Spektrix Conference 2019: Experience, Content & Uniqueness

Hi, it’s me, Caspian.

I joined Substrakt as Head of Strategy in July this year having previously worked in Customer Service, Digital and I.T teams in-house at Glyndebourne and Southbank Centre. I then worked for three years at Tessitura Network.

Music and Art have always been a passion of mine. I find myself analysing the way in which people interact with cultural organisations, split into three strands; Experience, Content & Uniqueness. 

Ash, Emily and I recently attended the Spektrix conference. It was my first time attending and as you might expect from a growing community, this was the largest conference yet,  with 600 delegates from the UK and North America. It feels appropriate to talk about the experience of this conference within the same three strands as I would any other arts and cultural experience.

Experience

What are customers seeking when they engage with an organisation?

What makes them want to come back and what makes people become emotionally invested with an organisation?

What makes people want to financially invest  to ensure that the work of that organisation keeps happening?

The topics I’m raising here are related to Ash’s session at the Spektrix conference on Excellent Customer Experiences. He drew from a statistic noted in the Spektrix Insights report detailing that between 2016 to 2019 the average number of customers retained was just 26%.

Ash Mann speaking at Spektrix Conference

Ash speaking about excellent customer experiences and customer journey mapping

Every detail of a theatre, exhibition, or indeed conference visit affects the overall experience of audience members and delegates.

Websites are often the first interaction a person will have with an organisation. Their first visit to your website is the start of a relationship. Every interaction counts. 

Spektrix refer to themselves as a Technology Partner for those working in arts and culture. It is clear that they understand the similarities between running a conference and running an event, performance or talk. They are experts in arts event management and this was reflected in their approach to delivering their conference.

From registration through to attendance every interaction was clear. Although the booking system delegates used to choose sessions was ironically cumbersome, it was humorously and honestly acknowledged during the keynote session.

We received personalised emails leading up to the conference listing our selected sessions and our personalised schedule for the day. We first met the Spektrix team as we walked through the door. Having pre-booked every session and in a contained conference venue the day was very structured, I never felt lost and if I had done, there was always a friendly face in sight. 

Content

This year’s Spektrix conference was programmed around four content strands:

  1. Cultivating relationships
  2. Healthy workplace
  3. The bottom line
  4. Leveraging technology

All of the sessions were focussed around organisational purpose, identity, and operations in a way that corresponded to these programming strands. Technology is, of course, a core part of our everyday lives and operations. If organisations are not utilising technology to their advantage or do not engage with technology as a part of their overall strategy, they immediately exclude vast numbers of potential audiences. 

This conference was not, nor should have been, a training exercise. It was not about how to use Spektrix or which buttons to press to make a donation. Through following this defined content strategy, Spektrix have underpinned four areas that directly contribute to running a commercially successful, mission-driven organisation that is enjoyable to work at.

This rang true when hearing from Liam Evans-Ford from Theatr Clywd about the impact of arts and culture on health and wellbeing. Liam demonstrated this using the example of their award winning Singing for the Soul, Singing for Lung Health initiative.

He went on to tell us about taking care of our colleagues in the same way we take care of our audiences and participants.

By making an organisation an enjoyable place to work, you will increase staff retention. If you enjoy where you are working and feel appreciated, you will want to stay. If you enjoy a cultural experience, you will want to go back.

Liam also told us about Theatr Clywd’s Secret Friend scheme whereby colleagues are assigned a person at random for which they carry out regular acts of kindness. That could be leaving a motivational note, a piece of cake or by another means. Staff are regularly looking out for each other and ultimately caring about each other’s wellbeing. 

The keynote, and my personal favourite, was Jess Thom, AKA Tourettes Hero. She was introduced to the stage by Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director and CEO of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC). We heard about the work that BAC and Jess are doing in order to make 95% of programming at BAC relaxed performances. 

Jess noted that there are 13.9 million people in the UK that identify as disabled, 22% of the population.

The recent Spektrix Insights report noted that 85% of organisations in the Spektrix dataset did not sell a single wheelchair accessible ticket online.

This is unbelievable. 

One of the most powerful things Jess said was “the reality of booking for things when you have a disability means calling a dedicated number in a restricted time frame. This gives the message that ‘we haven’t thought about you, you’re not welcome and you are a fire risk’…If we tolerate systematic exclusion, we are complicit.”

Jess told us about her personal experience when engaging with arts and culture and the expectations and preconceptions about how art should be experienced; historically in silence with the lights off. There is sometimes an idea that relaxing the rules of theatre would cause anarchy. No one should miss out because of the misconceptions about how theatre should be enjoyed. By forcing art to be consumed and engaged with in this way we are stunting creativity. More importantly we are excluding large swathes of the population. 

Slide from Jess Thom's Talk. Change isn't always a battle

Change isn’t always a battle.

Jess also spoke about The Social Model of disability. Instead of focussing on perceived impairment of the body or mind or what is ‘wrong’ with people, it focuses on inclusivity.

Consideration of differing requirements should be embedded in society to enable the planning and development of less disabling places and scenarios. 

Hearing these statistics and examples should be a stark wake up call of the inherent exclusion and discrimination that is still systemic in our industry.

The work that Jess is doing with Battersea Arts Centre should also serve as an example of how we must acknowledge the barriers that currently exist. We must change these throughout physical, digital, creative, artistic and social spaces.

“Only if barriers are acknowledged, can they be changed” 

Uniqueness

The Spektrix conference is by invitation and free to attend for both users of the software as well as industry partners. This includes: digital agencies, arts professionals, accessibility specialists and more.

Somewhat unusually, the conference does not have any sponsors. This gives a levelling feeling to all delegates, that all delegates are there for the same reason.

The focussed strands of content, free attendance and lack of sponsorship all reiterated the fact that Spektrix position themselves as Technology Partners and it is in their ethos to support the success of their users in a transparent and friendly manner. 

In summary: an excellent experience

We were told what was going to happen, when it was going to happen and then it happened. Setting people’s expectations, then meeting and exceeding them can only be a recipe for good.

The effortless, informative and enjoyable experience on the day is testament to the detailed planning and preparation from the team at Spektrix. Through keeping us all organised and ordered our brain space is saved to be focussed on the day itself. Which leads me on to the content.

It would be difficult not to find a way to compare or apply the learnings and thoughts from each session to our own work. Yet I also found myself interconnecting parts of each of the sessions to the programming strands.

For instance, a healthier and happier workspace will likely mean that you stay with your company for longer. Each time a member of the team leaves, so does their years of experience. Recruitment can be costly and it takes time to build experience in a role. Through creating a positive working environment where everyone feels appreciated and valued, and in turn increasing staff retention, this can also have a positive commercial impact.

Jess Thom’s talk correlated to each of the four programming strands. Her past experiences in booking for, and attending events; the statistics around disability in the UK; and the work we all need to undertake in order to be more inclusive in everything that we do.

Referring back to the statistic that 22% of the population identify as disabled, this also has a direct impact on the bottomline of organisations. It is not sustainable to expect more than one fifth of the population to spend 6 hours booking tickets to a single event. 

As a digital agency, we have an opportunity and responsibility to build accessible websites and an equitable online experience for everyone.

Having a beautiful and usable website directly impacts the impression and experience of those engaging with your organisation online.

Having the tools to tell your story along with making it as quick and simple to book are both critical in creating an initial impression.

Producing content is what artistic organisations do best. In a world of choice it is a combination of Experience, Content and Uniqueness that drives the decision to book and keep coming back.

With the experience and atmosphere of the Spektrix conference, sharing and learning from our colleagues and peers can only be beneficial across the industry of arts and culture. 

I hope to be invited back next year!