This was a great blog post from Seth Godin and hit me at the right time today. Yesterday I got an email from one of our Board members. We had had a board meeting this week and were brainstorming new ideas as we continue to add to the board. There used to be another theatre in the Stamford area and there was a person on that board that two of our folks knew. Thought it might be worthwhile to talk to them.
I have specifically been avoiding the old guard partially because of the "Gloom and Doom" mentality that goes along with folks that don't shift with the market when it comes to the Arts. This company, in my opinion, programmed themselves right out of the market by producing shows they thought the community needed (read: avant guard and not enough popular titles) as opposed to shows the community wanted.
It's easy to say that their group struggled because "corporations didn't want to be in the arts business anymore". I say that if the arts don't adjust and view their "business" as a civic contribution instead of just an Arts contribution, they might be right.
A diversified portfolio of offerings that benefits the community is the way an arts group stays relevant for it's community. There is huge power in the Arts. Marketing and community building. But it has to be about more than just the funding needed for shows and administration. If all we see of you in a community are posters for your shows, you have failed.
This blog talks about making room for the best customers. Apply it to the arts and our board, audiences and donors.
Unreasonable clients- Seth Godin
Who gets your best work?
If you reserve your best effort for the irritable boss, the never-pleased client and the bully of a customer, then you've bought into a system that rewards the very people who are driving you nuts. It's no wonder you have clients like that--they get your best work.
On the other hand, when you make it clear (and then deliver) on the promise that your best work goes to those that are clear, respectful and patient, you become a specialist in having customers just like that.
One of the largest turning points of my career was firing the client who accounted for a third of my company's work. We were becoming really good at tolerating the stress that came from this engagement, and it became clear to me that we were about to sign up for a lifetime of clients like that.
Set free to work for those that we believed deserved our best work, we replaced the lost business in less than six months.
Years ago, I heard the story of a large retail financial services company that did the math and discovered that fewer than 5% of their customers were accounting for more than 80% of their customer service calls--and less than 1% of their profit. They sent these customers a nice note, let them know that they wouldn't be able to service them properly going forward, and offered to help them transfer their accounts to a competitor. With the time freed up, they could then have their customer service people double down on the customers that actually mattered to them... grease, but without the squeaky wheel part.
No, you can't always fire those that are imperious or bullies. But yes, you can figure out how to dig even deeper for those that aren't. That means you won't take advantage of their good nature, or settle for giving them merely what they will accept. Instead, you treat the good guys with even more effort and care and grace than you ever would have exerted for the tyrants.
The word will spread.
[The other alternative is a fine one, if you're up for it... specialize in the worst possible clients and bosses, the least gratifying assignments. You'll stand out in an uncrowded field! The mistake is thinking you're doing one and actually doing neither by doing both.]