In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Kingston Myles, Head of Commercial Development at English Heritage.
“I’m really a staunch believer in the working methodology, “Know, do, and review”. Know what you can’t do, know what you can do. So take the time to look at, take stock, understand what you have, what you don’t have, what you might need to be successful, then get on and do it.”
Kingston Myles is Head of Commercial Development at English Heritage. He describes his role as “seeking out and executing opportunities to generate new income for the charity and improve on processes to reduce expenditure”. Kingston is responsible for a number of growing and emerging businesses that intersect the Charity and its assets (sites, collections and brand) with commercial businesses (Venue Hire, Licensing, Holidays and Compliance).
Kingston has a varied background and prior to joining the heritage sector in 2017 worked in numerous venues and across several high profile events including Glastonbury Festival. Kingston has a passion for both sustainability and equality, he describes this passion as being a positive culture amplifier. He plays an active part of driving change from within – currently sitting on the Organisations EDI Steering Group and is the founding member and chairperson of English Heritage’s BAME Staff & Volunteer Network.
Kingston is driven by wanting to see more senior leaders that are representative of society across the arts, heritage and cultural sector. Kingston is also a Trustee for the Association of Cultural Enterprises – a sector supporting organisation focused on the advancement of commerce in the cultural sector.
What will you learn from this podcast?
- Diversifying visitor attractions income streams
- Where the biggest opportunities lie outside of tickets and retail
- How to define and create great partnerships
- Kingston’s top 3 tips for attractions of any size to implement
You can also read the full transcript below.
Your host, Kelly Molson
Our guest, Kingston Myles
Kelly Molson: Kingston, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I’m very excited to have you here.
Kingston Myles: More than welcome.
Kelly Molson: Hopefully you’ll feel as excited after I’ve asked you the icebreaker question. Who knows. But let’s go. Right, this is quite topical for today, so I want to know, what are you most likely to buy when you exit through the gift shop.
Kingston Myles: Me personally, probably a bottle of gin or alcohol. That’s probably my go to when I leave through the gift shop.
Kelly Molson: Good choice. A gin man. A man of my dreams. Not going to lie. Okay. All right, well, this is another one that leads on from that, actually. Do you have or have you ever had a collection of anything?
Kingston Myles: Yes, when I was growing up, I had a collection of the James Bond videos and used to put them all together on the shelf and they used to paint a picture and that one was missing. My nan used to buy them for me when I was a kid and, like, only one of them was missing right up until videos kind of got killed by DVD and DVDs got killed by Netflix. So, yeah, I guess that was probably the one thing I can remember having, like, a proper collection of.
Kelly Molson: Did you ever get the missing one?
Kingston Myles: No, it was like number 13, I think, from memory. Not that it’s bugged me for all these years.
Kelly Molson: Look, someone listening to this is going to send you that now. They’re going to hunt it down on ebay and be like, “Look what I found you”.
Kingston Myles: And I’ll be in the loft digging out the videos and then trying to find a video player.
Kelly Molson: Have you still got them?
Kingston Myles: I think they’re still at my parents house and they’re lost. Yeah, we don’t throw stuff away easily.
Kelly Molson: No, we’re hoarders as well. It’s really sad, though, isn’t it. Because my mum did this when I was younger with Disney videos. So every new Disney film that came out on video, she bought, and I think she was thinking, “Oh, this is lovely. You know, one day I’ll have grandchildren as well and they can watch them”.
Kingston Myles: Yeah. And then streaming came along and now we’ve kind of just got everything at the click of a button.
Kelly Molson: Disney+ mum, taken over. Right, good. I like this. Okay, last ice breaker question. What’s the best attraction event that you’ve ever experienced?
Kingston Myles: I went to the Ally Pally fireworks last year, which is the big fireworks show for London. And I’m not a Londoner, so you’ve got to imagine, first of all, I was in South London and I told friends I’ll pop up and see them.
There’s no popping from South London to Ally Pally, as I found out the hard way. But I’ve just never seen a pop up one night fireworks show on the scale of that with like, the infrastructure and all the different bits that kind of make it what it was. I really underestimated it. I thought, I will turn up, there’ll be like, a few burger vans and like, a bit of music and a bar. No, it’s this just incredible pop up experience that takes over Ally Pally.
Kingston Myles: So that was probably the one that surprised me most because I went thinking it would be like every other sort of local firework display and it was huge.
Kelly Molson: Everybody rates this. I’ve never been to this. I can remember years ago, ice skating at Ally Pally, and I used to have to get three buses to get to Ally Pally to actually do that. But everybody speaks so highly of this fireworks attraction. Fireworks night.
Kingston Myles: Never been. It’s phenomenal. It’s huge and there’s literally tens of thousands of people go to see it. So it’s definitely worthwhile going to. I think also it’s one of those once you’ve been to it, you want to go and find something else because the magic will probably fade potentially relatively quickly and there’s lots of other incredible displays around London, but it’s definitely a worthwhile experience.
Kelly Molson: Excellent. Good choice. Wasn’t expecting that. Okay, right, your unpopular opinion. What have you prepared for us?
Kingston Myles: I think my really unpopular opinion is that actually we over-index our focus, especially in the culture and heritage sector, on gift shops, on catering and on membership. And actually the future is way beyond that. So that’s probably my unpopular opinion. We over-index on shops and cafes and forget that there are dozens of other ways that you can generate income.
Kelly Molson: Oh, I like this. And very topical for the things that we’re going to talk about today as well. It’s an excellent lead into the conversation. Okay, well, we are going to talk about diversifying income streams today. Your role. When we spoke pre interview, we had a brilliant chat and I just found your role so interesting and so diverse. Can you just share a little bit of what you do with our audience and kind of what your tasks are with achieving?
Kingston Myles: Yeah, sure. So my official title is head of commercial development, which is best summarised as being responsible for this kind of incubator of business growth and efficiency. So I’m responsible for four business areas within English Heritage: our brand licensing program, our portfolio of holiday cottages, and our venue hire business.
And those are all income generating parts of this sort of incubator and then also responsible for managing a suite of national contracts. So the provision of services to all of our site operations teams and that’s really about looking at efficiency opportunities, the chance to rationalise contracts and reduce perhaps the supplier debt that we have in terms of the number of suppliers we’re working with so we can get better value for the charity.
But all of those business areas are kind of unique in that they’ve got such scope to grow at a point they will eventually have their own, hopefully their own allocated head of department when they sort of graduate my care and then something else will fall into, I’m sure, my sort of pool.
Kelly Molson: It feels quite entrepreneurial, your role, is it quite a unique role for English Heritage or is this something that you’ve kind of defined for yourself within the organisation?
Kingston Myles: Yes, I’m the first head of commercial development. The role was created back in 2020 with an initial focus on looking at brand licensing and contracts and compliance and then there was sort of an opportunity to pull the holiday cottage piece in as well.
And then various sort of personnel and structure changes meant that I inherited the venue hire business, which is exciting because it’s kind of the closest thing to sort of my previous job roles, sort of pre culture and heritage, but yeah, it’s definitely unique in a sense of various business areas rather than sort of one specific focus, that traditional focus of having either like ahead of retail or ahead of catering, which we do have all head food and beverage, but within the cultural sector, sort of heads of business development, heads of business innovation, change, transformation.
I mean, they all sound very buzzworthy, but there are definitely more and more roles emerging as institutions say, well, actually, how do we diversify our income streams. Strike up more partnerships. We kind of need somebody who is almost like a paid entrepreneur and I’m so privileged in that. That kind of really is my job. I’m paid to be entrepreneurial without the risk of having to invest all my own cash and capital into an idea,
Kelly Molson: It’s the perfect role.
Kingston Myles: Yeah, definitely. Especially because when it’s successful and when we do great things, they contribute towards this sort of wider charitable purpose. So you get this real benefit of creating a business, but that business has this incredible sort of halo effect of doing good because we all work for a charity.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. So it’s the warm and fuzzy feeling as well. You mentioned just briefly there that your roles previously outside of the sector, what were those roles and how have they helped you with this role? That’s quite an interesting thing to understand.
Kingston Myles: So I used to work in bars and nightclubs, hospitality and events, sort of a real event and hospitality sort of butterfly as that industry kind of is. You kind of chase progression, opportunities, new openings, there’s always something sort of shiny and new moving in the hospitality space and managers move around a lot.
But I think the transferable skills from that, it’s everything from just general business operations and financial acumen which especially if you’re in an independent operator, you’re really close to both the PNL but also the balance sheet and cash flow.
And then also kind of innovation and that entrepreneurial spirit that sort of need to be able to grow a business, whether that’s more people through a door, a higher transaction value or a more efficient control of your suppliers and contractors, kind of it’s all transferable into the sector.
And there’s this kind of really interesting change in the sector at the moment in that more and more people are transitioning into the sector. Rather than kind of perhaps growing through the sector, it’s becoming more attractive as a sector to work in, which is exciting because it used to really be a case of sort of join and you had to work your way up, whereas actually the sector is recognising those transferable skills, add value, especially in this current climate.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I like that take on it, actually, because we have a lot of guests that come on that work within the attraction sector that would start at quite a low level entry point and then work their way up. You’re probably the first guest that’s come in from a completely different perspective. It hasn’t been your beer or endo. You haven’t had this huge desire to work in it from the minute that you came out of school. You’ve transitioned from something that’s completely different but really transferable.
So I’m excited to hear where today takes us. All right, well, let’s start. What I’d like to understand is how attractions start that process of diversifying its income streams. You talked a little bit at the beginning about we’re quite tied to admission fees and membership and retail. How do they start to look beyond that?
Kingston Myles: Yeah, I think part of it is taking stock of what you have. If you’ve got big open green spaces, then great. You could focus on large third party events, working with production companies and clients and promoters. If you’ve got this really interesting design Led collection, or if you’ve got a really interesting story to tell, then perhaps it’s more around sort of brand licensing and leveraging the intellectual property.
So I guess step one is asking, what do I have beyond my shop, beyond my Cafe, beyond admissions. What product could I create?
And what product is going to be the easiest to create is probably the best place to start because I speak to a lot of colleagues within the sector or a lot of sort of commercial managers within heritage and culture institutions that are like, right, well, we want to do everything that your job does.
And I’m like, well, you don’t have a portfolio of properties that could be transformed into high quality lets or accommodation. Never going to have a holiday business. So don’t try and squeeze glamping into this really small corner of your estate. Focus on something else. So, yeah, I guess it’s taking stock is key.
Kelly Molson: That’s really good advice, isn’t it. And I guess it’s looking at what you already have and making the most of it, which is a message that is quite key at the moment, where we’re seeing budgets being marketing departments all over. You don’t have to necessarily start from scratch. It’s just about making the most of what you already have and developing that into something that you’ve already got quite a captive audience for.
Kingston Myles: Yes, definitely, 100%.
Kelly Molson: Great. Okay, so what are the areas that look quite exciting at the moment. If we’re an attraction. Where can you see some of the biggest opportunities?
Kingston Myles: Yeah, I mean, so filming location hire. We’ve seen this huge boom in domestic filming location hire. Domestic film shoots, domestic productions, regional screen tourism offices are popping up. There are some incredible partners within the film sector. Film London, Creative England, Screen Yorkshire, sort of all these bodies that really drive trying to connect people with great spaces to production companies that want to film domestically.
And I think as we see the kind of challenges of the cost of global travel and the strength of the pound in the sort of wider economic world, although I’m not an economist, sort of change, there’s a real opportunity to capitalise on productions that say, actually, we can unit base. We can produce here, we can shoot here. We can shoot on location. We’ve got this tiny little island, the UK.
And I predominantly focus, obviously, on England because of my role, but we’ve got this tiny little island. But there’s so much in it, so much to see, so much diversity. So I definitely think there’s an opportunity to unlock more spaces for filming a location hire, for sure.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, that’s a great one. I guess that’s relevant. If you have a stately home, for example, it’s a perfect opportunity. But it kind of doesn’t matter what your attraction is, right. Because we’ve seen TV shows be filmed at places like Bembom. I call it Bembom Brothers. But Dreamland in Margate. We’ve just seen a film that’s been released very recently that’s been shot as part of that. And I guess so there’s opportunities regardless of what the size of your attraction is and what it actually is as well.
Kingston Myles: Completely. And I think it’s about for each attraction, they’ll have unique challenges. If you’re a high footfall visitor attraction, sort of a theme park, for example, then yeah, you’re going to have the conflicting challenge of foregoing admissions revenue to potentially reduce your operating capacity to shoot a film.
If you’re the custodian of a collection of national significance or an indemnified collection of art, then you’re going to have all of the unique challenges of working in a space with all of the environmental controls required to protect pieces of artwork and historic collections.
And if you’re an independent stately home, you’re potentially going to have the challenges of the knowledge base required to execute a filming location hire, sort of safely, efficiently. So I think each part of the attraction sector is sort of a whole when you sort of that really broad spectrum of attractions.
Each will have their own unique challenges. There’s a real benefit in networking and learning and working with those within sort of business specific areas that already do it and do it well. So, yeah, hopefully that helps.
Kelly Molson: Definitely helps. We’ll talk a little bit about sector collaboration later as well. So I’ve got a few questions around that. What does English Heritage do? Can you share some of the examples of the diversity that you’ve been able to develop within the organisation?
Kingston Myles: Yeah, so staying on the subject of filming location higher, as an example of an income stream that isn’t purely based on what people might perceive, which is we’ve got historic properties, so they must just do period dramas. Actually, we make our properties available for blockbuster films.
Obviously, I can’t disclose what those are, but there are some that are in post production, which I’m really excited to see how they bring our properties to life in these really incredibly creative and thought through worlds and spaces. But it doesn’t just have to be big major film shoots. We work with fashion houses, brands and editorial magazines to provide spaces for photo shoots.
And then of course, within that same genre, we work with individuals, couples who might have a real affinity to a property that want to shoot an engagement shoot, or a wedding shoot, or a celebration of life shoot. So there’s a real broad spectrum in that you don’t have to suddenly close everything and have these massive film crews turn up with all these incredibly ginormous, almost intimidating pieces of equipment.
It could just be a really lovely local couple that met at a property that are getting married down the road and on the day of their wedding, what they’d really like to do is jump in their wedding car, pop up, take some photos for a couple of hours and leave again. So it’s that real spectrum of like two people in their camera person to two to 500 person strong film crew.
Kelly Molson: I love that as well because that it means that regardless, again, of size of attraction, there’s still something that you can offer in some way. And I think that’s really important to point out is that these strategies, they aren’t just for English Heritage is a very large attraction organisation, but it’s not just for those. There’s plenty that the smaller attractions can take from this as well. What other things does English Heritage do? Because I know that you’ve got partnerships. I know you mentioned holiday lets.
Kingston Myles: Yeah. So we’ve got an incredible portfolio of holiday lets. So we’re really unique in all of our holiday lets are situated within sort of the boundary of our properties and then when the properties close in the evening to guests that are staying overnight, so day guests leave and our overnight guests can sort of explore the exterior spaces and gardens and landscapes overnight.
So they’re really popular. We’re really lucky to welcome sort of just over 1300 holidays a year across our portfolio, which is exciting, and that’s an expanding portfolio. So we’re imminently about to open a new holiday at the Head Gardeners House at Audley End in Essex, and that’s been through a renovation process. So that was sort of bringing the property out back into use.
And we opened a property at Rest Park, which is not too far from Audley End in 2021. But it’s not just sort of holiday lets and filming. You know, we’ve got the brand and licensing program. So it’s really about rather than sort of doing something at our site, if you kind of, you know, generalise the holiday business and the venue hire and filming business as sort of something that’s happening at site, there’s an activity at one of our properties.
Kingston Myles: Our branded intellectual property licensing business is all about unlocking the assets that we have in the collection to tell the story of England we’re really uniquely placed as English Heritage. Our CEO, Kate May refer to us once as the sort of the Museum of England, which is a really nice way of looking at the stories that we can tell.
So our brand licensing program will do the things that one would expect. We’ll use an incredible archive of wallpapers captured from properties over the years in sort of design led work. But we also try to work with a range of licensing partners or licensees that adopt some of our core values.
Are they established English business manufacturing in England with some really incredible conservation and stewardship credentials? Are they celebrating sort of traditional ways of working. Because we’re not only this sort of steward of nearly 400 historic monuments and the blue plaque scheme in London. But we’re really here trying to preserve the sort of art, the craft, sort of the true vibe of Englishness. So we get this real opportunity to play from sort of design led work right through to sort of culture, craft and Englishness as a brand itself.
Kelly Molson: Oh, my goodness. I have so many questions on these, but also a statement. I live like five minutes from Audley End and I had no idea that you were opening the Gardener’s Cutters as a holiday let. I actually had no idea that English Heritage had a holiday let side to its organisation. So this was all quite new to me when we first spoke.
What I really love about it is it really drives into the message that we’re hearing more and more frequently now as we come through into 2023, that people are willing to pay more for something that is a really unique experience. And when you mentioned there about the holiday lets and people can then walk around the gardens at night and get a completely different I just thought, “Oh my goodness, I had no idea that you could actually do that”.
Kingston Myles: Of course. So there’s like an added reason to go and stay book somewhere. That’s beautiful. Obviously it’s going to beautiful, it’s an English Heritage property, but you have this unique opportunity to explore the place that you’re in when nobody else is there at a time that you would never, ever be able to be in it. And I just think that’s amazing.
Yeah, they’re phenomenal and we’ve been really lucky. We’ve worked really hard tirelessly to drive up the quality of our offer. So we started a refurbishment program of our holiday estate towards the end of 2020, 2021. We’re sort of now sort of at phase three of what will probably be five phases of bringing all of those holiday lets up to standard. So at the moment we’ve got a suite that are being refurbished as we speak.
When the Head Gardener’s House opens up Audley End, that will be sort of kitted out with I mean, the kitchen is beautiful, but so is the interior. And it’s not just a case of, well, actually if we just thrown a load of stuff in there, we work really closely with the business that won the tender for the refurbishment.
So we’re working with John Lewis on that property and we work with their interior designers. We’re trying to create and I know we’ll touch on it later, but we’re trying to create these experiences where actually, if you really enjoy being in one of our holiday cottages, you can go away and you can buy pretty much anything you see inside.
Kingston Myles: And as much as possible, as the licensing program evolves, those products will be English Heritage products. So you’ll be sat below a wallpaper that’s inspired by a clipping from a collections archive down the road that actually was in a building on. So we have this incredible piece of wallpaper from Great Ormond Street.
So the same road as the famous hospital that’s used on product, and you’ll be able to go and buy that, but you also might be able to buy it on a cushion or on home furnishings or on a bed spread, but you get to experience the quality of it first and then you’ve really got this sort of continued storytelling.
Like guests don’t just leave because they’ve checked out, they kind of take a little bit of us with them, which is the aspiration, and I think it’s what the Premier ended this years ago. They had this whole campaign where you could buy the hypnos bed that you slept on in a Premier inn. And they were one of the first brands to sort of say, all we are as a Premier inn right.
But if you had a great night’s sleep, have this great night’s sleep at home, because you can buy the same bed that we have. So, yeah, it’s just kind of trying to perfect that wheel, if you like.
Kelly Molson: You described it as experiential shopping, which I think is a great term. And I just love how many facets are waving into this in that you’re celebrating artifacts, artwork, craft that has come from, you know, all these incredible places, and you’re allowing people to now stay in a beautiful holiday cottage, purchase part of that experience to take home with them. If that’s not diversifying countries, I don’t know what describes it any better, to be honest.
Kingston Myles: Yeah, and I mean, you know, as a charity, we’re on this incredible mission to be financially self sufficient. So, you know, we are an independent charity from 2015, so and then this financial year is the last year that we received sort of government tapering relief. So we’re really out there to become much loved to connect with our members, our visitors and our audience.
And what better way to do that than not only offer them a great day out. Because that’s like a core part of what we do. Offer them a great day out that really tells the story of England, offer them this opportunity for a great stay out that tells the story of England, and then an opportunity to sort of take a piece of that. Experience home with them or to go and shop for that experience.
Because we’ll never be able to put a three piece sofa or a kitchen in one of our retail spaces. They’re gift shops. They’re exit through the gift shops. They’re incredibly well run by my colleagues in our retail team. So how can we do that? How can we showcase those other products through our holiday laps, et cetera.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s brilliant. If I can ask you a little bit about partnerships, I just think that this is so relevant to this part of the conversation. But what I’d love to understand is how you define what a good partnership looks like. How do you choose the products and how do you choose the organisations that you do partners with?
Kingston Myles: Yeah, I guess the first thing to say is, and I can touch specifically on products because we have a real robust roadmap for how we choose who we’re going to work with when it comes to sort of licensees. And partners to create product with in that aspect, but broader than that sort of partnerships for us. Touch on. Especially for me, on all of our business areas.
So we’ve just closed a 30 night Christmas light trail at Kenwood in northwest London, which we run in partnership with Kilimanjaro Live Christmas at Kenwood. And we are hosting again Gardener’s World Autumn Affair, and Audley End in Essex, that will be there for the second year this year. And we run that in partnership with the team behind Autumn Fair.
I guess I bring those up because it really symbolises how partnerships work best for us, which is that there’s an equal contribution where both parties are adding value. It could be really easy to mistake working with a charity or working with an attraction as potentially very one sided. We need, they have, or they have and we need, but actually it’s not.
We’ve got this real opportunity to grow combined audiences, add combined and shared value and celebrate sort of everything that stands true in both camps from a value perspective. With products, it’s a slightly more robust roadmap because we are manufacturing something, we’re creating something that’s going to carry our trademark, our logo. So we have five core values that I apply to our licensing business. So we look for products of quality, we look for products which carry hallmarks of authenticity.
Kingston Myles: Are they telling a story accurately? Because we are the storytellers of England, it has to be, right. Are they responsibly sourced? Is the organisation a responsible organisation. Is it fun? Because ultimately fun is one of our core values and it can sound really cheesy when you say one of our corporate values is fun with a capital F. But no, we are fun.
We’re ultimately a day out for lots of people, for nearly sort of pre pandemic, 10 million visitors a year and our 1. 2 million members. And then with products, we look at sort of, is there something imaginative here. Are we doing something different. Are we going to tell a really cool story of England in a way that people might not expect.
Or is English Heritage as a brand going to appear somewhere that you might not expect but are sort of surprised and delighted by. And you could, I guess, engineer those values back over all the other partnerships that we have as well, because actually they’re all of quality, they’re all authentic. Everyone that we work with is respectful and responsible and lots of the stuff that we do, especially the events, are really fun and imaginative. So, yeah, I’m going to go away and add that into my own strategy now.
Kelly Molson: I’m glad that you’ve been inspired by this conversation. What I really liked about that is that the way that you describe the products is that they’re very unique to your values and very unique to your organisations. And that’s what people are looking for, isn’t it. They don’t just want another cushion with something on it.
They don’t just want another thing that they can buy. They want something that they can only get when they visit your organisation. They can only get it if they go to Audley End. They can only get it if they go to it wherever else they go to. That’s what’s really important to people at the moment. That uniqueness completely.
Kingston Myles: And I think one of the cool things about our brand licensing program is that we are loosely making products. We make the products available on site as much as we can and off site with retail partners, but you’d never normally expect to walk into. So I walked into Sainsbury. So I used my very first ever job, when I was like 18.
I was on like I took a gap year and I guess a big regret. I should have just gone traveling it’s in the world, right. But instead I was like, no, I’m going to work, I’m going to save, I’m going to go to university, I’m going to be really responsible. So my first average job was in Sainsbury’s, and I went back to that Sainsbury store in Barnwood in Gloucester and I walked into the Beers, Wines and Spirits aisle. Shock.
People are going to get a real perception of me here and they’re hanging there on a Clip strip. I mean, I knew they were going to be there. Their hanging there was this chip shop, Scraps and Fries, a crisp product that we made with our partner, Made for Drink. So, you know, here I am, sort of twelve years on stood, you know, the shop still feels the same.
You still recognise some of the colleagues stood in the Beers, Wines and Spirits are looking at this product that is made in partnership, crafted in partnership with Made for Drink. They’re carbon neutral when they’re produced, they’re in recyclable packaging and they celebrate sort of flavors and stories of England through food. And it’s an English Heritage product in a Sainsbury.
Kingston Myles: It’s not necessarily the type of product that people might expect to see our brand on, but actually when they learn about the story and then they learn about the partner that we’ve partnered with, they’re surprised and delighted, and I always like to share. We had several different reach outs from prospective partners to create snacking products, crisps, et cetera.
And we chose to go with Dan at Made For Drink because they best matched all of those values. I spoke about sort of quality, authenticity, respect, imagination and fun, rather than perhaps maybe a global snack manufacturer that, yes, we could have made tens of thousands of packs, but it would have been just our logo on just another bag. There wouldn’t have been the depth of storytelling.
And then when you look back to us being that sort of Museum of England with our sort of ambition of telling England’s story, you kind of have to really stay true to those values to create a quality product and to create lasting partnerships and relationships. We don’t want to feel like we have something.
Our logo, they want it, great, have it. And then what do we get beyond that. Very little. Whereas with the partnership with Made For Drink, there’s been lots of innovation. We’re getting to work with lots of domestic food producers and flavor houses. So it’s really exciting and it really kind of embodies everything that partnerships should for an attraction or a cultural organisation.
Kelly Molson: A great story. So did you feel secretly pleased when you were stood in that same Sainsburys that you didn’t go on that gap year and that you did save up and go to university to do all these wonderful things.
Kingston Myles: Yeah, I felt a bit smug because I was like, from the shop floor to the shelf, this guy. So I had a little moment in the aisle and I took a little selfie and did that thing that everyone doesn’t post it on LinkedIn, sort of with all of the sort of faux pas of the average LinkedIn post ending on a rhetorical question.
But yeah, so it was a little moment of joy as I took it and I went through the self gang check out and bought it. And I was like, yeah, here we go. And I’ve got the receipt somewhere. It’s nostalgic. It was fun.
Kelly Molson: That’s brilliant. And well deserved as well. Congratulations. Great story. Okay, what I’d love to do, we talked a little bit about how a lot of the strategies that you’ve worked through are they’re not just for huge organisations. There are things that any size attraction can do. How can they utilise these strategies? Is there any way that you could summarise kind of like a top three tips for us.
Kingston Myles: Yeah, so I have, like, I’m really a staunch believer in the working methodology, “Know, do and review”. So that’d be my first tip. Right. Know what you can’t do. Because all the way back to sort of our first part of the conversation, like, know what you can’t do, know what you can do. So take the time to look at, take stock, understand what you have, what you don’t have, what you might need to be successful, then get on and do it.
Because I’d say all managers at some point have definitely written or all leaders have definitely written a strategy that they’ve then done absolutely nothing with other than PDF it and shove it in a OneDrive or a folder somewhere. So get on with the doing, which is so important. And that means rolling up sleeves.
ou can’t be a bedroom leader. You have to get out. Get out on the ground, stand there and really understand if, “Did I know everything or do I need to know more?”. So you’re constantly learning through the due process and then review, right. Like, stop and wrap it up or think about it, perfect it, tweak it, don’t let it just roll downhill, out of control. And equally, don’t hold it at the top.
Kingston Myles: Sort of afraid to let go, but yeah. So no do and review would be my first tip. My second tip, especially for smaller organisations, so the institution I worked in prior to English Heritage, so I worked for the University of Oxford in two different museums. One very big museum and one very small museum. My second tip really comes from there. Which is one meeting, one topic, one focus.
When you’re in a smaller institution stakeholders often have really wide reaching job remits and they’re covering operations, commercial planning, health and safety, finance. You could be talking to the same person for all of those things. So don’t sit down with that person and have a million different conversations. Really focus your time and energy one meeting, one topic, one focus.
And I still use that to this day. I’m a real believer in like let’s just talk about just this and then let’s have a separate meeting to talk about something else. And then my final tip would be like the Power of no. I sound like I’m about to release three books, don’t I. First book, know, do, review with Kingston. Second book, one meeting, one topic.
Kelly Molson: And I would read these books. I would buy these books and read them.
Kingston Myles: I’ll brand license them and I’ll put them in the holiday cottages. But yeah. The power of no. Right. It’s okay to say no to things like if in the no process when you’re doing all the research and all the groundwork does it not feel right. Do the numbers not stack up.
We have human instinct and we’ve almost been programmed out of that. And there’s lots of different analogies people run down and different avenues. Is it because actually we’ve got this hustle culture and we have to give everything a go. No, you don’t have to give everything a go. If your expertise and skills and knowledge are telling you this is not going to work then just say no. And that’s sometimes a really difficult decision.
And I have lots of conversations with people recently I really want to do this but and I’m like if that butlist is factual and it’s going to create a great amount of risk and don’t do it. So yeah, the Power of no would be my third top tip.
Kelly Molson: That is a great top tip for life in general, I think at Kingston. Weirdly. So every year I kind of set a word that I try to use as a guide for my year and this year’s is reflect because I’m a bit of a people pleaser. So I say yes to many things and then run out of time and then end up not being able to do those things or just do them as badly. I do them to a level of degree that I could do better. So learning to say no I think is the most powerful tip that you’ve shared in that process and I’m going.
Kingston Myles: To remember that and I’ve used it and I’m proud of the fact that we’ve said no to potential partnerships, we’ve said no to potential events. We’ve said no to certain activity types at certain types. Because when we take stock of everything we’re trying to do there’s already so much we say yes to that actually it’s okay to say no because we can do really well over here.
You know, the sort of the middle area. You know, sometimes the entrepreneurial spirit in you pushes the yes through. But a lot of time that sort of, “hold up, wait a minute”. Actually, no. It is so important and it saved us from going down in so many of my job roles.
It saved me from going down like the rabbit hole of sort of you convince yourself that then you have to put all your energy and time into something and actually it doesn’t yield the result that time could have yielded if you’d have focused somewhere else.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s really important advice that everybody should listen to. Thank you. Brilliant tips. Thank you for sharing. You just touched on something there that I’d like to talk about because you talked about entrepreneurial spirit and I think there always is that element of wanting to do more and wanting to get stuck into doing the excited things. We talked a little bit about sector support at the beginning and you did mention that this role is quite relatively unique. Where do you go to find your kind of support network for the role that you have.
Kingston Myles: So I’m really lucky in that I’m a trustee for the Association of Cultural Enterprises, so I sit on their board of trustees. I’m also a director of the trading company that we have. And the best way to summarise the association is that it’s all about advancing commerce and business innovation in the cultural sector.
So I appreciate that for sort of the wider attraction sector sort of culture and heritage is a swim lane sort of in the pool that is attractions. But that’s incredible because all of the organisations that are members and nearly 400 cultural organisations are members sort of across the country, all of those organisations have got an appetite to do more.
So you end up finding that actually this commercial manager in this really small museum somewhere has got this really incredible idea and we can help them with that, or I can help them with that, or one of my fellow trustees can help them with that, or this massive organisation wants to turn to a small organisation because they send something incredible.
And I always think back to and I referenced the marketing of this, but there was the Museum of English Rural Life had this incredible Twitter explosion with some of their content, and suddenly everyone turned to their monsoor. How do you go viral? How has Murray gone viral? How can we go viral? And I guess the association is the best place to go and find the person likely to behind something commercially innovative.
Kingston Myles: If you want to see something incredible that’s happened at English Heritage, I mean, I’ll shamelessly promote myself, but I’m probably likely to be able to point you in the direction of the commercial leader responsible for that. And everyone’s really up for networking there. It’s kind of the backbone of how it works is that willingness to share and support one another.
And I think the culture and heritage sector within the attraction space is really good at that because we’re quite comfortable with the fact that there’s enough success there for everyone. I appreciate that. When you’ve got a competitor potentially down the road and you’re a purely commercial attraction that’s a little bit of a difficult conversation to have in the first instance.
But actually it opens up doors and access to resources and also access to people’s mistakes. Right. Like, what if people said no to. Or would they have said no to. Now that you can learn from and say no to yourself.
Kelly Molson: Yeah. Again, brilliant advice. And it’s so good that there are organisations out there that offer this level of support. What we’ll do is everything that we’ve talked about today we’ll pop links to in the show notes so you can access information about English Heritage. You can see some of the products and we’ll pop the link to the ACE organisation as well.
And if that is useful to any of our listeners you’ll know where to go and find it. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing. Kingston. This has been a brilliant chat. I’m so grateful for your time, for your insight into this. We always like to ask our guests to share a book that they love at the end of the podcast. So what have you prepared for us today?
Kingston Myles: Yeah, so I’m waxed lyrical about this book. It’s called First Break All The Rules. It’s a gallup study of what successful managers do differently. So First Break All the Rules is probably one of the most powerful leadership books I’ve read for a couple of reasons. One, it’s backed by this phenomenal global study of businesses, their leaders, their people, their results.
So there are some great books out there but they’re theoretical, they’re someone’s opinion. This book is etched in statistical facts. So I quite like that. That pleases the inner nerd in me. And secondly, it really does force you to think differently about especially if you’re leaders or a leader of a team. Really forces you to think slightly differently about how you can get the best out of your best people, how you can recruit for the best people.
And at first read, it can read quite controversially because what’s called First Break All the Rules so you would expect it but it can read quite controversially. It will force you to really think about Do Leaders Play Favorites. Is a really great chapter in that book and the difference between skills, knowledge and talent and coming to terms with the fact that you can teach people skills and knowledge but their talent, their behaviours.
You can do your best to bring out what somebody has but you can never add to that in the book. So I would definitely recommend especially leaders of teams and leaders of leaders to read that book or listen to them.
Kelly Molson: Great book choice. So that has not come up on the podcast in, what, 60 odd episodes. So that is a really good one to go on the list. And as ever, listeners, if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words I want Kingston’s book, you’ll be in with the chance of winning a copy as well.
Amazing. Thank you so much again for coming on. It’s been a really interesting chat. I am sure that at some point we’ll get to meet each other at Audley End maybe as well. One of the next events that you’re running there.
Kingston Myles: 100%. We should do like an ad hoc episode live from Audley End.
Kelly Molson: Okay. Let’s talk about how we can make that happen. Excellent. Thanks again.
Kingston Myles: You’re welcome.
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