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Empowered Decisions
Episode 120

Empowered Decisions

Live From Boot Camp 2023

This episode is hosted by Dan Titmuss.

0:00 / 0:00

In this Episode

The holidays are upon us, which means strategic planning is seriously heating up. Try as you might to enjoy your hot cocoa in peace, you’re already fielding ideas from colleagues about the marketing experiments you should try next season or the digital efforts your team simply needs to add to its list. Stay cool, arts marketers. We’re bringing you a special recording of our panel discussion from Boot Camp 2023 all about knowing when to say yes. And since it’s the holiday season, we’ll also take a look back at the year with all of you.
Empowered Decisions: Knowing When to Say Yes

Sara Villagio from Carnegie Hall moderates a discussion with leaders from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Apollo Theater, and Sesame Workshop about how arts marketers can best use their (extremely limited) time.

End-of-Year Reflections

Hear from fellow arts marketers and Boot Camp attendees about their biggest learnings from the past year and what they’re most looking forward to in the months ahead.

Dan Titmuss: Ho ho ho! Hello everyone and happy holidays! Sorry to disappoint you. It’s not Santa Claus, it’s Dan here. The holidays are officially upon us. For many of you, that means strategic planning is seriously heating up. Try as you might to enjoy your hot cocoa in peace, you are already fielding ideas from colleagues about the marketing experiments you should try next season or the digital efforts your team simply needs to add to its list. Stay cool, arts marketers. Today on the pod, we’re bringing you a special recording of our panel discussion from Boot Camp 2023 all about empowered decisions and knowing when to say yes. You’ll hear

Sara Villagio: from Carnegie Hall moderate a discussion with leaders from the Kennedy Center, the Apollo, and Sesame Workshop about how arts marketers can best use our extremely limited time. You’ll also hear how these leaders have developed the skills to determine whether an idea is a ‘hell yes’ or ‘hell no.’ If you enjoy today’s episode and want to experience the full suite of Boot Camp sessions for yourself, you can now stream the entire conference on demand. Just visit for more information. Now, for the last time this year: Let’s dive in, shall we? Come along Santa. Ho ho ho ho ho!

Sara Villagio: My name is Sara Villagio and I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at Carnegie Hall here in New York City. And wow, these chairs are way more comfortable than last year. Just need to acknowledge that for a second. I really like this mid-century vibe. I work at Carnegie Hall, as I said, my pronouns are she her, and I am a white woman with curly brown hair, and today I’m wearing a black blazer and a floral dress and some boots. I just felt like it was time even though the temperature got hot. But yeah, like I said, I’m really excited to be back and I’m incredibly honored and excited to be back with this group of stellar panelists who are here with me today. But I’m happy to be back at Boot Camp again because to me—and we’ve been hearing lots about hugs and how warm this room is, and that is all true to me.
But what it represents to me is that there are a lot of great minds in this room and we are all convening in a safe space together where we can share ideas and creativity and challenge ourselves. And I think that’s what makes this particular conference really special to me. So just wanted to share that with you too. So yeah, where’s that clicker? Okay, I’ve got it. I asked each of the panelists here to… they’re going to each introduce themselves, of course, but we each have a quote up on our title slide that says a little bit about why we decided to say ‘hell yes’ to joining this panel. So for me, this quote is actually attributed to RBG, one of my personal heroes. But what it represents to me is one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned at Carnegie Hall in the last six plus years that I’ve been there, which is that—and it’s something some of you may have heard me say before—small changes drive big impact. And as a leader of a great amazing team, many of whom are here today, I am looking around for them. I see them some, yes, thank you. Okay, thank you guys. Many of whom are here today. I just think everyone’s making small changes all the time that are actually driving results, and we need to release ourselves from always having to have the biggest and the best idea in the room. So with that, I’m going to turn it to Fatima next.

Fatima Jones: Hi everybody. My name is Fatima Jones. I’m the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the world famous Apollo Theater up in Harlem, New York. And my team’s not here because we have a lot going on, so I’m sending them the link after this. I love you all. My quote—I’m an African-American woman wearing a black dress and a green scarf. I’m wearing sandals because I’m embracing the warmth…

Sara Villagio: Rock on, rock on. We have a panel, we needed to have some conflict, right?

Fatima Jones: Natural locks in a bun. And my quote is, if everything is important, then nothing is. I’m sure you all are dealing with multiple priorities all the time. Everyone thinks that everything’s important. So I kind of hold onto this as a mantra of mine. So it’s nice to be here. Thank you again for inviting me.

Sara Villagio: Awesome. Thanks Fatima. Aaron, over to you.

Aaron Bisman: Great. Hi, I’m Aaron Bisman. I’m VP of Audience Development at Sesame Workshop. Really nice to be back here at Boot Camp. I’m a white male. I used to have red hair, but I don’t have much left. I’m wearing a teal blazer and a T-shirt with Elmo on it, because that’s a fun thing I get to do, but not every day at the office. And my quote is, curiosity drives innovation and impact. Are you curious about the right things? This is, I might not say it in these exact words, but this is definitely a driving force in my leadership. I think prioritization generally, but specifically about marketing activities, especially those that are not directly trackable or necessarily actionable, it’s extremely hard to make decisions about what to say yes to. And yet as leaders particularly, it’s our job both to say no and to say no in appropriate and right ways. And I am excited to share some of my thoughts, but also learn from my friends and colleagues up here as well as hopefully all of you in the Q and A. So thank you.

Sara Villagio: Thanks. Derek or Aaron? Yes. Whoops. And now we’re on to Derek.


Derek Johnson: Yes. Good morning everyone. I am Derek Johnson, VP of Marketing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I am a black male. I am wearing a lot of blue today, blue suit, blue shirt, brown shoes, cognac colored maybe, perhaps blue-brown glasses on. The quote I chose was, when you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are. And that can be attributed to the great Oprah Winfrey. And I think that really just has a lot of impact for us as the producers of the art and facilitators of the art. We have to believe in what we do to convince the rest of the world to believe in what we do. And I also think this can tie into yourself. You have to value yourself in order to put in the work as well. I think a lot of us maybe have suffered from some imposter syndrome here and there. And this is a reminder that you are worthy. You get into the mirror, do those self affirmations, brag a little on yourself, talk your stuff, and I like this quote for that reason.

Sara Villagio: Thanks, Derek. I really want to go back and watch the Snoop Dogg videos now. So on my follow-up list in my notepad, I wanted to give a little bit of context about this topic and this conversation and why I decided to dig into it. And I have to admit, it feels a little bit more vulnerable than talking about subscriptions, which is what I talked about last year with the panel. I was like, oh, lots of my emotional labor is going to come into this conversation, so thank you for bearing with me on that. But what I wanted to share is that as arts marketers, we are in a position to always be learning. There is always something new on our plates. There is always a new social media platform like we’ve learned about in the last day or so. Has anyone ‘been real’ lately? I have.
There is always a new tactic to try. I was so relieved when Troy said something about influencer marketing being successful yesterday because I was like, does anyone know if it’s working? Is it working? Should I invest time in that? Or there’s always a new program. There’s a new concert for us, in my case. And funnily enough, I realized earlier this week that three of the four of us on stage have all discussed putting Club Quarantine live with D-Nice on sale in five weeks or less. So anyway, that was kind of a funny thing to pick up on. But yeah, there’s always something new to do or we’re having to communicate about topics that we never imagined we would on behalf of our organizations. And that’s always sitting with me as well. So some days I’m really tired, just going to admit it. Yeah, some days it is exhausting to think about all of the decisions that we have to make in any one given moment.
But on the flip side—there is always a flip side, and a silver lining for me as I’m kind of a realistic optimist, which is something I’ll steal from Erik Gensler a few years ago at Boot Camp. The flip side for me is that we are always having the chance to work out our brains. And if you know me personally, you know that I actually really love to work out, but that also translates to my headspace. I love that we always have the chance to test our skills and our knowledge and our curiosity. And I’ll just say that I think as arts marketers and arts administration professionals, we are required to be some of the most agile people I have ever met. We are doing everything in our organizations. We are wearing all kinds of hats. We are making so many different decisions about what is best for our organizations at any given moment in time. And I think that is a true specialty unto itself. So I just want to applaud all of you for that because I think that is the labor of our work and the intensity of it. But again, also what makes it really amazing each day. With that, I’d love to start engaging our panelists. Yay. And my first question to ’em was really just getting right to the heart of it. How do you respond to the new? So I wanted to ask Derek, if you would be willing to kick us off for this one?

Derek Johnson: Sure. Thank you. Responding to the new, that’s a great question. I think there are times where someone says, let’s do something new, and I immediately start to panic, and that’s the real of it. This is going to be a real conversation, everyone. But I do step back and I kind of go through a number of prompts. So I ask myself, what is going to be the revenue potential of this new thing that we are being asked to do? Does this align with our stated goals, our overall goals for the department, for the institution? And last but not certainly least, I think about what impact does this mean for the team itself? If we start this new thing, is it sustainable? You all heard from my wonderful colleague Monica Holt yesterday and in some of the things she was talking about, she was discussing how we work. And that is really something that I like to focus a lot on is how we as a team are able to come up with solutions, how we’re able to enact things, make sure this is something that can continue to move forward. I love the fact now that there is a lot more emphasis on taking care of our people. I don’t think that was always the case for a lot of us sitting in the room, especially earlier in our careers. And I think that is part of the conversation that needs to be had when coming to a yes for something new.

Sara Villagio: Awesome. Thank you. Fatima? Anything?

Fatima Jones: A lot of what Derek said. I’ll say also too, I try to put myself in the position of the person doing the asking. What’s their why behind the question? Also, is this an energy giver or energy depleting request? And again, thinking about business outcomes. Then we all have our secret marketing goals. We have our stated ones, and then we’ve got some secret ones. And so I say, will this play into any of those goals? And then there’s long games and short games. I try to give grace to my programming team. I’m like, is this a long game request? Is this a short game request? And I’m generally a person that’s easy to say no. I am a black power baby. I came up fighting the system, so I had to work on making sure that I can meet people at their yes. So it’s kind of a work in progress.

Sara Villagio: Aaron, anything you want to add?

Aaron Bisman: Well, I’m with both of you on all that. Something I learned from a teacher many years ago was this concept of, well, my goal is to say yes, the goal is not to be negative and shut things down. Although my first arts marketing job, I was told you’re kind of the brand police. Your job is sometimes to say no, especially if you’re brand-focused. So the goal in the midst of—I do the freaking out, I mean the stress of, either I have to explain, the time it’s going to take to explain why this isn’t the, so I really do ascribe to these, but at the same time, I’m trying to lean in to say yes as much as possible, which means challenging my own assumptions and my own biases and still being comfortable with no when we have to be.

Sara Villagio: Thank you. Yeah, I think this is why I wanted them here because I’m the ultimate people pleaser. I would so much rather say yes to everybody than say no to anything because I want to make people happy. So I find it really difficult to say no sometimes, but I’ve been trying to kind of root myself in understanding what is the reality, what can I realistically accomplish in the time that I have, and what are the impacts of my team—on my team, which I think all three of, you touched on in some way. So it’s great to hear that. So my next question was to ask each of them to describe, what does a nimble team and or marketer look like today? And I say team or marketer, because I recognize that many of you who are in the room might wear a lot of hats at your organization. So I just wanted to put that in there. It’s both a team and an individual perspective. But we’ve heard the word nimble a lot the last few years. Pivot. What else? Anyone got one of these buzzwords? But actually, I think being nimble and agile is one of our great strengths as marketers. So I wanted to ask each of them to respond to that. And Aaron, love for you to start.

Aaron Bisman: Sure. So I think what any team or marketer really needs to live in the buzzwords is to be curious, confident, and quick when necessary. So curiosity to me is the number one thing. I hire for curiosity. I don’t know how you cannot be a curious person, particularly in these jobs, but you really have to lean into that, right? If we know that what worked yesterday is almost definitely not going to work tomorrow, it requires this nimbleness, but asking the right questions is what’s going to help get us there? Having the confidence then to take the actions we need to take, understanding how to take calculated risks. And ultimately what I’m looking for and what I try to cultivate in my team is holistic thinkers who can hold lots of viewpoints at once, lots of perspectives, and figure out how to synthesize those things into the most strategic plan or output.
There’s a great idea that a writer Isaiah Berlin first put forth in the fifties, but that I learned about recently from NPR on the Hidden Brain Podcast, which is sort of thinking about different thinkers as hedgehogs or foxes, right? Hedgehogs take everything into one view of the world and one organizing principle, right? Whereas foxes, they live in contradictions, they’re comfortable with nuance, and ultimately that allows them to have different strategies for different problems. Right? Now, in reality, we need to be surrounded by both types of thinkers. Having uniformity is not great, but I am looking for more hedgehogs and I try to cultivate that in my team, and that’s about living in a safe space, identifying our shared values and what we’re aiming for, and then really tackling the idea. So it’s—the first idea is not the best thing. The first ask that comes forward is probably not the best idea, but let’s work it out together. Let’s bring different viewpoints to it and together really find the piece. If you can do that, I think you can be very successful in this ever-changing space.

Sara Villagio: Thank you. Derek?

Derek Johnson: I don’t want to follow that, but that was really great. And really just building upon what you just said about the different types of thinkers, I think that a nimble team is a diverse team. You have different types of people. You have the more analytical types, you have the more arts centric or creatives on your teams, but also from the sense of the lived experience of people, I think you will have a faster process and a much more thought through product if you already have that diversity within the team working on something to deliver a final product versus a single-minded team delivering a product at the very end and then trying to decide or discuss and see where the blind spots are.

Fatima Jones: Yeah, I think, I hate the word nimble and I like to move slow sometimes. I think there’s a time when you need to slow things down to really think it through. So I think the first thing that comes to mind is that my team has different thinkers and different strengths. So I took a lot of time to get to know people and know what their strengths are within this team and the work that we need to do. And I always say there are a few teams that add the razzle dazzle. I have a couple of people on my team, they’re Team Too Much. Their ideas are over there. But sometimes you need that razzle dazzle. Sometimes you need the very logistical, thought-out process, and then you need somebody to throw that stank on it. And you need to have the balance. And so I think depending on the project, you put the right people in the room and you can be nimble, you put the wrong people in the room, and it’s moving very slowly, I think, and acknowledging that, right? Stating it to say that I’m a logistical person or whatever, so that it’s not a secret. You’re putting the right people in the room to move quickly if you need to.

Sara Villagio: Definitely. And I think in one of our earlier conversations, I think you had said that it all starts with you and how you respond to any given moment. And I think about that a lot because I’m often responding too quickly. I need to force myself—I need to work really hard to slow down, which people who work with me closely may or may not be aware of. But I think something that I was thinking about recently was that I also need to take time to listen. And I think about that often. My high school band director—I’m going to go there right now—when he taught me how to improvise in jazz, he reminded me that silence could be just as impactful as filling the space with notes. And I think about that. That translates to me in a business sense as well, that I can take the time to listen and that listening will actually be my superpower when it comes to being nimble and responsive.

Fatima Jones: Definitely. We have a team slogan. It’s ‘one band, one sound.’

Sara Villagio: Oh, I like that. Yeah, I need one of those. A slogan.

Fatima Jones: Yeah, a team slogan, a team song. It brings it all together.

Sara Villagio: Yeah. So my next question for the group, I kind of threw this at them. It was one of my backups, and then I thought… I talked to Christopher Williams about it, wherever he is, and there he is. He told me it was better than one of the other ones. So here I am switching it up, but I wanted to ask all of you what kind of questions—we’ve already hit a lot on questions, what questions we’re asking. But when you decide whether or not to say yes or no, what is a question you might ask yourselves? So Fatima, I wondered if you could start this one.

Fatima Jones: Yeah, I guess, what would it take to get to a yes, right? And then energetically, what does this feel like, right? I’m really big on energy, so there’s some ideas that make you feel really super excited and there’s some ideas that you’re like, what the hell? And so I mean, I think you need to follow your intuition. Sometimes you actually do have to follow your intuition because I’ve been working in the business for 30 years. I know what I’m talking about a lot of the time, and I literally kind of–going back to what you mentioned, Derek—I have to say that to myself. You’re not crazy. You actually have been through this before. You’re in the mirror talking to yourself like Eminem. It’s like…

Sara Villagio: I love that.

Fatima Jones: How can I get to that yes?

Sara Villagio: That’s great. Thank you. Derek, you want to go next?

Derek Johnson: Really the same. I think in some instances my ‘no’ game was getting kind of strong. And so to flip that and adopt a mentality of ‘how do we get to yes.’ And I think of our department, our marketing department, as a service department. So that needs to be how we’re leading and if it needs to be a no, it needs to be well thought out and explaining why we’re saying no to this, but here’s an alternative of how we might be able to do something better and get to a yes.

Sara Villagio: Great. Aaron, anything to add?

Aaron Bisman: I want to piggyback just off of the description. Marketing is clearly client-facing, serving, but I am desperate to be seen as a team, as strategic partners, and that’s a hard line because we have to get the job done for other people and I’m being very vulnerable. My challenge is that most of the questions to do new things that come in are not from my team. They’re from people outside of marketing. And so you do have this added layer of, they might not fully understand our world or what they’re asking about. And so that’s where personally I’m working also on my game face and slowing down, taking a beat. Can you tell I don’t have one? But when, to use an example, it’s slightly different, but it’s a fast one, which is, so in social media we run 30 social accounts. It’s a team of three and a half.
And yeah, I mean we have 54 years of history, so there’s a great archive, but we make a lot of original content. Some of it is harder and more expensive and more timely to make than other things. So when an idea comes up for content, regardless of where it comes from, my new question is, do you think this will perform better than the average post? We’re always tracking our average benchmarks on a monthly and annual basis, and within the team, if someone’s very confident, this is absolutely going to kill it. That’s an easy way to lean in. They’re confident, they have an explanation to back it up. They know the numbers, they live it just like I do. If there’s any hesitation, I’m like, do you really want to spend that much time and effort? Is it worth the work with legal, the time, et cetera, et cetera, if you think it’s just going to do as well as anything else we could do?
So obviously it doesn’t translate exactly to every scenario, but it’s the type of question. The other question, especially from outside, that I ask is, why? That’s my first question, hopefully politely, but why? What are you hoping to accomplish with this? What’s your goal? I’ll end here, but in terms of being client-facing, we’ve shifted the mechanisms for requests to us. So it’s like you can’t really formally come to us and ask for a social media post. What you can say is, I’m looking for owned media support for my program or product or whatever it might be. And we take you through a list of questions in a form that helps us understand your why, so we can then work strategically together to get to the what.

Fatima Jones: Yeah, we implemented a form as well for graphics and social requests. It kind of forces people to go through the system, think it through. The other tactic I use—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When we get a request for another thing on top of a very long list of things, I kind of just go through the list. I’m like, here’s a list of all the things we’re working on, how does your request fit in with this list? I try to bring them into our world a little bit because it’s easy to forget how many things are happening. I think as marketers we kind of just move on to the next thing and we just know it’s going to be a lot, but sometimes just bringing people in at least helps a little bit to get people on your side.

Sara Villagio: I love that. I think all of you have touched a little bit on transparency in some way, shape or form, and I think that helping others understand what we’re facing is really critical actually. So I wanted to point that out. Like I said, I really like to say yes. So for me, I have to think about how I’m going to say no really hard. And the question I have is really, is the battle worth fighting? I think about that a lot because relationships, as a service team, but also same thing, I feel like I want our team to be seen as strategic partners to every aspect of the organization, and that’s one of the really special things about marketing is that we do work with pretty much every aspect of our organizations and that’s awesome. I want to be that strategic partner, but that means that relationships and political capital are really important to me. So I think a lot about that as well.

Derek Johnson: Yeah, as we were talking here, I think a lot of times as marketers, we get stuck in this rutt of just producing, producing, producing, producing. And so it was great to hear you talking about slowing down, you talking about what is the why, and it all is coming back to what is the strategic thought behind it? It’s also, those who are making the request of you, by slowing it down, they have to think through their ideas a bit more. I think that’s all very helpful.

Fatima Jones: Go ahead.

Aaron Bisman: After you.

Fatima Jones: No, I was going to say, I know we’re going to talk about trust a little bit, but one thing also to kind of get people again on your side is that when you were going to say no and you did say yes and it worked out, to go back to the person and say, hey, you know what? Actually I didn’t think that was going to work out, but it did, right? Just to build that comradery and just—we’re human. Sometimes we make the wrong, or we’re a little not sure about something. I think it’s important to have that transparency.

Sara Villagio: Absolutely.

Fatima Jones: Were you going to add something?

Aaron Bisman: Yeah, it was sort of similarly. I think the way I intentionally build trust around the company is by over-communicating and being as transparent as possible. And my favorite—so I mean, we do monthly reports, annual reports, biannual reports, campaign reports. Some we share, some we do for our own purposes. We critique everything we’re doing directly ourselves. But my favorite thing in those moments when I’m sharing reports to do is like, see this thing that didn’t perform well at all, it was my idea or it was our teams, right? To really, because it’s not, I’m insistent that we don’t only look at what’s good, we should look at what is unsuccessful. Just like we should look at what’s average. I’m learning that average is so helpful because average is great, it’s not bad, but being able to say it’s not like, oh, see? Your ideas are terrible.
It’s rather, not everything succeeds at the same level. This is an iterative learning environment. It kind of has to be and it should be comfortable. No one is critiquing you. The individual who had the idea, we’re critiquing the idea or we’re analyzing the idea. And I’ve found that over time, this kind of method really does build that trust. And so your example of, great, being able to go back somewhere like, I made a mistake or I realized you were right. It’s amazing how rare it is, at least there used to be, for leaders to be that honest with the people around them. And I don’t know if you can cultivate it or if it comes naturally to you. It can be an incredible superpower.

Sara Villagio: Totally agreed. Well said. Yeah. All right. I’m going to move us forward a little bit. I wanted to talk about whether or not your organizations are willing to pilot things, to put things out there into the world that are not yet done. And I think Noelle touched on this in her presentation yesterday a little bit. As performers and as artists we’re working to put something forward to an audience that is the best possible thing we can imagine it to be. So I’m curious to hear about what happens when you’re beta testing at your organizations. What does that look like? So Derek, I think you have a great example. I’d love for you to share.

Derek Johnson: I think this will be relevant for many in the room here. Well, we don’t have 30 accounts that we’re managing at the Kennedy Center. We do have a few, and we were really trying to kind of stop the proliferation of social media accounts popping up from other departments that they were managing.

Sara Villagio: Anyone familiar? Familiar? No?

Derek Johnson: It happens, and all of course good intent. Everyone just wants to highlight their programming, which is a wonderful thing. However…

Fatima Jones: Even if there’s only 10 people looking at it.

Derek Johnson: There you go. It can be a bit unruly. So because fortunately we do have a really good relationship with our programming department, we did say yes to a pilot for a new hip hop Instagram account as well as comedy. And we started it under the understanding that this was going to be a trial for us. We delivered a brand guideline. We had some metrics that we laid out and said, we’ll reassess in January to decide if this is something that we want to continue or not. It has not been without some bumps here and there along the road, but that’s the purpose of a test. And one thing that I had to get over, I was terrified thinking, but if we started, it has to go on forever. We can’t possibly have an account that we sunset. But five, 10 years down the road, I don’t think people are going to care that we had an account for four or five months and we had to shut it down.

Sara Villagio: I love that example. Thank you. Anyone want to add anything to this one?

Fatima Jones: I’ll say we actually don’t beta test that much, I’ll be honest, but we are in the middle of one, and that is we’re trying out SMS. I’m not sure if some of you were trying that out. We thought we’d try it out with a festival we did a few weeks ago, just to test it out. And so that’s how we’re kind of dipping our toe in the water. But it is hard, especially for a place like the Apollo where there’s a sense of when you hit the stage when you put something out in the world, it’s going to be excellent. There’s a level of anxiety I have about that, so it’s something I’m trying to work on, to be honest with you.

Sara Villagio: Same. Aaron, anything to add on that one? You good? Okay. I’ll just add that I’m working rigorously on myself to look at things through the lens of perfect versus good enough to learn. And that’s kind of how I’m trying to assess whether something can go into beta mode or not. And I was reflecting, we had a meeting the other day with a group that worked on our website, which we had relaunched back in 2017, which was of course one of the most excruciating projects I’ve ever worked on. I’m sure none of you have ever been through that stakeholder mishmash, but just to say that I wondered if I were to start this project tomorrow, how would I approach it? And I think the difference between then and now, for me at least, is that I would rather figure out how to put portions of the website forward live, to get actionable real-time feedback from users, instead of having a grand dramatic reveal from behind the curtain. What can I learn now versus before? I invest a lot of resources in it because we all know that not only is our time limited, but also our financial resources are not infinite. So I was just thinking a lot about that. How do I continue to infuse a spirit of test and learn in everything we do?

Fatima Jones: That’s so good. We need to talk more about it. I want that energy. I have a phrase at work, I’m like, there’s no such thing as soft launches anymore. They’re like, can we do a soft lunch? And I’m like, as soon as people have access to social media, it’s launched. You’re out there. You can’t tell people—I mean, yes, I mean you can constantly take their cell phones and say, no, you can’t take photos. But people are still going to respond to it. And if they respond, well, that’s great, and if they don’t and it gets picked up and it runs like wildfire, then your soft launch is now a launch, right? So yeah, a battle with myself.

Sara Villagio: A tough one.

Fatima Jones: It definitely is.

Sara Villagio: Great. Alright, this sounds like an interview question. Can you describe a scenario… Alright, I wanted to ask everyone if they could help describe a scenario where you were able to simplify something. How could you improve your approach, simplify, and maximize the resources that you have? And I think Aaron has a great example for this one.

Aaron Bisman: Yeah, thank you. So I joined Sesame Workshop about three and a half years ago. This is the nonprofit behind Sesame Street. Most people know Sesame Street, but we do a lot of other things. We have a huge domestic education program. We’re active all over the globe with varying sized projects and in the U.S. for some reason, we had more than six websites, not including, which is like a child-facing gaming and video site. So we had six websites, which means six sites cannibalizing branded search terms, six business teams working with six production leads, all working with the same tech team to make web changes. It was very confusing when I got there. So I mean, I had to build a case, first of all, for why I thought simplifying into a single website made sense, how it could be done, why it should be done.
It took us a year and a half to get the stakeholder buy-in that we needed to get this done, and then another year to build the site the way we wanted to build it. But we launched in April, so I am very lucky. Sesame Workshop is an amazing place with all kinds of experts. One of the best parts of the process, well, not best. An interesting part was throughout people saying, I’ve also tried to suggest that. It wasn’t until we were able to find a narrative, a strategic framework, that everyone could understand and agree upon. It was very hard to deny the quantity of search volume for the term ‘Sesame Workshop’ relative to the number of clicks, when you saw seven results and that humans are paralyzed with indecision if you have too many results. I was like, we built this case, we were on the same page, and then once we were in it, it became everyone’s idea and everyone’s project.
And so that was just really amazing. Then throughout we could talk about, well, what are we going to do after it launches? Because there used to be 25 people involved in deciding content, but they weren’t using data. What if data led on some decisions on this website? We put all that forward, we worked through that during the build, and the results were six months in. We’ve doubled total sessions year over year on the site. We’ve tripled the number of emails we’ve collected through mostly organic lead gen. So they’re early numbers. The site is built both to serve mission, to deliver educational resources to educators, teachers, as well as parents. It’s also built to help us with individual giving. So we’re certainly not out of the woods, but that simplification of six to one, of simplifying the team, simplifying the approach, has certainly been a success and one I’m really proud of.

Sara Villagio: That’s great. Thank you. That’s a great example. Anyone else?

Fatima Jones: I don’t know, I think the very first thing that comes to mind is we’re often trying to figure out how we can combine our marketing campaigns with our development goals, and so trying to what I call collapse and combine efforts. Devo will have things that they want to do and I’m like, well, is there a campaign that we can combine? It sounds like obvious, but there was a time when those things weren’t happening. So we try to look at the calendar and just say, when can we combine those things so we can do it in one swoop? And then just super granular because there’s so many different social media platforms and such. I’ve been trying to find a way to not tax the social media person and distribute some of that work just a little bit. So for example, on LinkedIn, I feel like it’s appropriate for the comms person to run. It doesn’t have to be social media because so much of that is business focused and human focused. So she runs the LinkedIn on behalf of the social media team and they work together to make sure that happens.

Derek Johnson: That’s great, and I’m kind of hearing both of what you all are saying, not nearly to the scale of combining websites, but the process of being transparent and showing data and whatnot to get to where you needed to be. This is again, on a smaller scale, but just the fact that we’re now using Asana as an organization and really hats off to Devan sitting there getting our social media in line with that and how a lot of the posts can go in there and we can see the scheduling because the marketers weren’t always able to see what was going on. Now it’s an open process with our multimedia team as well. They now have kind of like a point system and a shared calendar that we can all see and that determines what sorts of projects that they’ll be working on. There’s a rubric of ROI. Is it mission-driven? Is this purely for views? And that way we’re able to see where those coverage gaps may be, where our social media team might be able to fill in as well.

Fatima Jones: Yeah, I think I forgot the biggest one. When I got to the Apollo about four and a half years ago, marketing and comms were separate. So the biggest collapse and combine was combining those departments, and so there was a time when PR would go before social, something would go out, the website’s not updated. Now everything is combined and I feel like most of us have done that, but I also run into different organizations where they’re not combined and so combine them, y’all. Don’t make no sense for those to be separate, just go ahead and do it. Go back to your people. Tell them that’s ridiculous.

Sara Villagio: That’s ridiculous. That’s the quote there. Alright. I think yesterday the panel, they talked, I think Shonali brought up Teams or Slack or whatever systems you use. That’s been one of the things out of the pandemic that I’ve actually found really useful, for example, and I don’t know if he’s here, one of our colleagues started a food alert Teams. There’s a hundred people on the food alert Teams for the office. So when there’s leftover food at the office, a hundred people find out and there’s a mad dash to that kitchen. But actually Teams can also be a really effective way to get work done, such as my colleague Laurel, who’s here today too, started a chat that’s specifically for pre-sales and on-sales. What is happening in real time? Who needs to follow up on what are we checking that—all those things you just said. Is the website live? Does it work?
Should I send an email out? And actually it’s also a great way for us to celebrate. I don’t know about you all, but when we put a new season on sale, that’s always one of those ‘we’re putting our own show on’ as marketers. That’s the moment for us. So there’s also a lot of celebration in that chat when we get past that stress moment and actually put everything live and hit send on the many, many, many emails. But yeah. Alright. Okay. My next question is about communication. So I wanted to ask if you have advice for others on when you need to communicate your perspective in a situation that is trying for you or challenging. Where do you go with that? Where do you begin? Fatima?

Fatima Jones: Oh, not my strong suit. Yeah. Again, I think, yeah, I dunno. I mean talking points. I’ll use my own advice when I’m working on big initiatives with my spokespeople, my executives, whoever’s speaking on behalf of the Apollo, giving talking points. So literally writing down what I want to share right before I get into the conversation. And then just remembering that we are not building homes for people, we are not curing the latest disease. Is it really—does it have to be as emotional as it may feel in your body? Definitely stepping back from it a little bit is helpful when you start to feel a little emotional, but it’s a work in progress.

Sara Villagio: Same. Fully agree with that. Aaron?

Aaron Bisman: Yeah, so Sesame Workshop is a research-based institution. So I’ve learned to always have data at my fingertips, which doesn’t only mean marketing data, although that’s the bulk of it. That I’m always going to be asked what peer organizations are doing. I’m always going to be asked if I’ve checked in with certain other teams, our own historical record. Again, you also have 54 years, we all have lots of history and it’s very important to us as well as marketing data. So I build a lot of decks. I feel like I’ve learned to process my thinking through building decks and learned from a great friend at a really strong agency. It’s like, how few words can you use to convey your point? That is not my strong suit as a starting point, but that’s where I’m always aiming to get to. So ideally, take the time, calm down, typically not starting there, bring together that information if appropriate, build the deck. And so then my case is not emotional, my case is not personal. I’m synthesizing all this information and through it presenting a holistic point of view.

Sara Villagio: I love that. How few words can you use? I think we should apply that to emails too. Yes, yes, please. Derek, anything you want to add?

Derek Johnson: Yeah, I always try to assume good intent. That’s where I start off. And I know that can be very difficult depending on how you received the communication, whether it was a conversation or an email might not always be in the spirit of which you hoped it would be, but I try to go past that and say that email where it was said this way because they’re passionate about what they’re doing. So it always still comes back to the art itself. Then I try to, depending on what it is, bring in data to make my case and send it on.

Sara Villagio: I love what you’re hitting on about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes because it’s so easy to react in the moment. There was an email I got this morning, I was like, oh, that’s irritating. And I wasn’t happy about it, but then I thought like, okay, let me take a step back and step away from my phone for a minute and digest what’s happening and understand that, yeah, like you said, someone else, whatever they’re facing or what their intention is are not necessarily the thing we might be picking up on in that moment.

Derek Johnson: You can also assume good intent and then also have a follow-up conversation with said person about the way the email or the communication came off. I think that’s important to us to be accountable for how we communicate with our colleagues.

Fatima Jones: Yeah. I’ll add too that there’s times when email is not appropriate. We know that. And sometimes just a conversation will tame the email mafia of it all, a voice to voice conversation, a face-to-face conversation. There’s times when that is important. There’s times when a deck is more important. Personally, I love the Apollo, I love my colleagues. They’re not reading my reports. You have to know when that’s the truth. And sometimes you just have to bring those talking points or those main points to them verbally. You kind of know your audience, like we do on the marketing side. Right? Know your audience.

Sara Villagio: Totally. I think also we’ve been talking a lot about asking good questions along the way, and I think the challenge personally is always to say, am I making that up? Have I filled in the blanks of what I’m assuming to be the case? Or do I need to ask questions, understand if my assumption is correct or not? And that’s something that I try to just go in with a question and just even check, did I take this in the way it was intended? Like you’re saying. And I think another thing that’s important in that moment is just even how you take a pause and acknowledge perspective, acknowledge someone else’s perspective. I think Derek, you were kind of getting at that too, just putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and thinking about why did they say this, do this. Why did they ask for this? Whatever it was.

Fatima Jones: The motivation.

Sara Villagio: Yeah, exactly. So I think that’s really important, even just to say ‘I hear you.’ Okay. All right. So I wanted to ask one question just about being overwhelmed because that’s why this got me here. I was like, oh my gosh, I’m always overwhelmed. There’s so much to do. How do I make decisions? Lots of things going on. But I wanted to ask all of you what advice you have or where do you start when you’re personally overwhelmed? What are your tactics? What do you do? So Derek, I don’t know if you’d be willing to start. Sorry.

Derek Johnson: We’ll preface this by saying I do not condone this.

Sara Villagio: I like the ‘keeping it real’ vibe though. That’s what we’re here to do.

Derek Johnson: But I am a ‘power through’ kind of person. I’ll go ahead and make my million lists of things I need to get to. And if I know I just need to get to Sunday, if I can get through all of these things, get to Sunday, then I can relax again. I don’t condone that. I am actively seeking healthier ways. I do also—hearkening back to my flute playing days–I think about taking centering breaths when I start to feel myself very overwhelmed, my shoulders rise and my breathing—oops, sorry, microphone. My breathing is centered more in the chest. So I do take a centering breath, lower the breathing, lower the shoulders.

Sara Villagio: Oh, I like that.

Aaron Bisman: I think I’m very bad at this. No, I am bad, but I exercise as much as I can. That is something I know that just helps me. It’s not as if I can take a run and I feel better afterwards. But I know that having a consistent exercise practice is, it’s a mindfulness practice and it does help remove stress from my body. I work a lot because I’m passionate about my work and I feel very connected to the purpose of the organization through my personal purpose. So I think being grounded in why I am in the place I am and what I’m doing, certainly not every moment feels that way, but if it gets a little hairy, being able to find that again and remember that I always say it’s a job, but I have a great job. I’m very lucky. I love what I do.
On the best days, I write tweets or scripts for Muppets. And on the hardest days we are helping children in crisis settings as well. So it feels worth it. That’s one piece of it. And sometimes I also need a release. I like fun and I do more team outings than any other team I know of in the organization because I actually believe it’s for our mental health as well as our comradery and team building. And we sort of plan them together. I typically don’t plan them. I source ideas. And we did a french fry tour around New York City. We made it up ourselves.

Sara Villagio: I want to do that.

Aaron Bisman: One of my staff members whipped out paper and she’s like, we’re rating. And built it.

Sara Villagio: Love it. That’s awesome. Love it.

Aaron Bisman: So I look for fun both at work but also outside of it. I just know that even if I have long work days, I’ve got to find those. For me, it’s cooking, it’s hanging out with friends, it’s making cocktails, sitting in the backyard, whatever it might be. But I kind of let go with those things.

Sara Villagio: French fries, now I’m hungry. Okay, when’s lunch?

Fatima Jones: Quickly, I do a lot of breathing. I like to slow down. I step away from my desk. Sometimes I’ll go into the theater if I’m in the theater, see what’s happening in there and kind of ground myself and why I’m here. The other thing is I have a praise folder. It’s literally called Praise on Outlook. And if I get a nice little email from someone, if I get it from a coworker, I put it in the folder. And when I need the time to cry or whatever, I will look at the praise folder and look at the emails. It brings me back to where I need to be. Do a praise folder. It’s really…

Sara Villagio: I need that. Yeah, I need that more than the hilarious customer service feedback we’ve received that I sometimes save, just to go back to.

Fatima Jones: That’s good. That’s a good one.

Sara Villagio: That’s another way to channel or release some energy. Comedy. Yes, comedy. Yeah. I mean for me, I’m a little bit like Derek. We had talked about this before, but I’m a big believer in lists and I also like to hand write things for me. It just helps me remind, keeps things fresh for me. It helps me remember what I’m trying to learn about. So I’m a big believer in notebooks, but also having a clean desk. Sometimes I’m just running around my office all day and or stuck in my office on Zooms all day or whatever the case may be, and throwing things everywhere, and I gotta clean off my desk. And for me, that mental exercise, it just gives me time to have a fresh start. Like a reset, fresh slate. Yes, like a reset. And there’s actually some data that I learned about at a conference last year that talked about the power of resets.
And I think some of my team has heard me talk about this before, but there’s reasons that people are motivated to look forward to New Year’s or even a Monday or a Friday night, depending on your definition of a reset. But all of those times, they’re symbolic. They give us a chance to have a fresh slate. And so I think a lot about, okay, when is my next fresh slate? What is the next opportunity? I have to reset on something so that I can remove myself from that overwhelmed moment. And I also, I just had this conversation with someone in the room earlier last week or so. I’m looking at Kaylin, we were talking about just when you’re overwhelmed, there’s a lot on your plate, kind of taking a step back and assessing, is this something that’s permanent or temporary? And when is the light at the end of that tunnel if it is temporary? So those are a few things that I think about too. Alright, so actually I think we’re at time for our Q and A. I so loved talking with the three of you. I think we could talk for hours really easily, and I admire and respect the three of you very much, so thank you so much for joining.


Erin Mast: Hi everyone. My name is Erin Mast. I use she her pronouns. I am a senior analyst here at CI. I am a white woman with long brown hair, a black shirt and pink and white striped pants. And I’m here to facilitate our Q and A. We have lots of questions following that exceptional panel, so let’s just get right into it and see how many we can get through. Our first question is from Tamara. Okay, so the question is: what about when you are not permitted to say no? How do you work to build an organizational culture where no is okay? And what happens when you can’t?

Sara Villagio: Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you asked this question because actually I forgot to say it earlier, the reality check of sometimes you just don’t have a choice. So thank you for flagging that for us. I mean, sometimes I just have to accept it. Yeah, sometimes you’ve just got to do it. You’ve got to go. We all have bosses sometimes. I’m glad I’m not the boss. We’re all sharing this accountability at the end of the day.

Aaron Bisman: I think there’s one, there is another path, but it’s very uncomfortable, which is doing it. But lodging your objections, the why of your objections. And again, back to that transparency, revisiting it at the end because at the end, if that thing you really didn’t want to do was awesome or very successful, it’s actually helpful then to say, I know that I pushed back. Because alternatively, if you were right and it wasn’t worth it, and that’s hard because you can sound like a nag, but there is, if you can get the balance right, and I’m not saying that I know how to do this yet, but if you get the balance right, it is a small step because the culture shift is like its own long panel I’m sure. But I don’t know how culture shifts happen without somebody vocal. You’ve got to be vocal, you’ve got to not push. Right? There is, there’s a need to push and it’s how do you do it respectfully and appropriately, but don’t let go. And so it really comes down to like, does it matter to you?

Fatima Jones: Pick your battles. Pick your battles. Yeah. I’ll also add too the strength in numbers. So if you’re the only person who thinks it’s a no, then it might be a yes. Right? But if there are other people that agree with you, combine and bring the reason why to whomever you need to respond to. There’s strength there. It’s harder to say no to a number of people. It’s easy to say no to one person.

Derek Johnson: And I think just the communication aspect is just really so important there. Even a lot of times when you have those numbers, it’s still going to be, you’re going to do it anyway, but you can outline why you said no initially and say these are the risks of moving forward. We’re going to do it, but these are the risks.

Sara Villagio: That’s a great point.

Fatima Jones: That’s true.

Erin Mast: Thank you. Alright, so our followup question, well not followup, but next question from Diana is: if you are able to say no, what are your best practices in helping specifically the artistic programming team understand that ‘no’ from the marketing department when certain new programming is introduced?

Fatima Jones: Good one.

Sara Villagio: Good one. Thinking of the times in which I feel… yeah, I’m happy to start. Yeah. The times in which I have had to give, I would say, difficult feedback to Artistic about something… I actually feel very lucky that at Carnegie Hall, Marketing and Artistic work very closely. Same to I think what the Kennedy Center team has described, but sometimes I just, I want to be able to make more money on something and I can’t see it. I think that’s the hardest one. When we’re looking at a possible project and we are looking at, is it financially feasible for us? Can we take on the amount of loss that any one thing is putting forward? And that’s the hardest time, I think, to give them feedback. I actually, I want to be able to say yes there, to be able to support that. So sometimes I say, well, maybe we can push it somewhere else to get here. Can we pull the lever somewhere else financially? Can we push the pricing? Whatever we can do to make sure that this concert can be supported within the ecosystem of this season. But yeah.

Derek Johnson: That sounds very familiar to how we operate. I really don’t think we ever say no to a program. I don’t really feel like that’s our place.

Sara Villagio: I don’t want to be that person.

Derek Johnson: Exactly. A realistic expectation of where we think capacities and revenues might end. We are fortunate enough that we have several different theaters within our space, so it might be, can this go into one of the smaller spaces? What other types of tweaks could we make? Could a different guest artist join this program as well? Would that potentially boost sales?

Erin Mast: Thank you. Alright, our next question is from Paige, and this is in reference to a situation I believe Derek referenced earlier. When other departments are starting smaller social media accounts, what tactics would you recommend in making sure they are following guidelines or a roadmap from your department?

Derek Johnson: That’s a good question. I will jump in on that one. Yeah, so right now we’re in the process of doing an audit of all of those that are out there, seeing which ones are actually in use, which ones have just not been used in years, and we have actually just been meeting with some of the folks who are owners of those and saying, here are some best practices. We are here to support you on it. Or some of the other ones. We had a great talk with one of the departments who had a few of them and we talked about maybe we can combine them. I don’t think you need all of these, so that’s where we are.

Erin Mast: Great answer. Unless any of you guys have any other suggestions, we can move on to our next question. Great. Our next question is from Deborah. Could you share examples of how you receive requests? How do you encourage other teams to share their strategy and their ‘why’ as part of an intake from other departments?

Aaron Bisman: Fatima and I both spoke about intake forms, so in our case it’s for certain types of campaign needs, but we really push—so one note that I encourage my team to make is if someone walks up to your desk or sends you an email for something that needs to go in the form, it is your job to remind them and push them. It’s got to go through the form. That’s what generally, but we actually get them in all ways, meaning they come in, they’re flying in all the time. If we feel like a department or team is not clear on our why or we’re not clear on their why, we will sometimes ask them to present to us. I think we, again, I’m lucky it’s an educational organization, so if you ask someone to explain their thinking, they don’t typically get defensive.
They actually want to let you in and you learn in the process. So again, that’s a way. Often we find people have those decks or have those presentations. They’ve just been making them externally or they thought they’d only make them to Devo. So we ask to get that face time and sometimes I do that one-on-one with other leaders, and it might be that we meet quarterly and it’s a set time to check in on how our teams are working together. Again, if there are things upcoming and it’s a chance sometimes behind closed doors to have some of those more sensitive versions of that conversation.

Derek Johnson: We have a newly created form at this point, so it’s great to hear that you all are doing that as well. It was getting to be a bit like the wild wild west with emails coming into the social team for people wanting things posted. We are fortunate enough to have a large enough marketing team that we have marketers and our social media team, so we’re at least trying to funnel all of those requests through the marketers first because they’re very close to the programming. They’ve got great relationships with the programmers, and then the marketer can fill out all of the relevant details for the form to service to the social media team.

Fatima Jones: Yeah. I’ll also add that each department in the organization has a corresponding marketing person that they know is their go-to, so it’s a one-to-one kind of ratio there if needed.

Sara Villagio: I’m getting a lot of good ideas from all this. I just want to say too that we have an email marketing system and our email manager, Kaylee, is not here today, but she has set us up with a new routing system, request system, but the point of the story is that we get a pizza party when we get an A on her grading system. So yeah, I just share that because I think sometimes data can be also inspiring and a positive affirmation of great work and forms being filled out and things that might seem mundane, but actually are kind of fun at the end of the day.

Erin Mast: That’s incredible. I think pizza parties should be a more regular occurrence.

Sara Villagio: I like A’s and I like pizza, so it’s a win-win.

Erin Mast: Yeah. All right. We have made it to our final question, and we’re going to throw it back to this morning actually, and talk briefly about AI. This question’s from Thomas. Are any of you considering using AI tools to allow you to say yes to ideas that you know you couldn’t otherwise achieve through human staff resources?

Aaron Bisman: Wow, that’s a great question.

Sara Villagio: That’s a great question. Anyone wanna go first?

Aaron Bisman: I will say no. I mean, we are doing a lot of experimentation and exploration with AI, but not to that challenge.

Fatima Jones: Yeah, I’ll say no. I’m not sure how well that would go at my organization, not now. Yeah.

Sara Villagio: Yeah. I think what Luke hit on a little bit too is just that there’s always a human behind it, and for me there’s that balance of how can we use this tool? We are considering using it, we’re looking at how we might use it to inform marketing automation and effectiveness and efficiency and all of those things. But yeah, I’m kind of like, I don’t know. I believe in our human superpowers.

Aaron Bisman: I guess I will just point out something that was pointed out to us in a presentation this week, which is AI is really off as a buzzword. There’s AI integrated into so many of our tools, and so I guess part of the answer actually is yes, right? Marketing automation, a lot of that has AI built in. So in email for instance, we’re doing many fewer, not fewer, but we’re not doing new newsletters, we’re not building drips in the same way. We’re really leaning into what is every automation possible that we could conceive of and set up and allowing the AI to support us in that way.

Sara Villagio: Great answer.

Fatima Jones: I guess SMS is a little, yeah. I mean, we are using it like a tiny, tiny, tiny bit. Yeah.

Erin Mast: Amazing. Well, let’s give another round of applause for our incredible panelists.

Dan Titmuss: Since it’s the holiday season, we’ll also take a look back at the year with all of you! Hear from fellow arts marketers and Boot Camp attendees about their biggest learnings from the year, what they’re most looking forward to, and the definitive answer to how soon we should be blasting those holiday tunes. What’s been the biggest challenge over the last 12 months, and what are you looking forward to over the next 12 months?


Mrinalini Kamath: I think the biggest challenge, and it’s going to probably continue to be a big challenge for a while, is just figuring out where people are.

Joel Rainville: Figuring out what trends are, in terms of advanced purchase time periods. Like what is the new purchase pattern?

Shannon Colfer: Getting people back into seats after Covid, making them as comfortable as we can, but also working with our inclusivity groups to make theater now as inclusive as we can and make sure that no one feels like they’re being left out.

Deborah Moe: I think breaking down the barriers of access to ballet. I think there’s a lot of historical and challenging content in the ballet world, and so finding ways to retell those stories, finding content that’s really feeling relevant to audiences.

Isabel Wening: I do notice that there is a lot of interest from people wanting to be more involved, but just they don’t know what’s going on, and so how to reach them in the best way.

Mrinalini Kamath: Trying to sort of figure out, again, the balance of when people like to be online versus in a room with other people in reality is also, again, the challenge.

Dan Titmuss: And what are you looking forward to over the next 12 months, do you reckon?


Alexandria Sweatt: Putting our mission out there and making sure that it connects with our patrons. We have a patron base that is very loyal, so I think they will continue to show up, but making sure they understand why we’re here for them.

Kristin Pagels Quinlan: Seeing new people discover us, whether they have lived in Detroit their whole lives and never checked us out, and finally are making the leap, to people who are new to the area.

Kelly Brown: I am looking forward to continuing to grow in my job, bend what we’ve been doing and start some new initiatives, take some risks…

Nadia Halim: Continuing to learn. This is my first time at the Capacity Boot Camp.

Dan Titmuss: Welcome!

Nadia Halim: Thank you. So learning from folks in the industry. Being in the industry for over four years now, I think, has been a wonderful, tumultuous rollercoaster of an experience, and I think I’ve really relied on community, and so something I’m looking forward to is bringing back that sense of community.

Dan Titmuss: If you could telepathically transmit a message to every board member of an arts organization, what would that message be?

Zac Alfson: To hire well and then get out of the way.

Lauren Schiffer Leger: You should trust the expertise of your staff.

Deborah Moe: Invest in your people.

Sara Villagio: That message would be look after your staff.

Mrinalini Kamath: I mean, we need you and I don’t just mean your money or your connections, we need your passion.


Tyler Cervini: Don’t be afraid of change.

Alexandria Sweatt: Diversity matters and that everyone’s story is important and let’s continue to make our spaces just more inclusive.

Dan Titmuss: What’s a piece of art that inspired you recently?

Brandon Grant Walker: Beyonce’s Renaissance. Deeply inspiring to me.

Shannon Colfer: Right before the Covid shutdown, I saw The Inheritance on Broadway, which was absolutely incredible.

Isabel Wening: I love the photography of William Eggleston. He is an amazing color photographer.

Gwynna Forgham-Thrift: I saw—we had a film at Film Forum a couple weeks ago called Mutt.

Joel Rainville: Last night, I had the opportunity to see Sweeney Todd on Broadway. Previously to that, Merrily We Roll Along.

Stacy Schwartz: I actually have a free little art gallery in front of my house that I just started.

Sara Villagio: I’ve been going to see a lot of concerts lately, and it just reminds me the power that live music has to bring people together.

Rob Johnson: If you can call playing D and D on a podcast art…

Dan Titmuss: I love D and D. I’ve recently started my own—I started to DM recently.

Rob Johnson: Nice. I recently watched Court of Fey and Flowers, which is a dimension 20—

Dan Titmuss: —dimension 20! Yeah.

Rob Johnson: Oh my God!

Dan Titmuss: We’re getting super nerdy into D and D. Anytime two D and D people talk to each other, it’s all we can talk about.

Rob Johnson: Oh yeah. Two hours of rule books coming up!

Tyler Cervini: Okay. This is going to be the cheesiest answer ever…

Dan Titmuss: Go on.

Tyler Cervini: …but Pucini’s La Boheme at the Met.

Dan Titmuss: Awesome.

Tyler Cervini: So that was my first opera I ever saw, and I saw it at the Met when I was 14 years old, and I just saw it again, the same production two days ago, and it was just kind of this full circle moment of, I remember just being so excited about opera the first time that I went, and so intrigued and curious and just wanted to be a part of it, and…

Dan Titmuss: That’s really cool. And finally, what’s the earliest date that’s appropriate to play holiday music?

Stephanie Todd Wong: Yes. That is a divisive question. For me, it’s Thanksgiving.

Dan Titmuss: Thanksgiving. Alright, cool.

Rob Johnson: Once you’re past the midpoint of November.

Mrinalini Kamath: I would say probably… after Thanksgiving?

Dan Titmuss: Alright, cool.

Shannon Colfer: Oh God. Okay. After Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, yeah. The day after Thanksgiving. That’s fine, then I accept it. Not before that.

Alexandria Sweatt: I say December. I don’t want to hear you… Let me get through Thanksgiving and then the day after Thanksgiving, I’ll let you have that.

Joel Rainville: This is a very hot button issue for me. I am a believer that holiday music should not really start until Christmas Eve if you’re celebrating the Christmas holiday.

Kelly Brown: Oh wow. Don’t ask me. I’m a Christmas—I love it.

Dan Titmuss: 365?

Kelly Brown: Not 365, but 360…like…four.

Dan Titmuss: December 27th, you’re in there. ‘Alright, we’ve had a day off Jingle Bells.’

Tyler Cervini: Yeah, I’m surprised I haven’t heard Mariah Carey yet. I’m sure it’s coming.

Dan Titmuss: Yeah, she’s coming. She’s defrosting right now.

Deborah Moe: 365 days a year I think.

Dan Titmuss: Wow. You are our first December 26th answer.

Deborah Moe: Yes, all year long. If you love it, why not enjoy it? Life is short.

Dan Titmuss: Thanks for listening to CI to Eye. This episode was edited and produced by Karen McConarty and co-written by Karen McConarty and Krisi Packer. Stephanie Medina and Jess Berube are CI to Eye’s designers and video editors, and all four work together to create CI’s digital content. Our music is by whoisuzo. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please take a moment to rate us or leave a review. A nice comment goes a long way in helping other people discover CI to Eye and hear from experts in the arts and beyond. If you didn’t enjoy today’s episode, pass it on to all of your enemies. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube for regular content to help you market smarter. You can also sign up for our newsletter at so you never miss an update. And if you haven’t already, please click the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, stay nerdy.

About Our Guests
Aaron Bisman
Aaron Bisman
Vice President, Audience Development

Aaron Bisman (he/him) is an experienced marketer who builds and manages media, cultural and entertainment brands. He has deep experience in organizational development, digital strategy, marketing innovation, arts and culture program design, and change management. Aaron’s expertise lies in leading creative, collaborative, and loyal teams that make outsized impact in service of a shared purpose. He is a passionate curator and strategist who helps organizations understand and integrate program and marketing best practices into their work to drive both mission and revenue. Currently serving as Vice President, Audience Development at Sesame Workshop, Aaron oversees direct to consumer touchpoints including social media, email marketing, and web strategy. He is incredibly proud of his team’s 4 Webby Award wins in 2023 and the launch of, a new destination for parents, educators, fans and donors. Aaron has spent 20 years building audiences for brands, artists, and organizations. He previously served as Director of Brand, Sales, and Marketing at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Aaron and his wife Amanda, leader of a K-8 independent school in Brooklyn, have three Muppet-loving children, ages 14, 12, and 7.

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Derek A. Johnson
Derek A. Johnson
Vice President of Marketing

Derek A. Johnson (he/him) serves as Vice President of Marketing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where he provides marketing strategy oversight for the Center’s 2,000+ annual programs and performances, which include the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, Hip Hop, Jazz, Contemporary Music, Fortas Chamber Music, Theater, Comedy, Dance and Education. In this role, Derek has the great fortune of building and exposing new audiences to the performing arts through the Center’s wide breadth of programming.

Prior to joining the Kennedy Center in 2015, Derek was employed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in progressive roles ranging from Marketing and Public Relations Intern to Senior Marketing Manager. Outside of his work in arts administration, Derek is also a flutist. He currently performs with Category 5 Wind Ensemble and Anita’s Flutes. In addition to performing, Derek is a former Teaching Artist with the DC Youth Orchestra Program.

A lifelong resident of Maryland, and a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, Derek serves on the board of trustees for One More Plate, Inc (OMP). OMP seeks to provide food security to those experiencing homelessness throughout the greater Washington, D.C. area. Derek is also on the board of Phoenix International School of the Arts in Charles County, an arts and international-focused charter school.

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Fatima Jones
Fatima Jones
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Fatima Jones (she/her) is a cultural strategist, marketing, public relations, and reputation management leader. She is The Apollo’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, leading all integrated marketing and communications, including advertising, social media, press, audience development, and design. Fatima is the former Director of Communications for the Brooklyn Museum. She led the media relations and social media campaigns for its exhibitions, including the critically acclaimed “David Bowie Is” and the transformative “We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women.” Before BKM, she spent almost a decade at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Her consultancy experience includes work with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company and Weeksville Heritage Center. She is a former Bessies Dance and Performance Awards voter and has served on many granting panels, including NYSCA and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. Fatima has been profiled in Essence, PRSA and PRNet for her work in the field and a guest on several podcasts, including Smart Communications and Deep in The Work. She is a member of the community service sorority Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., PRSA, and Color Comm. She is a mother, wife, sister, and friend to many and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Sara Villagio
Sara Villagio
CMO, Carnegie Hall

Sara Villagio leads all marketing and brand strategy, creative and graphic design, ticket sales, web content and social media engagement, and customer service for Carnegie Hall’s three iconic stages, including hundreds of performances each year as well as the Hall’s global education and social impact programs. She also oversees brand extension opportunities and merchandising. In addition to her work at Carnegie Hall, Sara volunteers as a Board Member of the Bronx Charter School for the Arts and is a member of Syracuse University’s Visual and Performing Arts Young Alumni Council.

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