Leadership / 01.15.20
They Did It; So Can You! 11 Tips to a Lifelong Ticketing Career
Have you ever met a person who made a conscious decision to spend their life working as a ticketing professional? We’re sure they exist, yet many INTIX members say they just fell into our industry through part-time ticket office jobs on weekends or during school.
Fortunately, things are starting to change. The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) and the National College Creative Industries, for example, have developed an apprenticeship and career path for the U.K. ticketing industry. At the same time, the INTIX Mentor Program is giving young professionals and those who want to advance the opportunity to learn and develop valuable relationships.
We spoke to six titans of ticketing to seek their advice on growing your career. Our questions focused on young professionals and helping those who have more recently joined our industry, but it quickly became clear that the wise counsel we received is relevant to everyone, regardless of age or career stage. Here are 11 important tips shared by recipients of INTIX’s Patricia G. Spira Lifetime Achievement Award.
1. Work hard. Whether you’re new to the industry or looking to make a move, ticketing is like a famous Eagles song: It’s life in the fast lane.
“To be successful in ticketing, you must resign yourself to the commitment of time and the nontraditional work hours involved to be successful,” says Dan DeMato, President and Founder of FutureTix. Prior to founding FutureTix in 2008, DeMato spent more than two decades as Senior Director of Ticket Operations for the New York Mets.
“As I’d always tell people when I hired them, we work on weekends, we work on holidays, we work on birthdays, we work on anniversaries, we work whenever there is an event, so you have to be flexible,” says Jack Lucas, Founder of both TicketsWest, from which he retired in 2017, and West Coast Entertainment, a concert promotion company where he continues to serve as President. “It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work, especially [when you get to] the end product. You see the guests arrive at the theatre, arena or any other venue, and you see that we obviously have helped to create long-lasting memories.”
2. Always do your best. These may be simple words, but they will help you achieve the greatest possible outcome, says Albert Leffler, a Co-founder of Ticketmaster and currently the company’s Vice President of Arts and Theatre.
“Always contribute at the highest level; always do your best,” Leffler says. “You just cannot succeed by lagging behind or not paying attention. You cannot succeed by being insincere. I’m a firm believer in sincerity — that you must believe in what you are doing. If you don’t believe in something, it shows because you don’t last. Either you’re going to leave because you’re disillusioned or you’re going to be asked to leave because you’re not contributing. If you are sincere, trying your best, keep plugging away and you try to improve not only what you’re doing but improve yourself along the way, it’s going to work out for the best. That’s been one of my credos. I’ve always tried to do my best in all things, but in particular in getting this company started and through its many phases and owners to the point where we are now part of Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s leading music company. That’s kind of phenomenal.”
The best career advice DeMato ever received echoes Leffler’s sentiments. “Don’t jerk the job,” he says, “which apparently is Brooklynese for: If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing it well. That phrase has resonated with me throughout my career when a job might have required me to dig deep to get to the finish line. That advice was given to me by a co-worker at the beginning of my career when I was contemplating an easy way out of a task.”
3. Believe in yourself. “Most of my best decisions from hiring staff to selecting computer systems have been based initially on instinct,” says Angus Watson, who retired after serving as the longtime Director of Ticketing for Ravinia Festival. Watson adds that doing due diligence, research and checking references is important, but it’s equally important to trust your gut and be prepared to defend your decisions.
Whether you’re looking to increase your success in your current role or move to a new one, DeMato agrees. “Have confidence in your ability; you’re probably much more capable than you give yourself credit for.”
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is so important, says Gary Lustig, Principal of LusTicks Consulting, a 10-year former INTIX Board member, Board Chair and past executive for the Kimmel Center.
“People are not selfish in this industry,” he says. “Somebody always has an answer or has had an experience [that they can share]. If you’re doing your networking, you’ll always find somebody who is willing to help, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. I can’t tell you how many stupid questions I’ve asked people along the way, and nobody ever said, ‘Hey, that’s a stupid question, Gary.’”
5. Network and create solid relationships.
“Ticketing is a relationship and technology business that is large in volume, but ever so small in its own network of peers and colleagues,” DeMato says. “Always deal with others today as though they will have an impact on your career later in life.”
Karen Sullivan, a Senior Consultant for FutureTix who previously worked in ticketing operations at MetLife Stadium and the Meadowlands Sports Complex, says it’s important to meet and network with industry peers through conferences, regional gatherings and other meetups. “Take some time and get to INTIX or whatever other organizational groups you are affiliated with because the benefits will be phenomenal compared to the amount of time that you put in, especially as you go through your career.”
“Network like crazy,” Watson says. “I wish we’d had LinkedIn when I was starting out. Join INTIX and attend the conference!”
Lustig agrees. “Networking is important, and, for me, this is where INTIX came in. I went to my first INTIX conference when it was BOMI less than a year into my first ticketing job. At that conference, Pat Spira literally dragged me out of the corner I was hiding in and put me on a committee. I’m still friends with those committee members from 35 years ago. They were just the first of an untold number of people who have helped my career along the way. Having access to all their wisdom and experience, the ability to be educated and see new products and services — that was really a big part of being able to be successful.”
6. Learn from mentors. Many ticketing professionals have individual mentors to thank for teaching and guiding them. Others, like Sullivan, believe that mentors are everywhere.
“I never thought of having a mentor formally when I was coming up through the ranks, but there were lots of people who gave me advice. So, were they mentors? Yes, but not necessarily one particular person,” she says. “You’d go through a variety of people either in your career or in your position. You learn from people at INTIX, and they become mentors. You also learn from your bosses or sometimes even co-workers. I didn’t, and I still don’t necessarily, look at a mentor as being a particular person, more as a group of people that you get information from.”
7. Step outside your comfort zone and leverage opportunities. Sometimes, Sullivan says, you just have to try something new when you have the chance.
“When I was running a ticket office, I had a boss who offered me a chance to do guest services, admissions, ticket taking, all kinds of stuff. It was slightly out of our whole ticketing realm but not too far removed. I had virtually no experience in those areas, but he said that he saw what I would be able to accomplish. [I had] help, a lot of mentoring and learning from some of my friends who were in those positions.”
8. Always innovate. Ticketing is always changing, and there are opportunities to positively impact the industry with new technology or by improving an existing process or service. This applies to those who are working with organizations and also those who dream of founding their own startup one day.
“Ticketmaster was not the first computerized ticketing company, but the idea for us when we founded it was to build a better mousetrap. [We wanted to be] better than what was out there; that was our goal. Let’s start from scratch, a clean piece of paper, make it a little bit better for the client and the consumer," Leffler says. "We weren’t the first, so it wasn’t something to disrupt [the industry] in that way, but we could disrupt it by doing it better. I think for those who are thinking about the industry and how you would disrupt it, it’s how can you do something better, more cleanly, less expensively, more effectively. If you can find that, then there will be a path to success, undoubtedly.”
“We’ve always done things this way” is not acceptable, Lustig says. “This industry is constantly changing. You’ve got to be willing to innovate and take chances, get ahead of the change as opposed to have it carry you along. For me, one of the big successes in my career was back in 2000 at the dawn of online ticketing. I worked for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. We were the first symphony in North America to sell tickets online directly through our in-house ticketing system, allowing patrons to choose their own seats, which was unheard of at the time, and we allowed subscribers to do online exchanges, which was also unheard of at the time. Not even the large orchestras were doing it, but it was an initiative that I thought we needed to do. We did it and it helped to generate a lot of sales for us. We could have just continued on the way we were doing things until somebody told us we needed to sell tickets online, but we didn’t.”
“One of my mentors in the business world told me one time, ‘Remember Jack, God hates a coward.’ You can interpret that any way you want, but for me it means don’t be afraid to think outside the box,” Lucas says. “Have faith in yourself, have faith in your teammates and keep centered. In ticketing, it’s the duck on the water; we may seem like we’re calm on the top, but, underneath, our feet are paddling like heck.”
9. Hire the right people and learn to delegate. It’s not always easy to give up control, but when you reach the point of managing others, it’s vital.
“That was a really tough one for me to learn along the way,” Lustig says. “I felt the need to control every single thing that happened or tried to control every single thing that happened. When you learn how to hire good people and you learn to delegate to them, then you enable their success and they enable your success.”
10. Be open to ideas and opportunities. “Always listen to new ideas,” Watson says. “This is especially true if your staff are generally younger than you are. They are so much more in touch with what’s happening out there.”
For those looking to make a move to a new organization, Watson says you should be prepared to take a less-than-perfect position to get your foot in the door. “I’ve seen countless great staff members start out as an intern or in an entry-level position before advancing. This is especially true if you want to work for a particular organization or in a particular location.”
Sullivan agrees. “Be open to any options that come to you. Be able to [say], “Well, this isn’t exactly where I thought my career was going to go at this point in time, but it might be worth my while to give it a shot now.”
Leffler credits being in the right place at the right time and “not being afraid to go out and leave the nest where I was at the current time, having a stable job if you will, and going down a different career path — but it was really the right place at the right time that made a big difference,” he says. “If it had been a couple of months off, it might not have happened. If it hadn’t been for certain networking, it wouldn’t have worked either. It was something I never, ever, ever, ever planned on. I never dreamed I would go into the ticketing business. My career path was heading toward being a manager type for a performing arts center or for an opera company, symphony or ballet. That was the direction I was heading in, and this kind of came along and I thought ‘Well, why not give this a shot?’ And it was a good shot. It was a lucky shot.”
11. Never stop learning. This is perhaps truer today than ever, Watson says. “Technology and customer expectations are changing faster than at any previous time. You have to keep up.”
With so much collective experience and expertise, we also had to ask these Patricia G. Spira Lifetime Achievement Award recipients why ticketing is a great career path to pursue. Here’s what they told us:
“The ticketing world is an amazing blend of show and business,” Leffler says. “You have a business side, but you also have the entertainment side, and ticketing is the bridge between the two. I think that’s what attracts a lot of people. They’re a part of a show without being an actor or a quarterback or a point guard. They’re affiliated with organizations that provide that entertainment and at the same time they’re satisfying another part of their psyche, which is the business side and the technology side. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
Sullivan says ticketing is a great place to learn about the whole of an organization and what makes things tick. “A long time ago, I worked for [a finance guy], and he said follow the money. If you stop and think about the big picture, a lot of the money goes through the box office. So, you track the money and you know where it goes because of what you’re doing in the box office to bring that money in. You’re working with the operations staff to determine the ticketing kills. You’re working with the marketing department to figure out how to better sell [an event]. You’re working with your ticketing vendor to figure out the best way within that system to promote your event and to get the tickets out there to sell your house out and make a lot of money. If you’re in the box office, you’re touching all of these [areas] and you learn so much; you know so much of what’s going on. It gives you [a great] overview that I think a lot of people who are not in ticketing don’t realize.”
“If you’re a ticketing professional, I dare say that you have job security because there aren’t a lot of people who do what you do,” says Lucas, recalling the time when a ticketing professional who had moved back to town stopped by to introduce himself. “He came in and said he was from Spokane [where TicketsWest is based]. He was born and raised here, had just moved back and worked for Tickets.com for four or five years. We interviewed for about a half hour, then I said, ‘You’re hired!’ I mean how many times do you have a ticketing professional walk into your office? Never! The business is at a point now where good ticketing professionals are sought after, and I think there’s a good career path for individuals wanting to create a career in ticketing. If you talk to venue managers, they would tell you that one of the greatest assets in their building is the ticketing professional.”
“Live entertainment ticketing is the business that puts smiles on people’s faces,” DeMato says. “While no one goes to school to be in ticketing, we all find our way there through the love of sport, music, art [and more]. It has the challenge of being public facing with ever-changing technology, but [it’s incredible] being a small part of the first time a kid sees that beautiful green ballfield in the stadium with their hero at bat or mouths hanging open wide as the symphony roars and the tenor belts out in operatic song. There is no greater pleasure than making it all work.”
DeMato continues, “Ticketing is an industry of great camaraderie where industry counterparts will share ideas and extend a helping hand. It’s a place for self-satisfaction because few people will understand what you do. But you’ll know when you got it all right when the curtain goes up, the tickets are sold, the house is dressed and the phone is not ringing.”
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Tags: Leadership , Workplace , INTIX 2020