My career has been both lucky and unlucky. I’ve worked in a wide range of industries and companies, super big (17,000+) and small (less than 50). I also experienced economic downturns, digital disruption, mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, and a pandemic.
That’s a lot.
I sometimes wonder how that eighteen-year-old doing a marketing internship straight out of high school is actually the same person I am now.
Disruptive forces put teams in a tough place. When you work in marketing, you collaborate with teams across all functional areas. So you see the impact of things like layoffs and industry-wide disruption.
When disruption hits your organization, and especially when it hits your team … well, there is no other way to say it; that sucks.
These are the times when many organizations ask staff to do more with less. And people end up asking, “What does that even mean?” I’m generally one of those people, too. But, I also tend to embrace contradictions. So this is when I get scrappy.
I have an MBA but have zero interest in being an entrepreneur. But I do enjoy working on intrapreneurial initiatives. (Isn’t it delightful that the awkward word entrepreneurial is even more awkward with a different prefix?)
Intrapreneurial initiatives often emerge when disruptive forces and scarce resources mash up. Innovation can come out of that, but it needs support to flourish, or it can fade away. And it helps to inject outside perspective and talents. That is when I get creative.
Many years ago now, some non-profit theatre co-workers and I started a late-night series featuring local artists. This is a little story of how we saw both success and failure.
We had no direct budget. The artistic director allowed us limited use of the theatre space and some equipment. Our supervisors allowed us to use part of our time at work. That was super generous and valuable. I have no idea why he trusted us to experiment with this half-baked plan. But he did, so we got scrappy and creative together.
Our ultimate goal: bring in a new, younger audience amidst the Netflix disruption in the performing arts. We succeeded—for five seasons in a row.
The Late Seating programming was a mix of theatre, music, visual art, literature readings, film, and interviews with artists. The artists were a mix of folks from across the community who had a hard time finding affordable venues. This was purposeful. We wanted to support those folks and program a diverse range of local artists across all mediums. And we wanted to show new audiences that theatre wasn’t stuffy and boring. We even hosted rooftop concerts that combined music performances with sculpture and maker demonstrations. Some amazing cross-disciplinary collaborations also emerged from this.
The ticket price was 60% less than the average ticket to mainstage shows. We had next to no marketing budget. We gave promo copy and images to participating artists to share with their networks.
By being scrappy and creative, we sold thousands of tickets to people who had never attended the theatre before. Frequent arts attendance tends to turn into season ticket attendance. We hoped to create a habit.
Doing what we did was no small feat. The ratio of season ticket holders to single ticket holders was already topsy turvy in 2005. Solving that puzzle went into high gear after the 2009 economic downturn and streaming began.
For many arts organizations, adapting to those seismic changes came too little too late. Some arts groups were lucky enough to support experiments in programming and pricing. A few of those created official support structures through funding and more resources. Let’s face it, a budget is a priority.
After five seasons, the late-night series co-producers all left for other opportunities (myself included). A change in leadership meant the series was not prioritized. This intrapreneurial innovation fizzled out due to a lack of continued support.
Entropy is real.
That felt disappointing at the time. But, there are some lessons here.
- Allow people on your team to get scrappy and creative.
- Sometimes outside perspectives can fuel innovation.
- Find ways to evolve successful experiments into lasting initiatives.
- Plan for both the short-term and long-term.
Now is the time to get scrappy and creative with the resources you do have.
You may only be able to provide your team with some time and space to experiment. That’s okay.
Small steps lead to changes, and changes can lead to innovation. But be mindful of what it will take to support and grow your experiments. Initiatives often fizzle out without dedicated resources.
If that feels all too familiar, know that we’re here to help.