Stakeholder Management – The Key to the Business Ecosystem

Note: The following article is copied from my LinkedIn feed. Follow me by clicking here

 

Stakeholder management is vital to a business’ success. Not to be confused with the financial “shareholders,” stakeholders represent all the persons with a “stake” in your company. This can be anyone from customers to employees, suppliers, and shareholders to the local community and even the planet.

Stakeholder management reminds us that the organization doesn’t exist on a deserted island. Rather, it is part of an ecosystem that constantly must be reviewed for signs of in-balance. Listening to stakeholders helps the savvy manager maintain harmony in this ecosystem.

Entertainment venues are no different. Say, a theater isn’t listening to traffic and sound complaints from the neighborhood in which they operate. Community members have been voicing their opinions across social media. However, social-listening and reporting is not part of the job description for the marketing department’s social media specialist and the issue goes unnoticed. Soon, the complaints gather steam and reach city hall. Afraid of not being re-elected, city officials initiate a temporary noise ordinance and amp up ticketing around the venue. Almost immediately the business begins to suffer and the organization is forced to go on the defensive. This costs valuable financial resources, jeopardizes important relationships, and can even tarnish the brand name.

This example may seem simple, but it is not uncommon. Even more bothersome is the fact that it can be rectified rather easily and with minimal cost. They could assign one of their marketing employees (even an intern) to troll the web for bad reviews on sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Google Search Results, TripAdvisorManta, etc. If staffing is an issue, anyone can set-up alerts for the business name on Google. Then, when someone posts said name on the web. .. you’ll get notified about 75% of the time.

Surveys are a great tool to get specific feedback from your customers, suppliers, and employees. Survey Monkey makes that real easy.

Finally, get out and talk to your customers, employees, and community. This may be the greatest stakeholder management tool at your disposal.

The key is to realize that your business exists “because of” the ecosystem in which you operate. That system consists of you, your customers, employees, government officials, competitors, suppliers, the community, and planet. Actively listening to their concerns fosters better cooperation between all involved and initiates greater success.

KPI’s in Venue Management

I recently asked my LinkedIn network what KPI’s, besides revenue, they use for their entertainment venue analysis.

 

I figured this would be a tough question because I removed the most prevalent answer when it comes to venue management analysis – revenue generation. I wanted to omit the low-hanging fruit to force my network to consider other Key Performance Indicators regarding their entertainment space and how valuable they can be.

 

For those who do not understand what KPI’s are.  Here is a quick and simple breakdown from Investopedia. According to their site. “Key performance indicators (KPI) are a set of quantifiable measures that a company uses to gauge its performance over time. These metrics are used to determine a company’s progress in achieving its strategic and operational goals, and also to compare a company’s finances and performance against other businesses within its industry.”

 

The revenue metrics are the most important and fairly easy to digest in regards to entertainment booking. If you book a band and they sell out the venue. That is a positive KPI. Just remember, if you are in charge of assigning revenue metrics you should include ancillary income such as food and drink sales.  I have seen many situations where one act didn’t sell out the room but brought in a demographic that drank the house dry resulting in an overall larger return on investment.

 

Key Performance Indicators go beyond just revenue-generating metrics. Better institutions will assign them to other areas of the business eco-system such as cost reduction, process improvements, and customer satisfaction. All of these variables work off of one another and when assigned properly and analyzed consistently can lead to exponential growth.  Here are a few suggestions of non-revenue generating KPI’s to consider for an entertainment venue.

 

Cost Reduction: Is the venue overstaffed? Are your performance hours not in-line with your demographic (e.g. does the room die at 11:00 pm, but you are paying entertainment and employees to be on-site until 2:00 am)?

 

Process Improvement: Are you getting your guests in fast enough and moving them to areas of revenue such as the bar efficiently?

 

Customer Satisfaction: Are you monitoring the social chatter regarding your venue?  Are the reviews of your entertainment, venue, and operations positive? Are you surveying past customers to learn about their experiences to share with your team?

 

*BONUS – Employee Satisfaction: Are you talking to your team to see if THEY are happy? Do you survey guests regarding their experience with specific employees through analysis such as Net Promoter Scores and satisfaction surveys?

 

These are just a few suggestions regarding non-revenue KPI’s you can adapt for your entertainment venue. Just remember each business environment is different and you may have to tweak your analysis to uncover your areas of weakness and opportunity.  If you would like some help analyzing your entertainment venue, give me a shout.

 

 

Volume…what makes a good entertainer GREAT!

 

As someone who books bands for a living, I can’t believe I am going to say this. “Acts that don’t actively monitor their volume drive me nuts.”

 

There I said it.

 

Now, I am specifically speaking to the artists who perform in “background music scenarios.” Performance spaces in hotel lobbies, small bars, and restaurants that typically don’t focus on the entertainment (e.g. they don’t have a stage and dancing isn’t encouraged). In these situations, it is crucial that the artist pay careful attention to their volume as they are not the center of attention. Unfortunately, many newer performers have trouble grasping this concept and I believe that inexperience is to blame.

 

If you were to observe a veteran performer against a greenhorn in a similar environment, you will likely see what I mean.

 

Thanks to years of trial and error, veterans have been psychologically conditioned to accept the fact that they are not the focus of the room, which places them in the proper headspace to handle the gig. This comes through in everything from their song choice to their banter with customers and even how they read the room. As such, a true club pro will read a “background music” gig differently. If they see patrons leaning in too close to talk or notice the overall volume has increased. They will intuitively pull back the dynamics to restore order. The true masters will even alter their song selection choosing keys with darker…less bright characteristics such as D over E Major.  Notes that don’t conflict with the timbre of the average speaking voice and thus raise the overall decibel level in the venue.

 

As mentioned, seasoned pros typically fair better in these situations. However, other psychological factors come into play.  Artists still seeking the coveted “record deal” will have more trouble adjusting to these situations as their professional focus is to break through the noise and get noticed. As such, many have (rightfully so) adopted a mentality where they seek to command the stage and everyone’s attention. Chances are if an entertainer has more original tunes in their catalog than covers. They may be inside that headspace and the booker should enact more due diligence and proceed with caution.

 

A final word of warning is this. When vetting an act propositioning you for a gig. Many will say anything to earn the job and that includes telling you that they can meet any volume requirements.  It is always best to look beyond their puffery, especially if you notice that they are less-experience or more focused on the original music track of their career.

 

As for you artists out there. Don’t be discouraged by these gigs. For one, they can supplement your career and put food on the table.  They are also an excellent way for you to better your room-reading skills and ability to perform at softer volumes, thus increasing your overall dynamic control. These skills will come into play in other avenues of your career.

The Dangers of Egotistic Booking

 

As a booking agent, it is imperative that you keep check on your emotional attachment to the product. You see. We all have our favorite bands… a song that has touched our heart… or an album that helped us through a dark time. This emotional attachment is a unique characteristic of the product of music and can be a dangerous way to go about procuring entertainment for your establishment if left unchecked.

 

As for the performance space. Owners also have an idea of what they hope their venue will look like. They envision a certain type of customer that will sit at their bars, the employees that serve them their libations, and the entertainment that drives them through the doors. These concepts we visualize are rooted in narrative psychology. Basically, we all envision a way we perceive ourselves, our environment, and our meaning for existence. As children, we dream of becoming astronauts, police officers, and even thieves.  Interestingly, we do not stop our internal play as we get older. We are constantly assessing how the world does, will, and should perceive us. This carries over when we think about the performance space and, left unchecked, can lead to erroneous qualitative assessments regarding what that space should be.

 

There is nothing wrong with having a “vision” for your venue, bar, or club. However, one should never let that vision go unchecked without quantifying their assumptions first. For instance, if you see your club as a country bar with fiddle-fronted bands, two-step contests, and lots of Budweiser. It would behoove you to undergo market research before you invest in that concept.  How many radio stations spin country music in your market?  Where is the venue located? Is it in Manhattan adjacent to Skyscrapers filled with investment bankers or on the outskirts of Houston with oil fields in the distance? Walk or ride your bike around the area at various times of the day to get an idea of whom is in your backyard. Are they wearing cowboy hats, jeans, and big belt buckles or white on white Nikes and flat-brimmed caps?

 

Tip: (Budget research costs into Your investment.) Allocate a percentage of your intended purchase towards a research budget. Even one percent of the cost of a $300,000 investment would cough up $3,000 for zoning maps, competitor analysis, and market trends. It will help you make better decisions moving forward and could easily save you that amount (plus some) in misinformed decisions.

 

Once you have your data. Combine your qualitative assumptions with those quantitative facts. Then, make your decision. Don’t get fooled by the stories of great leaders who went with their gut. I bet they gathered their own empirical evidence. Sam Walton was a private pilot who picked out store locations by flying over prospective towns for Walmart. He then made deals on lot prices based on his literal “bird’s eye view” of the situation.

 

If instead, you choose to just “go with your gut.” You enter into the danger of what I call Egotistic Booking. Or booking based solely on non-scientific evidence regarding the venue or it’s programming. There is nothing wrong with this type of booking…if you get it right! For years, the best agents were egotistic and successful.

 

But the game has changed.

 

The great bookers and promoters of the past never had to compete with the substitutes your customers have right now…in the palm of their hand. Your customers can choose to binge on Netflix, catch-up on their favorite Kardashian happenings on Instagram, check the daily news on Snapchat, and scroll through all of their friends’ lives on Facebook. They have Spotify with their favorite playlists loaded and ready to go and if they want to see a live band. They probably can with a live stream on YouTube, Facebook or one of many apps that now make that experience a reality.

 

That is a whole lot of competition that didn’t exist twenty…even ten years ago and chances are. You probably can’t compete with it.

 

But don’t worry. Neither can the local venues you contend with. This opens up a potential competitive advantage that you can grab. One borrowed from the online competitors you are now facing. They are using algorithms based on science and math to quantify and execute their decisions. Maybe it’s time you include a little math in your brick and mortar bookings. It will shield you from some of the dangers of egotistic booking.

 

 

 

 

The Risk Entertainment Buyers Face

 

My business card says agent, but truth-be-told, I am actually a buyer.  A buyer is slightly different than a booking agent in that we purchase entertainment for a particular venue. Booking agents generally have a list of acts they represent and spend their days pitching them to various venues and guys like me.

Buyers are hired for their entertainment expertise, connections, and ability to negotiate better deals for their clients. Those deals boil down to less money spent versus more money earned (relatively speaking of course). To get to that point, the buyer plays arbiter for all parties in the negotiation until the deal is struck. Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of said deal means that the buyer assumes the post of whipping boy should anything negatively impact the transaction before, during, and after.

In most negotiations, the risk is generally carried 50/50. If I have a contract to buy widgets from Johnny, LLC and I fail to pay. It is my phone that rings off the hook. Flip the script and Johnny forgets to ship my widgets in time. It’s his ringtone that gets overplayed. In a buyer-backed deal, they would sit in-between Johnny, LLC and the customer and get to deal with ALL of those calls.

Entertainers often overlook the risks buyers face and nowhere is it more evident than in their sales pitch. “Book our band…we have 1,900 followers on Instagram.” “Hire us for your corporate event…we really like Propecia. Come on!…what do YOU have to lose?” These statements tell us that somewhere musicians and bands are landing gigs on pitches like this. Most of the time, this happens with smaller venues whose entertainment is handled by an overworked bar or restaurant manager. Unfortunately, this has done a disservice to entertainers who want to move up the food chain and eventually deal with buyers like me.

I immediately ask potential acts to fill out our entertainer application.  It is a great litmus test to see if the artist is professional enough to follow directions.  It also forces them to write down the correct name, URLs, and contact information, which results in fewer errors. *Hint…this is one of the reasons YOU fill out your forms at medical practices.

Then, I check out their videos, social presence, other venues they have played, and even Google the band to see what comes up. If everything looks good. The next step is to go see the act live.  I have discussed this before in another post called Using A&R in Venue Management, so I won’t bore you with the details. (But check it out…it’s REALLY good… my mom says so.)

If all the stars align, I book them for one of our venues, but on a trial basis of limited shows. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched a great band in one venue completely falter in another. This is because numerous variables come into play including everything from the gear we use to the side of town we are on compared to that of the band’s home turf. I also talk about this in my post Listen Through the Show. Check it. My mom digs that one too.

Experience has taught me that these extra steps greatly mitigate the chances of a bad show in our venue.  And as a buyer, mitigating those chances is the name of the game, so if you are an artist looking for a gig. Be prepared.

  • Have live un-doctored videos on YouTube or Vimeo ready to share.
  • Have a social presence and use it to show that you connect with fans through lots of likes, follows, post interactions, and updates from your crew.
  • Have a list of your upcoming gigs readily available online. Sometimes, dudes like me have a few free nights and are looking to see a band we are interested in.
  • Be patient.
  • Put yourself in our shoes. If I didn’t know you. Would you book my act?  Now support that answer with a big fat WHY?

Keep in mind. Booking agents, buyers, managers, and the venues we work with absolutely want you to succeed. Simply put, we all make more money when you do. The best thoroughly vet their potential acts to make sure we can prepare you for that success. Work with them and your gigs will only get better.