IN THIS EPISODE

Robin shares data from The Insights Alliances’ Culture Restart Audience Tracker, an audience sentiment tracking survey that aims to understand attendees’ attitudes toward engaging with culture now and in the future. Robin also explains why behavioral audience segmentation is crucial, how socially distanced seating can become a premium offering, and how organizations can address digital programming pricing challenges.

 

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Audiences are clear that they expect a digital experience to cost less than a live event.

ABOUT ROBIN

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick is the CEO of Baker Richards, a UK-based arts software and consultancy specializing in earned income strategy and audience development for arts and culture. He was previously the Deputy Executive Director of the Mercury Theatre Colchester and led digital transformations for organizations including the UK’s National Trust, The Royal Society (National Academy of Science), and the University of Westminster.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Erik Gensler: Robin, thank you so much for joining me today.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you very much, Erik.

Erik Gensler: You've been conducting research particularly around this pandemic period that you're calling the Culture Restart Audience Tracker. I’d love to talk a little bit about that research.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Absolutely. So, Culture Restart is a collaboration between three agencies, so Baker Richards, but also two other UK-based agencies, Indigo and One Further. It's an audience sentiment tracker in one part. It is also a experience survey and a digital experience survey, as well. It's … The audience sentiment tracking part is conceptually similar to things like LaPlaca Cohen’s Culture Track, WolfBrown's Audience Outlook Monitor. And these three agencies saw the potential to use our complimentary skills and our networks to really get inside the minds of arts and culture attenders, to understand their attitudes towards engaging with culture now and in the future.

Erik Gensler: Wonderful, and when we're looking at that sample, how did you find the people who are responding and who are they?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: So, generally, we are looking at frequent cultural attenders. We're looking at a sample who are more loyal; they attend, in the most case, more than four times a year before lockdown. They are generally older and, of course, this demographic of slightly older, slightly more frequent-attending audiences is absolutely critical to a lot of arts and cultural organizations—not to everybody, by any stretch of the imagination. What we don't have at the moment is a really clear picture of the infrequent loyalists, the people who come maybe once or twice a year. We're working very actively with our collecting partners on growing our base of respondents in that area.

Erik Gensler: Big picture level, what were some of the key findings that you've taken from the sample?

Erik Gensler: Robin, thank you so much for joining me today.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you very much, Erik.

Erik Gensler: You've been conducting research particularly around this pandemic period that you're calling the Culture Restart Audience Tracker. I’d love to talk a little bit about that research.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Absolutely. So, Culture Restart is a collaboration between three agencies, so Baker Richards, but also two other UK-based agencies, Indigo and One Further. It's an audience sentiment tracker in one part. It is also a experience survey and a digital experience survey, as well. It's … The audience sentiment tracking part is conceptually similar to things like LaPlaca Cohen’s Culture Track, WolfBrown's Audience Outlook Monitor. And these three agencies saw the potential to use our complimentary skills and our networks to really get inside the minds of arts and culture attenders, to understand their attitudes towards engaging with culture now and in the future.

Erik Gensler: Wonderful, and when we're looking at that sample, how did you find the people who are responding and who are they?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: So, generally, we are looking at frequent cultural attenders. We're looking at a sample who are more loyal; they attend, in the most case, more than four times a year before lockdown. They are generally older and, of course, this demographic of slightly older, slightly more frequent-attending audiences is absolutely critical to a lot of arts and cultural organizations—not to everybody, by any stretch of the imagination. What we don't have at the moment is a really clear picture of the infrequent loyalists, the people who come maybe once or twice a year. We're working very actively with our collecting partners on growing our base of respondents in that area.

Erik Gensler: Big picture level, what were some of the key findings that you've taken from the sample?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Well, the great, positive headline to start with from this key demographic is that they say that they are coming back once the pandemic is over. So, just 8% of our respondents say they plan to attend less frequently once the pandemic is over. And the other really good news is that they plan to spend the same for the most part. It's a little group that plan to spend more, but just 5% intend to spend less on attending cultural events in the future. So, that's a really big vote of confidence from this segment of people who will be absolutely vital to the recovery of culture. There's more good news in terms of audience confidence: so, 23% of the people who filled out the survey were actually able to attend some form of live, shared cultural event in 2020 after March, 2020. So, after the lockdown, they were able to attend something, and of those people, we see that the more people who can come back, the more confident they are in attending again. Their confidence score in coming back is plus 54%. So, we measure their net confidence on a score of minus 100% to plus 100%, and the overall confidence is plus 54%. So, that's really, really great news for the sector that actually coming back to the arts and culture, as we have known them, as we have experienced them in the last year with social distancing and with sanitizing and with all of those things, still, audiences actually feel more comfortable, more confident about coming back again once they've stepped through the doors. When it comes to safety measures, as time has gone on, there has been a marked shift towards vaccination as being the trigger that will enable audiences to come back. So, when we started collecting data on these safety measures, just 14% back in June and July said that they would wait for a vaccination. That's gone up to 34% as of the end of last year, 2020. So, the recovery of our cultural sector is becoming increasingly closely tied to the rollout of vaccination, particularly for older groups. So, when we dig down into the data, we see that the under-35’s are actually very confident attending with social distancing measures in place but, overall, the vaccine is really growing in prominence. There's another interesting finding, which I think has fairly substantial implications for the future of arts and culture, particularly seated venues, particularly in 2021 and 2022, which is that still in our data, 40% of respondents are saying that social distancing would be essential to them returning to arts and culture. That has all sorts of implications. It's a discomforting thing for producers to hear because, of course, we're very clear that our established business models mean that we need larger audiences wherever we can.

Erik Gensler: It was, yeah, very clear in the data that it seems like younger people are just less risk-averse when it comes to returning and while older people are more conservative, wanting more space, wanting vaccines, and wanting to ensure masks. I was shocked that how many younger people said they were okay with a venue without masks. That was quite surprising to me.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Yeah, and I think public health professionals around the world have experienced this challenge of younger people feeling slightly indestructible and I think that speaks to the fact that, as venues do return, actually, social distancing is a social pact. You know, what we're seeing here is, audience confidence is rising when they come back to the theater because they have a good time and they have a safe time, but this is on all of us as we go into the future. I think there is going to be a need for creative but clear communication of safety messages. I was just looking a couple of days ago at a video which emerged very early in the pandemic, actually. It's called “Unlocking the Doors at Auckland Museum in New Zealand.” It's a fantastic video that shows how they reopened and they've been really, really creative with the signage and including, there's a wonderful sign which just shows a picture of a shell from their … a seashell from their collection and just says, “You shall not queue,” which is just simultaneously a riff on the fact that the Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. It's a riff on the Kiwi accent—(imitating Kiwi accent) “You ‘shell’ not queue—”and I apologize to any New Zealanders listening for that—while also, of course, bringing in an object from the collection. It's so clever and I think there's going to be a need for more like that. And also creative messages when we do gather about trust, about how we can help other people in this space that we are sharing feel safe, so emphasizing to audiences what our responsibilities are and then thanking audiences afterwards for going along with that and helping to build that collective confidence.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and thinking as a marketer, when you say, “What made people feel safer coming back was seeing other people coming back,” and I think there's a lot of implications about marketing in a way where you're sharing people experiencing your organization and making sure you're creating high-quality photography of people safely experiencing the event so they can envision themselves there. And I think, , there's often the tendency to lead with the art and lead with the program but I think this could be a real opportunity to lead with the experience, which we’ve found, even before the pandemic, can be really a great way to market cultural experiences.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: I think that's completely true. Vaccination is the antidote to coronavirus and art and culture is the antidote to loneliness and worry and suspicion and misunderstanding and it's absolutely vital that we get audiences back into our cultural venues as soon as it's safe to do so. One of the things that I've been reflecting on … I was, for six years, the Director of Communications, and then the Deputy Executive Director of a mid-scale producing theater and we were doing social distancing before we knew that that was what it was called because we were offering relaxed performances for people with autism spectrum conditions who may respond in a multitude of ways to the stimulus of the theater environment and the sound and the lights. And we were sitting audiences in household bubbles with six feet of space around them and we found that space brought increased confidence, safety, and comfort, and created an experience that made people feel welcome and it also met a need. I think there's a potential future for social distancing as a type of access performance in the future, just as we offer captioned performances or audio-described performances. And interestingly for someone who is always wondering how organizations can be more commercially resilient, I do wonder whether, in the future, there is going to be the potential for socially distance performances, dare I say, as a premium performance for people who have no particular medical need not to want to sit close to other people but would be willing to pay a little bit more in order to get that distance. So, whatever form visitor experience takes in the future, you're absolutely right that is going to be critical to restoring audience confidence and restoring the arts and culture back to the state that we would wish to see them in.

Erik Gensler: That is fascinating. I've never thought about that. So, as … You say, “In the future…” but I wonder if, in the short-term future, if that is sort of a bridge to getting back to more full performances where, right, the idea of like the autism-friendly performances that are more socially distanced wouldn't necessarily be for those with autism, although they could. It could be for people who are more cautious around COVID and their safety around that. So, you have different performances that are priced differently for people who want to have that space and then you have other performances that don't have that. I think that's fascinating that never crossed my mind.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: And, of course not everybody can do it. You know, it's really important to recognize that the kind of top-tier commercial productions, the exhibitions that have models based on very high volumes and tight margins, it's hard to make that work. But I do think that, as more time passes in this pandemic, organizations are starting to be more creative about seeing the opportunities as well as the challenges that this awful pandemic that’s hit our sector has brought.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I'd like to turn the conversation to digital and you looked at digital engagement in your survey. And what did you learn about this particular sample’s behavior around digital engagement during the pandemic and during 2020?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: So, these are the people who are missing culture because they've attended frequently before. So, it's perhaps no surprise that 54% of them have engaged with digital culture since March, 2020. And, as in the real world, they have been inclined to engage more frequently. So, they've maybe participated in some form of digital culture, again, four or more times. They are more likely to have watched livestreams and archive recordings, but they are more likely to have paid for interactive events and for events which are specifically created for online. So, they are certain that they're getting something which has been curated for the medium that they are engaging with rather than a recording of something that was primarily intended for, say, for example, the stage. We know that there has been a very slight drop-off in interest. So, when we measure these numbers in October, we measured them again in November, and there's been a 3% drop-off in the number of people who are interested or very interested in engaging with digital culture. So, it's dropped from 41% to 38%. So, there is some indication there of digital fatigue, but it's not yet a critical drop-off. And, actually, a number of the conversations that I've had with organizations over the last few months, where people have been saying, you know, “Are we seeing digital fatigue?” I think what we're actually seeing here from some of the data is that audiences are inherently more migratory. It's not necessarily that they are being digitally fatigued; it's that they are suddenly and instantly able to engage with a great deal more choice. So, when we asked respondents to tell us how likely they would be to buy a ticket for an online event from the organization who sent them the survey, the 60% of audiences said that they would be likely. When we asked them how likely they'd be to buy an online event ticket from any organization, it was only four points, lower, at 56%. So, there's a real indicator here that audiences are willing to engage not just with the venue they know, that trusted gatekeeper that they know, but also with any organization that persuades them that the value that they offer is worth the pound or the dollar in our pocket. So, I think there's a real implication there for marketers in terms of building digital brands and thinking about digital audiences and also segmentation going forward, how we respond to those audiences. I have been something of a digital mayfly during this pandemic. You know, there are so many theaters now that have my personal data in their CRM systems because I've engaged with them on, on one digital performance and, regrettably, I can count on more than two hands, the number of organizations that are now talking to me as though I live locally to them. And so, I think it's really important that organizations are thinking about their segmentation strategies and recognizing digital and digitally native audiences versus the physical audiences and being really canny about the marketing messages between those two groups.

Erik Gensler: That’s a big challenge with … many organizations are in a place where they have fewer staff and now they have to manage not only the in-person experience, but the digital experience and customer data from a digital experience, in addition to the in-person experience and that's really challenging. And so, I know you work a lot in segmentation. How would you recommend thinking about that and staffing that and taking care of that? And then, also, sort of, leaning into, you know, you have these folks that are now may not be geographically close to your organization but clearly they've raised their hand and they've shown interest. What do you do with that?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: I think it's critical that there are behavioral segmentation models at the heart of organizations planning going forward. Let's be absolutely clear about that. So, we manage the things that we measure and we monitor. So, having a really clear idea of the audience outcomes that we want to see by segment is incredibly important. So, organizations, even with limited resources … In fact, one of the best things you can do to ensure that you are making the most strategic and impactful use of your limited resources is to take the time to build a behavioral segmentation that contains art form information, that contains information about the recency, frequency, and value of customers, their transaction history, their donation history, their digital engagement behavior, and most ticketing and arts audiences’ CRMs will at least allow you to segment by things like email opens and email engagement. It's really important to have the customer journeys planned out that you want to see by segment so that you can then measure and monitor and take action off the back of those. I have been surprised—and I should slap myself, really, because I have been guilty of having all sorts of lazy assumptions about what sorts of people engage with digital and what don't—but I've been surprised to find that the highest level of engagement have been with the older and, indeed, the 75+ age groups. They are the people who have been attending and engaging with digital culture most in this pandemic. And that I think will have been led by globally significant events like the National Theatre at Home program but we also know that many of these audiences have engaged, having been willing to pay for live events, workshops, community classes, skills. So, you know, I was talking to somebody the other day who was asking me, “What happens when the pandemic is over and we have all these people in our CRM system who are only there because the ballet department, the dancers in our organization, have been teaching fitness classes and, you know, how do we deal with those people going forward?” And my question, born out of genuine surprise, was, “Why on earth are the fitness classes going to stop? Why would you not use those as a gateway to either conversion the core artistic program or simply as a moment of connection and value in the community?” So, it's no surprise to me that when we look at those digital audiences that are engaging four or more times, they are frequently tilting towards the older generation. There is one other staggering stat for me in there, which is that 62% of the respondents, when asked how they would engage with digital culture once they were able to attend a range of live performances again, 62% said that while they would be less likely to engage with online culture, they would still consider online events that they otherwise wouldn't have the chance to see. It's also an opportunity to really think about … At Baker Richards, we talk about the value-price scales a lot. So, in order for me to put my hand in my pocket and hand over some money, I have to feel that I'm getting a sufficient amount of value for the money that I'm handing over. And actually, what we have here is a really substantial chunk of respondents—62% of people—saying that they would accept digital as, dare I say, a second-best option when they cannot access the live performance. And, again, I think there's a challenge to our thinking there. Do we continue to do what we've been doing here, which is to aim to build a premium product available at a premium price in the future, or, actually, do we build minimum viable streaming into the work that we create in the future at a matching price, so those value and price scales stay in alignment, in order to reach this very substantial chunk of audiences who are saying they will engage with digital in the future when they can't engage with live?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, so many fascinating questions and great to have data around it. I want to go back to your example of the ballet company with the dancers and offering that education programming and the podcast we just released with Jennifer Rosenfeld talked about that exactly, which is arts organizations really looking at the assets, particularly the people assets, they have and thinking about what kind of educational programming they can do beyond how many arts and cultural organizations think about education, which is often either towards young people or towards professionals, but there's this whole world of opportunity to provide enrichment or education programs to your core audience. And people have demonstrated that they are willing to pay for that during the pandemic. So, even offering that digitally as a way to keep in touch with people who may not be geographically local and really thinking about, what kind of music appreciation or art appreciation or any sort of deeper engagement that you can do either digitally or in person, I think there is a massive world of opportunity and want to just recommend anyone who hasn't to listen to that podcast with Jennifer Rosenfeld, if you're interested in learning more about that.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: I completely agree. I listened to that episode just earlier today and she offers some wonderful insights and I'd encourage anyone listening to this to go and listen to that, as well. For me, the theater had always been about conversation and connection. It had always been about community. It had always been about health and wellbeing and I think, increasingly, that is how we see modern arts and cultural organizations. It's not just about the work that is put on the stage or hung on the wall.

Erik Gensler: You get into a bit in the study around willingness to pay and you just touched on that. And I think a big question that we have heard a lot from our clients is, “What should we be charging? How should we be pricing our digital offerings?” I know the study got into that a bit. So, I'd love for you to quote from the study and then, also, just talk about how you've been thinking about that based on your experience, working with organizations.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: So, the short answer, which will, I think, surprise nobody who has been through the process of pricing a digital experience over the last few months is, “Less than live.” Less than the real world experience for the vast majority of outputs. Now, that is, I think, a product of the fact that, in most cases, organizations have been taking a version of what they have done in the physical space and then putting that online and there is an inherent approach in audiences when coming to that, but that is less good than live. And so, they will be willing to pay less than life. As time goes on, we are seeing the emergence of made-for-digital experiences, which are able to charge similar prices to live. So, my team are booked onto a digital immersive experience, which is there for six of us and over the course of an hour, we'll explore the world of Sherlock Holmes and we're paying three figures for that. And, you know, it is possible to build a premium digital experience with a matching price for live. But on the whole, audiences are very clear that they expect a digital experience to cost less than live. At Baker Richards, we use a form of primary research called conjoint analysis, which is a revealed preference methodology to help organizations to find out how much audiences are willing to pay. And when I say it’s a revealed preference methodology, what that means is, we engage people in an online experiment which shows the many different factors, many different facets, of attending a digital performance and asks them which they would prefer, and through their engagement with that exercise, we model off that what their willingness to pay would be. The alternative approach, which, of course, indeed, even Culture Restart uses, is stated preference, where we simply ask people, “What would you be willing to pay?” And so, it's no surprise, actually, in Culture Restart, that people say they would be willing to pay less than live because if you adopt a stated-preference approach to any pricing survey and say, “How much would you be willing to pay for something?” people will always low-ball the responses. They always think, “Aha, is this organization trying to work out if it can get more money out of me?” So, revealed preference methodologies, conjoint analysis, are much more reliable. And so, I'm afraid there's no easy answer in terms of a set coefficient or a fraction of the live price. It very much depends on the nature of the product. Is it on demand or is it live? Is it interactive? Is it not? Does it relate to the sort of art forms and culture and product that your audiences are wanting to see and also the kind of context in which it operates? Is it a product in isolation or is it something which has been created through a federation or cooperation, a collaboration that is being distributed by a number of organizations? So, there are many, many factors involved in what you can achieve for a digital price and, yeah, it really kind of starts with, “What is the product and how has it been distributed?” as to how audiences perceive the value on offer.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it's also, we've lost one of the keys to more flexible pricing, which is seat selection, which allowed organizations to have a broad range where people who could pay more can choose to pay more because the perceived value of that seat location, where now, I've seen many organizations just offering one price. Have you seen any organizations successfully experiment with creating either dynamic pricing or tiered pricing for digital programming?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Yes, absolutely. So … and you're absolutely right that, indeed, this is an equalities question as much as anything else. So, when you think about price elasticity, in any situation where you offer a single fixed price for something, there will always be people who would have been willing to pay more and there will always be people who cannot afford that price. And so, where organizations have—completely understandably because they've had to move incredibly fast in the course of this pandemic—have set single prices charging by device or household. There is an inherent inequality there, where the single person who pays $30 for a stream is paying proportionally a good deal more than the household of four, who are splitting that streaming fee between the four of them. There have been some really interesting examples of organizations doing differential pricing. So, traditionally, when we talk about differential pricing, so offering a range of prices, we would say that having value fences is absolutely inherent to that. If you are going to charge me a different price, then there should be a difference in what I get in order to justify that price, exactly with the seat selection, as you've said. There've been a few organizations that have been able to demonstrate really interesting different approaches. The Old Vic in London springs to mind. The Old Vic in Camera, where early on in their streaming experience, they were limiting capacity artificially. So, they were making the inventory both limited and perishable. So, there were a set number of digital tickets that matched the seating of the Old Vic itself. As time has gone, they have increased that capacity more and more, but fundamentally, they have been successful in getting audiences to pay 10 pounds and 65 pounds for the same offer without value fences. That's really interesting to me. The other organizations that spring to mind are people like Southern Playhouse in London who do transparent dynamic pricing. So, they are very clear that the price for digital experience is, say, 11 pounds up to a certain date and the nearer you get to the performance, that it will increase to 15 pounds. I think that authenticity and credibility and transparency in dynamic pricing is important at a moment such as this so that audiences can make informed decisions. And there are all manner of organizations who are realizing the power of making the inventory perishable. So, really thinking about, “Is this available to view on demand afterwards?” and if there is perishability and scarcity, then that is inherently powerful at inflating price. So, there's just this one opportunity to attend a performance, then the fact that you will not able to view it again can actually encourage people to pay more. The other model that I've seen, which I think is fantastic for this time, was something that the Royal Court Theatre in London did, which was to very transparently offer two prices: a top price, which was, if you like, the standard price, and a lower price for anybody who'd been financially impacted during the pandemic. And it was the ticketing equivalent of an honesty box. So, people were just being asked to declare what their economic status was and the majority, a very clear majority of respondents chose the top price, even when they had the option of paying less. And that's great to see. I think there are … We should note that there is a challenge with platforms to a lot of this. A lot of the popular platforms that organizations have had to pivot to in order to move quickly are limited to offering just one price for digital products and it's really important as we go forward and as organizations think about, “Where is the point of purchase? Is it on their own ticketing system? Is it on the external platform?” and so on, that we do consider, what are the potentials for differential pricing? Because differential pricing is inherently beneficial when it comes to offering accessible prices at the low end and increasing revenue at the top end.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. There's a grocery store that I've been to that … it's a community-based grocery store and you can choose what price to pay and it sort of, when you go check out, there's a big sign and it says, you know, “If you're someone who has a car and a cell phone and …” You can volunteer to pay whatever you want, but it sort of says, “Based on where you are economically, this is a suggested price.” And actually, I think, there's four levels. So even if you … you can choose to like, sort of look at it as a donation and what you're doing is subsidizing the folks at the other end of the level, which I thought was really great. And it sounds similar to some of the examples you're talking about.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Yeah, and pay-what-you-can is certainly always better than free. So, giving people the opportunity to either pay what you can or donate is inherently better than free.

Erik Gensler: Let's turn the conversation to you. We’re … I believe this is around your one-year anniversary as the CEO at Baker Richards and what a year to have stepped into a new leadership role.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: What are some of the things you've learned about leadership this year?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: You're absolutely right. What a year. I think I've learned a good deal about adaptive leadership that over time has ceased being reactive. So, the … I became Chief Executive of Baker Richards at the beginning of February, 2020. I started on one day a week; on the day that I actually took the reins of the company, that was the day that our Prime Minister in the UK stood up and gave the order to stay at home. So, it has been a bit of a ride. I think I've reflected a lot on a quote which is attributed to Abraham Lincoln—I'm not sure whether Lincoln actually said it or whether this is one of these apocryphal quotes which is attributed to him—but, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And I've come back to that time and time again, as I tried to create an adaptive form of leadership that is not just reactive to the circumstances around. My predecessor, if you like, one of the founding directors of Baker Richards, Tim Baker, is very fond of a quote that he picked up from somewhere that “Strategy equals tactics over time,” so that strategy is not a concept in itself. It is just the tactics that you adapt over a long period of time. I don't quite see things that way but I have to say that approach has been very useful in a pandemic environment. Where we are now as a company, certainly where I am, in fact, as a Chief Executive is, we can see now that we are going to have to live with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the disruption that it has caused for a period of some years before we will return to whatever normality looks like. And that requires, I think, a level of resilience, which has definitely grown over time over the last year. There were definitely times when I opened my inbox and looked at the state of the sector each day and wondered whether I was going to be the first and last Chief Executive of Baker Richards. That will definitely not be the case, but as I look to the future, one of the things that I'm very confident of, I'm very certain of, is that one, I have a fantastic team of partners and employees who work with me and have fantastic skills to contribute to the sector. And the second is that this is a sector which has demonstrated that while it may be damaged in some way, while it may have hurt and have been reshaped, it is certainly not going anywhere and it is determined and resilient to find a future.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. So, you came to the consulting side of the business and, “consulting,” meaning working with a number of arts organizations after a career working in the sector. With the purview of being a bit, you know, someone on the outside of working within an arts organization, I'm curious if there's anything you would tell your former self of someone working inside an arts organization now.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Oh, that's a great question because often, do you know … I have considered before what I would write to my former self, and, actually, I think where I am in my life as I approach advancing middle age, I think, increasingly, I could do with a letter from my younger self, just reminding me to stay confident and bold and all of those things. But I think the advice that I would give back to organizations at the moment is really about agility and embracing what the pandemic has done in terms of creating an external threat, which has generated this impetus to move in an agile way to be adaptive. I totally accept that that has been mentally and physically draining for a lot of people, but I think organizations have discovered all kinds of agility. They have embraced the whole concept of minimal viable product and iterating in response to feedback and challenge. We used to use phrases like, “an agile approach” a lot, but as a sector, we've really lived that this past year. And I think that is an enabling and an exciting way of working for the arts, when not accompanied with an existential threat to our very existence. So, once that existential threat has passed, if we can take that agility forward and we think about how decision-making works in our organizations, so … I think I would give people working in the sector today questions that are useful questions for us to think about. “Who has a voice and who doesn't and why in our decision making? Which viewpoints are included and which are not, and why? Where do our resources go and where do they not and why?” And as we explore these questions and some of the much bigger questions about social justice and racial justice which have come along in the last year at the perfect time, really, then as we consciously strive to be better organizations, I think we have to break down anything that gets in the way of that future agility and responsiveness.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, absolutely. It's easy to forget that our sector is one of the most hard hit. If you think of a lot of other sectors—and I certainly know from my friends and family who work in different sectors, like, they're fine. Like, economically, like they did not … I mean, we are really not only suffering through this change in how we're living our lives and working at home, but our businesses have so badly suffered and I think out of suffering and out of pain and out of challenge comes real opportunity and greatness for the people who are willing to embrace them and that just … As you were saying that it just, it made me think about that. So, we've come to your final question, which is your “CI to Eye moment,” and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of thousands of arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them right now?

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: I think I would say, as attention does turn to, “What does a permanent sustainable future for our organizations look like?” do not undervalue the work of your organizations, unless we see a massive expansion of other funding sources than earned income, is still going to be very important when organizations return. And so, indiscriminate discounting, for example, is the enemy of a healthy balance sheet that sustains culture. Indiscriminate discounting, in most cases, will not bring back audiences or people whose primary concern is health and wellbeing. It's far better to have, when thinking about earned income, well-designed differential pricing. So, social discounting to meet the needs of those who need it most, broadly accessible pricing at the lower end of if that's an audience objective, and pricing that enables those who are willing and able to pay more to support you all there more at the top end. So, underpinning what sounds like advice about pricing is really about value. Do not undervalue the work that we do on our return. The dangers of anchoring audience expectations of a very low price when we return, particularly to in-person performance are very great. And the value that cultural organizations offer is so great and so good.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that's great, great advice. Robin, thank you so much.

Robin Cantrill-Fenwick: Pleasure. Thank you so much, Erik.