Tuesday 3 February 2009

Reach for the stars

When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” Leo Burnett

Leo Burnett was a copywriter who built a successful world-wide advertising agency that was still going strong during the time I worked in the business. Much has changed since the heady days of the ‘80’s but I’m sure one thing hasn’t – the reliance on data to drive decisions and create value for businesses.

I find the giant personalities of advertising an inspiration – David Ogilvy has a well earned place on my bookshelf and was a real advocate of data-driven marketing. But I digress already – because Leo Burnett’s quotation captures the essence of what is on my mind this morning – that of excellence.

I was at the ballet last night. I saw a production of Romeo and Juliet that I had not seen before. There were some magnificent dancers and dances, but there were also some little slip-ups. Of course, the joy of a live performance is just that – you live the highs and lows with the performers; it is not sanitised as it would be for television.

For me, ballet is a treasure trove of riches. It pushes the human body beyond what should be possible to produce a spectacle so lovely that it takes my breath away. And last night it was all set to Prokofiev’s magnificent and memorable music. It is still going round in my head now.

The creation of a ballet reaches for the stars. But not all ballet companies are created equal. Not all have the same standards. Some reach, and attain, higher standards than others. Which was what got me thinking about Performance Management in relation to the performing arts. Ballet companies rely on businesses and business people to bring their productions to paying audiences. And those businesses also have standards as to what they accept or do not. Last night there were many empty seats – a crying shame considering the expense of the production.

This is where data and analytics meet star-reaching. I am sure there were many more ballet fans who might have been tempted out in the snow with the right offer. And the ballet company and theatre would have benefited even if the tickets were sold at a reduced rate. The right business intelligence system could have done that – to the benefit of so many.

I regularly go to see the ballet at another venue where there is just about never an empty seat. Do they have different standards or a different data-centered culture? Maybe both. Business Intelligence is a way of thinking. Maybe it's where ambition meets analytics …


  1. Your post offers a number of intersting threads and perspectives which do ring true . The idea of shooting for the stars is powerful but is it always necessary, would a nearer target offer as much and allow us to reach with our free hand for other targets in a world of conbflicting priorities and limited resources? I am not saying it is wrong and do believe.

    I am not sure I could imagine the ballet becoming like easyjet where the systems are tuned to manage and optimise ticket revenue for a performance just like the ballet in that it will have only value at the time of the performance. Possibly you could sell tickets but might vthat devalue the performance somewhat and drive people to always go to lastminute ballet .com? I would have thought like the musical I say at the Hammersmith Lyric on saturday where all seats were £10 was maybe a better tool, not sure must be hard for the company to decide with so many variables at play.

    Inconclusive thoughts I know but a challenging posting!


  2. Very interesting comments – as always!

    Each ballet performance has two conflicting aims – firstly to sell as many high price tickets as possible to enable the costs of productions to be met. Secondly, to maximise revenues and profits because each empty seat cannot be sold the following night: its now or never.

    Which is where analytics come in. By understanding your customer base – through data mining and testing – you can build up an understanding of predicted behaviours without risking the brand and pricing you have worked hard to build. The aim is not a lastminuteballet.com but more Royal Opera House where people queue online all day to get tickets. And yes, I was amongst them!

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