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Master Ticket Slinger
Episode 2

Master Ticket Slinger

CI to Eye with Christopher Williams

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Christopher talk about what makes a good marketing leader, why it's so challenging for some organizations to make the transition to digital marketing, and take an insider's look at Capacity’s company culture.

Erik Gensler: Welcome to the second episode of CI to Eye.

Christopher Williams: It’s a pleasure to be your second choice.

Erik Gensler: You’re my first choice.

Christopher Williams: Clearly.

Erik Gensler: So for the folks that don’t know you, can you just give us a quick professional bio?

Christopher Williams: Yes, so my career started in Branson, Missouri.

Erik Gensler: Is that Missourah?

Christopher Williams: It’s Missourah if you are a true hillbilly. I think I fought against the hillbilly stereotype; although, I think most people would agree that I am one today. I started my career in Branson, Missouri. If you don’t know where Branson, Missouri is, it’s in Southwest Missouri in the Ozark Mountains. It is the country music capital of the world. I would say that was very true in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It really exploded, and most people would go there to get a summer job. And, I was very attracted to the fact that there was all these live entertainment venues, and my first job was at this place called The Grand Palace. Sounds really grand, but really it was like a big barn with a really fancy front with a chandelier. It had 4000 seats.

Erik Gensler: Oh my God.

Christopher Williams: And like, the most popular country music acts were playing there. I thought it was terribly important, so I started working there in group sales. So, I’m country music to groups, basically the bus market, if you will, music to groups, basically the bus market, if you will, and then at my university, I went to Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, and during the time that I was at my university they were building… It was a time during the late 80s and early 90s where a lot of universities were building those 2,000-seat multi-disciplinary performing art centers. This was one great. It’s beautiful architecture. It definitely stands up today, and I would ride the shuttle bus to and from class as it was being constructed and I was just fascinated by the architecture and in my head I just would say, “I’m going to work there someday,” and I graduated from college and I did work there. I started there in group sales and almost immediately became the associate director of marketing, which is sort of ludicrous in retrospect. There was one other marketing person, who was the marketing director. I worked there for eight and a half years, and so that really gave me the foundation of everything I really know today. I learned how to sell every different kind of genre, including touring Broadway. I certainly learned what is hard to sell in the Midwest, and it was the beginning of computerized ticketing. I remember installing ArtSoft off of floppy disks onto Packer Bell hard drives. All of that infrastructure was in the box office. It was wild.

Erik Gensler: So before that, were you moving around cardboard tickets?

Christopher Williams: No. The thing was not quite done when I started working there, so I was literally there when the center opened, but we basically built the architecture, so we never sold off of hard tickets, but the sports venues at my university were still doing that. It was fascinating and very slow, as you can imagine. So, I stayed there for eight and a half years. It was called Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Never put the full donor’s name in the name. Thus, the people in the town called it Juanita K. I’m going to Juanita K.

Erik Gensler: That’s a drag name.

Christopher Williams: Yeah, it is a drag name. Juanita K. became the short name. It was a great job. I loved it. It was a beautiful venue. It had this beautiful, sweeping lobby that I just spent endless amounts of hours in. It is where my roots are.

Erik Gensler: It combines two of your favorite interests.

Christopher Williams: Architecture and arts.

Erik Gensler: …and arts, yeah.

Christopher Williams: Totally. So I left there. I did everything I could possibly do there, and I was dying to get out of southwest Missouri and I wanted to live in Miami. So, I had set a goal for myself that I was going to move to Miami before I turned 30, and I did. So, I booked a trip for myself to go to Miami, and I got a job on that trip at Coconut Grove Playhouse, which is an important regional theater that is now gone-

Erik Gensler: It’s a well-known theater. Yeah.

Christopher Williams: …which is kind of sad. It was very, very exciting. I moved to Miami. I did that for about two and a half years, and sadly, the organization was just not in a good place by the time I got there. So, the writing was really on the wall. Ultimately, I actually met my partner, who is a director, who came down to direct a show while I was there, that ended up bringing me to New York and I became the director of marketing at New York City Center and did another eight years there before joining this illustrious firm.

Erik Gensler: Nice. I think there’s a lot to be learned from a place that’s not doing so well and having challenges. What are some of the things, or one thing that you took away from that Coconut Grove experience?

Christopher Williams: I’ll tell you, one of the biggest things I took away from it was that if you go into an interview at a non-profit, you better ask about their financial health. I have to tell you that I asked that question when I interviewed at City Center and Holly told me that that was actually a really important thing that I did, and it was a thing that resonated with her and made me sort of stand out in the crowd.

Erik Gensler: That’s interesting. I had the same thing at New York City Opera. Watched it financially have trouble, and you learn a lot from that experience, but that’s a great point. It’s a tough business model.

Christopher Williams: Yeah. It really is. It was very scary to move across the country and know that I had landed in an organization that was kind of failing already, but I learned a lot of coping skills in those two and a half years that still serve me.

Erik Gensler: We’ve known each other for how long now?

Christopher Williams: 2008.

Erik Gensler: Wow, yeah.

Christopher Williams: Around the time that you started at Capacity.

Erik Gensler: When I started at Capacity, you were one of the people who was most interested in what I was doing. Normally, when people ask me what I do at a party or something, you start to explain it, I see the eyes glaze over, but you took initial interest.

Christopher Williams: Yes. You needed to solve an analytics problem for and it was going to solve an analytics problem for City Center and that was basically the first thing we did, and I had no idea how to solve that problem, so it was great timing.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I remember, we sat in that conference room and then I think you were like the third or fourth Capacity client, when Capacity was just me.

Christopher Williams: Somewhere in there, I think, yeah. I’m not sure what number we were, but I think it was something like that, yeah.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. We could talk about our origin story later. I always say, and I’m going to embarrass you, because it’s easy to do, but I always say you’re one of the smartest arts marketers I’ve ever met, which is why I asked you to join me on this journey a long time ago. I remember one day after we were on a call or a meeting with a client, you exclaimed, ” What we just saw, that’s marketing leadership.” So, what is marketing leadership?

Christopher Williams: Yeah. I wish that I could remember what call that was.

Erik Gensler: As we get older, neither of us can remember anything.

Christopher Williams: Can’t remember anything. I’m certain that I probably said that multiple times and I probably said, “That was marketing leadership,” in my accent. There are a lot of things that we have to deal with when we lead marketing departments in non-profits, and those people never get the credit they deserve, in my opinion, but it is a sense of calm amongst a lot of competing priorities. It is the ability to advocate for your staff and also rescue them sometimes from their own over-interest in certain subject matter that maybe your department is not resourced for. It is massive skills of diplomacy, being able to both please your executive leadership, your board, your internal staff, the development department, the box office. It’s just a lot of moving pieces, and then bringing a sense of calm to all of those things, and knowing when to ask for help and knowing that you don’t have to know the answers to everything. That’s what I think it is.

Erik Gensler: That’s great. You always tell the team here about the marketing directors that we’re working with and really helping the team here explain the competing priorities that our clients are always facing, and it’s such a great perspective for us to have that. Yes, digital’s an important part of what they’re doing, but it’s one part of many.

Christopher Williams: They ain’t sitting around in their offices thinking about us. That’s not their job.

Erik Gensler: Waiting for your emails.

Christopher Williams: That’s right.

Erik Gensler: So, in your job as vice president here, you have exposure to all sorts of organizations, big, small, presenting, producing, and all their different marketing teams and the different makeups of the marketing teams. What are some of the traits that you see as the most successful and, on the other side of that, what are some of the traits you see that perhaps limit success?

Christopher Williams: I think the thing that is global, that’s not necessarily digital, is when you encounter a team that is truly a team. When you get on call and the entire department’s on the call and they are enjoying each other and they’re collaborative and there is no pretense and you can absolutely trust that. That is so rare, and when you encounter it, it’s amazing and it’s super powerful. I think that the departments that are exceptional today are the ones who have fully embraced the fundamental change in the way we communicate and the way that we market today, which is essentially content marketing. Building departments that are staffed with content creators and video producers, people that are accepting that that change in real and, listen, my marketing career predates all of that. I understand just as much as those people that that is a really difficult change to make, but the people that have really leaned into that are doing exceptional work and their results and outcomes are so much better. I think that, finally, the organizations that are embracing data are that much more successful. Are there ways that we can make decisions that are not necessarily based on data? Yes, of course. It’s experience. It’s knowing how the same event that you produce year over year paces from a ticket sales perspective. I don’t need numbers to tell me that. I know that they’re in my head, but using today’s modern data to inform decision-making, those departments are more successful.

Erik Gensler: I’m going to quote you. Once you’re ready to send that 50 percent off promo code, the ship has sailed. It’s too late.

Christopher Williams: If you’re discounting it, it’s in the tank. You’re screwed. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: So, let’s talk about organizations and that evolution to digital. We have calls still to this day where- We have calls still to this day where I’ll get on with an organization and then they’ll say, “Oh, we’re doing digital but we’re still mostly doing traditional, or buying print ads or buying radio. We do some ads with our local newspaper, our radio, and we’re doing a little bit of Facebook boosting.” I’ll say, “Well, what percentage of your budget are spending on digital?” “Oh, maybe five or ten percent.” It’s 2017. Why is the consumer… And if you ask that person a question like when you woke up this morning what was the first thing you did? “Well, I reached for my phone.” What did you look at? “Oh, I checked my Facebook newsfeed.” Then what did you do? “Oh, I looked at email.” Do you subscribe to the print newspaper? “I used to but we don’t anymore.” Why are these organizations still… Why is it so hard to make that leap?

Christopher Williams: I have a lot of empathy for a lot of these organizations because they are being badgered by a lot of other people. Board members, other executives within the organization, and those people are saying, I’m not seeing the tactics where I am, and that basically means you’re not in the New York Times, where I’m comparing my own company’s ad to something else. That’s happening to them on a daily basis, so they’re constantly fighting that battle. I think that what we have done as a firm is try to teach people how to do that case by case by case by case, which is to like chip away at the iceberg, steal a little bit from print, steal a little bit from radio, steal where you can and do something that feels incremental, that is less risky, measure it to death, and then decide whether or not that that effort was successful for you. Did it hurt you that you got out of radio or print? It probably didn’t, and you probably learned a lot more about how you measured the digital piece. You take that up the flagpole and it’s very difficult for business leaders, especially board members to argue with data and usually they don’t and that’s how you chip away at it, and often people just need to be given those tools.

Erik Gensler: Right, I think that’s great advice. So, if you were back in a role, like say you were at your job at City Center, say the Coconut Grove Playhouse for example come back, would you buy any print?

Christopher Williams: I wouldn’t, and let me be clear, I think that offline touch points are important. I do not think that we all live 100% digital lives. I do think that so many organizations have such limited resources from a media perspective that when that’s the case I would be investing almost all of my budget in digital. If you are a large organization in the City of New York I would argue that there are some really amazing offline touch points that work really well. For example, we have an amazing transit system, and that transit has millions of people that go through it every day and I stand on a subway platform for 30 minutes a day. I look at those ads. Those are important placements, at certain times depending on our objectives, but I would not over invest in those things, in those medium sized or small organizations.

Erik Gensler: So let’s magically create Coconut Grove Playhouse again. So, how many people are in the marketing department for that?

Christopher Williams: Four ish.

Erik Gensler: Four ish, so if you could go back that and you had to design your ideal marketing department of four ish for the Coconut Grove… Actually, when I was in Miami two weeks ago I met a girl who lived in Coconut Grove. I was like, “You know the playhouse.” She was like, “That’s where I saw my first play.”

Christopher Williams: It’s falling down.

Erik Gensler: I’m talking like you from Missouri. So what would that four person marketing department look like?

Christopher Williams: It would be a director of marketing, and a director of marketing who also has to execute. It would be a content creator and writer, a video producer and an inventory manager. You can do all the things, but if you are mismanaging the limited inventory that you have you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. Some people may argue that maybe that person is not in the marketing department and lives in the box office, but I actually think those relationships are very, very close together. But I think those four people can do all the things.

Erik Gensler: So one out of four would be a video producer.

Christopher Williams: Yeah, 100%.

Erik Gensler: That’s awesome.

Christopher Williams: That is the world we live in now.

Erik Gensler: We hear the word strategy thrown around all the time and I’ve been really cognizant of my own use of it because I feel like I over use. When people talk to you about their digital strategy let’s define digital strategy, and what is digital strategy?

Christopher Williams: Well, you know that I actually, I get very annoyed by that word. I think it gets thrown around and people use it in a way that it sounds just like a consultant’s word, or an agency’s word, and then you sort of lose track of what does that mean? A strategy is a plan. That’s what it is, it’s a plan, and what often happens is people just lose place of what it’s for. So what come before strategy is setting objectives and KPIs for initiatives, for example, maybe you’re doing a new dance festival and the new dance festival is about attracting a new audience. Okay, so that’s your objective. How do you measure that? Then you create the strategy the strategy is the plan of tactics that then attracts the new audience. That’s what strategy is.

Erik Gensler: And so digital won’t apply to that?

Christopher Williams: To me it is three things, and it’s not necessarily immediately digital. First, it’s objectives and KPIs. The second, when it comes to the digital, is infrastructure, website infrastructure, conversion measurement, Google Tag Manager, Analytics, all of those things that help us evaluate the success of digital, and then the last piece is creating anticipative, personal and relevant content for the people who care about the work we’re doing, whether that is constituents of our own that we are retargeting or using email to reach, or people who we are able to reach through behavioral targeting on Facebook or AdWords. That’s what it is. That’s what digital strategy is. Building audiences and sustaining relationships.

Erik Gensler: I like how you just boiled that down really nicely and I think it’s, you know, I always say strategy is how you’re going to allocate your limited time and money because that’s really all you have, but with the rise of digital marketing there’s just more to do. When you were at Coconut Grove Playhouse it was do your print buy, do your radio buy, do your subscription brochure.

Christopher Williams: Digital was not yet a component.

Erik Gensler: And now you have SEO, SEM, your ads, your conversion, your website, your analytics, your video creation. There’s just more, and that’s particularly challenging I think.

Christopher Williams: For smaller organizations.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it’s challenging for big organizations too, but in particular I think you’re a tiny organization how is that challenge different?

Christopher Williams: I think that smaller organizations have some advantages. One advantage is that they can just be more agile. There’s less red tape. There are far fewer people to deal with. You can more faster. You can react faster, and when I say react faster, that’s not about not having planned for something. That’s about the fact we live in a content world now and wins an election and maybe you want to make a social post that acknowledges such a thing. In a small organization you can probably just do that without having a conversation with anybody about that. That’s an advantage.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Christopher Williams: But I think that because they have less resources, human beings, money, they have to really cling to the core of why they exist in the first place and often what I find is that smaller organizations, the staff that works at those organizations they care very, very deeply about the genre, but they need to be able to do their tactical piece, so if I am the marketing person at that organization I need to be a good arts marketers and better damn well care very deeply about whatever it is the thing that my small org does. That’s the way small orgs can be successful, and they just have to stay very close to those priorities. They need to focus on the things that they do that are super popular and that make money, and if you build awareness around those things and you grow, then you can start to diversify other things that maybe don’t make so much money, but you can never walk away from those things, and you see this time and time again in regional theaters where they suddenly find themselves in a cash flow crisis, and then the next season is all chestnuts. Yeah, because everyone’s going to buy those things. They’re easy to sell, they require less money and everyone’s going to come. So, I feel very strongly that programming plays a big role in these things. You’ve got to program so that you’ve got revenue coming in all the time, because to quote you, it’s like blood, and if you have no blood you’re dead.

Erik Gensler: So the joke we hear is if it sells out the programming is brilliant. If it doesn’t sell it’s marketing’s fault, but there’s also a real sensitivity from some programmers. They don’t want to hear from marketing. Is that an old idea? Should we be past that? Should there be collaboration when you’re looking at, particularly someone who runs a very prestigious ballet company? How do you balance that? Does the artistic genius just make decisions and how much do you call marketing?

Christopher Williams: Are there artistic geniuses? That’s a question. Listen, one of the things I really valued about working at City Center, was that the marketing department, I credit Hawley Abelow with this a lot, that the marketing department was very involved in setting and making budget projections based on the programming that was selected. Occasionally, programming would be sent down to us, we would make a projection, and that programming would be eliminated because we didn’t think it could work. It wasn’t us eliminating it, it was the 9th floor.

Erik Gensler: That’s a healthy way to do it.

Christopher Williams: That’s a healthy way of doing business. So, I think that’s really marketing’s role in programming. We’re not programmers, we may have opinions about programming, but our piece of that should be to say, “This is what we think we can make.” And also, if you’re sending programming down with a budget, that’s gonna play into my projection.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Christopher Williams: If you give me the ability to say, “Hey, give me another 100,000.” I might be able to sell you another million. There should be that kind of push, pull.

Erik Gensler: Talking about being able to sell, I think one of the things I heavily rely on you for, because you had that performing art center and box office experience, is the idea of like, “Okay, let’s see your budget, let’s see your pacing, let’s see your subscription load in. Then let’s look at your media dollars.” I think there’s still a lot of growth for a lot of marketers in the field to really understand, like, okay, if you give us 3,000 dollars of Facebook media, you can sell this many tickets, but if you give us 15,000 dollars, so often times I think those media budgets are mis-aligned with the goals.

Christopher Williams: My favorite way to approach this, is for someone to put an entire season in front of me, tell me where they are, tell me what their projection is, and then let’s figure out how far each one of those things is away from that goal, and spend accordingly. That’s the scientific way to do this. We do that one season, we analyze that, and maybe we learn something about the programming, or the market, but that’s the way we approach that. It’s very hard I think for us as consultants, to just sweep in and make this magical, you know wave our magic wand over everything and say, “This is exactly what you should spend.” I don’t think it works that way.

Erik Gensler: Right. It’s amazing though, to see, I felt like, we reached, for a lot of organizations, we reached a tipping point, or a big change where we’re no longer having to sell digital. So, we’re seeing some organizations, that, they’re there. We’re now having talks with organizations that want to spend 100 percent of their budget on digital, which I think is a real evolution and how we work with clients. It’s really fun to be able to look at these organizations that are now, giving us 50 percent of their budget, or giving us huge chunks of budget that we’ve never got before. We’re still able to sustain those same costs per acquisitions at scale, because obviously, that’s where people are spending their time.

Christopher Williams: Right. You know what we’re learning in some of those instances, is like, they’re is actually a limit, we can actually step back from that number and say, “You know what, the number is 10,000 less than that.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and give money back

Christopher Williams: Yeah, and give money back.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Christopher Williams: Only digital allows you to measure in that way.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. So let’s peel back the curtain here and talk about the culture at Capacity Interactive. We’ve been looking outwards, lets look inwards. One thing I want to talk about is this concept of radical candor, which is something we talk a lot about here. Yosaif our Analytics director here, brought that to capacity, but you’ve in a lot of ways, along with Yosaif, have really run with it. I remember when he said it, a group of us, you were so excited about this. So, talk about what is radical candor?

Christopher Williams: Yeah, so I think the reason why I had an affinity for this, is because I’m a mid-western conflict avoider, that’s how I’m built. So, dealing with conflict, and providing guidance is always been something that I’ve been poor at. I read this, and suddenly I was like, Oh my God, this is an actual framework for overcoming my own personal issue, and then globally I thought it would be good for the company. Ultimately, radical candor is a framework for providing guidance, and they talk about putting feeding on it is the quadrant where you are willing to care about somebody the most. Also challenge them directly the most. Or as they say in this article, like piss them off the most. In order to be able to give someone radical candor you have, someone already has to know, you have to prove to them over the course of time with your own actions, that you care about them personally. Then, when you are providing them guidance that is perhaps difficult to hear, that could be inter-personal, that could be professional, they can more easily take that, and take action. While this framework is really helpful, it’s still very difficult to do. In our company, we chose to talk about this very, very, publicly, in a forum, where we all went over the finer points of doing it. She calls this like hip, essentially, the woman who wrote this article, where we learned about it. It is that radical candor, basically giving someone guidance, should be helpful, humble, immediate, in person, or in private if it’s criticism, and public if it’s praise, and that it doesn’t personalize. I think that framework is so helpful. For me, I think that doing something immediately is helpful, I find if I witness something, and I know I should say something, then I leave that environment, and I don’t say it, it just begins to grow, it’s like planting a seed. It just haunts me, and I feel bad about myself for not having giving the person the guidance. Then ultimately, if you wait too long and you come back to it, the person, it doesn’t sink in. The problem seems bigger than it was. It has been very helpful, I think that this is one of those things that takes tons and tons of practice. I do think that over the course of time, since we rolled this out, I think it’s been almost a year, maybe a little longer. I do see it starting to really deeply set into the fabric of our culture here, and having an impact on people. And people understanding that guidance is a thing you get on day one.

Erik Gensler: Right. Well we rolled it into our on-boarding. Like, you learn about radical candor in your first week or so here.

Christopher Williams: Yeah. Absolutely, day one.

Erik Gensler: I remember when we first started doing it, we’d come up to each other, “I have to give radical candor, I need your support.” Now, everyone just uses it. I think it goes back to the fact that, and I think this article references that, that smart people want guidance. If you have a leader that you knows cares about your professional growth, and you’re working hard, I certainly don’t want praise all the time. The hard feedback is the stuff that makes you better at your job. I think that sometimes it’s hard to get that feedback, especially if it’s good radical candor. You know, it’s not easy to do.

Christopher Williams: It isn’t. It’s been very interesting, I spent a lot of time interviewing potential candidates to come work at our company, and what I’ve found is that this concept is making it’s way into educational institutions. When I say to them, “What are the things that you want in a leader?” One of the first things that bubbles up these days, they don’t use the word radical candor, but it’s always like, I want honest, and transparent, constructive criticism in the moment. I don’t want to wait to hear that until a year review. Which i think is very interesting, in that feels very new to me. I feel like the philosophy of radical candor is like trickling down into the education system to some degree.

Erik Gensler: That’s amazing, that’s great. So, we spend a ton of time here talking about culture. I think while we’re able to embrace radical candor so quickly, is because it aligned with our culture. Why is culture so important here?

Christopher Williams: It’s complicated. I spend a lot of time on working on culture, as part of my job here. The work that we do, it’s very easy to underestimate how difficult it is. We are also a company, we have self-selected everyone here, and everyone here is pretty exceptional. So we’re asking really smart people, to do really challenging work, 8 hours a day or more, often more. It is our responsibility to make a culture that is fun and healthy and safe and vulnerable, and comfortable. While they’re doing all those very challenging things, it can be in a sort of happy bubble, I hope.

Erik Genlser: Yeah.

Christopher Williams: That to me is the motivation to having conversations about corporate culture. I know to some degree, when we talk about this, people are all like, you capacity people and your culture. We even get that sometimes in you know, when we on-board people in day one, I look at them when I talk about it, I can see them sort of not buying in, but when I check in with people three months later, they’re like. “Yeah, I wasn’t buying in then I kind of thought you were full of shit, but I know it’s true now, but it takes living in our world a while to believe that this environment that we have built can be real. I think people come to us from a lot of really challenging places, nonprofits are challenging. You learn to cope in those environments and then you arrive at our doorstep with baggage. Then we ask you to unpack it and leave it at the door and it’s really, really hard.

Erik Gensler: Sure. Absolutely. When we do our CIU, which is our team onboarding, you do the class, though.

Christopher Williams: It’s called the culture session.

Erik Genlser: The culture session, right. How do you approach that?

Christopher Williams: The first thing I do is I basically acknowledge that this cohort of people are all embarking on something that’s really, really hard. I acknowledge that there are many people on the other side of that can empathize with what they’re going through and that we should all admit to each other that this is a challenging thing that you’re about to do. You should own it. I go around the group and I try to, with the knowledge that I have about them on day one, which is limited. I try to say for each individual, here are I think your potential challenges in your position here and here are a couple pointers about how you might overcome those things. I do that in front of everybody so that everybody has a sense of what everyone else is going to go through to help them bond together. That’s the bonus of on-boarding as a cohort is that you have a group to rely upon. We talk about the company history and then we start to really dive into these sort of interpersonal pieces of how we run the company… Or really stem from the seven company values that we set on a train to New Haven four years ago. That’s where it all comes from. We talk through those values and what they mean. I very much say print these out, put them by you, this is going to be part of your review and you need to live into these and they’re real. Then I say, I also know based on the people on the other side of the wall that you’re not going to buy into that I’m saying right now.

Erik Gensler: I think that was one… Doing the group on-boarding was such a game changer for us and we learned about it by on-boarding people so badly-

Christopher Williams: Yeah. We really screwed up a lot of people.

Erik Gensler: I think they’ve all since recovered, but it was a rocky path when you start an organization. Here’s your desk, here’s your computer, have the morning to set up your email and I’ll see you in the meeting-

Christopher Williams: I’ll see you in the deep end-

Erik Gensler: I’ll see you after lunch. Talk about our CIU program.

Christopher Williams: First of all, it’s ever-evolving. We try to improve it every time we approach it. I think what we’re learning more and more is that it actually has to become even more intense. We basically go through every subject that someone needs to be an expert on. We try to teach them the 30,000 foot version of that and then we dive into a platform. Say it’s Facebook advertising, for example, we talk about it strategically and then we dive into the platform. We dive into strategy around the platform, how do you optimize something, how do you measure something. All of these things are very difficult to pile on a new employee. I think what we’re learning is we actually have to keep them 100% in that CIU environment for maybe the first two weeks and not really send them back to a desk. It’s when they go back to their desk that for those few hours that they’re not in the classroom, per se, that they don’t know what to do. We are learning that the more we can just let them live in 100% education, the better off they do come back to their desk. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is to ask for feedback from every single cohort and to try to improve the process every single time.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Besides culture and platforms, what are some of the other classes?

Christopher Williams: One of the most important things they do is they sit with you on the first day. You do the dog and pony, like we call it, it’s basically the foundations of how we market at capacity, which I think is very special. That is the first thing they do. It’s what the president… I think it’s a very meaningful and scary thing for them to do on their first day of work, but it’s setting the stage for what they’re going to do the rest of the time that they’re here. They go through analytics, we walk them through the business development process. Every single platform gets attention. We have a session that’s literally just on the importance of data. We’re trying to provide not only very specific digital platform training, but a lot of contextual overlay.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. That’s the hardest part because I think we’ve found… that… we don’t need people that are digital experts. We need people that love the arts, we need people that… are hungry to learn, that are curious, that are fun to be around. Some of our best employees had zero digital skills on day one and smart people, passionate people are going to learn quickly. If you have digital skills and all those other things, that’s amazing.

Christopher Williams: Great. You’re hard to find.

Erik Gensler: That’s hard to find and if you’re listening, email me at dot com. Okay.

Christopher Williams: Please do.

Erik Gensler: You do a lot of interviewing and talking to a lot of younger people who are either undergrads or grads early in their careers. We’ve spent a lot of effort I’d say in the past year or so really evolving our internship program. We’re trying to be connected to people who are still in school. It’s awesome that we’re so lucky that we have a bunch of schools that have arts marketing programs that are in New York or close by. I love that those people are so interested in what we’re doing and they’re attending our webinars and they’re on our email list and they’re following us on social and sometimes they make it to Boot Camp. For some of these younger people that you know are passionate about arts marketing in these programs, what advice would you give them about entering this field?

Christopher Williams: It’s a lifelong sacrifice. If you choose to… First of all, let me say that I’m assuming based on your question that we’re really saying you can come out of those arts programs and you actually go into a nonprofit as opposed to coming to work here. This would be the best of all worlds in my opinion, but a lot of them are going to those programs because they think they’re going to go into an institution, which is great. I loved all 20 of my years on the client side and I wouldn’t give them up for anything. But there are things that you will give up. One of the first things that you’re going to give up is earning potential. You are never going to be able to make as much money working in a nonprofit. That is something that if you have not accepted before going into one of those programs, you might want to get out because that’s just a fact. What I will say is that I found that what you lose in income potential you make up for in impact, which I know that millennials, that’s the thing for them. They want to make an impact. That’s a good thing for them, but it comes with this other side. I think that people who work in arts institutions are some of the smartest because they have to do more with less resources. That’s for every department in the organization. It requires people to be innovative and resourceful and more importantly, incredibly hard working and resilient.

Erik Gensler: The ones that, the people who are successful. I remember when the first time I worked. I spent my 20s not working arts institutions and when I found myself at a nonprofit arts organization it was so exciting to be in marketing because in our field, marketing drives the business. My friends who work in fashion, marketing doesn’t drive the business in fashion, the merchants drive the business for fashion. If you’re in the marketing department of an arts organization, you’re in charge of the positioning, you’re in charge of the sales, you’re in charge of most of the revenue that that place is making is coming through you. With very little resources, you have massive responsibility to keep all of those mouths fed. It’s high-pressure, too.

Christopher Williams: Yeah, absolutely. I actually think that is one of the most fun challenges about it but it’s real. I always wonder how wise those students are in those programs. Is someone telling them those things? It’s not how I came out of school, but.

Erik Gensler: Talking about younger people, I can’t believe I’m on the other side where I can say things like “talking about younger people,” but-

Christopher Williams: Oh, you are-

Erik Gensler: I’ll be 40 this year, so that’s exciting-

Christopher Williams: The big, looming birthday.

Erik Gensler: I’m saying it. I’m owning it. Let’s talk about how we hire here. I think, I always say that hiring is the most important thing that we do because we are a company of people. Frankly, I think hiring is the most important thing any organization does because any organization is just people. Talk a little bit about our process and the traits we look when we’re hiring.

Christopher Williams: We took time several years ago to really set out what those traits are. There are really 11 primary traits that we look for in candidates and to some degree we try to make sure that all of those candidates are checking all of those boxes to some degree. It makes interviewing very challenging, something that we all admit that we are trying to get better at all the time. I think that is a lifelong battle. Our process really… it begins with on paper recruiting, screening those candidates on the phone. We bring them in first and foremost for a 1, 2. They meet with Hillary Kritt at our organization who does the first interview and then I do the second. What we’re really looking for is, can we check all those boxes, and is this person, at the end of the day, a cultural fit for our organization. We know to some degree we can fill in digital pieces here and there, but culture is much harder to shift. So that’s what we’re looking for in those first two sessions. If somebody comes out of that with a green light, they come back, they interview with you and whatever team members they might potentially be working for. I think it requires a lot of rigor and stamina to come out the other side of that process. As I said, I don’t think we do this perfect by any means. We’re trying to get better all the time. But I do think that we’re spending a lot of time on it, which I think is really important. For me out of those 11 things, the two that get you through that first round for me is one, intellectual curiosity. I firmly believe that curiosity is hardwired. If you don’t come to me with it, I cannot teach you to be curious. But man, can I do a lot with if you are. This other quality, which I call “sparkle,” which is now a little bit of a joke in our company although that’s a widely used term. Sparkle is what some people might call lift or effervescence, but the fact of the matter is that we conduct much of our work over the telephone. When it’s not on the telephone it might be in person, but it’s often over the phone. We want to have a very special interpersonal relationship with our clients and that requires this quality. This ability to lift up out of one self, bring the passion that you have about your work to your voice, to your tone, to your face so that the person who is 1500 miles away from you can pick up on that. Our director of analytics, Yosaif Cohain, has to talk about analytics, which has the possibility of being very dry.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Christopher Williams: He has so much passion and fire about that subject matter. He can do one and a half hour training session on that subject matter and brings so much energy to that. People may come into that meeting thinking like, “Oh shit. I have to sit through an hour and a half analytics?” But then, by the end of that, his sparkle, his energy, his lift is contagious, and they are itching to get back to their computers and dive into our platform.

Erik Gensler: It’s so funny.

Christopher Williams: That’s what it is.

Erik Gensler: People come up to me at conferences and said “They had such a great call with Josef last month.” Or “I’m excited for our upcoming meeting with Yosaif,” because he does such a great job really of utilizing the power of granular analytics. I’ve been thinking about this lately. What really turned me on to digital marketing… I think it was seeing good granular analytics implementation. That really is the first time you can see, wow I can measure my impact, and I can slice and dice it. That is what opens your eyes to all the things digital can do.

Christopher Williams: I think the same is true for me.

Erik Gensler: Yeah once you see that analytics.

Christopher Williams: Absolutely.

Erik Gensler: Are you finding that candidates are coming in now with more awareness of digital, and experience?

Christopher Williams: I think they certainly come to us with social and content built into them in a way that is obviously not necessarily for you and I and actually that is also my expectation of them. Digital not so much. I think for us digital is a tactic and we are strategist. We’re art smart first, digital is our tactic.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Christopher Williams: That’s not something that everyone is bringing to the table I don’t think. I do find that there is an increasing curiosity about data analytics that no one is really coming to us and saying “web analytics” when they come in for interviews, but they are curious about data analytics. I can tell that universities are increasingly focusing on that.

Erik Gensler: Big Data.

Christopher Williams: They know to say it. I’m not sure they really know what to do with it.

Erik Gensler: Right, is analytics big data? I don’t know, it’s such a buzz word.

Christopher Williams: I don’t say things like “big data.”

Erik Gensler: How about geo fencing? That’s a buzzword I heard a lot.

Christopher Williams: That’s a real thing. Geofencing, we don’t really do much with it.

Erik Gensler: When someone ask you about geo fencing what do you say?

Christopher Williams: I say “What do you want to do with it, you have a retail story I don’t know about?” That’s what I say.

Erik Gensler: Let’s talk about you.

Christopher Williams: Great. Let’s do that.

Erik Gensler: One thing that people may not know about you, and I still find amazing to this day. How early you wake up. So talk about your morning routine.

Christopher Williams: I sort of naturally wake up at about 4 or 4:30. I don’t have any control over it. I sometimes go to bed and think, “Oh God if only I could sleep until 6:30” which I think sounds crazy to most people. That sounds so luxurious to me. I just literally blink awake and I get up. I’m incredibly introverted, as most people know. Although people think I’m not, but I am. I value all that quiet alone time I can get in the morning. Especially in New York city, it’s just a nightmare most of the day. It’s loud and crazy. In the morning New York City is super, super quiet. Most people aren’t awake to experience that, but it’s very true. I am a morning exerciser and I’m usually out the door by 5:30 on my train. On the train I am catching up on any kind of reading that I haven’t been able to do in terms of our work here. I get to Columbus Circle I take a 6 o’clock class. I’m to the office by 7:30 and I have a little but more quiet time. The period of time I get to the office between 7:30 in the work day starting at 10. Is pretty much the only time I don’t get interrupted all day and for those of you listening it actually is my job to be interrupted all day, that is how we have resourced me. That is not me complaining, that is my job. That’s my sort of special time to sort of do my work or try to learn something new, practice something. I love that time. They are building a hotel next to us right now, which is really disrupting that time because they’re banging away at some Manhattan shifts deep down in ground.

Erik Gensler: I hate that hotel. So loud.

Christopher Williams: I make it through the work day and as I said I’m very, very, very, very introverted, so by the end of the work day I am a client facing the organization. I have to sort of lift and sparkle all day long. By the end of that I have to go home and go in a deep dark hole to recover to do it again the next day. Basically means for me going home and watching some kind of British period drama. I’m in bed by 8:30, 8:30 or 9. I just honestly I think today though it’s really about having quiet time before the work day. Listen we are a client facing organization I am at other peoples will all day long by design and in order for me to be ready for that I need time at the beginning and the end of the day.

Erik Gensler: Right. A couple things. I thought that was a real breakthrough. I think you told me this actually that the higher up you get within in an organization the more open to interruption you have to be. I think that’s such a pivot when you go into a leadership role of not being annoyed by interruption but embracing it because that means that your people want to interact with you. So interruption is a good thing but don’t plan on getting anything done during the day.

Christopher Williams: That’s right. You know I think if you are a person that identifies as being a “doer” which I do.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Christopher Williams: That is very challenging.

Erik Gensler: Very challenging.

Christopher Williams: Now I know that when I’m being interrupted I am helping someone else do. I just have very much leaned into that. It’s very important to me. I fell responsibility to be very available to the people on my team in the room who need me to do that. It is super rewarding. I love to have those conversations with people.

Erik Gensler: I like to read a lot about business leaders and entrepreneurship and the more and more… I have heard a lot recently in sort of this field of thought that, people who rise early in the morning tend to be among the most successful. I’m naturally not a morning person but I think in the last three or four years I’ve forced myself to get up earlier. My natural waking time if I could… I would wake up at 8:30. The same way you wake up at 4:30, nine even. I’ve found that forcing myself to get up in the late sixes or very early sevens, you have three hours ahead of you before work. I can go to the gym I can meditate. I can not rush. The older I get, luxury is not rush.

Christopher Williams: That’s right, especially in this city too I think.

Erik Gensler: You have to force yourself to get to bed early or you have to sacrifice something else.

Christopher Williams: I’ve definitely given up going to see shows. That to me gets in the way. Going to see shows, like that, to me, gets in the way. If I go to the ballet, I’m not waking up at 4, 4:30, that’s a fact, cause I’m gonna get home at 11.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Christopher Williams: So that interrupts that, which, I can do that a couple of times but that really disrupts my pattern. When City Center puts on Fall for Dance every year and I go to all those programs, I completely get off my schedule and it disrupts me.

Erik Gensler: What’s something that’s been pivotal that you’ve learned in the last year? So, I just mentioned that one thing around realizing about interruption, that was something that I learned that was pivotal.

Christopher Williams: I think over the last year I’ve learned the power of being really honest about giving people feedback, really sort of leaning into that radical candor perspective. Leaning into the immediacy piece, not apologizing for what I’m gonna say, those were really important moves for me this year, I feel like.

Erik Gensler: A breakthrough…

Christopher Williams:…It’s my job to do that with a lot of people and I need to be able to do that well and I think I made a lot of headway with that this year.

Erik Gensler: That’s awesome and it’s one of the things that you’re amazing about is, like, you’re so willing to invest yourself and your personal time in that, so you really are exchanging for that privilege, that personal piece of it, which is the other piece of radical candor; which is like legitimately spending time with people and figuring out what makes them tick and really caring about them, which is so above and beyond. It makes, I think, you incredibly effective.

Christopher Williams: I didn’t set out to do that in 2016 but I that’s where I netted out.

Erik Gensler: That’s awesome.

Christopher Williams: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: I think that’s one of your strengths and I know this questions probably gonna make you uncomfortable but what’s something you think you’re really good at and what’s one thing you’re working on right now that you’re looking to improve?

Christopher Williams: Okay here’s my non-work answer to what I’m really good at. What I’m really good at is laundry. So you know it’s true, that’s why you’re laughing…

Erik Gensler: I do, and cleaning…

Christopher Williams: I’m really good and cleaning and laundry. I should have some kind of laundry blog. If someone has a stain at work they run to my desk.

Erik Gensler: You are because you would have shirts that I would be like “is that a new shirt?” And you’re like “no, this thing is four years old from Uniqlo” but it looks brand new. That is such a skill.

Christopher Williams: I think my non-laundry skill is I am very observant and it doesn’t require any effort at all but I can sort of observe people at scale. I think the net result of that is that makes me a good coach.

Erik Gensler: The first time I was on the other side of that, I was like “holy shit, how do you know that?”. It’s from observing, that is a skill.
What’s something you’re looking to improve this year?

Christopher Williams: I think from a work perspective, I’m really looking to improve my internal communication. Our company moves at a very fast pace and everyone is very smart and incredibly ambitious and, because of that, everybody wants to be involved. Of course, everyone cannot be involved in everything but the way that you help people feel like they are involved is to communicate with them. I think, sometimes, we get to moving very, very quickly and suddenly we realize we made a whole bunch of decisions, we’ve actually put them into place but we’ve sort of have forgotten to explain how we got there or why we did it. So, being more thoughtful about really thinking about each step of something and making sure that everyone is brought along, it’s always an intention but you get swept up in the pace of everything. I know what happens if you do that wrong and…

Erik Gensler: God knows we have.

Christopher Williams: And we certainly do, absolutely, but doing that better is something I really

Erik Gensler: It’s huge. I’ve seen you do that with some of the recent moves we’ve made. It’s funny, I read this old book called The Effective Executive by this guy, Peter Drucker, I think is his name. I think it’s from like the…it’s old, maybe the ’50s or before and he talks about the 8 things an effective executive needs to do. It’s like figuring out what you’re gonna do but then communicating to each individual party that is gonna be impacted by that decision is like fundamental. What I think we’ve found is that you have to do it with each party in a different way.

Christopher Williams: That’s right.

Erik Gensler: You can’t just roll it out, like if you roll it out once to everyone at the same time, that’s a potential disaster. I think that’s been one of the biggest learnings from me because I move very quickly as you pointed out. You really do have to slow down just to bring everyone along. That really takes precision and thought.

Christopher Williams: I mean, I think we spend a lot of time getting to know how people are constructed. We make everyone take the Myers Briggs when they start working here. We have taken that time to understand how people take in information, how they process it, is it being processed internally or externally. You do have to iterate how you explain something to different groups of people knowing how they’re constructed.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I think that’s been the biggest challenge, going from a room of you, me and two other people to a room of close to 40 people. That’s been the…

Christopher Williams: …Yeah. We just used to intuit from one another cause we could.

Erik Gensler: Right, or you’d hear every call I was on and vice versa.

Christopher Williams: There was no hiding anyway, we were just always in the room, right.

Erik Gensler: Okay, so, the final question and this is your CI to Eye moment. If you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams and boards of say, a thousand art organization, what advice would you provide to them to improve their business?

Christopher Williams: I think the thing that I encounter all the time now as a consultant, and I certainly encountered it when I was on the client side but now I sort of get it at scale, which is people who stay too long at the fair; where you have employees who are really institutionalized, who have been at organizations for 15 or 20 years and, some of those people are exceptional, it’s not about how much time you’ve stayed, but there is a subset of those people who have become institutionalized and are actually negatively contributing to everything. I think, as non-profits, we are always guilty of caring about people a little too much and I think so many people would benefit by cutting those people loose. That’s a crass thing for me to say and I fundamentally understand how difficult that is but I constantly hear that from people who interview, just like “I work in an organization where I cannot make any changes because there are human obstacles everywhere”. The ability to get rid of the dead weight.

Erik Gensler: That’s so funny because when I was talking to Tom O’Connor in my last podcast interview, we talked about the same thing. What he said was, you know, you come across these people that are in their job a long time, they feel like they can’t make any change, they’re living in an organization where there’s obstacles from every angle and they’ve essentially given up and he said “why are you there, if you feel like you’re in an organization where you can’t make an impact, why are you there?.” It’s interesting.

Christopher Williams: I think Erik and I teach, not teach, we do a capacity classroom session for executive leadership. In that session, we are always hearing people talk about their entry level development employees and they get talked about as this sort of disposable commodity. My advice would be, stop treating those people that way. You need to invest in all of your employees. I think that we spend and extraordinary amount of time, effort and money doing that here in our own company and the payoff is massive, it’s massive. I don’t think that non-profits… I think that they feel like they’re not funded in a way that allows them to do that and I don’t think that’s true. Assuming that everyone who comes through your door, came through your door for a reason and is valuable and you should be investing in; maybe you cannot promote them but what else can do you? What professional development opportunities can you provide them?

Erik Gensler: But you can promote them, that’s the thing. Budget is the manifestation of your priorities. Granted, I’ve clearly not been in the client side for a long time and I don’t want to sound totally out of touch but even a small gesture can mean a lot in showing that you value somebody; so, yes, there’s some organizations in incredibly huge financial strife but, you know this better than I do, as someone who’s managed budgets for 20 years of your career, isn’t there some wiggle room within that? If you’re from the executive director level at least?

Christopher Williams: Of course there’s some wiggle room. I think that people tend to get in these non-profits and they’re coveted positions and so there is very little turnover; if the organization itself is not growing, there is not a lot of wiggle room. I just think my overall point is that, let’s value people who are coming out of Universities who have decided to make the sacrifice that we talked about earlier in this podcast. They’ve chosen to do that, so lets value them and invest in them. You have a lot of information to impart upon them and I don’t think people spend enough time doing that. My final note is really building an organizational culture that values data. I think we are seeing that grow Culture that values data. I think that we are seeing that grow in organizations but I just think it is fundamental today and needs to happen across all works.

About Our Guests
Christopher Williams
Christopher Williams
VP, Managing Director, Capacity Interactive

Christopher Williams is Capacity Interactive’s VP, Managing Director. Christopher has been marketing the arts across the country for nearly 30 years at performing arts centers, the Coconut Grove Playhouse, and New York City Center where he served as Director of Marketing before joining Capacity Interactive in 2013.

Read more

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