Louisiana Philharmonic’s Post-Katrina Comeback
|BEFORE: Post-Katrina, interior
of the Orpheum Theatre
|AFTER: LPO's new performing home
in Mahalia Jackson Theater
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), like many organizations in the Gulf coast, faced an uncertain future after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. By 2009, New Orleans had seen its population start to stabilize. However, LPO’s patron base had not rebounded as quickly as the city it serves. Attendance was 26% below pre-Katrina levels. The Orchestra still faced significant challenges:
Performance home destroyed.
Katrina wiped out LPO’s home, the Orpheum Theatre. By 2009, LPO was still performing in various churches in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes, getting only a few dates in the restored Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, located in Armstrong Park. LPO saw the expansion into other parishes as an opportunity to move the orchestra out into the region and gain new audiences. However, this nomadic existence denied LPO and its valued patrons the fundamental benefit of subscribing—
the ability to have the best seats at the best price and renew those preferred seats year after year. Without a home:
LPO patrons found the multiple performance venues confusing and, in some cases, inconvenient.
Because ticket buyers were seated in pews, it was nearly impossible to manage inventory and control the number of seats sold at various price points. A disproportionate number of the least expensive seats sold, depressing average revenue yield per ticket.
Tracking patron data and tickets sold in the different halls was difficult. LPO’s ticketing system could not accommodate multiple halls and the Orchestra, prompting creative but labor-intensive work-arounds such as paper orders, cash box, and manual ticketing.
Several classical concerts had to be repeated in church venues to accommodate patrons holding prime seats. The downside was more capacity than demand which hurt the perception of success.
Katrina also exacted a heavy toll on LPO’s database. Patron contact information recorded prior to Katrina was no longer reliable. Many patrons had left or moved, and some addresses no longer existed. With LPO performing in venues without a box office, a card table and a cash box had to suffice; the Orchestra could no longer effectively collect contact information for walk-up single ticket buyers. These difficulties limited the scope of the Orchestra’s direct marketing efforts because cleaning and deduping patron data was manual and labor-intensive.
The loss of the Orpheum and the blow to LPO’s database had a substantial negative impact on the Orchestra’s ability to reactivate former patrons and retain current ones.
The Comeback Results:
TRG consultants started working with the Louisiana Philharmonic in the middle of the 2008-09 season. Since then, the Orchestra has seen dramatic results, especially in the growth of subscription and associated revenue. During three years of working with TRG, LPO has achieved:
71% increase in subscription units sold,
75% increase in subscription revenue,
49% one-year subscription revenue growth in 2009-10, LPO’s first full year working with TRG,
An all-time high in subscription revenue for 2011-12.
How they did it:
TRG consultants working with the LPO were optimistic from the start. The local population had stabilized somewhat and, the entire team—management, the music director and the musicians—supported change wholeheartedly. Patrons who had stuck by the LPO from its pre-Katrina days remained staunchly loyal.
There’s no place like home.
In the newly renovated Mahalia Jackson Theater, the LPO was able to offer subscribers assigned seats of their own in a world-class performing arts venue. Orchestra staff also could manage inventory for single ticket buyers much more effectively. After performing for years in up to seven different halls, TRG consultants encouraged LPO to perform as many concert dates in Mahalia Jackson as possible so that patrons could embrace the Orchestra’s “new home,” while continuing to grow audiences in newfound markets.
With a new home, LPO could simplify subscription pricing based on seating in one hall, providing the prized subscriber benefit of “best seats at the best price.” Consultants created a pricing strategy that rewarded loyalty—
offering greater discounts to subscribers who attend more often with a discount proposition that buying the largest subscription package was like getting one superstar classical artist for free. This value proposition and LPO’s commitment to sell subscriptions grew the full 13-concert series by 29% and the 8-concert series by 24% in 4 years.
LPO addressed its problems with incomplete database records and ticketing system shortcomings in one major investment. During the 2010-11 season, LPO licensed the ticketing system Audience View, which gave the Orchestra remote ticketing capabilities as well as transparency around all patron activity. Because the new system goes wherever LPO performs, the Orchestra can capture patron contact data and transaction information faster and more accurately. During the transition, TRG provided database services that helped bridge the multiple systems, clean and update data, and inform the choice of best prospects. LPO staff could now plan direct mail campaigns with dramatically increased response rates.
Optimizing outcomes from fewer concerts.
TRG recommended cutting repeat performances in First Baptist New Orleans (FBNO), one of the LPO’s regular performing venues to ensure the hall always looked full. Additionally, the pops series was no longer profitable. While Pops was a big draw for single ticket buyers, the series represented only 8% of all subscriptions. LPO decided to drop the Pops series and continue to program individual pops concerts as add-ons. LPO is a musician-owned orchestra, so musicians have a vested interest in its success. They supported the change in pops concerts, realizing it meant fewer opportunities to perform while gaining greater opportunity to grow elsewhere. As a result, LPO achieved growth by keeping a laser focus on growing the subscription base and selling more tickets for every individual concert.
About the Louisiana Philharmonic:
Founded in 1991, the Louisiana Philharmonic is the only musician-owned and collaboratively managed professional symphony in the United States. The LPO performs a full 36 week concert season each year. For more information, visit www.lpomusic.com