Leadership / 06.08.22
Ticketing Pro Hatti Simpson Works Hard at Woolwich Works in London
Ticketing industry professional Hatti Simpson says she has so many funny and interesting anecdotes about her time in the business, she feels she could write a small book. Among the most memorable events she’s ever worked on were the drum and bass club nights the Cambridge Junction live music venue in Cambridge, England, would put on.
“They would run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and they were full of many colorful characters!” she says, recalling her days and nights as the operations office there. “Highlights? The gentleman who tried to pay for a ticket by picking up my stapler and handing it to me, the vast number of people who would throw their coats across the counter and yell ‘Cloak room!’ at us, and the many … eh, mostly complimentary comments I would get about my brightly colored hair. Remarks like ‘You look like a mermaid. Can I take you swimming?’”
Another of her favorites was the woman who arrived at the club and then had to immediately leave because she realized her cat had followed her all the way there and she had to take him home. “It was a truly brilliant group of people I worked with, and we’d always make the most fun out of it.”
Simpson has been working in ticketing for almost a decade now, starting in Cambridge and then London across an array of theatres, arts centers and live performance venues. She is currently Ticketing and Digital Manager at Woolwich Works, a new venue in southeast London that opened its doors this past September.
“I was set to start a brand new job in April 2020 but was unfortunately — although understandably — made redundant before starting,” she says. “So, I spent a few months unsure what would happen next. And then Woolwich Works appeared out of the sky like magic, and we set to work opening this new venue during a pandemic.”
As Ticketing and Digital Manager, she is responsible for ticketing functionality, social media and (her words) “website things.” Since opening, she has been highly involved with getting Woolwich Works’ ticketing offering off the ground — from pricing to ticket types, audience analysis, seating plan variations, systems integrations for a smooth and efficient on-sale process and more. “The digital marketing side of things is really fun too,” she says. “A lot of it was fairly new to me, but it's been great to learn on the job. Now, you can often spot me at shows running around to get the best angles for an Insta story! I'm lucky to work with and be able to learn from a group of really amazing people — we're a small team but we're tight-knit and have a great rhythm together!”
Like most ticketing professionals, she has been battle-tested during the COVID-19 era. Monday, March 23, 2020, was the day the U.K. government announced that people shouldn't go to venues and theatres anymore, which effectively shut down much of the live events industry. “We'd spent the day assuring our audiences that it was OK to come, that we'd swap their tickets to a later date if they wanted to wait it out for a bit, and that we'd look after them,” she says. “At 5:45 p.m. with a show going up in less than two hours, the decision was made to cancel the rest of the run, and it was suddenly action stations!”
She says, “I'd run show cancellations before, but this was different. We didn't know when the next show was going to be allowed to happen. We didn't know when we'd next be in the office, and we already had audience [members] in the restaurant ready to watch the show that night. It was a whirlwind and an incredible display of everyone just leaping into action to get done what needed doing with no knowledge of what was coming next. We then had to work out how we could get set up working from home, which we'd rarely done before, creating new systems, sorting out phone lines and calling hundreds and hundreds of bookers. I was so proud of my team for pulling it together. It was hard work, but we smashed it!”
Simpson has “smashed” a number of assignments during her career. She has especially loved conducting audience analysis and development. Proudly calling herself a “self-confessed data nerd,” Simpson says, “I love a spreadsheet and a graph! I even enjoy writing big old papers reporting on stats and figures — being able to sift through the data, work out what's important and to whom, how best to translate and display it and what comparisons can be made is a genuine joy for me! I see such value in being able to analyze the data you have and pull from external data sources. [You can] really paint a picture of who your audience currently is to help identify trends and patterns, but more importantly to understand who your audience is not and why, and build an understanding of who you want them to be.”
But there are still aspects of her job that she continues to find challenging … even hard. She says, “The pandemic effect is still in place in the arts, particularly with customer booking patterns and behaviors, which is a challenge. The ability to predict trends and anticipate a sales period has gone out the window. And, as someone who does rely so heavily on data, it's a difficult position to be in for the industry. We’re lucky to have some amazing groups in the U.K. like the Insights Alliance who’ve been collating data through the pandemic. To have access to resources like this is vital right now. We can see that recovery is happening and venues have done so well to get back on their feet already, so I’m hopeful for the future that we’ll start to see things balance out soon.”
Simpson has not always been such a wise industry sage. It wasn’t that long ago that it was she who was soaking up counsel from those above her. One such mentor was her old boss when Simpson served as Box Office Manager at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in London. “Amy Belson taught me that it's OK to say ‘no’ — or, at least, 'not right now.’ I’ve always had a tendency to say ‘yes’ to everything because it's all so exciting, and I want to be part of everything that comes my way. But spreading yourself too thin means you can't give your best to the important things. Once it was pointed out to me, I was surprised by how difficult I found it to say ‘no’ to people. But with a bit of practice, I'm now getting better at setting boundaries and protecting my time and workload.”
She also credits a friend of hers, Dion Wilson, who advised her that it's OK not to have work emails on her personal phone. She says, “I’m allowed to switch off, and if it really is urgent, they'll find a way to reach you — and it's genuinely been a game changer!”
Simpson has some of the same words of wisdom to young women reading this who are just starting out in the ticketing/live event space. The biggest lesson learned? Slowing down from time to time. “If the pandemic has taught me anything, it's that a work/life balance and rest time outside of work is so important and we shouldn't feel guilty about it,” Simpson says. “Being well-rested means we can be our best selves. If I could give any advice to young women in ticketing it would be to take your time to find your balance, and that it's OK to set your boundaries and stick to them. Take opportunities that serve you well and make the most of them. And if the right opportunities aren’t coming your way, forge your own path!”
And never stop having fun. Case in point, Simpson also hosts a ticketing and marketing podcast called “COBOs & Cocktails” where she chats up interesting people from across the industry about their experiences and career journeys over a drink in her imaginary venue bar.
Looking ahead, Simpson says she is hopeful about the second half of 2022. She says, “One of the things I’m most proud of with our industry is the amount of learning and education that has come out of the pandemic, with venues being shut, social movements, and events taking place in new, creative and more accessible ways. Issues are being addressed, and we’re seeing really great changes being made with new ways of doing things and new technologies being introduced. I’m optimistic that we’ll see much more happening to make our industry better and more inclusive!”
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