theatre
Jan24

A new model for audience development


It started with a simple question: “If we’re working so hard to get new audiences, why haven’t audiences grown?”

New Wolsey Theatre was curious. Looking at their data, they found that they attract many new ticket bookers each year, but many of them were not returning to the theatre after their first visit, 75% of first-timers in 2014-15.

Because so many new audiences were not returning each year, New Wolsey Theatre still wasn’t seeing a net gain in total audience numbers.


Posted January 24, 2017







Dec13

The story of 3 arts organizations


Subscriptions succeed in 2016

Despite widespread reports of the subscription’s decline, these loyalty programs continue to generate a large amount of revenue for performing arts organizations. Knowing what we know about audiences in 2016, what strategies are proven to help the subscription succeed? TRG Arts is proud to bring you the stories of three arts organizations that have defied conventional wisdom by growing subscriptions:

  • The performing arts center with an already-strong subscription base…whose focused campaign has grown new subscription revenue by 36%over the last two years.
  • The theater that was selling more and more small packages each season…which upgraded 20% of their small package subscribers to full packages.
  • The orchestra whose subscriptions had been in decline for years…whose upgrade and renewal rates are now the best they’ve been in recent memory.

Their secret? A simple, radical idea: when you commit to selling subscriptions, arts lovers will subscribe.


Posted December 13, 2016







Oct19

I serve as a theater director, producer, writer, and, in the past, actor. My artistic collaborators and I vigorously pursue artistic excellence every day. Often, community engagement and artistic excellence are framed in opposition to one another. For me, it is the very pursuit of artistic excellence that drives my self-interest to develop and deepen relationships with current stakeholders and new communities.


A play or musical, regardless of when or where it is set, also lives in relationship with the time and place it is being produced and thus community engagement is essential to artistic excellence.


Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO)

I practice an artistic methodology called Consensus Organizing for Theater (CO)*, through which an arts organization deliberately builds stake in multiple pockets of communities and those communities deliberately build stake back in the art or organization by surfacing and organizing around mutual self-interest.


Posted October 19, 2016







Oct17

Annual operating budget up 32% in 5 seasons



Photo: Joseph Mills

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. Her hard work had paid off, but season tickets were still a challenge.

“Season tickets were steadily declining,” she said. “The season ticket campaign had been done the same way for years, maybe even decades. And we blamed the fall on the trend that subs were declining everywhere. Our executive director, artistic director, and I all knew something needed to change, but we didn’t know what.”

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma hired TRG in March of 2014 for a best practices consultancy which began with an analysis of income trends, data stewardship, and current marketing practices.


Posted October 17, 2016







Aug23


Photo: Chris Devers via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cue the Dies Irae—it’s August. This time of year brings single ticket on-sale day for many performing arts organizations, also known as the day of reckoning. Do the titles that your organization programmed actually resonate with your community? Your single ticket sales will tell you loud and clear.

It’s extremely difficult to program a “perfect” season. Lots of factors play into artistic programming decisions. We have identified nine for our upcoming online workshop on data-driven artistic planning:

  • Artistic or program availability
  • Time of year (holiday, renewal season, etc)
  • Artistic director’s/curator’s vision
  • Requests from donors/board
  • Artistic needs for the ensemble
  • Audience opinion
  • Commercial appeal/demand
  • Community engagement potential
  • Appeal to specific demographic segment
  • And, of course, mission

Posted August 23, 2016







Aug17

Developing arts patrons as a community

September 21 at 1 ET/10 PT



Is there too much theatre for patrons in D.C. to
support? That was one of the questions that
launched this study. Find out the answer in this webinar.
Seven theatres. 10 seasons of data. One community. Learn what this study reveals about theatre patrons and their buying and giving habits. The importance of audience development and retention shines through, in light of data analysis on how Washington, D.C. theatres are attracting and holding on to patrons. Zoom in on trends in patronage in this community, including new theatre-goers and patrons who attend multiple theatres. Learn about the clusters of patrons in this community 
who look demographically or transactionally similar. Unlock the secrets of audience behavior that may point to trends in your own community. 

Posted August 17, 2016







Jul11

Annual fund success: more donors, bigger gifts, more often

41% increase in annual fund upgrades

 

Photo by Taylor Ford
When Kansas City Repertory Theatre began its Capacity Building Consulting partnership with TRG Arts in January 2014, increasing patron revenue, both earned and contributed, was the top priority.

TRG conducted an initial Baseline Assessment, which analyzed patron, pricing, and revenue data to identify key issues at KC Rep. Among them were aligning resources with revenue opportunities and focusing on building loyalty in addition to prospecting. The assessment identified the annual fund as an opportunity for growth. After a large influx of new lower-level donors in the 2011-12 season due to a one-time experiment with telefunding, donors and revenue had dropped off and stayed flat.


Posted July 11, 2016







Jun23

Seven theatres. 10 seasons of data. One community. Learn what this study reveals about theatre patrons in one community and their buying and giving habits. The importance of audience development and retention shines through, in light of data analysis on how Washington, D.C. theatres are attracting and holding on to patrons. Zoom in on trends in patronage in this community, including new theatre-goers and patrons who attend multiple theatres. Learn about the clusters of patrons in this community who look demographically or transactionally similar. Unlock the secrets of audience behavior that may point to trends in your own community.

This presentation was given at the 2016 Theatre Communication Group Conference in Washington, D.C. by TRG's President & CEO Jill Robinson and leaders from Shakespeare Theatre Company and Arena Stage.

This session presents: 

  • The benefits of a community wide market research campaign
  • The actions this community is taking as a result of the research findings
  • The role of audience development initiatives in strengthening loyalty and attendance patterns

Posted June 23, 2016







Jun14

Turn up the heat on the holidays


Forget about Independence Day. Start thinking about Black Friday.

If not, you could be missing out on your biggest opportunity of next season.

The holiday season starts NOW for arts managers. Don’t let the heat of summer lull you into thinking holiday shows sell themselves—there’s a lot to do. It’s time to dust off and refresh your marketing plan for The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, your holiday concert, or whatever hot ticket event you have this December.

In this free one-hour webinar you’ll hear from arts marketers like you who have maximized their holiday programming and gone on to break revenue records. Just when these arts administrators thought their perennial programming couldn’t garner any more, new highs were reached. These experts as well as the consultants from TRG will share the newest best practices for turning up the heat on the holidays.


Posted June 14, 2016







Mar31

 Trisha Kirk
Director of Marketing,
Guthrie Theater
Danielle St.Germain-Gordon
Director of Development,
Guthrie Theater

Creative placemaking. Community engagement. Mobile beaconing. Customer relationship management.

If there’s one thing the arts industry has no shortage of, it’s buzzwords. What makes buzzwords so enticing? Behind each is the promise of the next best practices for the arts, the next strategy or tactic that could help organizations succeed sustainably.

We submit, for your consideration, this one: “integrated loyalty development.”

Like most buzzwords, the words somewhat obscure the meaning. Put simply, it’s aligning all departments in an organization around the cultivation of loyal patron relationships. It describes the magic that happens when organizations move beyond transactions and “just trying to make goal” for event after event. Instead, integration means investing in and being accountable to fostering their patrons’ passion for the arts, in all areas of their business.


Posted March 31, 2016







Mar07

Photo: Marlon Malabanan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If your work involves promoting the next performance or production, you already know there’s never a shortage of things you can do or places to advertise. However, no matter how hard we work, we’re limited by staff time and our own budget. So how we spend that time and budget matters.

When you’re facing a long list of tasks or advertising opportunities, your first instinct might be to prioritize the list in order of urgency and importance. However, this approach assumes that everything on your list is worth doing. I recommend dividing your list into two: a to-do list and a “stop doing” list.


Posted March 7, 2016







Feb18

This post is the final in a series by TRG and Piper Foundation Fellow Vincent VanVleet where he’ll report on his travels across the U.S. and Canada to research the impact of patron loyalty. Read more of his posts here>>


Image by Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)

Those of you who are regular followers of this blog know that I’ve been writing a series on my learnings from a fellowship sabbatical journey last summer. 

I wanted to finish the series by writing about the impact that this time to learn has had on my organization, Phoenix Theatre. I can’t do that without dedicating this post to the foundation that both devised that program and is investing in non-profit leaders with their incredible philanthropy--the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. 

I am told that Virginia G. Piper, while alive, made it a point to meet personally with the leadership of the organizations she funded, which were many. She asked each of those leaders the same question:  “If I give your organization money, will you commit to staying on and stewarding my gift over the next five years?” It’s a fascinating idea upon which to base funding, especially considering the problem of turnover and leadership burnout in nonprofit organizations. She’s asking, “If I invest in you, will you invest it back into your organization and this community?” It is with that philosophy I imagine the fellowship program was born. The Piper Fellowship program “acknowledges the never-ceasing demands of nonprofit leadership and offers opportunities to retool, refresh and renew.”


Posted February 18, 2016







Jan06

Single tickets up 59%, gifts up 125%

Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Royal MTC) was stable throughout the recession. However, the company saw a dip in patron-generated revenue in the 2011–12 season, attributed to changes in their entertainment landscape, including the return of the beloved Winnipeg Jets. With flat annual fund donations and declining single tickets and subscriptions, Royal MTC prioritized reversing patron decline and revenue losses.

Royal MTC relied heavily on their subscriber base, which was one of the largest among Canadian regional theatres. Even with strong renewal rates, subscriber decline is inevitable without strong campaigns to attract new subscribers. In Royal MTC’s case, the subscriber audience far outweighed the single ticket audience, which meant they often did not have the sheer number of leads necessary to fuel successful subscriber acquisition campaigns. That, coupled with a low volume of individual donors, created a patron loyalty challenge at Royal MTC.


Posted January 6, 2016







Nov03

Photo by James Jordan (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A year and a half ago I was invited to join TRG’s bi-annual Executive Summit in Colorado Springs. Taking the time away is always difficult but I decided to take two days to make the journey. I was grateful to reconnect with and be re-introduced to many things I already knew and some I didn’t. The session was a good reminder of what I should be focusing on. The distractions of running an organization tend to take you down distant trails into the wilderness.

There was one thing that really grabbed my attention. TRG’s President & CEO Jill Robinson reported on work that they had done with the Guthrie Theater, examining loyalty as it related to genres of programming. The genre breakdowns were pretty typical, i.e. blockbuster musicals, dramas, new works, Shakespeare, etc. There were also no surprises that blockbuster programs generated the most revenue, had the highest price point, and, of course, the highest attrition rate. Like pouring water into a funnel, most of the blockbuster patrons had flushed through and right back out again.


Posted November 3, 2015







Sep22

This is the second video in our series on the 6 metrics that arts leaders should be tracking and managing.

Measure What Matters: 6 Metrics Arts Leaders Should Track

Metric #2: Active patron participation

Active patrons are the patrons an arts organization serves today. But will they still be there tomorrow? It depends on how YOU cultivate them.

In this video, Jill Robinson of TRG Arts discusses how and why to measure active patron participation at performing arts organizations and museums. She also explains the concept of an “upgrade”—the next step for every patron to grow their loyalty.


Posted September 22, 2015







Aug20

 Jill Robinson, 
President & CEO, TRG Arts

The world is changing. Whether your theatre operates in the U.K., U.S., Australia, or on the moon, the last decade has demanded that we transform the way we do business.

Public policy, economic and demographic changes are causing the entire sector to recognize the importance of our relationships with patrons and how we manage them.

Today, your patrons can be doing more. They can be cultivated to support your organization in ways that they currently aren’t. As you contemplate your organization’s future sustainability and how patrons can be a part of it, consider making their loyalty a priority.


Posted August 20, 2015







Jul29

This post is part in a series by TRG and Piper Foundation Fellow Vincent VanVleet where he’ll report on his discoveries as he travels the country to research the impact of patron loyalty. Read more of his posts here.

Photo by Erik Schepers (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Are you investing in your audience?

You might read that question and think, “What a silly question—of course we’re investing in our audience.” But, really and truly—lip service about the value of your audience is not enough.

Put another way: Are you spending money on keeping your audience happy and serving them well?


Posted July 29, 2015







Jul28



 Stephen Skrypec
Head of Sales and Marketing
New Wolsey Theatre
Lindsay Anderson
VP of Client Development
TRG Arts

“Our patrons won’t pay that…”

“Everyone wants to sit in this section…”

Our assumptions about what our audiences will and won’t want or do can stop us from pricing to optimize revenue for our organizations. But we don’t really know until we look at the data. Ignoring what patron data tells us about pricing can lead arts organizations to leave money on the table—money that could be sustaining their mission.

At The New Wolsey Theatre in the U.K., small changes to pricing strategy resulted in big revenue increases. In just nine months, the company reported a 31% increase in box office gross—without selling more tickets. In this free webinar, New Wolsey’s Head of Sales and Marketing Stephen Skrypec and TRG’s VP of Client Development Lindsay Anderson shared how the theatre updated daily practices and challenged prior assumptions about audiences, leading to their success. Learn how arts organizations, whether in the U.S., U.K., or elsewhere, can use pricing to drive patron behavior and revenue.

Click through to read more and view the video.


Posted July 28, 2015







Jul06

31% one-season increase in box office gross

Photo by Mike Kwasniak.

In 2014, the New Wolsey Theatre was re-examining its financial picture, focusing on its earned vs. contributed income streams. Like many theatres in the United Kingdom, government funding still accounted for a significant proportion of their revenue. Over the three years prior, they had received moderate funding cuts totaling approximately £50,000 (around $79,000 U.S.).

 

Located in Ipswich, Great Britain, the midsized regional theatre produces a spring and autumn season, as well as a Christmas show, with a mixture of both home produced and touring product. Many of the productions were selling well, which left Head of Sales and Marketing Stephen Skrypec wondering what the theatre could do to grow earned income.

 

Stephen: We’d become as efficient as we could in the rest of the business; the only place to reduce spending was in artistic and we really didn’t want to do that. For earned revenue, I had done standard things I felt I could do—making sure there were more tickets available at the top price and making sure every single seat was sold when it could be sold. I’d gotten to the point where I’d done all I thought I could do to maximize revenue. What do I do now?


Posted July 6, 2015







Jun18

Humana Festival audienceMany organizations track data on pricing, audience retention, and audience response to different types of artistic programming. But what happens when an organization looks at these categories together, holistically? That’s what Actors Theatre of Louisville did. What they found led them to begin to manage demand, cultivate audiences, and approach the strategic planning process in a completely new ways.

This is a story about how data can re-focus an organization around audiences, and how Actors Theatre of Louisville is acting on that data. Managing Director Jennifer Bielstein and ‎Jim DeGood of TRG Arts gave this presentation at the 2015 Theatre Communications Group, detailing how Actors Theatre of Louisville has translated data findings into a plan, how leadership is re-aligning around data and audience loyalty, and some initial results from their efforts.


Posted June 18, 2015







Jun17

This is the first in a series of posts by TRG and Piper Foundation Fellow Vincent VanVleet where he’ll report on his discoveries as he travels the country to research the impact of artistic programming on patron loyalty.

Image by Tnarik Innael (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you had three months off from your job to research anything about the arts management field, what topic would you choose? It’s a fun question to think about, and I am fortunate enough to have this opportunity.   

I am privileged to have been chosen as a Virginia G. Piper Fellow just a few short months ago and subsequently as a concurrent fellow with TRG Arts, with a focus on researching the link between artistic programming and patron loyalty.  The Virginia G. Piper Trust “acknowledges the never-ceasing demands of nonprofit leadership and offers opportunities to retool, refresh, and renew to senior leaders who have been in their roles for 10 or more years.” The fellowship allows non-profit executives, who spend much of their career invested in training staff, time away on sabbatical to invest in their own learning and development, in the hopes that they can bring that knowledge back to the organizations they lead.  TRG has been similarly dedicated for years to training leaders of non-profit arts organizations with emphasis on advancing the field, and has started a fellowship program to spotlight the research I’ll be doing. 

I have been in non-profit management for 17 years, having left the production side of the business because I wanted to be part of something much larger than myself.  It has been a humbling and exciting experience to work with such talented artists and administrators alike.  After a long tenure as general manager of Phoenix Theatre, I was thrust into my post as managing director in 2011 at the height of the economic crisis. I had to find a path forward for our organization.  Like many, we were swimming in a sea of red ink while at the height of a multi-million dollar capital campaign to build a new theatre. The project had started before the recession hit, but was too far along to back out without setting the organization back two decades.  I knew cutting our way to financial success was never going to work.  Previous leadership had already tried that approach and, as we figured out, you can only cut so far.  My gut instinct told me to “lean in” during the “bad” years, so I evaluated our situation and what needed to happen to swim upstream of the crisis and get ahead. 


Posted June 17, 2015







Jun05

19% increase in average subscription revenue


The Situation:

The cast of DTC’s production of
Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Photo by Karen Almond.

Dallas Theater Center (DTC) hired TRG for capacity building consulting in November of 2013. DTC faced challenges with pricing, in particular reinforcing loyalty through pricing. Founded in 1959, DTC became a resident company of the new state-of-the-art AT&T Performing Arts Center in 2009. The new venue’s flexible mainstage, the Potter Rose Performing Studio at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, enables DTC to configure seating differently for each production, from 1 to 573 seats. DTC also produces in a traditional 99 seat “black box” space at the Wyly and at its original home, the 491 seat Kalita Humphreys Theater, the only freestanding theater designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.


Posted June 5, 2015







Mar30


President & CEO
Jill Robinson

TRG's President & CEO Jill Robinson presented during TCG's Audience (R)Evolution in Kansas City on why research indicates that subscriptions still sustain arts organizations.

Watch it here. (Fourth video on the page.)

Audience (R)Evolution is a multi-year program designed by Theatre Communications Group and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. This initiative, now moving into its second round of activity, encompasses four phases: research and assessment; convenings; grantmaking; and widespread dissemination of audience engagement models that work.


Posted March 30, 2015







Mar18

11% per capita revenue increase



The Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Featured is the set of
OSF’s 2013 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
In 2011, Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) faced a crisis. During a performance of Measure for Measure in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, staff members heard an odd noise. They discovered a large crack one of the main ceiling beams in the theatre. As a result, the Angus Bowmer Theatre, one of OSF’s three venues, had to close for repair just as summer (the most in-demand time at the festival) was beginning. The marketing team decided to refund tickets if patrons did not want to attend shows in the other venues, as a part of OSF’s ongoing commitment to excellent customer service. The refunds contributed to a 27% drop in single ticket units and an 8% drop in overall admission revenue.

“Throughout the crisis, customer experience was our main concern. We based virtually every decision we made on how it would affect our patrons’ long-term relationship with OSF,” Mallory Pierce, OSF’s Director of Marketing and Communications, said.

Historically, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was financially and organizationally strong. Sound budgeting and fiscal management procedures combined with generally strong attendance enabled the organization to grow even during the Great Recession with performances regularly sold at greater than 80% capacity.

Posted March 18, 2015







Mar06


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.


Posted March 6, 2015







Feb23

Number of annual fund gifts up 51%, revenue up 28%


Addison (LeRoy McClain, left) clashes with his brother
Frank (Shane Taylor) over their family’s future as their
aunt Dorcas (Stephanie Berry) intervenes in the
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere
production of Safe House by playwright and
Cincinnati native Keith Josef Adkins. 
Photo by Sandy Underwood.
By the end of the 2011-2012 season, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park had been slowly losing audiences for the last seven years. Although revenue had grown by 12%, admissions were down 18%.  

Believing patrons preferred more flexibility than a fixed seat subscription package offers, the Playhouse had expanded their focus on selling more Build Your Own (BYO) subscriptions and prospecting for new single ticket buyers. The BYO subscriptions were popular, but subscribers renewed at much lower rates. Total subscription units had dropped 30% since the 2008-09 season.

In turn, subscription declines had diminished the number of patrons likely to give to the annual fund. Declines in loyalty contributed to a 21% decline in donors who gave under $2,500 over the last five years. Although overall annual fund revenue was only down 1.7%, overall donor households had declined by 19%.

Posted February 23, 2015







Jan26


If the subscription was really dead, wouldn’t it
have just quietly slipped away into that good
night by now and disappeared altogether? 

Photo by Tom Hall via flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Recently, staff from the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis attended TCG’s 2014 Fall Forum on Governance. At it, they heard remarks indicating that the subscription is dead. Guthrie leadership stood up and said “NOT AT THE GUTHRIE!”

As a result of renewed focus and investment in marketing subscriptions, the Guthrie saw a 6% increase in subscriptions last season over the previous season. This season they are currently 12% ahead of the same time last year and still selling!

At TRG, we’ve seen this type of investment in subscriptions pay off in markets large and small. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, presenter Washington Pavilion has experienced 46% subscription growth over 2 years, and has successfully retained new subscribers. The Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles has sold nearly 22,000 season packages for its 2014-15 season, following years of consistent increases. And Houston Ballet has grown subscription packages by 25% over the past decade, with the number of actual tickets sold to their subscribers up 27% in the same period. 

So, folks, if most of us accepted that subscription is dead 15 years ago, why are we still talking about it? If the subscription was really dead, wouldn’t it have just quietly slipped away into that good night by now and disappeared altogether? 


Posted January 26, 2015







Jan14


An illustration of Seattle Repertory Theatre's "One Patron"
strategy, where SRT streamlined patron messaging and built
long term relationships across all points of interaction.

The Art of the Upgrade

For cultural institutions, the box office is not just the place where ticket orders are passively taken. It plays an active role in growing revenue by developing loyalty. Every time a patron logs in, calls, or visits to buy a ticket, the opportunity exists for them to upgrade and deepen their relationship with the organization. With the right training, the box office can become experts on how to cultivate patron relationships and keep audiences coming back for more. 

TRG President & CEO Jill Robinson presented this session at the 2015 InTix conference in Denver with Jeremy Scott of Seattle Repertory Theatre and Molly Riddle Wink of Denver Art Museum. In this session, they discussed:
- How making loyalty a priority can grow revenues
- How to build a loyalty strategy for every group within your existing audience
- How organizations can train box office staff to take on loyalty responsibilities


Posted January 14, 2015







Nov11

Creating Holistic Campaigns in a Brave New World 


With the rise of Google Analytics, conversion pixels, and referral codes, there are more tools than ever for tracking the results of your organization’s marketing campaigns. Yet even with hard evidence that digital efforts produce results, is it really time to shut the door on established methods such as direct mail, print/display advertising, and grassroots marketing? Can leaning too far in either direction impair one’s ability to capture a “middle ground”? 

This session, presented at the 2014 National Arts Marketing Project Conference, examined case studies of campaigns that successfully integrated old and new school marketing and campaign measurement via an integrated, “holistic” approach. The panelists tackled questions such as: how do specific demographics and audiences respond to different types of messaging? What is the value of “eyes-only” impressions vs. conversions that result in hard-and fast (and trackable) revenue? 

Presenters: Eric Winick of JCC Manhattan, Amelia Northrup-Simpson of TRG Arts, Molly Riddle Wink of Denver Art Museum, Khady Kamara of Arena Stage

Posted November 11, 2014







Jun19

Love the ones you're with--opportunity lies with existing patronsWhat happens when data analysis shows that some things you’re doing really well are also impeding future success? If you’re the Guthrie Theater looking at TRG’s loyalty and root cause analysis, you galvanize your whole team around keeping patrons and growing their ongoing support. In this workshop, TRG’s President & CEO Jill Robinson shared the metrics and patron behavior findings that alerted Guthrie and informed change. Trish Kirk, Guthrie’s Director of Marketing & Audience Development, described choices, actions, and new practices Guthrie has undertaken. Learn from Guthrie's experience how putting patron loyalty first can help sustain your theater. 

Posted June 19, 2014







Mar12

Donation successes at Ordway Center, Des Moines Performing Arts and Arena Stage


Why Box Office Asks Work

Collaborating cross-departmentally to grow loyalty is essential to long-term revenue growth. However, in many organizations, the box office isn’t integrated into development campaigns. TRG Arts sees development, marketing and the box office as deeply intertwined. A healthy development department depends on marketing to deliver donor-ready patrons. The box office regularly interacts directly with patrons and so can make asks that are both appropriate in the moment and that do a great deal to deepen loyalty. For example, a telefunding follow-up call to a first-time single ticket buyer may push the new patron relationship too far, while an invitation to add on a donation during a purchase may seem more natural.

TRG research shows that no matter the size of the gift, the effects of donating on loyalty and overall lifetime value can be tremendous, turning short-term revenue into long-term opportunity. Most major donors are cultivated from lower giving levels, rather than entering the organization as brand new high-level donors. Given this fact, campaigns where a front-line sales team like the box office asks for a lower-level gift make sense—and also make money.


Posted March 12, 2014







Mar11

94% of subscribers now subscribe to full series


The Situation:

Exterior of the Dofasco Centre for the Arts, the primary performing venue of Theatre Aquarius.
Dofasco Centre for the Arts
With the economic downturn that began in 2008, attendance and revenue at Theatre Aquarius began to decline. As the decline coupled with the financial recession continued into the spring of 2011, General Manager Lorna Zaremba hired TRG Arts to analyze the theatre’s situation and improve revenue.

This analysis revealed that there were entire elements of the Theatre’s business model that were missing, which influenced an atmosphere of waning loyalty, specifically among subscribers.


Posted March 11, 2014







Feb06

patron loyalty heart
Image via tagxedo
It's February, the month when our hearts naturally turn to romance. Here at TRG, we’re also thinking about romancing arts patrons. We call it “cultivating loyalty,” and it’s a lot like beginning a romantic relationship. It starts with a first “date,” or the first time a patron buys a ticket. What happens next determines whether the date will lead to a long-term, committed relationship or a one-night stand.

Let us suggest a Valentine theme for your important patron activities this month. As you’re planning subscription renewal, fiscal yearend giving, or admissions for summer festivals and during peak visitation season, think: “Be Mine” rather than simply “Buy Now.” Of course you need to focus on revenue. But, to get there, remember each of these efforts is about building relationships with your patrons. Like a romance, patron relationships evolve step-by-step, over time to become lasting and lifelong. With love—and loyalty— in the air, we’ve put together 3 ways to attract and keep the patrons of your dreams, those who will stick with you.


Posted February 6, 2014







Nov20

When the going got tough at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Director of External Affairs Katie Jackman and her team got going on a program for retaining first-time single ticket buyers – and stuck with it in the face of budget cuts, staff furloughs, and their own occasional doubts. Acting on TRG counsel Jackman and the SRT team launched their effort with getting new buyers to come again during their first season – achieving “second date” with first-time patrons. When that led to triple the retention rate among new single ticket buyers, SRT kept going. They rolled out a disciplined, purposeful cultivation effort over the next three seasons, a program TRG lauds as a model for the industry. (Read case study here.)  

Click through to watch the video or browse the slides from the webinar.


Posted November 20, 2013







Oct01

Tripled retention among specially

cultivated group of new ticket buyers

NOTE: We recently held a webinar based on this case study. "Launching Loyalty from a ‘Second Date’ with Patrons," featuring Seattle Repertory Theatre's Katie Jackman and her team, hosted by TRG's veteran consultant Joanne Steller. Click here to watch>>

When recession hit during the 2008–09 season, sales at Seattle Repertory Theatre (SRT) were already in a state of decline. Revenue losses had prompted across-the-board budget cuts by 30% for the following season. Enter Katie Jackman, who had just been hired and now is SRT’s Director of External Relations. She and new colleagues Jeremy Scott, Patron Development Manager, and Ashley Coates, Marketing Manager, rallied around the challenges ahead.


“We had declining sales in all categories. At the same time, there weren’t specific strategies around what to do, especially when patrons came in for the first time.”


Posted October 1, 2013







Aug28

New subscriptions up 27%


Hartford Stage has long enjoyed a sterling reputation as one of the country’s leading resident theatres. However, after 2008–09, one of the best seasons on record, revenue plunged and continued to trend downward in subsequent seasons.

A major portion of the revenue decline came from the loss of subscribers and subscriber revenue. In 2002, Hartford Stage introduced EZ Tix, a flexible voucher subscription. As EZ Tix became the focus of acquisition efforts, sales for the full 6-play subscription fell steadily. 


Posted August 28, 2013







Jun04

65% one-year increase in new subscription revenue

Exterior of the Loretto-Hilton Center, The Rep’s primary performing venue.
Exterior of the Loretto-Hilton Center,
The Rep’s primary performing venue.

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis had experienced ups and downs in subscription sales. By 2012, overall subscriptions had been decreasing by 3-8% almost every year since 2008, despite a strong renewal rate.

The underlying problem seemed to be attracting new subscribers. Initial analysis by TRG Arts suggested that, long term, The Rep needed to grow the number of prospects for subscription in their database. TRG also discovered that The Rep likely hadn’t been spending enough on subscription acquisitions. Spending on marketing new subscriptions acquisitions had remained flat, despite the declines in subscription acquisitions.


Posted June 4, 2013







May31

The Wall Street Journal didn't tell the whole story


Photo by Daimon Eklund via flickr.
Photo by Daimon Eklund via flickr.
Terry Teachout, the drama critic at The Wall Street Journal, suggested a few weeks ago a correlation between regional theater’s “play-it-safe” programming strategies and the collapse of the American theater subscription.

 He wrote: “(T)here seems little doubt that the [subscription] model itself is going bust.” Citing Theatre Facts 2011, Theatre Communications Group’s (TCG) annual study of industry financial and business trends, he noted, “nationwide revenues from subscribers plunged 18% between 2007 and 2011.”

That’s just one number, but it’s not the whole story.


Posted May 31, 2013







Jul03

Photo by Gabriel Saldana
For most non-profit arts organizations, a surge of revenue comes reliably twice a year:
  • during subscription campaigns,
  • and again during annual holiday blockbuster events like A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, and yuletide concerts.
Blockbusters boost annual revenue from time to time, but holiday events consistently and reliably provide sustaining revenue for the rest of the year.

Therefore, an organization’s annual holiday productionand the marketing campaign and box office operations surrounding itis one of the most important things to get right. In TRG’s consulting experience, starting early is a key factor in a successful holiday (or any) blockbuster. For holiday shows, the time to start is NOW.

Posted July 3, 2012







May09


Photo: Wooden tops,
Tate Modern by Howard Lake
What are you passionate about? How could we tell?

Those questions kicked off a TRG webinar April 18th that addressed the issue of patron loyalty -- how we as arts managers can drive revenue from audiences’ love of the arts. Sean Kelly, VP of Marketing and Communications at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre led the webinar with Laura Willumsen, TRG’s Senior Consultant and told the story of how patron passion for The 5th is driving the company’s loyalty program.

Clearly, it’s difficult to see an individual’s passion for the arts when you are looking at patrons only through the lens of individual campaigns. Most arts managers see their season as a string of performances with seats to fill, or days of an exhibition with a visitor goal to hit, or an annual fund effort to bring in donations. “Audience engagement” and “donor cultivation”, when viewed as campaigns, are just a large number of indeterminable and unending tasks.

Posted May 9, 2012







Apr30

Upgrading Subscribers, Rewarding Loyalty


5th Avenue Theatre Subscribers by Package TypeBeginning in the 2006-07 season, Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong implemented a bold vision to expand 5th Avenue Theatre’s season from four to seven productions so theatre lovers in Seattle could enjoy a broad spectrum of American musical theatre. The 5th’s subscription model, however, had not evolved to support that vision. The Theatre continued to reward 4-show subscribers with the same benefits as 7-show subscribers, fearing that changes could negatively impact their core audience.

Posted April 30, 2012







Apr27

This post was originally published this week on artsmarketing.org and in the National Arts Marketing Project newsletter.
How many times have you heard that the arts need a new business model, or that subscriptions are dead? There’s not a lot of people out there advocating for subscriptions. In fact most speak of abandoning it, or make conclusions or assumptions based on reports that the number of arts subscribers in America is down.

But, is the subscription model really dead? Really? The fact is, subscriptions are thriving in industries outside of the arts. In the past few months, there have been a slew of articles about entrepreneurs latching on to this model.

Posted April 27, 2012







Apr18

5th Avenue Theatre in SeattleWhile some debate the feasibility of the current arts business model and look to new audiences to fill the gap, the fact remains: only 1 out of 5 new patrons come back a second time. Our problem is not new audiences; it’s increasing loyalty among the patrons we have. 

Staff from 5th Avenue Theatre and TRG detailed in this webinar how they are building a wholly new model of audience engagement centered on using passion for the arts to drive retention, engagement and revenue--and, why loyalty is the only sustainable model for revenue growth. 

Posted April 18, 2012







Apr12

Small Company sees Big Subscription Success


Curious Theatre Company Subscription RevenueCurious Theatre Company (CTC) is a Denver-based theatre company with a budget under $1 million. CTC hired TRG Arts at the end of 2008 for full suite consulting to address revenue problems and to review the scaling and pricing of their theater.

Unpredictable Subscription Sales.

Subscriptions grew in 2006-07 and 2008-09, fueled by strong programming and single ticket sales in previous years. Since the 2006-07 season, renewal revenues were up 43%, but new subscription revenues were down 23%. 

Posted April 12, 2012







Apr09

Line to get in to Hirshhorn After Hours.
Photo by Joe Loong via Flickr.
Recently I came across an excellent article entitled “Death by Curation” on how museums have developed an over-reliance on programming special exhibits, as opposed to trusting their permanent collections to make revenue goals. Author Colleen Dilenschneider makes the point that blockbusters can increase annual revenue expectations to often unreasonable levels. The blockbuster-addicted museum then sinks more money into further special exhibits that may not be as successful as the first blockbuster, or even break even.

Over two decades, we’ve seen this pattern play out in performing arts organizations, as well as museums and other membership-based attractions. Of course, the blockbusters themselves are usually not the problem. The way that an arts organization handles a blockbuster can be.

Posted April 9, 2012







Apr04

Update: Thanks to everyone who signed up for the webinar. If you missed it, you can still view the recording here.
Announcing TRG's latest webinar...
5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle

The Loyalty Business Model:
How to use passion for the arts to drive revenue
      

Date: Wednesday, April 18
Time: 2-3:15 p.m. EDT/11-12:15 PDT
Cost: Free--register here.

While some debate the feasibility of the current arts business model and look to new audiences to fill the gap, the fact remains: only 1 out of 5 new patrons come back a second time. Our problem is not new audiences; it’s keeping the patrons we have--and increasing their loyalty to our organizations.

Posted April 4, 2012







Mar23

Patron Loyalty Week continues through March 24th. We’re engaging in dialogue about developing longer, stronger patron relationships on the blog, at industry conferences, and on Twitter at #LoyaltyWeek
Patron Evolution We love loyal patrons. Why? Simply put, they make money for arts organizations, and they make arts managers’ jobs easier. Patron loyalty means developing stronger, longer relationships with your audience. It's all about finding new buyers, converting them into frequent buyers, subscriber/members, donors and, ultimately, lifelong patrons.

Making those conversions has far-reaching implications for arts organizations. TRG research shows that the more loyal a patron is, the greater their lifetime value will be to an arts organization.

Posted March 23, 2012







Jan17

Super Subscribers: Saving the Day,
Seeding a Loyalty Initiative


5th Avenue Theatre marquee

The 5th Avenue Theatre faced a significant projected shortfall in the annual fund near the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Previous campaigns relied almost exclusively on telefunding and the cost of sale was high. Subscribers who donated made up a small portion of the 5th’s season ticket holders, so there was clearly room to grow. 5th Avenue Theatre had to increase revenueand fast.

5th Avenue Theatre mounted a campaign targeting 2010-11 subscribers, asking them to become “Super Subscribers” who make a donation to enhance their theatre-going experience.

Posted January 17, 2012







Jan16

New Subscribers Fuel Sustaining Revenue


Theatre Calgary's 2010-2011 production of
The Drowsy Chaperone. Photo by Trudie Lee.
Theatre Calgary had seen growing earned revenue for several years, but in 2009-10 the Theatre experienced a sharp decline in both single tickets and subscription sales, due in part to the economic downturn that occurred in Calgary in early 2009. It became clear to the Company that, beyond outside economic factors, achieving sustainable levels of revenue required changing past practices.

Posted January 16, 2012







Oct21

59% one-year ticket revenue increase


Phoenix Theatre revenue chartPhoenix Theatre’s ticket revenue and admissions had remained essentially flat for the three years following a big drop-off in 2005. Revenue gains in full subscription and single ticket sales were offset by decreases in group sales and flex subscriptions. The Theatre needed more substantial growth in all areas to increase revenue, which required greater patron investment.

 In October 2007, TRG consultants began their work with the Company, examining a variety of issues. Key findings centered on patron retention and its effect on revenue.

Posted October 21, 2011







Oct20

Subscriptions are Alive and Well!


Mead Center at night.
Photo by Scott Suchman.
Arena Stage is one of America’s leading regional theatres, performing on three stages in the newly renovated Mead Center for American Theater. Before moving back into the Mead Center, Arena Stage had seen declining sales from 2001-2007. In 2008 they sought out TRG to help strategize their move back into DC and address key sales challenges.

Are subscriptions viable?

Subscriptions sales were in a downward slide from 2003-2007, along with the subscriber renewal rate. Arena’s staff actively questioned the validity of the subscription model going forward and was increasingly looking to single tickets as the key source of future earned revenue. 

Posted October 20, 2011







Oct18

$3 million two-year revenue growth


Arts Club Theatre CompanyFor years Arts Club Theatre Company (ACTC) had seen healthy revenue growth. By 2007 subscription numbers had leveled off and the company’s efforts were falling short of revenue goals. Some of the issues included:
  • Pricing.  ACTC had priced all seats the same, varying prices only by the day of the week.   Patrons were not buying the lowest-priced tickets, prompting a high proportion of tickets—one in every three—to be offered at a discount.  Some patrons got double discounts (i.e. corporate seniors got a corporate discount on top of the senior discount).
  • Inventory management. In addition to offering deep discounts on tickets, ACTC filled seats by offering large numbers of complimentary tickets—22,000 in the 07-08 season alone...
  • Timing of marketing campaigns. ACTC had a complaint that is standard among arts organizations—their patrons were buying later and later. To accommodate them, ACTC was also marketing and selling shows later and later.
  • Subscription offerings. ACTC offered a wide variety of subscriptions—several fixed seat subscriptions, and many flexible subscription packages. Many more patrons opted for the lowest-price flex package rather than the full series; flex series renewed at low rates.

Posted October 18, 2011







Sep01

Ken Davenport’s insightful August 30th post spotlights the reason why advance ticket buying seems like a thing of the past.  Too many presenters, producers and arts organizations are providing incentives to buy late in the sales cycle.

As readers of this blog know, our patron behavior studies challenge the accepted conventional wisdom in the field that patrons are buying later and later.  Conventional wisdom is no substitute for fact. In a study of late-buying trends of 1.5 million arts patrons in Los Angeles, we found that buying later it is not an inevitable fact of consumer behavior. We summarized these findings earlier in the year on this blog.

In our consulting practice we do see late-buying trends, but more often than not, we’ve found that late-buying is a direct result of late-selling—not making the offer to the market early enough.  This is typically a strategy based on the assumption that all patrons want to buy late. An empty house a week out then spurs a slew of panicked late-minute discounting, or worse yet: comping. When this happens often enough, as Ken Davenport also pointed out, patrons are trained to wait for this “management panic” fire sale. The bottom line is that giving up on advance ticketing only perpetuates the cycle of late buying—and leads to less per-ticket revenue (as well as total revenue!) on an ongoing basis.

Posted September 1, 2011







Aug03

Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre CompanyDynamic pricing, the tactic of raising prices after tickets go on sale, has often been in industry headlines these days. However, when it comes to growing revenue and increasing patron loyalty, it’s not the whole story. While it’s true that Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre Company (ACTC) generated six-figure revenue from dynamic pricing, the real news is how ACTC increased the number of its most loyal subscribers. In this webinar, presented in August 2011, TRG consultants and ACTC staff retell ACTC’s $3 million client success story, including how:
  • Loyalty strategies -- not pricing tactics -- led to sustaining revenue.
  • Unified, company-wide change in focus brought about increased revenue and subscribers.
  • Dynamic pricing made subscribing more valuable.

Posted August 3, 2011







Jul25

Update: Thanks to everyone who signed up for the webinar. If you missed it, you can still view the recording here.
Regular readers of this blog know that we've talked about dynamic pricing quite a bit in past weeks, including the case study of Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre Company (ACTC), who found success with dynamic pricing as part of an integrated patron loyalty strategy. Our latest webinar, led by TRG consultants and ACTC staff, goes in-depth on this case study.

Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre CompanyTitle: Dynamic Pricing is NOT the Story
Date: Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Time: 11 a.m. to 12 Noon, Mountain Daylight Time
(See below for your time zone)

Dynamic pricing, the tactic of raising prices after tickets go on sale, has often been in industry headlines these days. However, when it comes to growing revenue and increasing patron loyalty, it’s not the whole story. While it’s true that Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre Company (ACTC) generated six-figure revenue from dynamic pricing, the real news is how ACTC increased the number of its most loyal subscribers. Read more about ACTC's success on TRG's blog, and register for the webinar to hear TRG consultants and ACTC staff retell ACTC’s $3 million client success story.

Posted July 25, 2011







Jul14

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times about dynamic pricing.  The resulting article highlights the success that L.A. organizations have had using the tactic to increase revenue, while maintaining the accessibility that is a part of most non-profits’ mission. You can read the article here.  That post, Thomas Cott’s briefing the same day, and the subsequent flurry of online discourse tells me that we, as an industry, are looking at dynamic pricing as something greater than it is.

The tactic – repeat, tactic – of dynamic pricing is but one means to an end – greater ticket revenue. It is not an end itself – sustainable patronage and revenue.  Since 2002, when my colleagues and I first worked with clients to implement the practice of raising ticket prices after sales were underway, dynamic pricing has been part of an integrated revenue management strategy. That strategy began with consideration of subscribers and the demand for seats subscribers create.

Posted July 14, 2011







Jun07

I have a passion for sharing stories of success. This seems especially important when so many of our ‘water cooler’ conversations are dominated by accounts of doom, gloom and bankruptcy. Success stories offer important reminders that arts and cultural organizations are not limited to merely surviving. Even during tough times – perhaps especially during tough times – we can thrive!

At the recent Canadian Professional Association of Theatres (PACT) conference, TRG had the pleasure of sharing a truly remarkable client success story, that of Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company (ACTC ). About three years ago, ACTC became curious about our work in dynamic pricing, the tactic of raising prices based on customer demand after tickets go on sale. Could ACTC exceed their $4.5 million annual revenue history with this practice?

Posted June 7, 2011







Jan21

2008 Arts Industry Holiday Performance Report, results of a first-time tracking poll that surveyed arts and cultural organizations about their 2008 holiday performance and event revenues, produced with Patron Technology by TRG Arts, January 21, 2009.

Posted January 21, 2009







Oct23

Los Angeles Market Segmentation Study, an arts and culture consumer profile prepared by TRG for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, October 2008.

Posted October 23, 2008







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