific, measurable and realistic objective, you first need to know the baseline or starting point from which you are trying to improve. For example, you cannot set an objective for the amount by which you will increase ticket sales next year without knowing the number of ticket sales achieved this year.

For many organisations, more metrics will be needed. This is because, as described earlier, strategy is more effective when broken down into manageable chunks. Setting an objective to achieve 10,000 extra ticket sales may not be realistic. How will this be achieved? But setting ten objectives that each deliver 1,000 ticket sales is much more manageable.

Manageable sales targets

We are working with the Metropolitan Opera in New York to develop a segmentation-based strategy that uses multiple small objectives to achieve a big sales target. The scale of the Met is way beyond that of most other arts organisations (there are 24 different customer segments), but the principle remains the same. If you can break down your sales target into lots of smaller chunks you make it more manageable.

In order to establish the baseline metrics, the Met uses a customised segmentation to understand the current behaviour of its different customer groups. A model then shows the impact on overall ticket sales as a result of any change in the behaviour of any group, with lots of small increases having a big impact on total sales.

This means it can set objectives for the changes in behaviour from each group to achieve the overall target. So, for one segment it can set an objective as follows: “Increase the average annual frequency of attendance of the 8,165 ‘semi-frequent singles’ segment from an average of 2.6 bookings per year to an average of 3.1 bookings per year at the existing average party size of 1.9 to deliver an additional 7,913 ticket sales next year.” The objective is assigned to the marketing department, although it could be assigned to an individual to run the campaign.

Having such a manageable objective helps them focus on what might be required to persuade about 4,000 people to book one extra opera, for example:

  • You could look at what they have booked for the upcoming season and suggest something complementary.
  • What prices do they usually buy? Do they respond to discounting?
  • Could you create a pricing rule that makes an offer to these customers for a third opera?
  • Could you design a package that combines three operas with some kind of incentive?

No matter what your aspirations, breaking down your goals using SMART objectives can help turn your vision into a reality.

Tim Baker is Director of Baker Richards.

This article, sponsored and contributed by Baker Richards, is part of a series sharing insights into how organisations in the arts and cultural sector can achieve their commercial potential.

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