Leadership / 01.27.22
Looking to the Future, Ensuring Equal Access, Celebrating INTIX Members and More: Highlights From Day Two
After a magical day one at the 43rd INTIX Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, day two kicked off with an important Leadership Town Hall General Session. Titled “Bigger Than Burnout: Sparking Joy, Rekindling Passion and Rebuilding the Industry,” it included executive industry leaders who remain with their organizations and are looking to the future in terms of what we do now. Each bravely, openly and with true vulnerability shared their inspiring stories of personal and professional learnings, action and triumph over adversity.
Moderator Crystal Brewe, Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications at the Kimmel Cultural Campus, began with opening remarks and turned the floor over to Qiava Martinez, Vice President of Premium Service and Guest Experience for the Las Vegas Raiders, who told her story via video recording.
Touching on how she continues to find joy in these times, Martinez shared a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that, for her, has significant meaning: “Your life begins to end the moment you start being silent of the things that matter.”
For Martinez, remembering the things closest to her heart was key. Prior to the COVID-19 slowdown, her focus on doing her best at work often far outweighed other areas of her life. This, Martinez said, is fine, but it felt a little bit unbalanced. “I did not take the time to be the best friend, the best mother, the best wife, the best mentor, the best leader. If you do not recognize those things, you are a little bit out of balance and you are not the best version of yourself. I found balance because it was forced upon me.”
Martinez explained that while working from home, she lost a couple of family members one year after another. The most recent was her father-in-law and that, she said, “really pulled on my heartstrings.”
She continued, “He was always supportive of my dreams, and he always pushed me to make sure I was being an advocate for others. Those are the things that matter most to me. I stepped back, and I started to work on those relationships. I started to mentor my team and be an effective leader because I was finding passion projects [outside of work]. I wrote a children’s book in regards to the sports industry.”
Putting it into perspective, Martinez explained that being a voice in the NFL for people who look like her is what matters most outside of her family.
Pictured, from left: Anwar Nasir, Marla Ostroff, Anthony Esposito, Laura Matalon and Crystal Brewe.
“Like Qiava, I was confronted with imbalance in my life,” shared Laura Matalon, Chief Marketing Officer for Hamilton the Musical, though for different reasons than Martinez.
In the fall of 2019, Matalon and her husband had moved from the home where they raised their daughter to downtown Chicago. Each day, Matalon would walk the mile-and-a-quarter to and from work from her new apartment. She found it to be of tremendous benefit once the world shut down because it gave her exercise and mental space, “which kind of saved me,” she said.
“Last February, I was just getting up to the back door of my apartment building while I was on the phone with my husband. I did not see it, but there was black ice [as I was opening the door]. I did a full-on split. A woman my age should not be doing that,” said Matalon, adding that the door attendant came running after seeing the accident on the building’s security cameras.
Matalon was significantly and badly bruised, so while being in the office was important to her, even when she was the only one there, she decided to work from home the following day. Matalon called her chiropractor and asked for advice but did not change her work schedule.
“God forbid I should actually take the day off,” she said. “I had my headphones on and was walking around my apartment. I had my computer with me but realized I could not sit. Sitting hurts a lot, so I had to figure out a place I could be … so, [again], I am walking in my apartment with my computer in my hand, I am on the phone with somebody and I do not see that the dog has moved her blanket.”
Matalon fell hard. Again.
This time, she slammed down on her left knee, the opposite leg that she had injured the day before.
She continued, “A few days go by of hobbling, and now there are a couple of days where I could not walk to the office. I finally went to see somebody about this, and it turns out I had torn two of the hamstrings from the bone on my right leg, and I had fractured my knee on my left leg.”
Matalon was offered the option to immobilize her knee or use a brace. She chose the latter.
Two surgeons she consulted had differing opinions as to whether she needed surgery. She chose not to have surgery. “My tap dancing was not going to be any worse than it was,” she said lightheartedly.
With the help of a physical therapist and a lot of perseverance, Matalon was able to get close to where she had been physically.
“What I realized as all this was happening is that I had to put [the same amount of energy I was putting into my work] into my own personal care, which is something I had not done for myself, ever,” Matalon said. “The world did not fall apart around me. The work still happened but on my terms in a different way. And as much as I would try to teach my team about the importance of having this balance, of having your own passion if your passion is outside of work, too, then everything you bring to work is going to be so much more productive, and you do not have to be spinning like a top all the time.”
She continued, “I never led with that. I would say and mean these things, give people space for it because I know how important it was, but somehow I did not feel like I personally had permission to do that. Once I finally gave myself permission because of this twist or fall of fate, I feel like I got better at being a leader, of being able to model the behavior.”
And, after this learning, said Matalon, “I went on vacation and did not even bring my computer.”
Anthony Esposito, Senior Vice President ofTicket Operations for the Atlanta Braves, spoke next.
Being in Georgia, Esposito shared how his experience in Atlanta was different from other areas of the country that had experienced more enduring capacity limits, mask policies and/or closures.
However, he and his team did experience troubles, too, including losing the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which ticket operations had been working on for over two years, to Coors Field in Denver. The game was pulled from Truist Park after the Election Integrity Act became law.
“Selfishly, we got to have the last laugh,” said Esposito, referring to the Braves’ 2021 World Series win, as the audience laughed along with him.
While becoming World Series champions is indeed a monumental achievement for the entire Braves organization, it does not erase the challenges of facing mental health issues or change during a pandemic. To help remove the stigma of asking for and accepting help, Esposito shared that he, too, knows to ask for help when he needs it.
“We definitely had a little bit of a roller coaster season from starting with reduced capacity, going to 100%, having the All-Star game taken away, being a below .500 team on Aug. 1 and ultimately winning the whole thing. Our story is just win the championship,” said Esposito, bringing the audience to delightful laughter once again.
Marla Ostroff, Managing Director of North America Ticketmaster, shared how a variety of things helped her get through the pandemic days, from checking in with as many furloughed employees as she could to simple pleasures.
“Every day, I would write down what was the most positive thing of my day. Some days it was really hard, and I stopped doing it about three-and-a-half months in, but I looked back recently, and ‘grilled cheese [sandwich]’ one day was on my list. ‘I took a bath’ was another one,” she said. “I like to end my day being positive because the negativity was not going to help me or help anybody that I am around.”
Ostroff continued to share another story, this one of a furloughed colleague who led a weekly call with his furloughed peers to help make each other feel good. He was a quiet, reserved person who came out of his shell with comedy routines, jokes and anything else that could bring a smile. Later, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“Michael Rapino always says we take care of our own. He has said, ‘If you ever have an issue and want us to do something for an employee, please send it in.’ Sometimes those are just words, but I had heard stories of some of the things he had done, so I wrote a letter to him,” Ostroff said.
In her letter, Ostroff shared that this employee was on furlough and would therefore not get disability. She further shared that her furloughed colleague was a single man living in an apartment by himself and that this would be a long road for him. Ticketmaster took action and today, 10 months later, he is on disability as his journey battling cancer continues.
“The uplifting part to this story is the fact that I have gone to see him several times now, and the one thing he constantly says to me is how much he loves the music industry. He was at one point in the seminary … he said to himself, ‘I love rock and roll, I love music, I love the entertainment business. What am I doing here?’ And he left the seminary. When I visit him, all he does is talk about music, talk about entertainment, talk about when he comes back. I saw him at Christmas and said, ‘You are so inspirational.’ He said, ‘We have been through things like this. If you look back in history, many people have been through difficult times, but the beauty of this industry is we get to see joy at the other side of it.’”
Anwar Nasir accepted a new job during the pandemic, becoming Executive Director of the Louisiana Philharmonic. He spoke about his journey in ticketing and how he is always thinking about the importance of showing up for people, however they need him to show up. “Whether I can actually do anything for them or not is irrelevant; it is the fact that they know I am here,” he said. “That makes me feel better because I know that I can be there with whatever they need, whether it’s time, talent, treasure, support, something to laugh at, whatever it might be … that helps recharge my battery, because I know that if everyone else is OK, then I will be OK, too.”
During a question-and-answer session after the Town Hall, the panelists spoke about what they are most grateful for as well as what they will take with them from their pandemic learnings. Matalon’s response, that she learned how to breathe and take a step back, resonated with attendees.
After the Town Hall, an impressive array of daily sessions kicked off, including presentations on the Inspiration Stage sponsored once again this year by SecuTix.
Dani Rose, Training Manager and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for Ticket Philadelphia, delivered an important talk titled, “Service First! Customer Service and Accessibility.”
Rose spoke about her role in onboarding and training customer service staff for all resident companies and working to improve accessibility across campus. “Five to six years ago, Ticket Philadelphia made a commitment to accessible service by assigning me to an accessibility role and sending me to receive certification as an ADA coordinator. I have passionately advocated for greater inclusion practices in the Cultural Arts of Philadelphia ever since,” Rose said.
In doing so, Rose created the concept of Service First, a universal design approach to customer service and guest experience. “What if we created a radically inclusive of way interacting with all guests, thereby ensuring our guests with disabilities have and equitable experience? Today,” said Rose, “I am here offer clues for how we might solve for equal access in your organization.”
She continued, “For our guests with disabilities, we often do not meet those expectations. One of my friends, and a frequent guest to the Kimmel Cultural Campus, put it to me this way, ‘When I arrive, I just prepare myself to get whatever they give me.’ I don’t think we want to be seen providing customer service on the ‘whatever’ level.”
Rose went on to detail how Service First means offering outrageous customer services for all guests, regardless of their abilities. Ticket Philadelphia does this through five commitments:
- Presuming equitable capability, such as trusting that every person who enters your space is capable of navigating it independently and that they do not have need for special requirements. A person, explained Rose, is not disabled by their medical diagnosis but by their environment, so it is important to take steps to remove barriers that may prevent them from experiencing your venue and events in the same way as others.
- Be experts in our venues through staff training. Rose has ticket-sellers go on venue tours led by front-of-house partners to share tips and details about key spaces. On these tours, ticket-sellers get to see the various types of technology commonly requested by guests. Expertise in language is important, too, stressed Rose. “If a person identifies the need for specific seating accommodations, we keep our conversation strictly on the seats. If a guest says, ‘I have a bad leg; I need an aisle,’ we say, ‘Would you like a seat on the right or left aisle? We do not say which is your bad leg or how well can you walk?’”
- The use of universal icons, or as Rose calls it, “the love language of accessibility,” is important across websites, database systems, venue signage, marketing materials such as brochures, backstage, in training documents and even in a patron’s account if your ticket system offers this capability.
- Listening and evolving by being familiar with and ensuring the phrase “Nothing about us without us” is of key importance. This means you should not create anything for the community of people with disabilities without involving the community of people with disabilities. Be intentional and open lines of communication so that you are receiving feedback. “It is equally important,” said Rose, “to recognize that the burden of the work to identify barriers to access should not be placed solely on people with disabilities. Once you have been educated by this community, honor their work by making changes.”
- Lead in your community and be a person who insists on accessibility, then share what you are learning with your organization and community. “When I first started advocating for greater access in my organization, I was the bee in everyone’s bonnet reminding them to consider the regulations of ADA and the best practices for accessibility. After a year or so, rather than me having to pipe up in every meeting, my peers would come to me ahead of time ask about access considerations. To me, this is what being a leader in the community means.”
From the Conference Floor
From this session at the SecuTix Inspiration Stage to meeting up with Eric Rozenberg, CEO of SecuTix Americas, there are always important insights to be found. Rozenberg is a regular attendee at INTIX because he feels it is important to support the industry, network with colleagues and share our experiences.
We asked Rozenberg, “What does SecuTix most want to share with the INTIX community at this time?”
“We are proud to have kept everyone on our payroll [throughout the pandemic], not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, as we know that our customers need support, and our onboarders and customer support team members are essential to our success,” he said.
In recent years, SecuTix has found great success through the power of blockchain.
“Scalping, fraud and security are all essential issues that are as important today as they were before,” Rozenberg said. “Secure mobile tickets powered by blockchain solve those challenges. Last summer, our client UEFA injected one million tickets in the blockchain during the Euro Soccer Championship. Our solution, TIXNGO, can reproduce this for any size venues, whether they work with SecuTix or not.”
At a time when many in the industry are looking for work or the next role in their career success story, Rozenberg also shares that SecuTix is recruiting additional onboarders and customer support professionals.
INTIX honored the 2022 Awards recipients at the annual awards lunch on Thursday, celebrating professionals who are demonstrating the highest level of ticketing expertise, regardless of title, location or organization.
Learn more about the INTIX Spirit Award recipient, the True Tickets Young Ticketing Professional, the IMPACT Award honoree chosen by the INTIX Board Chair, Outstanding Ticket Office, Outstanding Ticketing Professional and Patricia G. Spira Lifetime Achievement Award in our feature story.
INTIX Happy Hour
Following many more excellent afternoon sessions, our Thursday at INTIX would not have been complete without another wonderful opportunity to chat poolside with friends, colleagues and industry peers over drinks. Thanks to our friends at AudienceView for sponsoring the INTIX Happy Hour.
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Tags: Leadership , ticketing pros , INTIX 2022