Those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook over the last week would have noticed that I was saying an awful lot about Texas and an awful lot of stuff about other things that may or may not have made sense, depending on whether you worked in the arts or not.
So I thought I’d give you all a quick update on a week spent in San Antonio at a conference run by a very specialised and unique software company. You have been warned.
For those who are completely new to Tessitura, in the bad old days – say, about 10 years ago – performing arts companies used to use ticketing software to, believe it or not, sell tickets to shows. Their primary concern was making sure that Customer X got the tickets they asked for to a show. That was it.
However, in the world of performing arts, there has also been a long and honourable tradition of trying to collect donations from patrons. They get sent letters asking for money, rich patrons get invited to special events, meetings are made – and all sorts of information is stored for this purpose. Birthdates of prospects, the names of their spouses and children, what type of food they like to eat, their tastes in music – all of this is vitally important for the fundraiser.
So in these bad old days, the fundraising team (the correct term now is “development” team) would keep all this information in files, on cards, in notebooks, and if they were computer-savvy – they might even use a spreadsheet.
Meanwhile, in the corporate world, the tools to deal with this kind of stuff were becoming more and more powerful. Software known as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was developed that could easily keep track of this sort of thing, and the corporate world used it extensively to monitor its sales efforts.
Some arts companies even started using CRM software, but an obvious problem existed – even though the CRM software was a good place to keep track of information and tasks related to chasing money – it was still missing the vital concept of knowing about ticket buying information – which was stored on the ticketing software.
The New York Metropolitan Opera, back in 2001, decided to deal with the problem. They spent several million dollars to come up with a piece of software that combined a state of the art ticketing package with the tools commonly used in CRM software. They called it Tessitura, an opera term for the range of the voice. They rolled it out across about half a dozen organisations.
However, the demand was so great for this, they realised they were onto a winner – so they established a third party company that could just focus on software and the organisation now known as the Tessitura Network was born.
My company just signed up Tessitura earlier this year, and so we’re relatively new to the whole software. But I was privileged to be able to attend the Tessitura Learning and Community Conference which is held yearly – this year in San Antonio, Texas.
Things really started to come together for me at this conference. While I had a fairly good idea of how Tessitura worked from being involved in the project to roll it out, it was incredible to be able to go to this conference and meet up with all the Tessitura staff and hundreds of people from the other companies using this software.
There’s two things that made this conference stand out for me:
1) The Tessitura bbusiness model is absolutely amazing. It’s a non-profit software company. So it exists purely for the purpose of making the best ticketing software in the world for the arts/cultural world. And it really listens to its users. While there was certainly a teaching aspect to the conference, where Tessitura staff offered teaching on various modules of the software – there was a huge emphasis on hearing what people wanted in the software. In a very democratic process, Tessitura canvasses its member organisations every year for changes that they would like to see and then gives every company 40 votes to cast towards the changes they would most like to see.
2) As well as the attitude of the company, the community side of the conference was fantastic. Many of the presentations during the conference were made by users, showcasing innovative ways they had used Tessitura to aid their business. This ranged from some quite technical stuff through to some simple tweaks and reports that people had produced. Not only that, you only had to have a few quick conversations with people to realise that everyone there was ready to share their expertise.
In some ways, the conference did my head in, because it was so much information and we’re so new into the process. But in other ways, I now have at least a full year’s worth of stuff to explore. So I think that makes it a worthwhile conference for me.
The other half of it was that it was just plain fun being able to visit San Antonio, Texas. This is home of the Alamo – an old Spanish mission where a small group of Texans were holed up and ultimately slaughtered by an invading Mexican army in 1836. It was this massacre that fired up the Americans enough to defeat the Mexican army later (and ultimately invade Mexico in 1840), and a really well-preserved and moving part of history.
Then there were the people. I must admit that having an Australian accent (used strategically), can be a great boon in disguise – so I was shouted at least one dinner and several drinks over the course of the week, by the fine folks of the Nashville Performing Arts Center and the Arsht Center (in Miami). All in all, it was great fun, and I’m looking forward to being able to implement some of the things I’ve learned and also keeping in touch with the people I’ve met.
Finally, it was quite an eye-opener of the sheer joy of Twitter. (Okay, shut up, Dave – just because you’re right on this one, doesn’t make you right on everything . . .). There was a conference hashtag set up, and over the course of the week, most of the tweeters at the conference caught up with one another, and we probably all came out with at least a dozen new followers each. All very fun.
Anyway, that might explain a bit more of the background. Now on to a movie review . . .