Sarah Gee - partner

Moneyball - and what Brad Pitt could teach all arts marketers

Posted by Sarah Gee - partner on 22nd January 2012

I’ve had a few long distance flights recently, so have managed to catch up on some films I’d been hoping to see for a while. One of these was Moneyball, which I wish I could say that I wanted to watch because of the story, but I confess that the lure of Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same film was too much for a girl to ignore.

But the story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team and their manager Billy Beane (played by Pitt), and how they took on the big boys of the game to break a long-standing winning streak record, was fascinating. I know very little about the sport, but that wasn’t the appeal. Instead, it was the fact that they built the success on the pitch – which was then, of course, mirrored off pitch in media coverage, ticket sales and sponsorship deals – on the back of data that appealed to my inner geek.

At Billy Beane’s instigation, an analyst looked at the score histories of all the league players and realised that there were people who were achieving great things but were somewhat under the radar: they looked ungainly, they didn’t have the media appeal, they’d been injured and their return to form had gone unnoticed. Because of this, they were cheap in the transfer market, and so a crack team was assembled on a reasonably small budget. They were effective and boy, were they cost-efficient.

So what, you are asking? Well, I was flying home from a seminar about marketing I’d delivered in the Middle East, and we’d spent much of the time discussing the value of research and data. The collective feeling from many marketers in Muscat and Doha was that there was little point in measuring things like visitor or audience feedback in countries where entry is either free, or very cheap, because bottom line isn’t the key driver (or at least not at the moment – the oil money will run out one day, I’m sure).

They felt that without the tyranny of targets hanging over them, there was no need to measure anything, whereas my argument would always be that you are better to know the true picture, even if the truth hurts. And in any case, as a marketing professional, one shouldn’t be complacent. The desire to find an effective and efficient way to address a situation is a very common attribute amongst marketers, in my experience.

The central premise of Moneyball is that many decisions made in baseball are subjective and so often flawed. I’d argue that the same is true within arts and culture; just as baseball players, managers and coaches were shown to be making massive decisions based on their ‘gut instinct’, too often that happens in our sector also. We need more objectivity, and we have all the information we need to do this.

An empirical approach helped a small team compete with the big boys. Just think what data could do for your organization.

I just can’t promise you Brad Pitt as part of the deal.

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