Friday, 26 April 2019

Let's Get Down to Business: Charlotte Geeves, chief executive of the Henley Festival

Let's Get Down to Business: Charlotte Geeves, chief executive of the Henley Festival

CHARLOTTE GEEVES is chief executive of the Henley Festival. She was born and bred in Wokingham before going to Trinity College in Carmarthen to read theatre studies and history followed by a year’s postgraduate course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. She had a number of theatre and arts jobs before moving to Henley in 2014 with her partner Chris and their son Henry, five. She enjoys walking, running, swimming and, of course, going to the theatre.

Describe your business

The Henley Festival is a five-day intimate festival experience on the banks of the River Thames that celebrates the best of UK and international music and arts with an incredibly loyal audience, some of whom have been coming every year since it began in 1983.

How many people does it employ?

We have eight permanent employees and three regular freelancers but during the actual event we employ between 500 and 700 people.

What did you do before you started at the festival?

After my postgraduate course I went to live with my Nan in West Ham. My first job was with Theatre Venture followed by Paines Plough, a company which specialised in promoting plays by new writers. I then toured as a company manager before becoming company manager at the Young Vic. I also worked at the Globe Theatre and then went to work in the producing and programming department at Sadler’s Wells. I left in 2011 to work at Salisbury International Arts Festival followed by a job with Wildscreen, a wildlife TV and film festival in Bristol.

Why did to take up your current job?

I wanted a new challenge working in the arts with commercial opportunities.

Who or what has influenced you?

In 2007 the Globe’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole told me that I ought to do more with my career so I went to go at Sadler’s Wells.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

Yes, Alistair Spalding, artistic director and chief executive at Sadler’s Wells, has had a big influence on me.

How is the Henley Festival doing?

Every year our audience grows. I’m very grateful that we have a loyal audience in what is an incredibly competitive environment but the world of sponsorship continues to be a challenge in these uncertain times.

How do you market the festival?

PR, print, digital marketing and medium and large format poster advertising.

What’s the best thing about your job?

No day is ever the same — whatever I set out to do inevitably changes. I love what I do and I’m lucky to work in the industry that I always wanted to be in.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Raising the money to make it work.

Where is the Henley Festival headed?

Financial stability is key. We are continuing to develop and support emerging talent and aiming for the widest possible audience. Since 2015 our audience has grown by 40 per cent and we’ve doubled the amount of music, comedy and art over the five nights. Twenty per cent of the revenue is pumped back into the local economy through our grant initiative, working with local food and beverage suppliers and a core part of our music and art programme is from local talent.

How important are online sales?

Very. Seventy per cent of our tickets are bought online.

Do you have a five-year plan?

We are midway through a five-year plan, which changes and develops all the time but having a plan is better than not having one.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Not to rush into making decisions, even though we work to a very tight timescale.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Be really honest with yourself as to why and what you want to get out of it. Ask for advice. People will help.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

We made a big one with ticketing in 2016. I learned a lot.

What three qualities are most important to success?

Drive, determination and resilience.

What’s the secret of your success?

I have always worked hard. I care about what I do and have been lucky to often be in the right place at the right time.

How organised are you?

Reasonably. Life is busy working full-time and being a mum.

How do you dress for work each day?

It depends on who I’m meeting.

What can’t you do/be without every day?

My glasses, otherwise I can’t read anything!

Lunch at your desk or going out?

Most days I bring something in from home.

What do you read?

A variety of fiction, mainly on holiday. The last book I read was The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings. At the weekend I buy the Guardian and the Sunday Times and I always read the Henley Standard.

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