TRG blog: A Data Management Love Story
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A Data Management Love Story

Steve Loyd | March 6, 2015 8:32 AM

This post, which is cross-posted on the AMT Lab blog, is the first in a series by TRG’s VP of Data Services Steve Loyd addressing data management and how it can help organizations.

Photo by bixentro (CC BY 2.0)

This season at Dallas Theater Center (DTC), a great love story unfolded; however, it was not presented on the stage. During a recent TRG Executive Summit, Managing Director Heather Kitchen shared a tale of romance which both inspired and invoked a bit of envy from the other participants. It was the story of her data manager and the two departments that loved her.

How was this data manager able to make such an impact on DTC? She is part of a larger organizational culture that believes in data and its power as an enabler. Once everyone in the organization is aligned around the need for quality patron data the real work can begin. The next question is: what can leaders DO to enable successful data-driven Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and precision targeted marketing in their organizations? In the Summit, we usually talk through an assortment of enablers, but consistently the topic of having a dedicated data manager leads to the liveliest discussions.

When we got to that point in this past Summit, Heather raised her hand. With a big smile on her face.

DTC’s data manager Traci has enabled the collection and management of quality patron behavior data across marketing and development departments – no small feat. After the Summit, Heather and I had a chat about how data management evolved at DTC after she hired a data manager.

Steve Loyd: How did you determine that your organization needed to improve its data management? 

Heather Kitchen: When I arrived at DTC and asked to see certain reports and data points, no one had them available and no one either knew or could easily or accurately access the information. This was very frustrating, as I did not want to manage solely on instinct and guesswork but wanted to make decisions based on reliable, historic, and current data.

SL: How did you arrive at the decision to create a role for a data manager?

HK: When I began as the chief administrative person at a theater 25 year ago, even a large regional theater did not have a computer driven ticketing package. As time evolved, and we moved past Lotus 123 spreadsheets for tracking ticket sales, I observed and appreciated the power of accurate data and how it could be a powerful tool - not a decision maker, but a tool. At another theater where I was in the chief management role again, accurate and timely data was readily available and when I needed or sought a special report, the data manager was able to quickly, and seemingly easily, provide me with the custom information from our ticketing/fundraising software system. It was not a fancy bells-and-whistles system but I still got good data. I was then accustomed to being able to access data and I was frustrated that that was not the case at DTC.

It was soon clear to me that no one in our organization had the skill set or experience to actually use the software, and that our colleagues in the consortium all had an expert in data retrieval who was central to their being able to use the software to its full potential. This person often worked directly with the box office function. It was an untenable situation that we solved by hiring an expert.

SL: What were some of the problems that you hoped to solve with this role?

HK: The subscription mailing for my first full season dropped four days prior to me beginning as managing director. (There was no managing director in place for the previous few months – he was the expert in using the software and losing him left a big hole.)  Within a matter of days of my arrival, there were more than 1,000 complaints from our subscribers about the information that they received concerning re-subscribing. There were a lot of mistakes and our customers were very frustrated and angry about it.

The information and data that I could access was inaccurate, inadequate and often untimely. We needed HELP!

What I hoped to solve:

  1. Customer dissatisfaction due to our inability to manage the software properly
  2. Timeliness and accuracy of information
  3. Having to make decisions that were not based on real data
  4. Morale issues created by no one believing that the numbers were accurate
  5. Software issues created by the system being incorrectly set up
  6. Communication issues between our theater and the software consortium operators

SL: What qualities and skills were you looking for in a data manager?

HK: Someone who had:

  1.  Extensive experience with our particular ticketing and fundraising software
  2.  Expertise in ticketing
  3. Understanding of customer needs regarding ticketing
  4. Rigor and understanding of the need for accuracy in fundraising and marketing data
  5. Live theater experience
  6. A calm, friendly, service-minded personality - a sense of humor too!
  7. Insight that data is fun and would enjoy the challenge.

SL: What has happened since the data manager was hired?  

1. DTC had less than 20 customer complaints issues with its re-subscription last season.
2. DTC is able to advance its subscription campaign by more than two months from years prior to having a data manager.
3. DTC is better able to accurately forecast based on timely data-driven information.
4. DTC personnel rely on reports and look forward to receiving them, as they trust the accuracy and timeliness of the information.
5. DTC personnel increasingly make decisions based on data rather than just guessing!
6. DTC and the software consortium operators have a far stronger and friendlier relationship.
7. DTC staff are more knowledgeable about how data can help them and are not afraid to seek assistance in setting up new reports.
8. DTC personnel are better trained in using the software and can more confidently access it themselves.
9. DTC is much more able to use the upgrades in the software and other advancing technology.
10. DTC entered into a relationship with TRG that it could not have accomplished without having its data manager. DTC was not capable of accurately accessing some of the needed data for the benchmarking.

SL: Has this person affected the collaboration between your marketing and development departments?

HK: Yes. She has been able to provide training to the development and marketing staff who together are responsible for donor ticketing. This has allowed a smooth working relationship in managing the ticketing of these very loyal patrons and advocates.

Because their lists are now accurate, development and marketing are not challenged by each department wanting to access the same people at the same time - it's more clear what tactics DTC should be using for each patron.

Because the information is more accurate regarding marketing, it has become easier to fulfill grant applications (done by development department).

SL: How have you come to rely upon this person?

HK: I trust the information I receive is accurate and make decisions for the theater based on it. If our data manager says that she can get the information for me, I know it will happen quickly and accurately. I use her data information to report to the board. 

SL: Why do people in your organization love your data manager?

HK: She is a very calm and fun person to be around and she does a great job of mining the data and teaching us how we can use data in our jobs. When I ask for a special report, it comes to me and has always been very useful. We all know to reach out to our data manager when we have data concerns. A great hire and an exemplary employee who has helped all of us look good.

As Heather and Traci’s story illustrates, good data management requires organizations to have a specific role that is responsible for data health and quality. It may be part of one person’s job, shared by members of your marketing and development teams, or it may be a full-time dedicated person. Having a defined role responsible for data management promotes a culture that values audience development and data-driven decisions. Investing in data is a direct investment in your audience, because the story of your audience’s relationships with your organization is written in every record of your database. Show your data some love, and you’re really showing your audience you care.


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Annual operating budget up 32% in 5 seasons

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma 
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After a poor year for earned revenue in 2012, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (LTO) had rebounded and was experiencing a growth spurt. In 2013, Director of Marketing Danyel Siler had turned her attention to single tickets.

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