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ATS Heritage are the leading providers of audio, multimedia and digital guides in the UK. Working across such illustrious locations as Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Cutty Sark and Bletchley Park, they have proven themselves to be pioneers in on-site and online visitor experiences across the cultural sector.
MuseumNext caught up with Managing Director, Spencer Clark to talk about the career path that has led him to the helm of ATS Heritage, the challenge of creating compelling user journeys and what a post-Covid future looks like for visitor experiences.
“It’s certainly been an interesting few months for the sector and for us as a business,” says Spencer when asked about the challenges of 2020. “In fact, by the end of March, we were already rethinking and repurposing our plans to support clients as they adapted to new restrictions and pivoted to online delivery.
“Very quickly it became apparent that the multimedia and digital experiences we offer could still be of real value to our clients through the lockdown periods and months of reduced capacity service. We worked closely with a number of venues to help them develop online experiences, interactive tools and marketing materials that could keep their audience engaged at a time when people were finding themselves trapped at home and starved of cultural experiences.”
Having recently assumed the role of Managing Director of ATS Heritage from his previous position as Business Development Director, one could question whether taking leadership during such a turbulent time might be something of a poisoned chalice. But Spencer is confident that the difficulties presented by the Pandemic have only helped his team to improve and evolve their offering. And, if anything, it has highlighted the value of what lies at the core of every ATS Heritage tour or experience.
He says, “Fundamentally we create and enhance experiences by taking people on a journey. Our audio and multimedia tours have to be entertaining and provide visitors with stories and information that live long in the memory. That’s what cultural experiences should do, and we understand that our tours are an intrinsic part of a great visitor offer.
“The great thing about generating content around attractions in the arts, culture and heritage industry is that it can be applied in many ways. While the tours we offer at venues such as Westminster Abbey or the Palace of Holyroodhouse are typically delivered using our own touchscreen devices (we design, manufacture and fully support our own range of hardware and technologies), the temporary closure of these institutions has to some extent demonstrated the versatility of the content we provide.
“This is, of course, helped by the fact that our tours and guides are available in a range of languages and formats – including British Sign Language and subtitled tours for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Audio Described for blind and partially sighted users.”
Asked about his own career path to this point, Spencer describes his experience as “varied”. Having started his working life as a product designer and design engineer, he decided to set up his own enterprise with his sister in 2002: TalkingText.
Spencer says, “We were developing a software solution for improving deaf communications. My sister is deaf and through her own experiences we had identified a clear gap in the market that demanded a solution. Ultimately, the progression of technologies that accompanied the release of smartphones superseded the work we were doing, but that experience as a founder and director of an SME was invaluable. I had to learn fast and become comfortable with all of the various aspects of running a small business – from staffing to business plans, product development to sales strategies.”
With many lessons well learnt, Spencer went on to establish DeafWise a training solutions provider of deaf awareness and communications to both public and commercial organisations. Spencer continued to run this business in tandem with another new role as Business Support Officer for West Sussex County Council.
Looking back at those previous roles, Spencer says, “It’s interesting how a career becomes about layering skills, lessons and developing a business network. My early days in product design taught me core skills: an attention to detail and an understanding of how ideas could be turned into products and services with the right treatment. Then my own experiences of running an SME and interacting with other small enterprises as a Business Support Officer gave me a brilliant grounding in what it takes to make an organisation tick . . . and ultimately to grow over time.”
Having been with ATS Heritage since 2012, Spencer has been an integral part of the business’s most successful period. The in-house team has grown rapidly and an expansive portfolio of high profile contracts around the UK have followed.
On his recent promotion to Managing Director, Spencer says, “I really feel I’m in a privileged position as the leader of an outstanding company with a very talented and experienced team. We have creative interpretation specialists, content producers, software developers, hardware designers, client managers and a technical support team all working closely together to generate outstanding user experiences. I couldn’t be prouder of the work we do – both for our clients and for the thousands of visitors (both in-person and online) that we entertain each year.
Asked about the changes that he has witnessed in the last 9 years, Spencer says, “Of course the quality of the hardware and software has improved dramatically and our ability to generate immersive and interactive experiences has evolved over time. But we are also conscious that the core attraction itself – be it a cathedral, a palace or museum – remains at the heart of each experience. Our job is to support, elevate and enhance that visitor journey with information and entertainment. That basic premise rarely changes – we just find new ways to deliver these messages for an audience with increasingly high expectations.”
As he looks towards a future beyond the immediate threat of Covid-19, Spencer believes that the lack of access to cultural attractions, venues and heritage sites over the last 12 months may have generated an increase in demand that will manifest itself over the coming years.
“People have experienced what life is like without the freedom to visit places of interest. The loss of recreational activities, whether it’s an art gallery or a cinema, has certainly hit people hard and I’d like to think that as the Pandemic fades into the background we will see an even greater enthusiasm for attractions.
“My job now is to prepare the business to take advantage of the opportunities that may present themselves and ensure that no matter what the challenges or the changes in technology, we are ahead of the curve and able to support our clients to deliver exceptional visitor experiences..”
You can find out more about ATS Heritage by visiting the website here.
Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant from the North of England.
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