One month in…

Author: Emily Childs

Had you told me 3 months ago that I would be working for a digital agency, I would have laughed you all the way to the nearest cat cafe. Although, if you told me 6 years ago that I would spend the next 5 and a bit years working for a ticketing company, I would have laughed in your face then too.

I have only ever chosen to work at places where I feel a strong passion for the people and what they are striving to do. This was certainly true at Spektrix and one month in, I can say this is also true at Substrakt.

So why had I have never thought to work for a digital agency before and why Substrakt? If I’m honest, my own experiences of web projects and time spent supporting clients navigating often toxic agency relationships resulted in a wariness of digital agencies. Overly technical explanations, a level of “digital arrogance” and, in the male dominated world of tech, all too often a faint whiff of misogyny… (I won’t tell you how many times a developer had asked to be transferred to “one of your technical guys”, when they had failed to follow my instructions for filtering iframes).

Working with agencies was therefore never a favourite pastime…. Mistrust of web agencies seems a little endemic in the arts in my experience, it’s certainly something that featured high on the list of concerns for clients attending our first Digital Works sessions.

So why Substrakt? I certainly wasn’t job hunting at agencies, or seriously job hunting. The opportunity to work at Substrakt was a bit of a curveball and if I’m totally honest, I took a punt. In helping them spread the word of their new Head of Client Services role, I found myself drawing a number of parallels with the approach to client relationships at Spektrix. Both have a clear aim to do it differently. For Substrakt it is to work in a sector on projects they enjoy, to take away the shroud of mystery when it comes to pricing and to deliver work in agile sprints – involving the client at regular intervals in open and honest discussion, in plain English.

A move to Substrakt provided the perfect trade-off of; bringing a wealth of previous experience, of the sector itself, of ticketing technology and of developing meaningful, collaborative client relationships, whilst learning more about a hitherto unknown of digital and web development.

My career to date (minus facepainter, bouncy castle designer and cat sitter) has focused on data-driven marketing, audience development, segmentation and email strategy. In the broader sense of arts marketing; digital and web projects are something I have less experience of. However, I’m still occupying that space between the client and the technical team (henceforth affectionately known as The Nerds) –  translating PHP, Rails or C# into artspeak and vice versa. Whilst also still getting to keep a toe dipped into Spektrix developments via a number of shared clients. Triple win.

This first month has been spent meeting and getting to know our existing clients and their various projects. Feeding into pitches and new projects and sharing my knowledge of the sector with the rest of the team. Clients thus far have commented how much they enjoy the direct relationships they build with the developers working on their projects – I’m not there to replace that, but I am there to ensure that Substrakt remains empathetic to the sector that they have chosen to work with. Championing the voice of the client and providing a critical understanding of the challenges and idiosyncrasies that make the sector such an exciting one to support.

Substrakt’s firm belief that the working partnership should be just that, a partnership, is right up my street. It’s an opportunity to get to know the organisation inside and out, pulling in the right people at the right time to produce something we’re both really proud of. It’s exactly how I like to work. Rather than seeing website projects as a standalone piece of work we see them as a constantly evolving, developing piece that can respond and adapt not only to internal changes but to the rapidly changing pace of technology.

This is certainly an approach that will benefit the sector, and really what it’s crying out for. A lot has been written of late about the sector falling behind in the adoption of new technology. Due to a mixture of attitude, lack of funds and digital skill, specifically at senior or board level, it unsurprising that this is the result. However, working in partnership with digital agencies and experts, there’s no reason that digital expertise can’t become more widespread across the sector. It’s certainly happening in pockets, so I hope I can go some way in helping Substrakt, and our clients, to make it our norm.