Is it time to rethink subscription/membership models? Tune in for a transparent conversation with arts marketers who are doing just that, and gather tips for revamping your own offerings to meet audiences’ evolving needs.
In this episode
We’re swiftly approaching one of the busiest times of year for arts marketers… and with it, holiday programs, gift campaigns, end-of-year donation pushes, and—to top it all off—strategic planning for next season. If the holiday hustle has you feeling a bit frigid, this episode will warm you up with actionable tips and smart questions to end the calendar year on a high note.
Dan catches up with Senior Consultant Jess Isgro to discuss how to get the most out of your holiday gift campaigns, juggle concurrent end-of-year priorities, and implement learnings from the past year as you plan for 2024.
CI to Eye Interview with Tara Mohr
CI President Priya Iyer Doshi sits down with Tara Mohr, a revered leadership expert and best-selling author who shares subtle mindset shifts that can grow your confidence in the workplace. Get ready to kick self-doubt to the curb as you tackle high-stakes strategic conversations for next season.
Dan Titmuss: Hi everyone. Dan here. In the words of my favorite characters from my favorite TV show, “winter is coming”…which means we’re swiftly approaching one of the busiest times of year for arts marketers, and with it holiday programs, gift campaigns, end of year donation pushes, and—to top it all off—strategic planning for next season. It’s a lot of big decisions and a lot of big revenue goals. If the holiday hustle has you feeling a little bit frigid, today’s episode will warm you up with some actionable tips to end the calendar year on a high note. First, I’ll catch up with Senior Consultant Jess Isgro to discuss how to get the most out of your holiday gift campaigns. We’ll also share some key learnings from our clients’ campaigns this past year and suggest new digital priorities as you look ahead to 2024. Trust us, you’ll be unwrapping higher ROIs in no time. Then CI’s President Priya Iyer Doshi will sit down with Tara Mohr, a revered leadership and wellbeing expert whose work has caught the attention of major media outlets like the New York Times and the TODAY Show. Heard of them? The bestselling author of Playing Big shares subtle mindset shifts that can grow your confidence in the workplace and help you step into your power. With Tara’s advice, you’ll be able to kick self-doubt to the curb and start making high stakes strategic decisions for 2024. Let’s all grab some pumpkin pie, or maybe a turkey leg or two, and dive in, shall we?
Dan Titmuss: For today’s Digital Download, I’m joined by Senior Consultant Jess Isgro, who is making her podcast debut. Jess, welcome to CI to Eye!
Jess Isgro: Hi Dan. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Dan Titmuss: So you’re a singer and you’ve performed a lot with choirs around this time of year. Is Handel’s Messiah just playing on loop in your head?
Jess Isgro: It sure is. I actually used to sing the Messiah every single year with a local choir from the time I was a kid up through high school, and it was a really special experience. We did it with full orchestra. It was really, really lovely. And then in college I did some pieces of it with my conducting class, so it holds a special place in my heart. Definitely one of my favorites.
Dan Titmuss: I think around this time of year, our whole company is just really focused on A Christmas Carol, Nutcracker, and Messiah. The general public has Mariah, we have Messiah. But beyond selling single tickets for those performances, there’s another big opportunity around this time of year, which is gift campaigns. And we’re not just talking about donations, we’re talking about encouraging people to buy presents from you for their loved ones.
Jess Isgro: Absolutely. During the holidays, spending is super high. People are shopping for their loved ones and they’re not just looking for material things from your typical retail shops. So a great thing that a lot of our clients sell is gift certificates that can be redeemed for performance tickets, gallery admission, you name it. And the great thing here is that at a time when people are inundated with ads for sneakers and blenders and all those types of things, arts organizations are in the unique position of selling experiences that really help enrich people’s lives. And I think there’s something really beautiful and sincere about that. By encouraging people to give the gift of art, you’re offering something super powerful. You’re literally telling people what they’re actually doing by purchasing and what they’re doing just happens to have a really wonderful and experiential impact.
Dan Titmuss: For sure, and I can only speak for myself, but I feel like over the last few years I’ve started to put so much more of an emphasis on experiences and coming together and seeing friends and family. And I think whenever holiday ads focus on that, it definitely appeals to me more. It’s a really nice way to frame a holiday gift campaign. What do you think is the right audience for these types of campaigns?
Jess Isgro: Well, we’ve experimented with a variety of targets, both casting a really wide net and also only targeting folks within our clients’ databases. And of course, not every campaign’s the same, but what we found is that for a lot of campaigns, they perform really, really well when they reach folks who are already in your inner circle. And if you think about it, that makes sense, right? Your patrons have experienced your programs firsthand. They understand how meaningful a trip to your organization can be already, so you have that level of understanding and buy-in. These people already know you, they already love you, but perhaps the idea of gifting an experience with you hasn’t crossed their minds, and that’s really where the holiday gift campaign comes in. So our goal here is to build awareness and to remind them of the benefits someone can get from visiting your organization so that they’re inspired to give the gift that they’ve already experienced to somebody else. And to give you an idea of what this looks like in practice, we worked with the Alliance Theatre last December and ran a “Give the Gift of Theater” campaign and we focused on mid-funnel and bottom-of-funnel groups as targets. Out of all of these groups, the theater’s existing customer list drove the highest purchase rate and the lowest cost per purchase, and it had an incredible return of over 1200%. And we saw something similar for the Goodman. They ran a gift certificate campaign last year and a list that we built of past Goodman online purchasers had the highest ROI as well of any audience in the campaign. That one drove a return upwards of 1500%. So you really have an opportunity to drive some incredible returns and incredible results when you’re focused on folks who are already in your network.
Dan Titmuss: So you definitely want to get that gift campaign in front of people who already love your organization and already know your art, and that kind of makes sense. I think about whenever I give a gift of a book, it’s usually because I’ve already read it and I’m like, “Oh, you would really like this book.” Because you want your gift to be successful. It’s that second party stamp of approval that is really, really powerful. But there’s definitely a lot of competition around this time of year and in my inbox, my social feeds are already filled with ads. I’m kind of going through an inbox apocalypse at the moment. I’ve deleted every single promotional email I’ve ever got, and then anything that comes through, I’m having a very strict filter and unsubscribing. How can arts organizations cut through the noise and make their content stand out a little more?
Jess Isgro: It’s a really great point and a great question. With holiday gift ads, you’re not just competing with other arts organizations, right? You’re competing for time, for attention, for financial resources with major retailers that quite frankly can probably outspend the majority of arts organizations. They have a ton of products that they’re trying to move, and so it’s really critical when things are that competitive to have a message that’s really going to stand out. So in order to do this, you need to make the case as to why someone should gift an experience at your organization over any of those other presents out there. Why is a gift certificate a better gift than jewelry, electronics, you name it? So one of the best ways to cut through the noise is what we’ve already talked about, which is this experience angle. Really showing someone what that experience can be like. But there are a few other ways as well. And another one is to keep content really fun and light. Last year I worked with Miami City Ballet on a holiday gift campaign and we tested out two different types of posts. One was just a static image and it said “tickets make great gifts.” The other was a funny image of a nutcracker walking a dog on a sidewalk—a sidewalk lined with palm trees. And guess which of the two of those did better?
Dan Titmuss: I’m going to guess it’s the tropical Christmas dog walking photo, right?
Jess Isgro: Yeah, exactly, that one. The funny one had double the engagement rate and a higher click-through rate. And so the point is you really can have fun with your gift campaigns. You can help someone enjoy the process of shopping, help them enjoy the process of being sold to, and show them from the get-go from that first ad experience that their gift is going to lead to a great experience, if literally just seeing the ad itself is fun and enjoyable. You also have to think that if you’re using the same production photos and the same boilerplate language, people might keep scrolling for a couple of reasons. They might be really used to seeing that image. They might tune out that the call to action is different, that you’re not asking someone to come and see that show for the photo that you’re using. They might not see that you’re asking them to buy a gift certificate. So keeping something visually feeling really fresh is important as well. And if you can work in that fun, creative angle, it can really help capture people’s attention.
Dan Titmuss: I think you can just have a little more fun as well with these campaigns because people know the brand and so they know what your brand is, so you can afford to be a little more cheeky. And I remember Goodman Theatre, they ran a gift campaign last year. They used existing production photos from A Christmas Carol, but everything was photoshopped, so they were holding gift certificates rather than the props. So instead of a giant turkey at the end, he had gift certificates, and stuff like that. But they also used fun copy too, and they had a really nice ROI—I think it was something like 850% on that.
Jess Isgro: Yeah, it’s incredible and it really goes to show you, you don’t have to take yourself too seriously during the holidays. It can be a fun and lighthearted time of the year, and it makes sense for ads to sort of follow suit. It’s this principle that we talk about a good amount, the social sweet spot, which is this idea that all of your content should live in the intersection between what’s happening in the world and what’s happening at your organization. And so using that fun festive lightheartedness for gift campaigns, gift certificate campaigns during this time of year, does that same—accomplishes that same goal. It makes people feel like what they’re seeing from you is what they’re already seeing on their TVs, in their feeds, in their inboxes. It makes the whole thing feel fun.
Dan Titmuss: I think if you do want to experiment with some acquisition segments that incorporate search ads into the mix, you can often use assets—formerly known as extensions. They’re kind of bits of information that can help your ads stand out on the search engine results page. And you can add image assets like a picture of your venue or a call-out asset that says something like “the perfect gift.” Anything to spotlight your unique value proposition for audiences, especially on those branded campaigns where people already know about your organization.
Jess Isgro: Yeah, that’s a really useful tip. Assets provide a lot of information for potential audiences and when you use them, they can help boost your account performance overall, and that’s really beneficial at this time of year when ad space is really competitive and really costly. You want to do everything from large to small to make sure that you’re optimizing your account so it has the greatest chance of competing.
Dan Titmuss: These are all really good tips for optimizing these holiday gift campaigns, and I find that sometimes these campaigns fall by the wayside because marketing teams are so focused on selling tickets to holiday programs and they’re really busy right now.
Jess Isgro: This is a very busy season for arts marketers, so it’s easy to overlook gift campaigns, but if you have the ability to run these, if you offer gift certificates and you’re not running campaigns for them, you’re missing out on added revenue during this time of year. It’s not just potential revenue as well. It’s also a great chance to help your fans introduce your organization to other people, which is always a good thing. So we definitely recommend adding gift campaigns into your strategy this winter.
Dan Titmuss: So definitely add gift campaigns. So we have our brand campaigns, our end of year holiday programming campaigns, and also our donation campaigns. That’s a lot of campaigns running at the same time. Should organizations be doing all that concurrently? How can they strike the right balance by talking to these audiences?
Jess Isgro: It’s really tricky because if you’re looking at timing for each of these, very often the recommendation feels the same, right? When it comes to gift messaging, like we discussed, you’re battling retail, so you want to get out there around the time when retailers are really making the push for holiday gifts, which just feels earlier and earlier every season. Then on top of that, when we’re thinking about holiday programs themselves or holiday concerts or exhibits, when it comes to timing, of course that’s going to depend on your sales curves, but for a lot of folks, running a few weeks out from that is putting us in the same ballpark for both of those. And then when we start to think about layering in end of year donations, we don’t want that to just be an incidental ask right at the end of the year. All of a sudden you pop up and are asking for that donation. That’s also one where you want to give audiences time, you want your campaigns to do some storytelling, and so you need a little bit of room to breathe in that campaign as well. And so what that means is an early start for holiday programs, an early start for holiday gifts, and an early start for end of year donations. And so it’s important to remember that some audience members are actually interested in all of those things or a combination of those offerings. So the most important piece is ensuring that their ad experience stays relevant. Sometimes folks want to reduce overlap so much, but you don’t want to focus on one message for each user at a time rather than the most relevant messages. So I think the biggest recommendation here is that staying as segmented as possible keeps ads as relevant as possible and makes overlap a little bit less intimidating. So for example, if I’ve reached the landing page for your holiday concert, for your gift certificates and for donations, I absolutely should get an ad from every single one of those campaigns because for me, it’s relevant, it makes sense for that individual user. But on the flip side of that, if I’m pretty new to you, I’ve watched one video, I don’t need to get an ad for every single one of your campaigns. Maybe you start me with the broadest possible message and let me self-select into other things that you’re running over time. So depending on your season and your schedule, there’s no one right answer in how to set that up. But making sure you’re segmenting as much as possible and making sure you’re allowing for some healthy level of overlap can be really, really helpful. Plus you build a little bit more of a comprehensive view of your organization by letting people see more than one thing at a time. So one sales message can definitely help another. They’re only competing goals if you think about them that way. Other than that, they’re concurrent goals and moving all of them along at the same time can really help you end the year in a strong way.
Dan Titmuss: As we near the end of 2023, what are some of the biggest digital marketing lessons you’ve learned with CI clients this year? Have you run any interesting experiments?
Jess Isgro: There have been a couple of things that I’ve tested this year. Two main things that have been really interesting. First is: for a lot of folks, we’ve actually tested moving our launch and flight schedules around a little bit, and for a lot of folks, that means stretching campaigns to start a little bit sooner. So this is not just for holiday programming, but really for all of the concerts and events that we’ve been promoting in the fall and early winter. What we’re seeing in the results right now, what the results are telling us, is that this has been the right strategy for those folks. Of course, that’s not me saying the lesson here is that every campaign should start sooner and we should be pushing up all of our launches, but it is about really taking a look at your sales curve and your sales patterns and how they might’ve changed moving out of the end of last season into the beginning of this season and seeing if there’s a way to better align those. Testing a little bit of new timing for a few folks has been really beneficial thus far. The second thing I’ve seen a lot of folks lean into in 2023 that’s been a great learning is leaning into vertical assets on Meta and on YouTube and using those in both places. I’ve seen a lot of improvements for a number of clients. Vertical video was one of Capacity Interactive’s digital priorities for 2023, and I can definitely see why. A lot of the proof is in the results we’ve been seeing thus far. So for two organizations I’m working with in particular who have really dug into this, one has promoted exclusively vertical videos since the beginning of this season and year over year, their ROI is up about 50%. They have a higher click-through rate, and they have a lower CPM. So not only are they driving more revenue, they’re driving better engagement, but they’re also getting a little bit more mileage for it, right? It’s costing them a little bit less per ad to serve, which is really, really wonderful. Again, especially at this time of year, thinking about the immense amount of competition that’s out there. The second organization that I’m working with has swapped all of their horizontal trailers for vertical trailers and year over year they’ve already seen their ROI has doubled. So that’s been a huge learning from 2023. I’m really excited to see it continue into 2024 and see what additional potential for impact it holds for a lot of these folks.
Dan Titmuss: There should never be this sort of opinion of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” We can always optimize. We can always try and improve.
Jess Isgro: Absolutely.
Dan Titmuss: So as we look ahead to 2024, what are some of the digital marketing priorities that listeners should be thinking about with next year’s campaigns?
Jess Isgro: I’d say the first priority is very relevant to what you just said, right? Not having this mentality of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Trying a new thing or two is really important. Looking back on the first half of the season, analyzing what you’ve done and looking for places to tweak is really important, and the start of a year is just a great impetus to do that. So whether that means trying a new platform or a new placement, exploring a new channel, starting your campaigns earlier, pushing campaigns later, running a new type of content, you name it, there are tons of different levers that you can pull in digital marketing to try something new, but it’s really important to remember that digital is never set it and forget it. Just because something worked once or something is working for you a lot doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you should do. I really like to use the new year as an impetus to step back, evaluate what’s happened thus far and pivot or just decide on an experiment that you want to dig into over the next couple of months. See if you learn anything interesting for perhaps the rest of the season or heading into the new calendar year. The second thing I think listeners should be thinking about heading into 2024 is digging a little bit more into institutional branding and just that broader overarching storytelling for the rest of the year. So this is sort of related to what we talked about at the beginning of our time together here, which is this idea of selling an experience, really using experiential messaging to cut through the noise and get traction with your audiences. I think this is going to continue to extend throughout the year and really digging into investing time and resources in that more evergreen content can be really beneficial for a lot of arts organizations out there, but they can create assets that have a lot of longevity to them, and we can see over time what they do for our campaigns. Having something that you can sort of dig into and make use out of time and time again I think will be really helpful. And resurfacing some of the ones that already exist is a great way to make use of something old heading into a new year.
Dan Titmuss: Awesome. I’m definitely adding both of those to my list of New Year’s resolutions, and I might actually do those ones as well. So I’ve thrown you a few softball questions. Now, for our most pressing, serious question: We’re having a very highbrow intellectual debate on our podcast about when it is too soon to listen to holiday music. What’s your opinion?
Jess Isgro: So my answer is not super straightforward, but it’s honest. So I’ll tell you how I approach this. When it comes to listening, I don’t do that generally until after or around Thanksgiving. So when I say listening, I mean actively finding something on Spotify, putting on a Christmas CD, something like that. I generally don’t do that until around or after Thanksgiving.
Dan Titmuss: You’re not seeking it out until the turkey’s carved.
Jess Isgro: Yeah, exactly. I’m not seeking it out. If it happens around me, I’m not going to be upset about it. If it’s on in the store while I’m doing some shopping, I’ll dance in the grocery store to it. But on November 1st, every year I do break out my copy of Charlie Brown Christmas sheet music and I try to relearn a few songs on the piano, and I need all of that time. I need all of November, I need all of December if I want to be able to even kind of play them by Christmas because they’re really difficult. So if playing counts as listening, I suppose I am a November 1st person, so it really depends on your definition.
Dan Titmuss: Awesome. Okay, cool. That’s an interesting perspective that’s more detailed than most people have said. I like that there’s different definitions for you. We’ve had a few people who are sort of November 1st, a few people the day after Thanksgiving, so yours is kind of situational for both of those two.
Jess Isgro: I’m in the middle of the Venn diagram.
Dan Titmuss: Yeah, exactly, right. Well, thank you so much for being here, Jess.
Jess Isgro: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it, and I’m going to go play some Charlie Brown Christmas now.
Dan Titmuss: Awesome. I think we can get the rights to that. So Karen’s going to add that to the podcast right now.
Jess Isgro: Excellent.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Hi everyone. I am thrilled to be sitting down today with our guest of honor. She’s an expert in the coaching and leadership space with a strong focus on wellbeing, and she is the author of the award-winning incredible book I’m in the middle of, Playing Big, which is focused on practical wisdom for leaders. She’s also the founder of the Playing Big leadership program, and I have personally been following her resources for years now. Tara Mohr, welcome to CI to Eye.
Tara Mohr: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Priya Iyer Doshi: So I’d love to start by just giving our listeners an intro to you and giving them an opportunity to get to know you better. Can you share, Tara, just a little bit about your journey to where you are today?
Tara Mohr: Absolutely. It’s always hard to know where to start. I think anyone listening would say, “where would I start the story of my journey?” But I always feel like it’s a good idea to start in my childhood. I grew up in a very unique home where conversations about psychology and the inner life were welcome and were sort of a part of everyday life, so I often give the snapshot—I can remember sliding into the backseat one day at kindergarten pickup, my mom in the front seat, and I said, “This boy was teasing me on the playground today at recess. I hate him.” And without missing a beat, she just said, “Tara, what do you think is going on for him at home that would cause him to tease other kids?” So that was how we grew up, and diagramming my dreams at the breakfast table and talking about unconscious motivations and Freud and Young, and for my mom, that was very much her way of understanding painful, inexplicable events in her own life, and she didn’t think kids were too young to understand that. And so I grew up in that way. But then that was also very confusing because in school I’d be like, well, how can we talk about, let’s say, the Civil War without talking about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood and his wounds and his complexes and what led him… So there was a huge disjunct between this sense of our outer realities in the world, and then the inner realities that I was learning are so powerful in shaping those outer realities. And I think ultimately that’s what drew me to coaching, because coaching is very much about that interface. It’s about how do our beliefs, our tools for processing our emotions and our lives, our intentions, how does all of that dialogue with and dance with our external circumstances? And so when I had sort of what I would call my recovery from higher education, after my recovery from higher education, when I had enough time and space from grad school and undergrad to really think about “what do I truly want to do?” and get a little braver about that, I decided to move into this space of doing coaching and inner work with people and writing about how our inner lives interact with our outer lives. And that led to the book and the work I do now.
Priya Iyer Doshi: That’s incredible. It’s amazing to think of a childhood that was infiltrated with this idea of what got the other person to the point where they are now. And thinking about that at such a young age… I feel like you’re maybe the first person I’ve ever met who has expressed having that exposure so young. I feel like it’s a thing now that—I don’t know, we as adults, as we evolve as leaders and as we try to become more empathetic and compassionate human beings, we work on that. We work on this idea of trying to understand what brought a person to the point that they’re at now, but the idea of being exposed to that so young is just beautiful, and it’s so foreign to me to think of that at such a young age. I mean, have you met many other people who had that same experience as you?
Tara Mohr: I think that’s rare… and probably less rare than it was then, now that people are trying to have those conversations with children. There’s so much more conversation now about social emotional learning and all of that. But it’s really interesting that you share that in that way because I do find that what I was just talking about is not an idea that I actually write a lot about or that we talk about in workshops and classes, although I increasingly have this idea of “how can we understand everyone’s behavior as the fruit of their own capacity and the limits of their capacity?” And I do find that that idea pushes buttons for people and is challenging for people in, actually, a really more intense way than most of the concepts in the Playing Big book. And it’s interesting because it actually is, to me, a much more logical way of looking at human behavior. And so you see how much… think about how much conditioning we all needed to have to actually feel like it’s easy to see people’s behavior as random, unintelligible, or the fruit of random acts of moral character that hit them from the sky. It’s easier for us to think that than to think humans can be understood in a logical and scientific way, and so can their behavior. That’s a lot of conditioning. You need for the first one to seem more rational. And so there, there’s a huge process that I think I’m still trying to discover what it actually is for people that lets us open more to the idea that all human behavior, we can understand it in terms of people’s experiences and what’s shaped them, but that’s a scary idea. It means letting go of a lot of things that we hold dear to in our belief system.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, you wrote a book called Playing Big, and I would love to have our listeners just hear about it from you. So tell me a little bit about the book. Tell me about the process of writing the book. Who did you write it for? What was the impetus to write the book? Where does the title come from? I know that there’s a story behind that, so just give us a little bit of the rundown.
Tara Mohr: Yeah. Well, so picking up from, I had become more clear in myself that I wanted to work with people around their inner lives and sort of be in juicy conversations around that. I was in a coaching training. I was at the same time working a full-time job in the nonprofit sector, in the philanthropic world for a foundation, but I was doing this on the weekends and then starting to coach in the evenings and the early mornings and that kind of thing. And those early clients were just friends of friends and colleagues of colleagues, and it was just me sending out an email. “Hi, I’m in a coaching program, I need some intern student clients.” And so people were coming and again and again, what I was finding is that I found my clients to be these super capable, intelligent, hardworking, brilliant individuals, and they absolutely did not see their own capability or believe in it. And so I would hear things like, I’d hear the most amazing vision for their whole industry. And then it’s like, “But obviously if that was a good idea, someone else would’ve thought of it already.” Or “Here’s the whole new department I know our organization needs, and gosh, I would love to spearhead it. And sure, I have a 20 year track record at this organization and an awesome reputation, but why would they ever give me that job?” That kind of thing. So I was hearing that again and again, and that disjunct was very glaring to me and painful to me, and I also recognized myself in that because I was recently out of grad school, I had lots of reasons to feel confident. I was doing well at my job. I had been a really good student, but I was like, where’s the confidence that all that was supposed to add up to? And so I got very interested in that. And there’s sort of an interesting thing that often happens for people in coaching practices, or it can happen in therapy practices, where you unconsciously draw certain client groups to you and you also notice certain needs among others in your clients, and it often has to do with the core questions that you’re revolving around in your own life. And so those were the ones for me. And I recognized my coaching training did not really talk about these issues of confidence identity, how identity intersects with confidence, nor did it really talk about how we follow our callings to make our desired impact in the world. And so I had to figure out my own tools and model for that, and that’s what I did in that coaching practice. And then when I could see, “oh, these core things are making a huge transformative impact for diverse clients,” that became more of a formal arc that then became courses, and then the courses became really successful and large scale, and then that became a book. And so I called the book Playing Big, really, because the best shorthand way I knew to talk about the problem was all these brilliant people playing small. And it turned out people knew they were playing small. I had done a survey of my blog readers and people said their playing small was the number one challenge in their life, and that just kind of knocked me off my chair, like, “wait, we know we’re playing small. We recognize that as a challenge in our lives, but we don’t know what to do about it.” And so yeah, that’s a little bit about how we got to the book. And for me, I felt a huge sense of mission around women being better represented in leadership. And I felt a huge personal passion around the particular legacy that patriarchy has left internally in women. And so the book had a focus there, but we find people of all genders read the book, resonate with the material. We are very happy about that, my team and I. So we sort of hold both: there are some gendered pieces to talk about, and these are really relevant tools for everyone.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, yeah. That’s great. So I know that the book talks a lot about confidence and the opposite of confidence, which perhaps is self-doubt and just this idea of pushing past it. And I’m sure we could talk about that for hours, but I’d love to just give our listeners a sneak peek. Can you just talk a little bit about how the book addresses this idea of self-doubt and pushing past self-doubt as an individual?
Tara Mohr: Yes, yes. Well, I often say to audiences, “How many of us, let’s raise our hands, have been given the advice to be confident, believe in yourself?” And every hand will go up. And I’m sure we all found that incredibly helpful, actionable advice. And once we heard it, we just became confident and then we were done with this issue. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works. And so there’s a lot of different things, I guess, to say about how I think of self-doubt, but I’ll try and highlight a few. One is I don’t look at being self-doubting or being insecure as a personal quality, and a lot of us think of it as a quality that we might have, and then we’re trying to develop the quality of confidence. I think of it more like mental weather that can come and sometimes has become a weather pattern. And I also think of self-doubt as a voice within us, the voice of self-doubt, the inner critic that is really just one voice within us and is not actually the voice of the deeper, more true self. It’s an intruder that often interrupts our connection with that voice. So given all of that, we want to really be the observer of that voice of self-doubt in us. Like, “Oh, I’m hearing my inner critic right now. I’m hearing that voice and even picture it like a little small thread, a little pin in the vast landscape.” So that’s one whole important piece. And then understanding that the function of self-doubt is to help the safety instinct in us continually get us to retreat into our comfort zone. So when we’re considering being more visible or doing something that involves some kind of emotional risk, self-doubt will usually speak up, and we might think it’s because we’re not confident enough, we’re not ready. It’s really just our safety instinct saying, “I don’t like the risk and uncertainty to my emotional comfort zone involved here.” And the self-criticism is wounding enough to us that it gets us to go back into that comfort zone. So there’s a lot of tools in the book and in the courses for then how do we relate to it in that way? And the answer is actually not confidence, because the research is not promising for our ability to develop confidence. We continue to grapple with self-doubt through our lives, despite our achievements or success. And confidence is also a state of our egos. It’s confident in reference to self. And so feeling bad about ourselves, feeling good about ourselves, are kind of two sides of the same unstable coin. And so a lot of the work I do with people has to do with what we connect to that’s bigger than and deeper than how we feel about our competence or our capability. And that’s what actually pulls us, kind of leapfrogs us over our self-doubt.
Priya Iyer Doshi: I love that. So I’d love to connect this a little bit to our nonprofit space. So as you know, most of our listeners are within nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, and I know you too have some experience working inside of nonprofits, and certainly your clients have been within the nonprofit space over the years. So I’m curious with those clients, what are some common situations that you hear about in the nonprofit space where self-doubt can crop up? Perhaps it’s a thing that people are actually experiencing or observing in the moment, or perhaps it’s a thing that is subconscious. It’s a thing that we have all gotten used to experiencing and we might not even notice it. Is there anything that comes to mind in that? Any patterns that come to mind for you as you think about this?
Tara Mohr: Yeah, I mean, I think certainly a big one is that there can be a feeling of less permission to negotiate for yourself to sort of claim your own needs and wants within the workplace. There can be a baseline scarcity mentality or even a poverty mentality depending on the types of organizations you’ve worked in. There can also be sort of confusion around boundaries because some of the mission-driven and collaborative spirit can mean that instead of just thinking, “It’s hard for me to think about what hours really work for me,” I can’t think about changing my hours without immediately thinking about how that would impact everyone else in the organization. And I’m supposed to be holding all of that when maybe that’s actually not that individual employee’s problem to solve. Maybe that’s their boss’s problem to solve or the organization’s problem to solve. I think those things are really big. I would call even just that sort of confusion of what’s in my portfolio, what’s really in my manager’s portfolio, what’s in the whole organization’s portfolio. There’s a lot of boundaries, questions around that, that come up in a different way in nonprofits. I think frankly, I see a lot around issues of representation and bias in the nonprofit sector. The sector is not necessarily in a better place than the for-profit sector when it comes to who is sitting at the very top tables. And in some ways, I think that can even be exacerbated in a different way in the nonprofit sector because there can be less transparency and it has its own kind of culture of stuff around politics and personal networks and charisma-based leadership and all that stuff. So a lot of things like that come up in coaching conversations as well.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, this mindset of scarcity is a very common theme that comes up in conversations with our clients that feels very at the forefront right now, I think especially as arts organizations recover through Covid and the current economic state—and there’s something new every day, it feels like, as we continue through this recovery. So I’m curious, thinking about that piece in particular, is there any advice that you can give to people sitting inside of marketing departments in nonprofit arts and cultural organizations who perhaps are coming up against this mindset of scarcity that perhaps penetrates the entire organization, and maybe that’s just causing some doubt or causing some pause when it comes to moving forward. Is there any specific advice you can offer our listeners who might be in that space?
Tara Mohr: Yeah, so one thing I would recommend is to take some reflection time outside of the day-to-day to your job when you’re not within the office, and just write about the question, “What do I really want? What do I actually want to experience in the day-to-day in my job? What do I want to be creating? What do I want my schedule to be?” All of that, to at least get clear on that for yourself. And to write it down so you don’t have to commit to asking for it, any of that. But I think in that scarcity mindset and when so many of us are passionate about the organization and the cause, we can kind of… things get very fuzzy where we don’t actually even check with ourselves what we truly want. So get clear on that. Then you can think about how you might be able to creatively get more of what you want, even within what’s in your own agency, where you might need to ask for new things or come up with new solutions. But I think that’s really important.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, yeah. That’s great. Taking stock. That’s great. Let’s move on to the idea of fear. I really liked the way that you talk about fear in the book. So can you give our listeners just… I know you break it down into two different types, two different parts of fear. Can you share that sort of structure with our listeners?
Tara Mohr: Yeah, sure. So I was very moved many years ago now. I was reading a book by Rabbi Alan Lew called Be Still and Get Going, and he was writing about, in ancient Hebrew, there are two different terms used for fear. One of the terms is pachad, and his definition of pachad based on how it’s used in texts is that this is the fear we have of projected things or imagined things. So if you think about the fear that you have of what could happen if we run out of money in a year, if I get laid off, if I say that in the meeting and everyone thinks it’s ridiculous, if I ask for that and it gets scoffed at—those are all pachad-type fears, and most of us grapple with that in some way in our lives. So that’s number one. But then he also talks about this second kind of fear that we don’t really talk about in our culture. And the Hebrew word for that is yirah. And yirah has three definitions. It’s the feeling we feel when we’re occupying a larger space than we’re used to. So that could be you have a managerial job with more direct reports, you’re on a bigger stage, your publications are suddenly going out to more people. You’re asked to give a presentation to a bigger audience than you ever have been before. All of that, this kind of expansion in scope or reach or size, there’s a certain kind of fear that comes upon us with that. The other definitions are: it’s what we feel when we suddenly come into possession of more energy than we’re used to having, which you can think of when you maybe tell a truth that you’ve been holding in and it’s exhilarating or you’re doing your passion, something that just feels to you like you plugged the plug into the wall. There’s a fear that comes with that if we’re really being honest with ourselves. And then it’s also the fear we feel in the presence of the sacred, is the third definition. So when I read this, it might seem a little esoteric to people as they’re listening, but for me, when I read that, and particularly that second type of fear, I realized like, “Wow, I’m hearing clients experiencing that all the time.” When people are saying what they really want in their lives or how they want to spend the next 30 years or what’s really true for them, there is often this kind of fear that comes in. There’s about five seconds of pure exhilaration, and then there’s a fear cloud that floats in. And so what has evolved for me is that we really need different and conscious ways of working with those two types of fear. And it doesn’t serve us to confuse them with each other, although they can be braided both present and in experience. But when it comes to the fear of imagined things and projected things, that’s where we tend to get over-reactive. We tend to go into flight or fight when we don’t need to. There’s a lot of research on how that type of fear can really mislead us, how it prevents us from doing our best thinking. So when we’re in that kind of fear, we want to use practices to shift out of fear, and there are many, it’s a very doable thing to shift out of fear. We just need our practices for that. And then when we’re feeling that exhilaration of bigger space and energy and the sacred in our own lives, we want to learn how to be with that kind of fear and really breathe with it and expand to kind of meet it. That’s not fear we want to retract from, or even really, it’s not about overcoming it.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. And do you feel like people can understand the gifts of that second part of fear? I almost wonder if, and let me know if you agree with this, I almost wonder: if there was an absence of fear in the scenarios that you describe for that second type of fear with yirah, then perhaps you’re not invested enough. Is that a conclusion you could draw?
Tara Mohr: So it’s interesting. So, “invested” is an interesting word. So there’s a fear that comes from when we’re visible and vulnerable and showing up with our truth and our gifts. That is definitely scary because the stakes are higher for us. And I think that fear can show up in both. There can be both types of fear. A lot of times when we’re really sharing our gifts and our voice, our safety instinct—we are like, “What if I’m ostracized for this? What if they don’t like it?” That feels very scary. But I think when the fear, the yirah fear, some of it is just when things move us, whether it’s our own truth or practicing our passions or sharing our gifts, when things move us to a place that’s almost bigger and more inspired than the everyday self, there’s a part of us that’s very scared by that. And so that’s kind of how I think of when that fear is present, something important and good is happening. It’s sort of the larger self that comes to the fore and that scares the smaller self.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, it’s interesting to hear how situations can have a mix. I’m reflecting on my past year, for example, and I’m thinking of these major milestones for me in this role. I can see how there was a mix of both. When I gave my first state of the union to the team, there was definitely a mix of both. Part of me was, “what if this doesn’t land the right way or it doesn’t come across as authentically as I mean it,” or all of the what if questions that you describe. And then there was also just this, “oh my gosh, it’s my first time doing this massive thing.” I even think about keynoting our annual conference last fall. It’s similar. I can sort of see through this structure how both of those pieces were a cocktail of my fear in the moment. For sure.
Tara Mohr: Yeah, those are great examples. Absolutely. Sure.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Very interesting. Awesome. Okay, let’s move on to this idea of praise and criticism. I know you talk a little bit about the relationship between those two, which I really enjoy in the book. And you also just talk about how society and just our practice as humans leading up until this point has led to a certain relationship between praise and criticism. So can you talk a little bit about that relationship and what you see there?
Tara Mohr: Yeah. So I’ll start by saying that in my coaching practice when clients were coming essentially for help of how do I live more of my dream in my career or my life, what surprised me was that for every single one, we eventually hit a wall in their ability to move towards that dream. And the wall had to do with their relationship to praise and criticism. And so sometimes the wall was, I’m petrified of negative feedback. Sometimes the wall was, I need to make a controversial decision and I can’t. I’m so used to getting the gold stars from everybody all the time. Sometimes it was, I don’t want to be too visible. I learned getting too much praise means I’m arrogant and bad, so I can’t do this thing that would actually be really well received. I have to stay one of many peers. So everyone had their wall. And so it really came to feel like, for me, to really get where we want to go, most of us have to have this interval where we’re like, I’ve got to take stock of what is my relationship to other people’s feedback and upgrade that to the next level. And so I think of that as we were learning to unhook from praise and criticism, which means we still use feedback strategically and we care how our impact is with people, but we don’t get hooked. We don’t go on an emotional rollercoaster. We don’t get immobilized by it. All of that.
Priya Iyer Doshi: I find for myself—I wonder if this is common with your clients as well, but I find with myself when it comes to feedback, it’s hard for me to hear praise if there isn’t also some criticism. I almost feel like the praise is like there isn’t weight to it. I’m sure that there’s a lot to be unpacked there.
Tara Mohr: Yes, let’s go. I want to dive in.
Priya Iyer Doshi: But I don’t know, for me, I trust the source when I get a full picture, I guess.
Tara Mohr: That’s interesting. Yeah. And what do you think the root of that is for you?
Priya Iyer Doshi: I think I personally have a tendency to try to anticipate what the worst thing a person can say about my work might be before I hear it. Because I never want to be surprised because I think I try to be a very self-aware person. And so I think I sort of hold myself accountable to anticipating themes of feedback.
Tara Mohr: Yeah, that’s interesting. The core tool that I like to use with people around praise and criticism is this idea that feedback doesn’t tell you about you. It tells you about the person giving the feedback. If someone says, “We love these graphics,” what most of us do is make that feedback about ourselves. “Oh, okay, good. I did it well this time.” And that’s, in my view, that’s just a wrong interpretation of the information.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Interesting.
Tara Mohr: Because there is no “well,” there’s only “did you do it in a way that served or didn’t serve the person you were trying to serve?” It’s all highly contextual. It’s all highly subjective. And so if we hear “We really like that graphic” and that person is able to think, “Good, what am I learning right now about this client or about this colleague from that?” I have just made that feedback go a hundred times further. But especially with praise, most of us don’t ask that question. We’re just like, phew, that one worked, onto the next thing. And if it’s criticism, then we tend to take it so personally if we believe it or we defend against it and decide the other person’s crazy if we don’t. And so we completely miss all the information about that person. We’re learning what works for them, what they were really looking for, if we can listen that way and if we can stay curious enough to ask questions. So in the framework you’re talking about, if that praise from that person is telling you about them, it’s like, oh, did that work for them? That’s just all it is. And so we pay attention to feedback when it’s relevant to us to learn about people we’re trying to impact and serve. But always knowing if it was a different industry, if it was a different country, if it was a different client, the feedback would be different. It’s not a measuring stick of us.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I think for marketers, to take your example one step further, really what we’re trying to do is to get stories and messages out there that resonate with our audiences, our potential audiences, our existing audiences. And that’s what we have to learn. Anytime we’re testing, that’s what we’re trying to learn. What is resonating? What isn’t resonating? What is getting people through our doors? What is getting people intrigued or excited or inspired about the art that’s on our stages or that’s on our walls or the music that they’re coming here to hear? What is actually going to get them to come and experience? So in a lot of ways, that framework can be applied to human beings in the workplace regardless of industry.
Tara Mohr: Trying to understand what works for this boss, what works for this accounting department, all of that. And test and learn are really important words because we’re trying to redefine our idea of competence from, “Oh, I’m being really competent when I guess perfectly the first time what would work,” versus where my competence comes in is that I’m willing to engage in this iterative cycle of figuring out what works here. And there might be curious questions you could ask back that would get you—that are different than “good job” or “not good job,” but just how much did you use this? Or a lot of times we can get that data from observing what actually happens, not from what the person said. So did they use it? How much did they use it? Whatever the work was, or did they come back and ask for more? Did they repeat it? Whatever, those kinds of things.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about the structure of your book. So I know that the first part of it is very awareness focused, really trying to understand what’s happening. And the second part of it is more about what you can do about what’s happening once you understand your own relationship to self-doubt, for example. What action can you take to help yourself either overcome or move through whatever the scenario might be. And I know for me, thinking about this place between just awareness of what’s happening to me and then actually doing something about what’s happening to me, that can be a really hard gap to bridge. So I’m curious, just, what’s your advice or how would you offer an approach to getting from that awareness piece to action when it comes to playing big in particular?
Tara Mohr: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s interesting. I don’t think of it as a distinction between awareness and action, actually. And I wouldn’t say that I’m that big on awareness. I think of it as inner work foundations and then what we can do with that foundation in place. And so the foundational work is more to me about, it really comes out of seeing that I would work with clients that like, oh, their workplace sent them to this awesome leadership training, negotiation training, public speaking training, and they can’t use what they learned because they have no tools for fear or they have no tools for self-doubt. So they have a world-class, Ivy League executive education in public speaking and negotiation, but they haven’t addressed the very, very fundamental stuff that cuts us off at the gate from using tactical training. So to me, that foundation is inner critic work, fear work, unhooking from praise and criticism, and all of those areas have practices that you have to take action around ongoingly in your life. You don’t finish that work. You kind of get that vocabulary and you get those tools, but you’d still be doing inner critic work your whole life with those practices, and you’d still be using fear tools. So all of that is ongoing action. It’s just sort of fundamental. And then when you have that toolkit, I find that on top of that, people can build skills in negotiation and entrepreneurship and communication and project management, whatever, and to then be able to get out of the gate with those things that normally stop us and actually create and build what they want to in their work.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah, yeah. And do you find, knowing that this is an ongoing journey, it’s never complete, it sort of requires regular upkeep, if you will? Can you talk a little bit about the sustainability of that? How do you find—I think the awareness or the inner foundations are one piece, and then what you can actually do with those foundations are another piece. And then once you have all those tools in your toolkit, we’re all humans. So how do you then not allow the tools to gather dust, how do you make sure you don’t file ’em away in the back of the closet and only use them when you’re looking for something in particular? Do you have any sort of advice around the sustainability element of that?
Tara Mohr: Yeah, so it’s really, really important and I think the tools do gather dust if we don’t do something proactive. So I’m really glad you’re raising it. So one is a lot of people who have been through our courses and that kind of thing will have ways that they actually build these things into their calendar. So they might have a weekly check-in with their inner mentor, which is kind of a voice of inner wisdom. They might have a quarterly review where they really look at the material on callings and how am I going for my callings? They might have a small accountability group that’s continued on from the course where people are checking in about things. I would say those kinds of rituals. And then the second thing is just building in time to process your life. Because processing our lives, to continue living in integrity of any kind let alone in alignment with our values, takes time to be like, wow, what happened today? Wow. I didn’t show up the way I wanted to in that conversation. Wow, my first priority has fallen off of my to-do list entirely, but most of us live our lives at a pace that we’re not going to have those thoughts if we’re just living our lives. So whether that is in my evenings, I always write things I’m grateful for. Things I’m turning over. Things that feel emotionally entangled or stormy that need some unraveling and processing, so I’m keeping up with myself in that way. And so those kinds of rituals, it can be a weekly therapy appointment for someone or a weekly coaching appointment depending on your needs and the approach you want, but having a container for that reflection. And that’s when you’re likely to be like, this is an area that does need attention and here are some tools I’m going to bring to it.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. The idea of creating time and space to process your life is really resonating for me right now because I feel like I’m in a place right now where I’m not creating enough time and space for that, and I can feel it. I can feel that sort of weighing on me, but I like the idea of making something that I would describe as intangible—processing your life, that feels like it can be very intangible. But making that tangible so that it’s something that you’re actually carving out space, time, energy for… I love that. And it’s helpful to understand that people who go through the program, people who read the book, sustaining this actually looks like creating time, space for the processing of that.
Tara Mohr: And it really is a real need for most people. What people say is like, no, the work is ongoing. And last year I was really attuned to these tools, and this year I’m attuned to these tools. And so it is an ongoing process for sure. I think the other thing I would say about that is people need to find the way of doing it that actually feels good. Don’t make this an annoying homework “should” of, oh, I’m supposed to do my reflection time. You won’t do it. If you love doing that through a day-long retreat once a year, if you love leaving voice memos back and forth with a friend that you do the same thing for, find the way that really truly works for you and expect that way to change over time. And it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It’s just temporary. We change.
Priya Iyer Doshi: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. I love that. Got my wheels turning. So we’re coming to the end of our time together, and so I just want to ask our last question, which is our CI to Eye question. So if you could broadcast one message to the executive directors, leadership team, staff, and boards of thousands of arts organizations, what would it be?
Tara Mohr: You are the instrument of your work, so take good care of the instrument.
Priya Iyer Doshi: I love that. Beautiful, beautiful words to close with. Thank you so much, Tara, for being here. I really appreciate the time and I’ve so enjoyed spending this time with you and chatting with you. I feel like we could go on for hours, but thank you. Thanks for being here.
Tara Mohr: Thank you. It was a total pleasure and thanks to all who were listening.
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 capacityinteractive.com 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
Senior Consultant, Capacity Interactive
Author, Educator, and Certified Coach
Tara Sophia Mohr is an expert on women’s leadership and well-being, and an author, educator and certified coach. Tara is the author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, published by Penguin Random House, and named a Best Book of the Year by Apple’s iBooks. She is the creator of the pioneering Playing Big leadership program, as well as Playing Big Facilitators Training and The Coaching Way, both ICF accredited continuing education programs for coaches, leadership development professionals, managers, and mentors. Her work has been featured on The Today Show and in publications ranging from The New York Times to goop to Harvard Business Review. She lives in San Francisco and loves dance, art, and long walks with her family. Learn more about Tara at www.taramohr.com.
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