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Info You Can Use: Insurance Pocket Guides for Artists

As part of their never ending battle to become the best friend of everyone in the arts profession, Fractured Atlas has created a website for a series of pocket guides to insurance for performing and visual artists they have developed. There is a specific guide to each discipline- music, teaching artists, theatre, dance, public artists, visual artists, craft artists and film. There is a note that guides for other groups like independent contractors and radio producers are on the way.

The guides are short and pretty easy to understand. There are fun little prompts to get you to read further

Since this is a solo operation, I don’t have anyone I pay but I do shamelessly ask friends to move my gear. Done under duress or not, that’s still considered volunteering. Do them a favor. Volunteer Accident [Insurance]

And the answers found on those pages also employ a little humor:

“In a claim, you pay the first $250 and the insurance company will cover the rest. That’s to keep you from filing a claim for the $30 of Medicated ChapStick you bought your trumpet player after your six hour rehearsal. “

The guides cover everything from general liability coverage for groups and individuals, volunteer accidents, workers’ comp, property coverage (including instrument insurance), touring, disability, health and insurance for boards of directors.

But probably of most value is recent guide they have added about the new health reform law and how it relates to artists. I had been wondering what the implications of the law might be for the arts. Though there is clearly still work to be done, from what the guide says, many artists can breath a little easier and should be able to have insurance and a place to live instead of choosing between them.

Fractured Atlas encourages everyone to participate in getting health insurance:

If we’re going to hold insurance companies accountable, then we must also ensure a stable risk pool with full participation by everyone in the United States workforce. We are all players in the system, and our actions impact its economic balance.

That’s why the law includes an individual mandate which requires that all Americans have health insurance or face tax penalties. The only way to prevent a spiral of ever-increasing premiums is to ensure that we’ve all got some skin in this game.

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What Makes Sense In Refund Policies?

Adam Natale writes about Fractured Atlas’ development process for the ticketing module of their ATHENA software. They are talking to different sized performing arts organizations at Community Design Sessions (CDS) to get feedback about the design and assemble a wish-list of features. His discussion of the software’s use for ticket exchanges caught my attention.

“So, in each CDS, I brought up the fact that the software should allow for patrons to easily exchange their tickets. Most people in the room freaked out — enabling patrons to do this would result in complete pandemonium! And then my dear friend at Theatre Bay Area, Jamye Divila, a box office administrator and guru, sided with me. She said something along the lines of, “We do over-the-phone exchanges for subscribers constantly and it takes a lot of staff time to do this. What if we could automate the process and simply build permissions and restrictions into the software so that it doesn’t allow the patrons to do things they shouldn’t be allowed to do?” Suddenly, the air cleared. There was a collective “Oh, software can do that?” sigh that filled the room. Yes, software can do that.”

This made me wonder what sort of criteria people were using to grant refunds that they felt they could provide good customer service via a set of programmed rules. Often the criteria I use is based on judgments that are very human. The death in the family/grave illness, you don’t really question much and given that people know this, it can easily used as an excuse. How can a computer program know that a rock slide was just reported and traffic can’t get through from one direction? Granted, if the program is designed well, the ticket office could reprogram the conditions to make it easy for anyone to request refunds in this case. There are many occasions when nuanced decisions need to be made and I suppose it will always have to be a human that makes them.

Refunding does take a lot of staff time so I can definitely see the benefit of having the computer handle refunds in the cases when snow storms or sick performers force a cancellation. In cases when you have multiple performances and can have the computer offer an exchange to another performance or show of equal value to avoid processing a refund, there also a benefit. It would certainly also be a boon in extending subscriber/donor exchange benefits to people on a 24 hour basis. Those organizations like my own that have single engagement events, might opt to create criteria where anyone who has purchased an average of X single tickets a year since 2005 will be allowed to exchange because they are clearly loyal.

That raises the question about the whys of exchange and refund policies. Why do we not allow refunds? I imagine commitment is probably one issue. We want people to follow through on their decision to attend, especially in these days when there are so many competing choices. For the record, I don’t think people are waiting until the last minute to buy tickets because of the no refund policy. They are generally uncertain about what to do in the face of so many choices.

It is certainly logical to resist granting refunds given that it is a time consuming process. Selling the tickets can be too, but paying employees to give money back has a certain sting to it. If a computer could process the refund for you, would you be more willing to grant a refund?

I also don’t utilize as monolithic a response to refund requests as I once did. I sense this is a better stance in the face of all the options people have. But is it diminishing the perceived value of what we offer to do so?

Is it time to reassess the practice of refusing refunds given that people seem to be waiting until they are absolutely sure they want to attend? Is there an opportunity to appear more customer friendly by having a more liberal policy given that 90% of your audience isn’t buying until the last three days? My suspicion is that most people won’t have any awareness of your policy until they want to use it so a change won’t generate general good will. If you really go out of your way to loudly publicize a very liberal policy, you may really undermine the perception of your product unless you do it very cleverly.

Limitations on refunds and exchanges are a part of everyday life so I am not suggesting that it should be scrapped for performances in order to meet changing expectations. I am just using the occasion of this post to suggest looking at policies to assess if they are still valid in the context of changing purchasing and attendance behaviors and how they play into your goals for community relations.

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Info You Can Use: Helping Your Publicist Help You

Last week Ciara Pressler had an entry on Fractured Atlas with tips about increasing your chances of getting press coverage. Her number one tip struck a chord with me.

The #1 way to maximize your chances for coverage? Trust your press reps to do their job. The time to hash out goals, strategy, and timeline is at the beginning of the promotional period, not on Draft 7 of the press release or in the middle of the night on email a week before opening.

The collaborative nature of the arts can work for us, but at times, against us. A creative environment inspires us to have ideas about more than just our own role, and some of the best results come from the synergy of a group. But the bottom line is that we all have a specific job to do,…

I have been in a position where others, whether they were actually in a position to direct my activities or not, micromanaged promotional efforts. Glad to have put those days long behind me. Now I get to micromanage and make people miserable! Seriously though, regardless of my position, I like to have a general plan in place well before an event is upon me and not make any major alterations. I am sure that is true for most people. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have to invest a large number of resources, be it financial or your own brain power and physical energy, to accommodate a drastic change of direction.

Some brief excerpts of other tips that I particularly liked:

Respond quickly.
As in minutes, not hours, and never days. Landing a placement can literally be a matter of being first to respond. …

[…}
Be brief & buzzy.

When a reporter asks you a question, whether by email, phone, or in person, it is not a cue to launch into your 20-minute (or even 5-minute) philosophy of the state of the arts in America….

Know what you’re there to promote.

If you’re being interviewed, stay focused on the topic of the article or segment….

Let the photographer do her job too.

It’s the publicist’s job to know which photos will work for a particular publication…

[One of my particular pet peeves. I have waged constant battles with people who are fine directing a show, but awful at getting people to look natural in a photo shoot and won't cede control. -Joe]

Understand that media is a business.

A reporter is subject to an editor is subject to an editorial calendar is subject to the publication as a whole is subject to advertisers. If there are four major shows opening in a given weekend, there may not be room for a review of a new company’s first production. If an outlet’s primary audience is musical theatre lovers, they will likely pass on covering a Shakespeare play. Especially in the age of search engines, priority will be given to topics that will draw the most – or most desirable – audience to a publication.

I didn’t edit down this last one because this sort of response is common to those outside an arts organization as well as within. I got a call last week from a person telling me it wasn’t very helpful that they learn about the show from a feature story in the weekend entertainment section of the paper on the same day as the event. We had the event on websites, including those focused toward local families, newspaper and radio spots and had been listed in calendar sections repeatedly for a couple weeks. (Not to mention the brochure and email blasts we had been sending.) Fortunately, people who had been purchasing tickets identified each of those places as a source of information or I might despair at having paid for all that advertising. I explained to him that I had no control over what the newspaper printed and when. I noted that papers usually waited to print a story with big headlines and eye catching images until a time when the information was immediate and relevant because that is what people valued. I added that we were very pleased that they had chosen to cover our event amid all the rest of the things going on.

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Fractured Atlas Has Found Me!

Fractured Atlas has my home address. I am not sure how they got it, but I have my suspicions. (I’m looking at you Western Arts Federation and Americans for the Arts.) The reason I know this is I received a small pamphlet in the mail this weekend letting me know about Fractured Atlas’ services to artists. My assumption is that this is part of Fractured Atlas’ effort to have a more nationwide reach. While they do have membership across the U.S., the vast majority of their members are on the East Coast, especially around New York City.

As I am wont to do when I see them offering something I like, I am encouraging people to check out their services. The pamphlet says their goal is to support artists, arts groups, arts administrators and other creative types “in the business aspects of your work–through access to insurance, funding, education, technology, and more.”

They have designed the pamphlet like one of those choose your own adventure books to direct you through a survey of their services. The first page directs you either to a page on fiscal sponsorship and insurance, two of the basic services Fractured Atlas has offered since they formed. Here is a look at the center pages of the pamphlet.

Click Image to Enlarge

Fractured Atlas has been demonstrating this sense of fun a fair bit lately. Take for example their espionage themed blog posts about two of their research fellows working on their open source arts administration software ATHENA. It’s a little strange, but a far more interesting read than posts discussing how they analyzed the current market needs and their methodology.

Wait a minute, maybe I am not taking their spy stories seriously enough! Maybe their research fellows are much better than I anticipated and that is who found out where I live! If I turn up missing in the near future, start the questioning with Adam “the Hutt” Huttler.

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