At TRG Arts, we talk a lot about patron loyalty – and for good reason. Data tells us that the more loyal a patron is to our organization, the more revenue they provide and the less it costs to keep them.
Over the last year, I’ve watched Performing Arts Fort Worth (PAFW), the organization that owns and operates Bass Hall and presents Fort Worth’s Broadway series, grow subscription revenue by $1.2 million—a 53% increase. Part of the revenue increase was because they added a show, but they also grew their subscriber base by 1,289 subscribers, a 26% increase.
Impressive results, but the truly cool story is the retention effort that happened afterwards.
Patron loyalty was viewed by many in the organization as marketing’s responsibility. Other people understood it was important, but weren’t actively involved. We wanted – we needed – to tap into the experience of front-of-house and box office staff to actively support patron loyalty efforts. The patron experience starts long before the performance begins. It starts at the time a patron buys a ticket, and continues through travel to the venue, parking their car, getting to their seat, seeing the show, enjoying intermission, and as they leave and travel home. (And, then it extends beyond the venue again when the organization follows up.)
How do you change an organizational culture so that all staff feel empowered to better serve patrons? At Performing Arts Fort Worth, four factors were key in making this shift:
1. Data as the unemotional guide
PAFW has two main loyalty programs: a basic subscription and an enhanced member's club subscription, called the VIP Presenters program. VIP Presenters are PAFW's most invested patrons since the organization does not have an annual fundraising campaign. In exchange for premium benefits, these patrons support PAFW at a higher level than other subscribers.
TRG’s analysis showed that for every VIP Presenter household that is lost, PAFW has to attract more than 14 new single ticket households to make up the lost revenue. But this scenario is about more than making up the lost revenue, however, because it costs a lot more to attract new single ticket buyers than it costs to retain a loyal VIP subscriber.
The value of these most invested, loyal subscribers is clear—it’s hard to argue with data. And yet, there were legitimate operational questions that needed to be answered. If a VIP Presenter would like their complimentary drink in a souvenir cup, whose budget gets charged for the cup? How far can I go (and should I go) to make a patron happy? Considering the operational questions through a patron loyalty filter changed the conversation from a simple expense question to one that looked at both sides of the equation.
How much is a Broadway patron worth?
Average revenue per household
2. Structure: Staff works collaboratively to support and evaluate patron loyalty
PAFW had not formally engaged front of house operations in its patron loyalty work. Leaders would mention patron loyalty at full staff meetings and one-on-one conversations when a specific opportunity arose. The staff had never sat down as a group to talk specifically about patron loyalty.
So we did.
A one-time meeting wouldn’t accomplish much, though, so PAFW decided to meet quarterly. These Patron Loyalty meetings would serve as a place to discuss outstanding patron loyalty issues, brainstorm new initiatives, get updates on existing initiatives, and celebrate successes.
In each Patron Loyalty meeting, it was important that the CEO of Performing Arts Fort Worth not only attend, but lead the meeting. This showed everyone the importance of this work and helped break down siloes on the organization chart.
By instituting these regular meetings, PAFW is constantly reinforcing the message that patron loyalty is not just a marketing program. Everyone who interacts with a patron has an impact – and a responsibility – to promote loyalty.
3. Collaboration: Not for them, with them
These aren’t meetings for front-of-house staff. They’re collaborative—working side-by-side with them to address the issues they’re seeing. In the first meeting, we talked about the value of patron loyalty. Then, we showed the data point on how PAFW would have to attract 14 new single ticket households to make up the revenue from one lost VIP subscriber.
That’s when it clicked, and the floodgate of ideas opened up! House management said they were going to make patron loyalty a regular topic at their usher meetings. Someone suggested they send patrons a voucher for a free drink in their birthday month. Someone else suggested they turn the process for testing new concession products into a tasting event for loyal patrons. There were many more ideas that came up, and there were a number of people who said they would take responsibility for implementing ideas. “I never was a part of that process” quickly became “I understand our shared goal and I want to help.”
4. Belief: Progress toward goals fuels confidence
Initial results from the new focus on patron loyalty are promising:
A survey of subscribers ranked experience above programming as the reason why they subscribe. This year, half of VIP Presenters renewed before the season was announced.
On the same survey, PAFW asked the standard “net promoter” question—“how likely would you be to recommend to a friend?” on a scale of 1 to 10. Their average score was 9.2.
There was a 50% increase in the number of people who attended the season announcement this year, far greater than the 26% increase in overall subscribers. This indicates not only more subscribers, but deepening loyalty among them.
When people understand the “why” and are included in those discussions, truly amazing things can happen. It’s easy to lose focus when times get stressful or busy, but these results have motivated staff to value their role in loyalty. Congratulations to the staff of PAFW—we’re looking forward to hearing about your continued successes!
Performing Arts Fort Worth has been working with TRG Arts in a Best Practices Consultancy, TRG’s deep-dive engagement for organizations who want to shift their marketing operations toward a patron-centered approach. To explore a Best Practices Consultancy for your organization, email