In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Spencer Clark, Managing Director of ATS Heritage.
“Biggest storytelling pain points for Heritage organisations?
Number one, “We want to understand which audience we want to tell our stories to.” Number two, “Once we know that, how do we tell the stories in the best memorable, entertaining, and educational way?”
As a newbie to the sector, Spencer Clark started his career in attractions back in 2012 when he joined ATS to help grow the business. There was so much to learn, but he used his experience in design and creative problem solving and a natural ability to understand clients needs quickly.
Today he is in the privileged position of co-owning and leading the company as MD with a fantastic team and a reputation to match.
His underlying passion is in creating value through great design and unrivalled customer service. He loves nothing more than to listen to clients describe their problems and to be asked to help them overcome them, often in a highly creative yet pragmatic way.
Spencer loves how they can use technology (thoughtfully) to elevate an experience. At ATS, they are pioneers of on-site and on-line digital visitor experiences across the cultural sector, delivering amazing audio & multimedia tours, digital apps/tools, films and tailored consultancy services.
ATS helps their clients to engage with millions of visitors and they are privileged to be trusted by attractions small and large across Europe, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse, Westminster Abbey, Bletchley Park, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Titanic Belfast and Rembrandt House Museum.
Outside of work, Spencer is busy keeping up with two active daughters and try to get on the water paddle boarding, on the hills mountain biking, or roaming around in our camper van.
What will you learn from this podcast?
- Spencer’s insight into what makes a great heritage story
- The ATS methodology that helps bring out the very best experience for your guests
- The age old debate on whether technology detracts or enhances the experience
To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your host, Kelly Molson
Our guest, Spencer Clark
Kelly Molson: Welcome to Skip the Queue, Spencer. It’s lovely to have you on.
Spencer Clark: Thanks for having me, Kelly.
Kelly Molson: It’s taken a while for me to persuade Spencer to come on. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had his arm right up his back for a while, but he’s finally here.
Spencer Clark: I’ve relented.
Kelly Molson: He has relented, but he might regret it. Right, icebreakers. What’s the worst gift that anyone’s ever given you?
Spencer Clark: Who’s going to be listening to this? I’m not so much worse, but once you get, like, your third or fourth mug, it might be personalised and tailored to you, maybe they’re quite amusing, some thoughts gone into it, but when you get a few too many mugs, that creates a little bit.
Kelly Molson: Would you rather socks than mugs?
Spencer Clark: Yeah, I’m getting into my socks now. Yeah, some nice socks would go down a treat, I think.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I’m with you on this. So this was a Twitter discussion, so the team at Convious sent me some lovely Convious branded socks the other week. They’re great. And I had them on. I took them a little picture, I put them on social media and then everyone was like, “Oh, socks. Yeah, were going to do socks for giveaways”, but everyone said, “No, socks are rubbish”. And I was like, “Absolutely not”. Socks are, like, low of the list of things that I want to buy myself. So if I get free socks, I’m going to wear them.
Spencer Clark: That’s it. And you get your favourites.
Kelly Molson: Good. No mugs for Spencer. Okay, this is a random one. If you can only save one of the Muppets, which muppet do you choose and why?
Spencer Clark: Oh, man, that’s quite a good one. Miss Piggy is a little bit hectic for me. I don’t think I could spend a lot of time with her. The chef’s quite entertaining, though. The hoodie gordie chickens, I think is. Yeah, I think he was smiling face and, yeah, I like a good chef, so, yeah, I keep him.
Kelly Molson: It’s a good choice. And I wasn’t expecting the impersonation either. Impressive.
Spencer Clark: There you go.
Kelly Molson: Really, we’re taking this podcast to new levels, people. This one would be quite easy for you if you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life. What would it be?
Spencer Clark: That’s a good. That’s really good. Back after Uni, 1999, I went travelling with my best friend and we had a little campervan and went around New Zealand for four weeks and we bought two tapes when we landed in Auckland and we had those two tapes and we listened to just those two tapes for four weeks in a camper van. And one was Jamiroquai Synchronised album, big Jay Kay fan. And the second one was Californication by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Kelly Molson: Excellent.
Spencer Clark: And I can still listen to them over and over again now.
Kelly Molson: I think I’ll let you have the two because it’s a great story and really good memories attached to those two.
Spencer Clark: Oh, every time we put it on. And Dave is not a great singer, but it’s a memorable voice he has. So we’re travelling around, these tracks pop up and I’m taking straight back to a certain lovely mountain right here in New Zealand. It’s Delcito. Thanks, Dave.
Kelly Molson: Lovely. Thanks, Dave. Good memories, good story, good start to the podcast. Right. What is your unpopular opinion?
Spencer Clark: So it’s QR code, but in a particular setting. And that is where, in restaurants or places to eat, where the QR code is that’s your menu. It’s the way you pay and everything. And I think just sometimes it gets just a bit frustrating. It’s not a great experience because I like a big menu, not necessarily with pictures on the food, I don’t need that. But a good menu with everything on it, so you can kind of see the choices, but on your phone you can’t really see the whole menu, so that’s a bit annoying. And then you got to just order it and add it to your basket and then you think it’s gone, then do all the payment.
Spencer Clark: I know it’s supposed to be easy, but in that environment, I prefer just chatting to a waiter or a waitress and just and having a good experience.
Kelly Molson: I agree. When there was a need for, it was great. Obviously, during pandemic times, that was great that you could go in and you could do that. But, yeah, I want to ask questions. I can’t decide between these three dishes. What would you pick? You want that conversation, don’t you? That’s the whole part. It’s all part of the experience of eating out.
Spencer Clark: It definitely is. And I did a lot of time as a waiter in my late teens and early twenties. And a great waiter makes your night. That’s the way I see it. All your day. It’s just under use. You don’t want to cut them out, you want to go just all on the app.
Kelly Molson: Right, listeners, that is a good one. Let me know how you feel. Are you up for having a little chat with your waiter? Straight waitress? Or do you just want to go QR code, cut them out, no chat. No chat. Let me know.
Spencer Clark: Sometimes I have those moments as well, of course, but overall, I’d rather chat with someone.
Kelly Molson: All right, tell us about your background before you got to ATS. It wasn’t in the attraction sector, was it?
Spencer Clark: No. So ATS where I’m at now, I’ve been eleven years and this is the first entry into attractions culture sector. So I did product design at uni and I was never going to be the best designer. It worked out, but I love design and I love the process of essentially being given a problem and find ways in which you can design something to solve it in the best possible way. So to design was definitely in my interests. And then after Uni, I had an idea. My sister is profoundly deaf and so we had an idea for some software, or had some ideas for some software that helped communicate with businesses using your PC. This is pre Messenger and pre WhatsApp all of that.
So it’s kind of when using modems, if anyone remembers those, I’m really sure my age when talking about modend dial ups and yeah, I went to the Princess Trust actually for a bit of funding, a bit of help, and kind of did that start up. So that was inspired by trying to find a solution for an issue that my sister was facing. But then, yeah, the internet really hit us and we had messenger and thankfully, communications with deaf people are far better now. And on almost any cool playing field we’ve got WhatsApp texts, all of that sort of stuff, and email everything, so it kind of levelled it a bit. Then I set up another business with her and it was deaf awareness training. So we would train healthcare professionals, predominantly. The front of house, health care, how to communicate better with deaf patients.
Again, driven off of a pretty horrible experience that my sister had. And so, yeah, trying to sell something and making the experience better was really important to us. So that was really good. And through that, funny enough, I met ATS along that route because ATS were looking for some sign language tours. They were the first company to really start to do it on handheld devices. And yeah, that’s how I met them, because they found us doing deaf awareness training and signing and asked us for some help. That was the seed. But then at the same time, when I was doing small business consultancy around childcare businesses, really random, but it was the same sort of thing.
I love working a bit of entrepreneurial spirit in me and I loved helping organisations, smaller businesses, particularly with their cash flows and their marketing ideas, and just general small business help, really. And then I found ATS and that’s a whole other story.
Kelly Molson: I love that. Yeah, well, great story. I didn’t realise that you had a startup and you’ve been part of all these quite exciting businesses and it’s those businesses that kind of led you to ATS.
Spencer Clark: Yeah, I had a moment and as many of us do, I suppose I was getting married and I was working in these different jobs and it was quite randomly kind of moved to different things and I was trying to find the focus, what do all these different businesses and these things do? And I was kind of looking at what I enjoyed, what I was good at, and I went through a bit of a career reflection and had someone help me do that. And we’re looking, what’s the common thing here?
And it was creativity, it was working with people. It was definitely small business, not big corporates. And at the time, because I’d already known ATS through doing some of the sign language stuff, they went on my list as, “I need to have a chat with Mike about that one day”. He’s the founder of ATS. And then yeah, eventually we sat down in the chat and invited me on board to try out. And that was eleven years ago.
Kelly Molson: And that was eleven years ago. Tell us about ATS, tell us what they do for our listeners and what’s your role there?
Spencer Clark: Sure. So I’m now Managing Director ATS. So I’ve been there in that role for two and a half years now, two or three. Prior to that, I was Business Development and Sales Director, so driving new business. And yes, so ATS, we’ve expanded out now, but I guess we’re a full service. From Creative Content so predominantly known for audio multimedia guides to on site interpretation and storytelling. So our core business is around coming up with brilliant stories, working with our clients to write scripts, and then looking at the creative ways in which we can tell that story to their target audiences. So whether it’s families, adults, overseas, we then come up with all these great ideas. And whether it’s audio or multimedia, with film or apps, with interactives and games, we try and find all the unique ways of telling that story, of that unique site.
So we have predominantly in house, fantastic production team, editors, filmmakers, developers, we have interpretation specialists and script writers. So once we’ve done all the content, we’ve also got all the technology as well. So part of our business has we manufacture our own hardware, so multimedia guides, audio guides, we have software that runs on all of them. We also do apps and PWAs, and we have a tech support team as well, who are out managing all of our clients. So we have 45,000 devices out in the field at the moment, so there’s a lot being used, a lot of experiences being had one of our devices, but they all need battery changes, servicing, all that sort of stuff. So we got a tech team for them as well. So complete end to end from consultation, content, hardware, support.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, and great sector to work in. You talked about developing stories. Heritage organisations have the best stories, right? So it is an absolutely perfect fit. I want to talk about the process that you go through and how you make that happen for the heritage sector. What is the biggest pain? So I’m in the marketing team of a heritage organisation and I’ve got a pain and I know that ATS can probably help me solve it. What is that pain that I bring to you?
Spencer Clark: There’s a number that we get approached about and I guess the first one, though, is we’ve got great stories. So, yes, heritage and cultural sites naturally have loads of great stories, so the most prime problem really is them to say, “We want to understand which audience we want to tell our stories to”, number one. And then number two, “once we know that, how do we tell the stories in the best memorable, entertaining, educational way?” So really, they’re the starting point, really, is helping them understand who their audience is and then going, “Right, how are you telling that story?” I often say with a creative conduit between the site and its heritage and their audiences. And we’re the guys in the middle.
You go, Right, we’re going to understand these really well and come up with really great ideas to tell that story to that person in that experience. And that’s the prime too. But then it expands out because once you start chatting to them and you go, well, those stories can be told in different ways to different audiences, but also the experiences are very different across sites. So you could have a linear tool, so you kind of know that the story has to make sense stop after stop and it’s kind of a narrative thread, whereas other sites are random access, so you’re moving around. And so therefore, everything needs to make sense in that situation as well.
Kelly Molson: Very interesting, isn’t it? I hadn’t thought about how the building itself or the area itself can have an influence on how the story is told.
Spencer Clark: Absolutely. So we do guides at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and you’re thinking, “Right, big ecclesiastic sites, they must be very similar”, but they’re not. St Paul’s random access. So once you’ve done the introduction, you can go wherever you like in St Paul’s and access that content. The storytelling within that space, however you like. Westminster Abbey is very linear and so you start at point 1 and you have to go through and there’s a fixed route to it. They’re two very different buildings architecturally, so the challenges with that, for example, is when we’re designing the scripts and designing the experiences, saying, “Well, what is the visitor journey here? And where are their pinch points?” I think in one spot in Westminster, we had 10 seconds to tell a story.
People can’t stay more than 10 seconds in that area because it just ends up backing up and then it’s awful for everybody else. Whereas St Paul’s is very different. You’ve got a lot more dwell time and a lot more space that you can sit and just listen. So two very different experiences that we design.
Kelly Molson: That’s really complex, isn’t it? So you’re not only thinking about how to tell the story in the best way to fit with the venue and the access and how people walk around it, but also from a capacity perspective, people can’t stay in this area for longer than 10 seconds. So you’ve got to get them moving.
Spencer Clark: Exactly.
Kelly Molson: It blows my mind. Talk me through your methodology then, because I think that’s quite interesting. Like, how do you start this process? They’ve come with the pain. We’ve got this great story, we’re not telling it in the best way that we could. How can you help us? Where do you start?
Spencer Clark: It’s a good place. What we love is you get face to face and you walk the current experience and you walk through it. And it’s great to talk to visitor experience teams, curatorial, front of house, as well as senior stakeholders and having a conversation with all of them to kind of really get a sense of what’s the outcome I’m starting with what’s wrong or what do you want to better? What do you want this outcome to be? And then we kind of work backwards because we have a lot of experience to share. And so there’s things around this routing, wayfinding, dwell time. There’s things around operations and logistics of handing out hardware or promoting an app if that’s what clients are pushing out to their visitors. But we all got to understand there’s lots of different models as well.
So some sites, for example, you may pay to get in, but then you may pay for an audio or a multimedia guide or an app afterwards. So you’re paying for your ticket and then you’ve got a secondary spend for a guide. I have seen a lot of our sites, especially some of the bigger ones, they have an all inclusive. So you buy your ticket and you get your guide included. But those two models means two different things because on the all inclusive, the majority of your audience are getting that guide. Therefore that story that we’re going to create for you is being told to the biggest proportion of your audience, whereas those who buy additional, you know, the take up is going to be lower, therefore that message is not going to get to that many. But you don’t need as many devices.
And so we look at kind of whether they can handle a stop of hundreds or thousands of devices in some cases.
Kelly Molson: Oh, you mean like where they’re going to put them?
Spencer Clark: Exactly.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s all about that.
Spencer Clark: These castles and heritage sites didn’t really they weren’t designed to hold racks or racks of guides, which is why they end up in some funny places, sometimes moat houses and whatever. So we start there, that’s kind of walk it through. We want to listen and understand what everybody as a stakeholder, what they’re wanting from it, but then we really kind of go, what does the visitor really need and want? What are they paying for? What are their expectations? And how can we have our impact on the visitor experience, which is essentially what it is. We’re involved with storytelling content, visitor experience and technology, essentially the delivery method of it.
Kelly Molson: What’s a good case study, then, that you could share with us? I guess the proof of the pudding is in people being engaged with those stories. So it’ll be about the feedback, right, that the organisation gets once people have been through the experience and they get good TripAdvisor recommendations and all that kind of thing. What’s a good example that you can share with us of something where you’ve worked on it and it’s made quite a vast difference to that experience?
Spencer Clark: I’d like to say every single project. We generally want every client. We’re passionate about making a difference. You’re investing in time and money and we want to add as much creativity to it, but we want it to be as effective as possible, which is why I really want to understand what clients are wanting to get. If we look at this in a year’s time, what do you want to see happen? And if it is better, TripAdvisor does that. I think we’re hitting that really well, because not many sites, I’d say you have visitors kind of commenting on the audio or the multimedia guide back in the day. But when you look at a lot of our client sites, they get mentioned in TripAdvisor and how it’s made a massive difference.
So I was chatting with a client today, the guide is eight years old, a multimedia guide. We did a full film production for the introduction film, but then we also put that content into the guide, so it felt like this really the continuity in the storytelling. So once you arrive, you watch the film, you got the characters on the film, but they also feature in your guide. So as you’ve watched it, you go off and you go to a dinner party and we’re just chatting today and they said, eight years on and it’s still really good and getting reference to and we’ve got prospect clients and new clients who go over and check it out and they just love it. Just because we’ve designed it to last a long time, it shouldn’t date because it’s often our sector.
They’re not refreshing content like that every couple of years. It needs to last as long as it can and get its money’s worth. The output is a great Vististor experience. Hopefully we’re inputting on the NPS score, so hopefully people are saying, “yes, the overall, we’re one part”. My colleague, Craig, he says it people don’t go to a site for the multimedia guide. Right. They’re not going, oh, we’re here ATS are great, let’s definitely go to one of their sites. They don’t they go there? And then once they get this wonderful experience with the front of house with a fantastic audio multimedia guide that’s been thought about and really designed well.
And then the retail was great and the food and beverage was good and there was parking and whatever, and it was a sunny day because if it’s a rainy day, everyone has a really bad experience. It’s raining, which is obviously out of control of many sites. So, yeah, we’re one element, but an important one, we feel, that really impacts on ATS and TripAdvisor and feedback and repeat visits.
Kelly Molson: Do you get asked that question, actually, about how long this will last? So you said that guide has been around for about eight years now and I’m thinking, “yeah, that’s good going, that’s good return on investment, right?” We get asked that quite a lot about websites. “How frequently do you need to update your website? How frequently do we need to go through this process from redesign and development?” And I think it really depends on how well it’s been done to start with. So we’ve worked with attractions where we did their website, like six or seven years ago. It still looks great because it was thought out really well, it’s planned well, the brand was in place and it’s the same, I guess, with your guide, if it’s done well from the start, it’s going to last longer.
Spencer Clark: Absolutely. And to me, that’s part of the brief, that’s the design process, looking at the brief and the clients and asking those questions, “Well, you’re, you can update this” and you kind of know they’re not going to update it in a year. So how long was the shelf life of this product? What do you want it to last? And so once you know that at the beginning, you start producing it in a way that you say, well, that might date, you could have contemporary fashion, but that might look a bit dated in five, six, seven years time, whereas if we go animation, you can make things last a lot longer. But then, yeah, realistically you could be looking at how long does this last? Eight years, nine years?
We’ve got clients up to ten years now. As long as you write it, you have an awareness that you don’t mention potentially people’s names who work there because they may move on and maybe even the job title might change. So you got to just be a little bit careful of kind of mentioning that, especially at site’s consideration. When you’ve got 12, 13 languages, you make one change in the English, you’ve then got to change all that. So again, it’s this understanding at the beginning saying, well, the risk of having a celebrity or whoever if you don’t want them and they’re out of faith or whatever, or they’re not available to do any rerecords you got to think about that and say, well, that’s going to have a knock on effect, and that will change then eventually.
So, yeah, there’s all these little secrets of the way in which things are, but we’re aware of them. And that has a massive impact on the cost down the line. And the quality, of course.
Kelly Molson: That’s the benefit of the consultancy approach that you take as well, isn’t it? Is it, that you are asking those questions up front and you’re thinking long term about what’s best for the organisation, not what’s necessarily best for you? Is it better for me if they update this every three years or every eight years? But what you want is to get them the best experience from it and have the best product possible. So you ask all the right questions to start with.
Spencer Clark: Absolutely. And sites are all different. The story at one place might not change, but they might have a different view on it and so or a different angle coming in. Well, there’s a different story or theme within that place. So we did know National Trust site, so they had a big conservation project and so we’ve done the restoration conservation story. They’ve come back to a couple of years and now we’re looking at different stories within them and telling stories very much around female stories at the house as well. So we’re bringing that in. And what we can do, we’re going to layer it and put in with the content so it will start to really. You have this lovely kind of layering of story and content that people can dip in and out of depending on what they’re interested in.
But that means it is evolving, but you’re not recording loads of other stuff, you’re just starting to build up on this nice kind of collection of content. But then you got sites such that you know they’re going to have temporary exhibitions every year. So Buckingham Palace, we do their permanent tour, but then the exhibition changes every year, so we’ll be going in there and rewriting content just for that element of it. So, yeah, most places don’t change a lot of their content, but when you do, it’s usually just elements of it, or adding languages or adding an access tool or something like that.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, and I love that. But actually what we’re trying to do is just make something better. And that doesn’t always mean that you have to spend a shitload of money on making something, you know what I mean? You don’t have to start from scratch, you can make something really great with what you have. So we’ve been talking a lot with attractions about just making what they have better. They don’t need a new website right now. What you could do is just add these things in and that would make your website 10% better than it is now. Amazing, right? You’ve saved yourself a lot of budget, but you’ve still got this brilliant project and that’s the same with what you’re talking about. It’s not a start from scratch, it’s just building on and improving what you have. That’s a good place.
Spencer Clark: It’s a good offer to have. I think it is because sometimes you just want a little refresh and actually just slightly dated or that’s not the language or the tone we use completely. So we just want to change this intro and often the introduction is the beginning of the experience. So if you can tweak and change that can actually set the tone for the rest of it anyway.
We often go and say, “Well, what have you gotten? What improvements can you make on a minimal budget?” And that’s the honest conversation you have early on and you’re going, “What do you want to happen realistically? What are your budgets, what’s your time scales?” And then we’ll come back to you with something that’s tailored to you and see what we can do. And often a review of the current experience and will be constructive and we think you could just improve these bits at the moment.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I love that approach. And also, do you have a moathouse that you can keep all these devices in? And while we’re on the topic of that, let’s talk about something that you mentioned earlier, which is this app versus devices debate. So you mentioned, and it hadn’t even occurred to me. Do people have the storage space for all of these devices? Are they going to be able to put them somewhere? And I bet you get asked us all the time, isn’t it going to better if we have an app because people have got that phone in their back pocket all the time and so then you don’t necessarily need as many of the devices as you might need. There’s quite a big debate around this at the moment, isn’t there? What’s your take on it?
Spencer Clark: Well, of course I’ve got my opinion on this one, Kelly. But you know, these questions when I joined the ATS, so I joined eleven years ago and I started going to the conferences and the shows and the exhibitions and you know, apps were around and it was the, “Oh yeah, they’re going to be the death of the audio guide”. So there’s me, joined a company thinking, “Oh okay, I wonder how long I’ll be around for”. But what history has shown me is that what drives a really good product and a good solution, whether it’s an app or a device, is really understanding those outcomes and visitor behaviours and COVID was obviously a point in time where people weren’t touching things.
And it was a concern at the time like, “okay, I wonder how long is this going to play out?”. But what we found is humans fall back into an ease of life and convenience and quality, I think is kind of where people say, “Oh, no, they won’t use devices anymore and they won’t use touch screens”. And I remember chatting with Dave Patton from Science Museum and he said, “Yeah, in COVID, we turned all the touchscreens off”. Everyone kept going up to them and touching them because they thought they were off to turn them on, so they turned them off so that people wouldn’t use them. And actually what they’re doing was touching that device more. Do you remember the days people were wiping down all the trolleys? I’m quite an optimist, so I was sitting at the time.
Once we passed this and through it, I feel we will kind of fall back into, you’re not going to take your own cutlery to a restaurant a year, so that hasn’t happened. And QR codes are less and less visible on those restaurants. Yeah. What it really is about for us is, and I touched upon it, there’s a few things around why ultimately you can do everything.
Our multimedia guides and audio guys can do pretty much one of these, but for a number of reasons, visitors aren’t necessarily going straight over to these and dropping the hardware. If I rock up with my kids, got two kids, they don’t have phones, so they’re not going to download an app when they get there. My phone is my car key, it’s my travel, it’s my wallet, it’s everything, so I’m using it all day.
Spencer Clark: And there’s obviously battery concerns there as well, so you kind of start getting kind of battery anxiety of that where you carry around a charger. But there is something and the more and more we work with clients and we compare, we put apps in places as well as multimedia guides or audio guides, and we look at the take up and we look at the behaviour of visitors. And even more recently, we’re doing a site.
At the moment, it’s got temporary exhibition for six months. I’ll be able to say a bit more about it once we’ve done the end of the review, but essentially we’ve had kind of AB testing and looking at how the take up is for guides versus apps and we’re positively seeing big demand for devices for a number of reasons with the audience time who were there. There’s the quality.
As far as I’ve paid my ticket, especially on the all inclusive, I get my guide and it’s really well designed and this is part of the experience designed for it. I’m not worrying about battery and the headphones are in there. I haven’t got people walking around with audio blaring out because they’ve gotten their headphones, which is really annoying to all the other visitors that I’ve been to a few museums and seen that and heard that it’s not a great experience. There’s definitely a quality thing there about it’s part of, this is part of.
Kelly Molson: Do you think it’s part of, it’s escapism as well? So, like, for me, I’m terrible if we’re out and about, if me, my little girl and my husband are out for the day, my phone is in my bag the whole time and I forget to take pictures. I forget to tell social media that I’ve been to a place, “Oh, God, what I’ve got for lunch”, because I’m too busy doing it.
And I think with the kind of headsets thing, there’s an element of escapism there, isn’t there, where you don’t have to have your phone. I like not having to be on my phone. I like that for the whole day. I’ve had such a great day, they haven’t even thought about looking at my phone. So I don’t know whether there’s an element there. We’re so tied to our phones all the day, all day, aren’t we? For work and things. I’m just going to put these headphones on. I’m going to escape into a different world where I don’t need to think about it.
Spencer Clark: Yeah, don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for apps and there’s a use for them, which is why we’ve developed a platform that makes apps as well. But the devices over this recent exhibition, I’m just learning more from visitors and the staff who are there, and they’re saying, “Yeah, you take your phone and you might have the tour going, but I don’t turn my notifications off, so I’ll still get interrupted by things”. And you’re right, I want to be in this experience. And my attention, I’m hoping, is mostly on what’s there and the stories that are being told to me. So, yeah, there’s a lot around there. There’s also perceived value.
I did a talk at Historic houses pre COVID, but I had like 160 people in the Alexandra Palace and I asked them all, “how many of you just have downloaded an app in the last twelve months?” A few hands put up and then said, “Okay, how many of you paid for an app out of those?” and all the hands went down. There’s this thing about, would you spend £5 on an app? Probably not a lot of people would. It’s got to be really well promoted and maybe in the right circumstances, the right place, the right exhibition, you’d get someone doing that, but people will pay and you see it. They will pay £5 for a device that’s being designed and put in there as part of the official experience of this site.
So you’ve got to look at the take up and the reach that an app will bring over a device as well. So there is perceived value. See if you can charge for it great or if it’s in ticket price, it just makes the whole value of the experience even better. I’m not sure what’s your experience when was the last time you paid for an app, Kelly?
Kelly Molson: Bigger question, as you asked it, I was thinking, and I can’t remember. There must be something that I’ve paid a minimum value for, like it was like, I don’t know, £0.69p or £1.29 or something like that, but I couldn’t tell you what it was or when I downloaded it.
I mostly have car parking apps on my phone. Honestly, I think at one point I counted I had seven different car parking apps on my phone because all of the car parks obviously stopped taking cash. I’m terrible with cash, I never have any of that. A lot of them. But they’re all free.
Spencer Clark: There’s definitely something there around perceived value and what it means to the experience, I think.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s really interesting, actually.
Spencer Clark: The debate will continue for years, though, Kelly. The debate will carry on. And if that’s about telling a great story to as many people as possible. Right now, in our view and our data that shows across all these sites is devices that are doing a better job than apps at the moment. But there’s still a choice. Some people will have them. And I think it’s going to be a blend. It’s going to be a blend, but overwhelmingly the device is more.
Kelly Molson: But it’s interesting because you mentioned and one of my questions is, how is ATS evolving? Because I guess that you didn’t always have apps as an option for people. So that’s probably one of the ways that you’ve evolved over the years, right?
Spencer Clark: Yeah. So we started doing audio guides. That was the initial and then again, Mike, the founder, was really spotted multimedia as an opportunity, screen devices as we started coming through. Not everyone had smartphones at that point. And so to provide a screen device, it was great for putting additional content and film content and also accessibility, sign language videos and things like that, which is how I got into ATS, sign language videos. So putting them on a screen and you look at how much audio visual content we now all consume on a small handheld device, he definitely saw something. And that’s where ATS kind of drove that element. A lot of our work was multimedia guides over audio guides.
And it was about not just playing audio with an image on the screen, because that’s not adding much for the sake of this device, you need to add a lot more to it. And that’s where we grew our in house production team. So all the editors coming up with really good ideas and animations and videos or interface designs, all that sort of stuff, and interactives and games and things like that, you could be really just opened up a whole world of opportunity, really. Yeah. So we started pushing that. But again, part of that design process was, and going back to the kind of we only had 10 seconds to tell this story or whatever, it’s the same with these devices, and when we’re creating content, visual content, it’s got to warrant the visitor’s attention.
If you’ve got an amazing masterpiece in front of you, then of course you don’t want to be head down in the screen, you want to be looking at it. But what could that screen do, if anything? We may decide not to even put anything on there, just go audio. But there could be something there that you want to, a curator might be interviewed and show you certain details on the painting and you could point them out on the screen. That then allows you to look and engage with the art in front of you. But, yeah, we drove that kind of way of delivering interpretation on site through multimedia guys, but we do a lot of audio as well.
I’m just plain, straight, simple audio, I say simple, but lovely sound effects, really nice produced, choosing the right voices, really good script, sound effects, that sort of stuff. So, yeah, it’s quite a pure way, I guess you would say, with audio owned.
Kelly Molson: Nice, you mentioned the word warrant back there. Which brings me to my next question, which I think is fascinating, because there aren’t many organisations that are ever going to achieve this, but ATS has a Royal Warrant now.
Spencer Clark: Yeah, yeah, we got it on March 22.
Kelly Molson: Absolutely phenomenal. Tell us a little bit about that.
Spencer Clark: Yeah, so we’ve worked with Royal Household for quite, well, a couple of sites for over 15 years. We provide audio multimedia guides across pretty much all of the raw sites now, which is a wonderful achievement, we’re really proud of it. And, yeah, we applied for a Royal Warrant. They’re awarded to about 800 businesses in the UK and they range from one person, sole trader, craftsman, craft people through, to multinationals and SMEs and everybody in between. And it’s a mark of quality and excellence in delivery of service and sustainable as well over a long period of time. We applied for it and were awarded it in March. It was a really lovely accolade for us as a business and it was a great moment to get so we’ve got a hold of that now.
Kelly Molson: That must have been lovely. So, again, at the start of the episode, you mentioned that you’d moved into the MD role, and that was a couple of years ago. Right. So you’ve been an MD through COVID times, which must have been a challenge for you. As a founder of an organisation myself, I know that was a big challenge, having to learn how to do things in a completely different way. That must have been a really lovely kind of success story of those times.
Spencer Clark: Definitely. We have got such an amazing team and one that people stay with us, our team stay with us for a long period of time and it was also a point where I was taking over and the founder, Mike, was properly retiring. So for him, it was really great to get for him. And we had one made up for him as well, a plat, so you can have his own he’s got his own rule warrant, but yeah, for the rest of the team, it is a recognition. What’s really important for me is that everybody in the team is responsible for the quality of service that we deliver from picking up the phone and working on projects, the development team, the service team, the teams that go on site.
We’ve got staff as well, so we staff at St Paul’s Cathedral and Bucks Palace and Windsor Castle, so we got members team handing out guides and operations there. And it’s everyone’s responsibility in our business to offer a great service in everything we do. And it definitely was yeah, it was a really great recognition that we could share with the team.
Kelly Molson: Amazing. Right, what is next for ATS? What exciting developments are they’re coming up that you can share with us? Anything on the horizon?
Spencer Clark: Yeah, I guess this year feels like many, and I’ve been speaking to, you know, it’s nice to get back into conferences and exhibitions and stuff where you kind of chatting to the sector, but this feels a little bit more normal as a year. I think last year was still a kind of bounce back out of COVID but this year seems to be mor. There’s tenders coming through. People are now doing new projects, so that’s good to see. So there’s an appetite.
I think what it’s really shown is there’s an appetite in the sector to really improve the quality of visitor experiences. I think that’s what’s really that I’m seeing and something that we’re well positioned to support clients in is that quality of a visitor experience. On the back of that, we’re looking at always continuing to look at different ways in which to tell stories and the way in which we can engage with the visitor, which doesn’t always mean the latest tech.
We’ve looked at AR and things like that and we’ve tried it, but what you got to be careful, what you got to understand is, instead of when you’ve got visitors from 8 to 85 year olds, your solution has to be accessible to everybody. And as soon as you might put in something that might if the technology doesn’t quite work in that environment because it’s too dark or too light or whatever, or the tech just isn’t there to do it, then it suddenly breaks the magic of that experience.
And so you look at different ways of being innovative and that can just be through a really different approach to the script writing, or putting a binaural 3D soundscape instead, or having a really good interactive that just brings the family in to answer questions or something like that. We will always continue to innovate, but it’s not necessarily about technology. But we love tech. But you’ve got to think about the practical implications of tech in the projects. And that goes back to earlier I said about sustainability in the budget and some organisations just don’t have the appetite or the budget to invest in some of this tech, even though they see it and they say, “we want that”. Okay, “this is how much it’s cost. And it’s brand new”, so you’d be developing from scratch or whatever.
Spencer Clark: And it’s not always palatable with the budget holders. So, yes, you got to think about operationally sustainable. What’s the best solution that reaches your outcomes, essentially? So, yeah, where else are we heading? Great content. We’ve got new products coming through, new devices, that sort of stuff, which has kind of been, like I said, our core business.
But we’re also doing a lot more online, so digital exhibitions, things like that. So we’re taking our onsite storytelling experience and moving online. So we’ve done some virtual tours, but not just 360s where you’ve got hotspots. We add the ATS magic to it. What else can we add into those kind of online experiences? It’s a different experience, but we can definitely add some lovely creativity to the storytelling on that. So we did that with a number of clients, including Glenn Palace.
We did the Churchill exhibition, which was a full three day film shoot over COVID, which was a huge challenge. But yeah, there was a high risk factor there when your main star is a Churchill lookalike and if he got COVID, the whole shoot pretty much cancelled, but we managed to get through that, so that was good. So, yeah, more of that sort of stuff. So, looking at the online space, we’re getting into 3D digitisation of collections, so we’ve got a partnership going on where we can photogram using photogrammetry to create 3D models. And then what we’re saying is we add the ATS magic to that, where you got that model. Let’s put it in context, let’s tell that story around that actual object.
It’s a 3D model, so, yeah, we’re playing around with areas on that and some other things that I’m sure I’ll share in the future. We’re not standing still. That’s for sure.
Kelly Molson: No. And I’m sure I’ll hear about it at whatever conferences that we’re at together at some point, Spencer. We always ask our guests about a book that they love that they would like to share with our listeners. What have you prepped for us today?
Spencer Clark: I’m in the car a lot, so I do a lot of audio books, if anything. I don’t know if it’s an excuse, but I just don’t find time to sit and actually read. Busy family life, busy work life, all that sort of stuff. So a lot of audiobooks. But also, I love business books, whatever you can learn from kind of business and marketing.
And obviously I had that role previous to ATS, I was kind of supporting small businesses and stuff. So there’s one I had, I attended a session by a marketeer called Bryony Thomas and she’s got a book called Watertight Marketing. Her session was brilliant, it was really practical, it’s really scalable. So it could be for a one person company, sole trader, up to an organisation that has multiple products online, wherever.
It was just a really good book that just gives you clarity and thinking. And there’s this takeaway straight away from it and a really good approach to kind of reviewing your marketing and how well it’s working, and then just picking those things that are going to work quickest to find out where the weaknesses are, the leaks, essentially, she calls them. So, yeah, I’d really recommend it. I’m hoping quite a lot of your listeners are interested in marketing. We’re all looking at trying to get visitors back in and what our service and products are. So I’d recommend Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas.
Kelly Molson: Oh, I think that’s a great recommendation. I’ve read that book, I’ve met Bryony once a very long time ago and it’s so simple, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? And you think, “how is this the first book that’s talked about marketing in this way?” That’s what blew my mind when I read it and it is, it’s just about plugging the gaps, filling the holes in your bucket. It’s absolutely brilliant concept, great book. Thank you for sharing.
Right, listen, if you want to win a copy of that book, and I would recommend that you do, if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words I want Spencer’s book, then you might be lucky enough to win yourself a copy. Thankfully, it was only just one book today. Everyone else tries to kill my marketing budget and goes with two. So well done you, Spencer.
Kelly Molson: Thank you ever so much for joining us on the podcast today. It’s lovely that you came on, I’m really pleased that you did. Lots to think about there and loads of tips for our listeners if they’re thinking about enhancing their stories. So thank you.
Spencer Clark: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Kelly.
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