Before the Applause Podcast

Understanding Human Minds to Revolutionise Arts Marketing with Wesley Thistlethwaite

August 06, 2023 David Watson Season 1 Episode 2
Before the Applause Podcast
Understanding Human Minds to Revolutionise Arts Marketing with Wesley Thistlethwaite
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The glow of the chicken shop might seem worlds away from the grandeur of the box office, and audience insights and analysis, but not for our guest Wez Thistlethwaite, who credits his first job serving customers and juggling tasks for his deep understanding of audience insight. Join us for a thought-provoking conversation as we traverse the connection between chicken shops, box offices, and the arts and culture sector.

Wez takes us on a fascinating journey through the maze of the human mind, exploring how it can be influenced and how this knowledge can revolutionise marketing tactics in the arts and culture sector. We delve into the power of data and the importance of insight, not just as tools for understanding our audience, but also as a guiding compass in decision-making. However, it's not all rosy, as Wez opens up about the mental health implications of working with data and insights in an organisation.

As we wrap up our enlightening chat, Wez shares pearls of wisdom about breaking into the creative industries, emphasizing the intrinsic role of critical thinking. He recollects his grandfather's wise words, which have shaped his own decision-making process. So, whether you're an industry veteran or a novice hungry for knowledge, this episode promises to challenge your perceptions and inspire fresh ideas. Let's step away from the norm and embrace the power of different perspectives in the arts and culture sector.

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David Watson:

Welcome to this new episode of Before the Applause with me, your host, David Watson. In this episode, we talk to Wez , who's gone from a chicken shop worker to box office manager and now an audience and insight evangelist and specialist, creating waves, using facts and truths, to challenge perceptions and the understanding of audiences. We explore some of the more progressive and representative ways of analysis, why we shouldn't automatically make things free and how we need to recognise, in reality, the biggest threat to the future of the arts and culture sector is actually itself. Grab a cup of something nice and join us as we discover more Before the Applause. Hey, Wez, welcome to the show.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

I am very good on this. Actually sunny day for the first time in a long time, obviously, Blue sky.

David Watson:

Makes everything feel better, right? Thanks so much for being a guest. I'm really pleased to be able to talk to you and to try and unpack that genius brain of yours as our listeners wi ll start to understand as we progress into this conversation.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

I love this start. That's a lot to live up to.

David Watson:

So I thought we'd start with you talking a bit about your career and what you've done where you've worked over the past couple of years.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Cool. Well, you say the past couple of years. I want to go back a little bit further because I always say to people that I think a very important bit of my career and career development was my first job, which was working 24 hours a week behind the chicken counter at Sainsbury's. I feel like I know I'm a big believer that everyone should have a service job at some time in their life. Number one, because I can definitely tell whenever I'm working with someone if they've done a service job in the past. It just makes you a nicer person in general and you think about other people more and you think about when you talk to other people more and just getting on with people is a service job really helps with that. But number two is right, it's an underrated job. People that are sweating behind these chicken counters. You've got to do all that customer service right. You're probably like been barely trained. You've got you know you have to do your health and safety stuff. But no one prepares you for having to have in the back of your head when to cook stuff, guess when you're going to have to take stuff off the counter, know when there might be a rush of customers. You've got to really get to know your day, you know, and then being able to, at the end of the day, if you've got leftover stuff, being able to sell it to people so you don't lose. I mean, I always was like I had like a zero waste policy in my head when I was doing that. I was like this chicken needs to go. I once got someone to buy 36 different pieces of chicken on a deal at the end of the day, so they're going to go and then, after you've done all that, you've then got to clean the entire place down. So while you're trying to sell this chicken, at the end of the day you're trying to clean up as much as you can and like in terms of training for multitasking, knowing an audience, getting along with people and customer service. Like that job for my first proper job had everything in it and I'm not saying I liked it because it was not necessarily fun, but I do think a lot of what I learned there sculpted, sculpted, a lot of who I became as a who is. This sounds like I think this is the first time I've called myself a professional as a professional writer. And then I got a box office job at a wonderful place called Contact, which was nice. So I do all the time when I was working at Sainsbury's. The reason I was there and not trying anything else was I knew I wanted to work in theater. That is all I ever wanted to do. That was my only aim, even though my mum was ringing me up being like, why don't you just climb your way up at Sainsbury's? It's been a year and a half now. I was like I want to work in theater. That is exactly where I'm going to go. I know I don't necessarily fit in with theater people or anything, and I'm sure we'll talk a bit later on about cracking into the industry t hat's a whole story in itself. But long story short. I literally went to Contact and its USP is getting young people involved in the arts and I literally tried to get into everything. Some stuff I didn't get on because there's very talented people around. One thing I did end up doing was advising on the Capital Bid project, so we got to talk about what we'd want from the new building and from that I got all that strategic stuff in my head then, because we're talking about phases of what's possible, what's not, what are the different build programs, what are budget restraints and stuff. So I always think, like you tend to, I think traditionally in your career you have to wait until later down the line to learn strategy stuff and it all gets held back. And I really think as soon as someone's into a business you should talk to them about strategy straight away. And I even like to do with, like you know, there can be misconceptions of like decision making and stuff like that. And if people know what the strategy is, they tend to just get it because like all right, well, we're doing that obviously because of this. So I learned a lot of that from that and eventually, by hanging around enough and applying for several jobs there and I was described as, apparently I got told on my final date contact by my manager that should we take a risk on him was so hard because I was. I was young and some people describe me as a wild now, I was, I was an absolute raw gem from Chorley then and I was bouncing around this interview. Luckily the wonderful Ed Cox decided to take me on. So that was when my box office journey began. I'd learned all about box office systems, crm systems, really refining that customer service, and I got that from a part time job to a full time job my part time job, by the way, guys, talking about putting in graft. I worked six days a week, five till nine to start off with. So I only had one day off, but I was in the theater. So I was like this is a dream, I don't care. I mean, if I'm on my day off, this is probably where I'll be hanging out, so I might as well be doing stuff. What I didn't think about was the times I was working, was when all the shows are on. So there's perspective shows about matinees for a while, but I guess it's feeding to kind of what my career is now, which is kind of data and insights. So I like to say, understanding people more than they understand themselves is. It gave you a lot of time to see what people go to certain things, what time people are booking for things. You know, really getting under that skin and getting kind of like an idea of people's brains and how they operate. It's like if you've got, for example, it's just common knowledge among people on box office that if you put it on a poetry event, it's all going to sell two days before, if not five hours before or any literary audience if there's not a celebrity in it, like they don't care. They went to the last minute. Even though you expect all these red people to be very organized, they are not. They always expect a ticket to be there for them. Yeah, and then an opportunity came up. So my manager, so Ed Cox, wonderful guy and I learned from him my management style that I've carried on, which is very much people first. So the most important thing when you hire in a team is getting people that are personable, because if you've got personable people, you'll be able to, they'll charm the organization around. So you'll never have any problems with them fighting with people or having arguments. They'll quite often be nice later on for you, because personable people that get up with people tend to go quite far. So it's lovely for your own network, but also it's just the fun that you can have. But also if you get the right mix of this personality but talent at the same time or I think it's quite a lot of the time up to you as a manager when you bring someone into a role, especially like the box office roles where you have to train people from scratch to give them the skills, when you put those two things together, it's so satisfying seeing someone that's so personable but so efficient at the same time is like watching a perfectly oiled machine at work or the nicest piece of art. It's just a beautiful thing to watch and be part of, and you get people that are really exciting. You can just see them going far. And I always said when I was a manager, particularly on box office, I was like usually you talk about retention, right? Mine was this isn't a particularly well-paid job and you're very talented people. So I want to see you go in two years one year if possible. I want you to come in, leave and then you'll have such a nice time and you'll have such good memories of being on this team that you'll forever be an advocate of the organisation wherever you go. And that was kind of like how I ran the box office team and it's how I still do it now, like I've got you know I'm working in data, which isn't meant to be full of necessarily personalities, but I even put on LinkedIn the other day how, first of all, my team were and they're like amazing at going out and doing surveys themselves and charming people Shout out to Beth and Joe - they're absolute legends. So, yeah, that was my kind of like box office era in terms of management. But at the same time as being a box office manager, I was also in charge of audience insights, which excited me a lot and it's what I was saying already about this understanding people deeper and knowing things. And it was interesting doing that role at Contact that specialised in young people, because there's a wealth of data to talk about how your traditional theatre audiences will engage with theatre. But there is next to nothing about under 25s and kind of even like. If you go into kind of like your Moss side, somali, afro Caribbean audiences and audiences that have kind of we always say well, people say hard to reach, and I don't think hard to reach is the right terminology. I think it's people you've either not tried to reach or I go one step further and say people that can't be asked with you because they're not bothered, they don't like what you've got at the moment. Obviously, at contact there was a lot of creating stuff specifically for audiences that didn't tend to go elsewhere. So the needs to be quite a bit of research done into that. I think we've got quite far. It was always, you know, it's not, it's not a huge theatre. It's like our 300 seater and a 60 seater in there. So the depth of data wasn't necessarily big. But we could always do things like if something was going on tour, we could ring around at the venues and see how that went, which apparently doesn't happen much in theatre. People were always shocked. When I rang up for ringing around to talk, hey like, excuse me, I know this is on tour. How's it selling, by the way? Because obviously, like, a producer is always going to tell you that it's an amazing show and it's selling really well, and then you might ring up a venue and you're like all right, so this is what it is, or you actually have to paper it with 60% tickets. This is what I told you, which obviously then massively changed what you do in your budget. But a lot of what I got into is because I didn't necessarily have data to work with. I went a bit more academic. So it was around this time that I ran into Baker Richards talks, and they very much talk about how the human brain works, and that led me on with. I was talking to a wonderful person called Alva Tracy that used to work at Contact and she was like, oh, you're really into this stuff! I was like, yeah, and she was like, well, have you heard of Thinking Fast and by , Daniel Canamon? And I was like, no, I have not, and I'm not even lying. I've still not actually finished that book. I've just read bits that I need to read and that's sent me off to read lots of other things on a whole spiral. But it's interesting when you think about the human brain, as lots of people think about other people's brains, like this is what I would do there, for other people would do this. Now, the problem with the human brain is you do not know half of what your brain is doing in the background anyway. You don't know how your own brain operates. You do to a degree of what's conscious, but what's subconsciously goes on there, like you don't know what it is that makes you breathe all the time. You don't even notice the moment you switch from breathing yourself consciously to not breathing yourself consciously and there's so much in the human brain that makes it amazing, which is your fast decision making, your choosing, your focusing on one thing, because you don't look at everything all the time and focus on everything. Your brain will look at certain things at certain times to make it more manageable for you. If you look at it from a data angle, a psychological angle, or ultimately all leads back to and I think what I still am is a marketing angle Is the brain can be hacked if you make things easy for how it works subconsciously, and that's a lot of what I found. Now you can take that I think I'm an evil psychopath because you can do a lot of stuff with it. I mean Darren Brown's very, very good with this stuff and he does it for entertainment. You can do it to make people purchase things that they might necessarily want to purchase. But you can also use this kind of knowledge to maybe move people towards stuff that they might be interested in, that they otherwise wouldn't be interested in. And I think that's where I kind of sat on it, because I was in a conundrum where I was at a place that was making an art form that wasn't necessarily loved by the people it was made for straight off the bat. So how do you use everything in your power and everything that you know about them and how brain work to get them to go to stuff to get this kind of arts bug? So that happened there, which was nice, and it crescendoed in what I always talk about, which is my pricing, my pricing study that I did. At the end, the famous line from my talk was we made pricing accessible by pushing prices up, which got a gasp from the audience Both times. I did this talk to give you an idea of this. The logical way to think about it is if someone doesn't want to go to something, are they more likely to go if you make it free? If you're not into football and I'm like I'll come to this football match on Saturday, it's free. Most people aren't going to go because they've already got plans on Saturday, or they want to watch Sadie Kitchen or they want to have a big breakfast. Right, if I said, come to this football match on Saturday, it's a special event, it's usually 60 quid, but you can come for a tenner, or it's usually 60 quid. Now you can come for free, you're more likely to go because you're like, oh well, I'm not into it, but this is a special occasion and it should be really expensive, so maybe I'll go. That's how I went in the price for most of it we pushed up, but then every bracket in terms of our audience that we wanted to get in. We made lots of psychological triggers to get them in. I made a membership that seemed unreal because we had a problem with audience retention. We'd have someone that would come once a year and then maybe not come back. Even though these people are consistently saying that they love contact, they forget that they only actually go once a year, even though they love it, because years go by quite quickly. You do think you've been a lot. I made a membership that was ridiculously cheap I think it was like 15 quid and made everything 25% off that we could. This was supported because we'd already pushed our top prices up to make stuff look cheaper. Anyway. That covered it for them. The audiences that we really wanted were still actually paying money. They weren't just coming for free, they were actively buying stuff, which I think is important when we talk about growing audiences, especially into communities. You don't want to just be like wait until you get an email for something free. You need to turn people into active participants and get used to buying tickets. That started getting people in a lot more because it was like you get these four free shows a season but on top of that, 25% off everything else it actually did for quite a lot of the members. It did massively increase how many times they were coming, also, because it was that much of a deal the people that thought they were coming like I only came once. It paid for itself, even though it seemed like a ridiculously cheap deal as well. Then and this is where your part of my story, david I was at CONSAT for a while and then I had an interview with National Museums Liverpool and I've always wanted to hear your perspective on this interview, because all I know is I turned up at the museums and it was like everyone already knew me on my first day. It was crazy.

David Watson:

The role existed in some form previously and we were looking to change it up and we put the job out, recrafted the job description. We'll probably get onto it, but there's a lot of businesses that say that they want data to be central to the decisions they make and NML was in that transition of really embracing it and changing things up. It was trying to find a candidate that had a lot of the skills and the experience of what data is in the round. I remember interviewing you and I was like, oh my God, he's a genius. I think we could have probably carried on talking, couldn't we, for about four hours getting into the nitty-gritty of it. I think it was, for me, a moment when I saw the talent and the opportunity at NML come together and you've already mentioned this already about when two things come together, it works. I can see you in the organisation. You performed really well, and the rest of the panel. It was unanimous that we thought you should be part of it. Here we are 11 months later and you've passed your probation and look at all the stuff you've achieved. I think data and audiences has been discussed for years and years and years, and our strategic opportunity, you know, at National Museums of Singapore is to do things different. We don't have to follow people all the time. We can invent and create for the right reasons, and I think that's what you're bringing to the team is you're trying new things that we haven't done before. You know we're asking questions of why aren't we doing this? So we may have done it before, but there may be a rationale back then when we shouldn't have done it right. But now you're going. But let's go back and revisit it and you come from another organization that actually, whilst you were there creating it, has a lot more data experience than we do. And that's the reality. You know, museums are still some way off. Possibly, you know, I can't say every museum in Gareth, but there's still a lot that they're not doing. And whilst our product is very different, so to speak, you know the science underneath it and the psychology underneath it is exactly the same. I think the challenge with us is that museums tend to be free at the point of access, so all of it is free unless we create something special. So for me, colliding those worlds of theatre data inside ticketing with the model that is heavily funded, publicly funded museums is an opportunity to do something different. But you know, you've been here 11 months. I can't believe it's been so quick. I know it's absolutely flowing.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

We've done so much. I saw it on my LinkedIn yesterday. The big thing when I went to NML was like I came from, I think, full time in my last job, there was like 30 people and I got to NML it's like 600. It's wild. It's like the marketing teams the same size as like the entire team at Contact.

David Watson:

But when you look at it, you know, look at, you know the whole point of this podcast is before the applause and what it takes to make great output, and it does. Looking at organisational structures in different organo, it's always an interesting one. People looking into the scale of our teams has a certain perspective on like oh my God, it's huge. And actually the reality is not, because we don't just do what we do for one venue, we do it for seven and a corporate brand. So seven public venues that are huge in their own right. If you compare us to somewhere like the V&A, I think their teams like three times the size you know they're about like the digital teams, like an army of 30 or something like that. So it's really interesting. I suppose it's all that talent that makes the great output. You know, and you're part of the team that helps us understand our audiences and the impact better, so we can then refine our products and create different experiences. You know, and a lot of the time everyone can get distracted by the shiny thing at the end, which is great and we all love it and that's why we do it. But we need to focus on the talent that helps us get there, including the performers and the designers and the data analysts and the marketeers, Because without all of that ecology we wouldn't have any of the output, would we?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Yeah, it's interesting that you call about talk about ecology as well, because there's two things that shocked me when I turned up at the museums. Number one was I had a thing in my head that museums are very stuffy and not much changes. And I do remember being in an interview with you and Lisa being like, oh, maybe this isn't right, like maybe I've got that wrong, because this does not feel like that kind of conversation. And then I turned up and it was great. I mean I have gone on, you know, I've gone for a trip down London and realized maybe it does exist in other places, potentially an NML special. But that was a big eye opener for me. And the second one was so my biggest thrill and what I love doing is making positive change, anything where I can go somewhere, find some insights, push for it, see it change and then you monitor the data and it's improved. Something Like that's literally. I mean, that's the nuts and bolts of my job and that's what I like, live for. And I was worried that if I went to a bigger organization that's harder to do because there's more layers you have to go up through. You know there's more people to convince round. You know the structures might be a bit more rigid, but I've actually found it remarkably easy. I think that's a ridiculously good culture thing. I don't know how that's managed to happen. At NML I was even warned. I remember when I got called for the job. There was like just to let you know before you get this job. You know things might be a bit slower than when you were. It sounds like very active and you know very, very quick and can move faster. I was like okay.

David Watson:

I don't want to go to the NML.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

I was like no, I don't think this is necessarily true. I think things move around over a very nice pace.

David Watson:

Yeah, and I think that's there's a lot of, you know, people in the organization that have created change and move things out the way and, you know, really tried to speed things up in the right manner, and that's what a relevant progressive organization should be and being able to respond to the opportunities. I suppose that brings me to you know, this could be a question where you could give me war and peace, but can you tell the listeners why data is so important?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

before the applause Okay, so I'm going to I'm going to slightly change your question, though, david, of course you are I'm going to say why is insight important? Yeah, because anyone can collect data. You know, you can count people in and out of a building. You could run a survey with many questions on. When you talk about insight, you're trying to find about something that's new, about something or something, and ultimately it's finding out truth. And in order to do that, that then affects how you collect data, because it might change how you ask a question. If you go to someone and you want to find out what they think about the phone, right, and you say what do you think about your phone? And they go. You know we live in the UK, so they're just like great. Right, you found out. You found out nothing, have you? Or if you say, tell me about your phone, rate it on a scale of one to five. Right, most people said five. Now, you don't know when. Everyone said five. Right, let's say everyone across the board says five. Right, you're like great People like the phones. You don't know what make a phone that was. You don't know how they use the phone daily. You don't know anything to do with their personalities, or you know if they're going to be more on social media or actually just using it for calls. You know, so you don't know anything about it. So when you think about it is insights wise, and this is why I'm very much insights about data. It changes how you collect data because you're ultimately looking for truth and you need to be more exacting in what you do. That takes like a lot of formality and rigidity in how you do that and it takes a lot of time as well, and I think this is why a lot of organizations you know it's relatively new, like cultural organizations getting into insight anyway, and I think that's why a lot of organizations might not have gone into it yet, because it might be for some people right. I know one person I talked to really early on when I got into insights and she was like if you change one thing a year, you've done your job.

David Watson:

Wow, that sounds painful.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

I know and it can be and it can be like that. So I think this is why people might not necessarily invest in it. But the thing is, if you do and you make it core and you know you're getting someone at this team at most of the meetings and stuff, because once you've got someone that knows their insights and they get a real feel and I feel like you know that can take like maybe two years to get this stuff just in your head so you can pull it out. That's formalized in there. You know, have an insights person in any meeting and I guarantee at least once they'll be like oh, you've said that, but that's not necessarily true and as it stands, people are having meetings all over culture talking about things that aren't true but aren't right. Or they've made assumptions of audiences. You know they've said oh well, this, this gallery sold really well last year where that, you know, in 2016, and because it's quite far away, they forget that 25% of it was just free tickets. People forget things and the they make histories up that suit them, and that's another thing that's very human you need to understand and what insight does is it takes that out of it a little bit and it goes. These are, these are the facts, are, as far as we can go, the facts, because insights are never going to tell you you know the full, full, full, full, full, full truth. But they're going to get as darn close as they can and if someone's good at the job, they'll tell you the process from which they went there and you know what the things are wrong. So I'm going to keep it quite short. I think that's right because it helps you talk truthfully and and treat them as far as you can. Actually, if you get your segmentation right. If you don't know what segmentation is, it's a methodology from which you break down an audience into several broad groups. I find segmentation really interesting because if you talk to people, especially like really artsy people that find find themselves really individual, they hate the idea of segmentation, that they can be put in a group but they actually make up quite a significant artistic group and you can kind of say you can almost have in the back of your head what responses to certain topics and things are. So I would be, I would be afraid of it, and it's not saying it knows all of you, it just knows a good idea of how you might consume culture or for Adidas, how you might buy trainers or jackets and what you approach and your journey is to it. So if I was going to keep it clipped, I think that's why insights important. Was that interesting enough?

David Watson:

Yes, absolutely. I'm picking up on something you said. Not everybody's doing it, not everybody's investing in insights or data collection and management. Why are we still having this conversation, do you think Because you know, I've been in this Wild West of arts and culture for quite a long time, and it was definitely, you know, back when I worked at the Opera House when we invented digital. Essentially, it was number one on the table and we've never stopped talking about it since. And it it amazes me how many organisations still don't want to go there. Why do you think this is? What are they scared of?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Well, and I do think it is scared of. So if you look at most of our institutions, you know galleries, museums, theatre, etc. Etc. They are creative organisations, right, and quite often the heads of them are creative people and the reason they've got there is because they've got an idea of the world and what they find interesting and they want to put that on. It's a very taste making thing where it's like I've got, I've got here because I've got a great taste and great ideas and you can see my great tastes and great ideas. Now, what insights does is it can come in and totally tip that up because it can turn around and be like well, you say that, but people don't actually like your ideas, and that is. And if there's a prospect of that happening and you know you're not the kind of person that likes to deal with not necessarily confrontation, but things that don't necessarily agree with you and if you've got a culture of people around you that say you're right a lot of the time which can happen in big organisations then that's something that definitely is scary. And let's say, you've worked your way up and you're like this is like a job until retirement. I've got 10 years left. You don't want that faff. You're like, I've worked this hard to put on my particular artist that I want at a certain time, let's get it done. And if someone's there being like, well, that's not gonna sell because of this, this and this, or you're giving 33 tickets away to a Bangladeshi community but they're not actually interested in your art at all We've gone and done a survey there. You know what I mean. It's like I think that is why people are scared of it. And it's also, though on the other side of it it's people don't talk about this too much, but it's very scary for the insights person, because quite often you're in a position where you're spending a lot of your day correcting people and if the organization isn't open to that, like there's stuff where you can be portrayed as someone that's just lying or someone that's got too much soft power or someone that's just trying to do things for their own ideal and backing it up with loose data. And I do think there's a whole mental health angle on people that work in insights as well, particularly if they're working as an individual. It can be a really tough job at times if it's not in a relatively accepting place of insights and data. So I feel like there's a lot of prep work to do before you have insights.

David Watson:

Has there been a time where you have been made to feel like that, and how did you handle it?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Yeah, I mean yeah, there's been a lot of times like that. I mean when I started working at Contact, for example, like I was the first proper data roll there and I don't think anyone had even looked at seeing who came regularly to stuff. So we always have to have people talking about a contact audience. I feel like we've got a contact audience with the contact audience like this and I have to start saying you don't have an audience, there's no contact audience. So that's not a segment Like that's, it's not a thing. You've got people that will come to an individual show once a year if they like the sound of it, and a lot of people like the idea of you as a place and they like the idea that you know you've got you're sorting out people like you know the career development and things like that. You know that's very successful. But you know, ultimately at the beginning of my time there I had to turn around and be like, well, you're putting this show on 425s, but it's been on and out of under 25s buying tickets, you've not seen many buy tickets and it's just so hard to because no one had done data before the beginning of that. It was just so hard going into meeting after meeting after meeting, with no positive news a lot of the time.

David Watson:

Yeah.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

You know, and even though it was staying afloat. You know it's changed now and I feel like when I left, though, it got a lot more accepting of it. It was a lot more normal. But to start off with that, you can imagine the culture shock. Suddenly, this guy's here that used to just be like doing the box office and he's telling us our young people aren't actually engaging with the art that's going on, and you know they just could for the workshops. And he's also saying we don't have an audience Like you can't say that anymore, and I will say I've got a lot of better at delivering messages. Honestly, I'm not saying you know, there's definitely some of my fault in those early contact days, but yeah, it was definitely tricky and exhausting and I spent a lot of my time feeling like it was me in a fight with contact to make it understand itself. So I don't know if you've ever had like a. It felt like if you've got a friend that's in a relationship that's not good for them and they can't see the truth. But it's blatantly obvious to you and I'm sure lots of people have been in that situation, and anytime you're trying to help that friend, it can be quite resistant to it. I think that's a pretty good analogy of how it was and it did change eventually and people got around on it and I don't want that to be an image of people for Contal. So it's only one particular journey where you know they took a big risk for themselves there, like bringing in insights like they've never had before, and you know it all ended up amazing. We had, like you know, more audiences turning up, broader audiences turning up, you know, under 25s attending shows that we wouldn't think of crazy spiking students after price and changes. So, yeah, it all worked to the end but yeah, to start off with it can be tough. So my message is you know, if you've got an insights person, like checking on them, and if they are disagreeing with you, don't say I don't believe your data or you've done this this way. Maybe just set up a different meeting with them and say how did we get to this point? You know, and you know how do you do it, because you might actually learn something from that, you know, and there might be more stuff in it by having a deeper conversation.

David Watson:

Trying to invalidate the data still doesn't make it inaccurate, because you know, I've experienced that quite a lot, where people then question the quality, the validity of the data because they don't like what it says and you have to go and redo the work. But I think organizations are getting more, you know, mature around data. Society is big data. I think you know we work very hard around privacy, but it is really useful and I wondered for you, is there on the opposite end of the scale, have you worked on a project where it's taken you by surprise? It blew everybody away and it's one of those moments in your career that you won't forget.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Oh, I'm not going to talk about the price of it again because I've already done that. I'm going to talk about something that wasn't necessarily part of, but I do think it's an amazing project. I don't think it gets talked about enough. I think it sums up a lot of my version in my head of how the arts should go, and that was again a content. Believe it or not, it was a long part of my career. There's something called the agency and the agency's also at I've got worries. It's somewhere in Belfast. I think it's just started off at the Storyhouse in Chester and it's at Backseat Arts Centre as well, and what the agency do is they find people that want to make change in the communities, but really it's like finding young entrepreneurs. I would say that's the best way of thinking about it and they'll be like right, you want to make this change. We'll go for a process with you that can be quite creative workshops and stuff to develop the idea, and then we'll pull together a panel of quite important people in the city you're in. You can pitch to them. They decide which projects kind of goes ahead and then they can carry on and do the projects and there's like been bakeries made out of it. One of my favourite ones is this lad that like coding and he basically completed it and then got off at a massive job at Co-op after he'd finished and that's like real change for the arts for me, and really artistic buildings or cultural buildings, really delivering that civic side and stepping out of the box, so being like we've got more than just art to offer, we've got processes that we go through. And I think sometimes I think particularly artists could put on workshops this is giving me so controversial could put on workshops imitating stuff that's in the professional field and it doesn't necessarily work, even though loads of people celebrate it and say it's fought through differently. But I will say the agency for me is one where it's been properly fought through and I've seen real change in communities around it. But even more importantly, just like the individuals that go on it is mad, like there just needs to be more, more of that, more of that.

David Watson:

And staying on the topic of change, I think everybody that we're talking to and everyone that's been on this show is talking about how things are still changing. I wondered could you talk to me a little bit about the change you've seen across insights in the last couple of years or so and what's been the biggest change and how have you navigated that through your career? Things like staying up to date and different models and all those kind of things. What's been the profound change that you've had to navigate?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

I think number one, the thing to realise with insights is in culture. It's still relatively new. I don't even know who the first venue was to start doing it, because it's only been on my radar properly for like five years, so I'd probably say maybe a decade you reckon. I don't know.

David Watson:

Possibly, yeah, maybe.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

I think it started off really. So this is the biggest change for me and it might just be the change that I want to make. I don't know. But when I first started it was very physical stuff. So you know, a lot of MPOs were using a survey that focused on income postcode and it was almost making judgments of how people might interact in art because of where they lived and how much they earned. Effectively and even though I hate to admit it, there is some reference in that physical stuff, because there is an amount of money you have that will limit how you consume anything and there is a distance you live to cultural venues that will change if you go or not. And if you're in a place that doesn't have a postcode and doesn't have money, the likelihood that no one really is going that often, so there's no advocate in that community to then tell you to go. So I didn't. My mum loved the theatre when we were younger, but because we didn't have much money and we lived in Chorley that only had Chorley Little Theatre, which you know it was just Pantos, and that Even though my mum was definitely into it, we never really went. We went like maybe like school trips and stuff. I think we went to see a few comedians with my mum, even though I ended up working in it, but she always wanted to be. When she was younger she wanted to be an actor. So that you know, and this is a nice split that you can see there, because if she felt that If we came up on a survey we probably wouldn't be a high target place to go and mark it right, but if you looked at a more psychological level of it so more like you know they're probably the best at it, like your Maurice Hargreaves Macintyre versions, where they're being like the questions on there are more like are you the first person to organise something if you're in a group? Are you a spiritual person? Would you attend a dance show? Right, and they segment by that. So from that you know it could have pulled my mum out as someone to target because it'd been like are you interested in theatre? Yes, like, do you do something to do with theatre in your childhood? Or was it a dream? Yes, all of a sudden, even though the postcode's not allowing us to do it, you could turn around and hit my mum with like a £5 ticket. We'll be in the car like two hours like we're done. So I think that's the psychological side of it. So I always say what what a psychographic segmentation model lets you do? Is it? Lets you mark it to an 18-year-old boy in a council estate about ballet that if you ask anyone, that's not your. I hate the term low-hanging fruit, it really makes me rile but it's not your low-hanging fruit that people would be going to. It's not your easy audience to get. But if you all of a sudden started looking at people over a broader area that might be into ballet and you've done a psychographic version, then all of a sudden it's a lot more open. So I think going that more psychographic way and understanding people's tastes in culture is important, because the thing you've got to realise in culture and this is why you need to be psychographic is if people are filling out shopping habits on the daily shop. Everyone has a base idea of a daily shop and what you're going to do and you've got you know. Some people might go to the weight shows, some people might go to Aldi, some people might go to Sainsbury's right, but we're all getting like a can of eight beans and we're all getting bread and people get it. Now the reason you need to understand the psychology more in culture is because you don't have to go to culture. You can live without it. In formalised culture, you can easily live a very happy and fulfilled life without it. I know arts professionals do not want to hear that because they're like it's sacred and we all need it. You know, it's even like a EU right of a child to have art. But in terms of if you're going to organised culture, then people don't need it. So you really need to get in grapple with triggers in people's heads of why they would want to go and also give more people an option that they can go and can be marketed to. So I think that move to psychographic is probably the most interesting and relevant to me.

David Watson:

Fascinating and you hid it here first. Folks Just going back. You just spoke about you being younger and your mom. So you said she wanted, she loved theatre. She wanted to be an actor. I wondered where's it? 6, 7, 8, 9, 10? What did you want to be? And was it anywhere near in the world of data? Or did you want to be on stage, or both? Just interested how this has come about.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

So when I was really young, all I ever said I wanted to be was famous. Oh OK, you're so embarrassing, but I've not been diagnosed with it, but I'm sure I'm getting somewhere with. My brain doesn't remember things well, unless it's attached to other things. So learning lines was like dead to me. I could never act on stage because I was so panicky in the back of my head about remembering lines. But what I was really into and big time was and this was more high school and moving into college was directing. So big time on directing, and that's the whole thing about finding things out, making change it kind of still fit there and really pushing boundaries. I always used to say if I'm directing something, I'd always be like come up with the idea. But then come up with the idea of the idea and that's the interesting one. So never do what the first thought was Always try and push it a bit further. And I will say that when I was a kid you would never see me in data. I wasn't particularly good at maths. I'm still not, in a way, particularly good at maths. There's just a lot of technology and stuff that can support you these days, so you don't have to do it all in your head. I always something switched on in my head when I was 13. And I think it's down to my grandad. So he was very so. I'm from a religious-ish family with my mum. She was like really Christian, but my grandad was always interested to me because he always used to say, well, I'm not Christian but I am spiritual. I always was like, what does that mean? And he was. He used to read just like the Baja Vita, like Book of the Dead and all these kind of things and Cahal Gibran's the poet I think it's called something like that but along with this, like religious side of it, and his spirituality is very much into philosophy as well. And that started me on critical thinking. And ever since I was 13, that's when I was like, right, when I go to college I want to do philosophy. So it's that critical thinking thing that was in me really early on and I love like to the point of where I've destroyed relationships back in the day just love having a debate, love it. I've got a lot calmer in my old age, but I'd actually go out for arguments when I was like 14, 15. I'd be like, let's have it, let's see where we can go, because I feel like people find arguments or debates can be destructive. But I think if you go into it both of you and play with it, you can actually find out a lot more and like there's even that kind of start. I don't feel we're doing so much in the UK, but in the US in schools they have like debate clubs, don't they? Where you stick up for one side and someone's you know and you might be defending something that you don't necessarily believe in. I think that stuff's like really healthy. I've always been a big advocate that philosophy should be told from reception upwards, so like you just go in and say things like hi everyone, it's our hours philosophy. Today we're going to ask what is love. Everyone, tell me what you think love is and like talk about it. And I think that form of thinking outside your own head or being critical with it is. Yeah, I think it's really important in my role, but I don't think the world would be better if more people were like that.

David Watson:

So, on that note, what career tips do you have for people to try and to break into the creative industries in maybe your area or something related? Because a lot of people I feel you know do lots of training working different sectors. People want something different. You know and I always tell people you can be one of the world's greatest financial accountants, but in the art sector you can be an incredible. You know procurement, special in the art sector. So a lot of people probably may or may not be for the first time hearing that we do data and we do analysis and insight. But so if someone's out there that would like to come into the industry, what would you say are maybe like the top tips for getting in and maybe any advice on how to navigate that?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Yeah, right, if you knew, and like you've just left college and you want to get a career in the arts, you're probably thinking in your head at the moment A lot of people did before they started artistic like sorry, cultural careers. They wanted to be an actor or something like that or a writer. Then they ended up with a different job. The first thing is it's going to be hard. It still is hard. You know we all act like very nice in culture and stuff, but at the end of the day, everyone in it is quite competitive in a way, and you can be nice and competitive at the same time, because it's bloody hard to get into and there's that many people that are interested in it and they love it. It's hard to then go up and be the best, so you've got to keep at it. As I said before, my mum was telling me to get a job at Sainsbury's, I was like, no, I'm not going to do it. If you're under 25, literally look at your fears. Everyone these days, especially the Arts Council funding, has youth programmes on when you're at uni or if you've not gone to uni and you do an apprenticeship or you're on the dole at the moment, just start going to all of them. Just go to everything. Get your head around, get people interested in you. The biggest thing that you can do to push your career is get an advocate. So Ed Cox was my first advocate. I imagine you now, david, talking about being a new advocate. So it's all about having advocates of people that believe in you. Because it is tough, you've just got to keep banging your head against the wall. The amount of really talented people I've seen not get into culture because they haven't been had the grit to get through that first, really rough two years and it is hard. You know. You're seeing your mates like some of them might even like got even went to university. So if people start like 35K and you're like I'm working on a chicken counter, insane reason you're doing and I can't get involved in all this amazing stuff that you're doing on the weekend. But get past that. It's great and once you're in your career could go anywhere. Like you don't know what you're going to end up in. From the other side, if we're talking about people later in the lives trying to get into culture like you're actively wanted now, like I've seen, people change their hiring to hiring out of sector. It's a particularly big building that's just opened in Manchester that loves hiring out of sector, you know. So come in and have fun and hopefully, as you know, we get more and more talent and it gets bigger. Then it might reach your corporate wages or not. I think that's what puts most people off, to be fair. But you know you've got cultural wage and then you've got professional wage. But you know, I guess it's like that we find. I'm sorry, I actually feel very lucky. But yeah, I think that's it. But yeah, I think later in your career it's kind of your decision. You can go and do it. So just do it if you want it and if you're like you know I'm not. The next thing about working in culture is you wake up every day and you know what you're doing it for and you've got a reason to do it. You've got purpose and that is more than anything. I think if I didn't have that, I would not be in a happy place for me. You know that's a personal thing. If you can deal with that, that's fine. If you feel like you need it, come to the cultural sector. But yeah, if you're just starting off and you don't have any career experience with the new at the moment, like just grit, bear it. You know, have tenacity and any opportunity that comes up, just do it. And I know it's really tempting to just go to the pub and have a beer or sit at home and be on your phone, but try and fill it up with as much. Get into no people as possible, because people are actually desperate to have people in the sector. That's the other thing. But there's just so little places to have that, you know, it's just really hard to get there.

David Watson:

So are there any misconceptions you want to correct for the record right now? I know there's probably like loads, but is the one that really gets you go the way you want to be like?

Wez Thistlethwaite :

no, yeah, so I've alluded to it already, but my big passion is I think the cultural sector can have an arrogance that the very important and the remains day and the world needs them, and I want to say that's not true. What the cultural sector should be like is desperate to expand its audiences and desperate to have more people interested. Because there's a DCMS taking part survey I always love to talk about this and I wish DCMS would do it again. If you're listening, dcms, please do this survey again and basically they looked into how people are getting involved with culture. They talked about sport, they talked about theater, etc. Etc. Etc. Anyway, it turned out that 72% of people didn't think they weren't bothered, so 38.6% said they weren't interested, there was lack of interest, and 33.4% said the other lack of time. So this is out of people that decided they aren't coming to the arts. So, out of people that aren't coming, 73% is not a barrier, they're just they're 72% sorry, they're data. They're just not bothered. Like, and I want to look right, the barriers debate is so important. Right, there are barriers, but it's very easy for us to talk about barriers because we can easily go well, we'll bring the price down. Well, we'll do this. And even though people say barriers are hard thing to solve, they're not because they are and you can come up with stuff off the bat. The problem is before it, before people are even bothered, like they're not bothered, like they don't even get to a barrier because it's like I don't care, like I want to play my PlayStation, like why do I want to go and watch a show or why do I want to go to a gallery? So I want, I want people to keep thinking about barriers because it's important, but be shit scared that there's not enough audiences out there and think about how you make stuff for them. Make products for more people, make it more accessible, do things that are out of the usual, of what you would usually do. You know, I guarantee you, if you had a rave in a museum, people would be there because it feels naughty to rave in that kind of space. You know, I know we had a Vogue Bowl. That's what's coming to mind, david. A Vogue Bowl in the museum is just bliss. Yeah, like that's the kind of stuff we should be doing. And, like you know, you've got to get people in several times, so you can't just do it once. Like have a program of this kind of stuff air out an audience. Hopefully that grows and then you can start introducing the stuff that you want to do. But ultimately, being a tastemaker at the top, or being a producer and a tastemaker, or a programmer and a tastemaker, or a curator and a tastemaker it's not going to cut it because you're just you and you might have your mates that tell you you're great, but a lot of the UK aren't bothered with what you're doing To change it up, or culture is not important. That's been never getting a job anywhere else. You got me for life now, david.

David Watson:

I think it's really important that we allow people to talk about different views and understand, because this is how we get better, you know, and if everyone's that passionate about it, we should want to make the change, and it's definitely something. As I said at the beginning of the conversation, everybody that I'm talking to is talking about the change we need to make, and this is one of them that keeps coming up right. So so my last question and it was a little bit of homework, which I ask every guest to do is make a cultural confession, and it can be whatever you want.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Okay, I think mine is. I still don't feel comfortable around other cultural workers in terms of it's a bit different with ML, but if I'm going, I've just been to a big theatre vessel so it might be a theatre thing, but like I still don't feel part of the crew, I don't feel middle class enough. I don't feel like I've got enough stuff to say. I'm not good at the little chitty, chatty conversations when you don't really say anything and I'm not good at not speaking my mind when I should probably in those circles. So I think that probably is the biggie for me that, even though I don't put anyone that might be like working class getting into the hearts is you'll get better, but I don't know if you'll ever fully feel comfortable. The worst one I ever went to is I was. I was part of Manchester International Festival 2019 doing a. It was amazing. We're basically given loads of money to do whatever we wanted and we've got this group called Chimp on Over. We made a brewery underneath a railway station, talked about colour and stuff. It's amazing. It's called Drunk Pandemic, but I like the crew on that were amazing and everyone was lovely. But then I went to an artist networker that was part of the festival and I just wanted to leave. I couldn't talk to anyone, I felt like, because I hadn't done anything professionally yet, even though I've been a professional cultural worker for ages. People only wanted to talk to me for like one second and I feel like I spent a lot of my time as well. Really early on, people have repeated what I said and I don't really know what they're doing it, but the re-pronounced things really, really annoys me Especially, and it annoys me more because my body itself has almost gone along with it, so I've lost my Chorley accent. I mean, I still sound quite northern, but if I go back to Chorley now I sound posh. So I think that's probably it. I feel like I still don't feel like I fit in properly Quite profound again.

David Watson:

I like it. So, Wes, thank you so much for giving me your time to talk to me. It's been brilliant and I hope I've energised your brain to keep doing what you do, because you're brilliant and I'm sure lots of people are going to learn lots from what you said today. So thank you very much.

Wez Thistlethwaite :

Thank you, it's been amazing.

David Watson:

Thanks for listening to this episode of Before the Applauses. Please do tell everyone about this podcast and stay connected with us across all the usual social media platforms by searching at Before Applauses. If you've got any burning questions, want to share your own insights, want to recommend a guest or be one yourself, then we'd love to hear from you. You can direct messages on any of our social accounts or email studio at beforetheapplaudepodcom. Thank you.

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