Case Study: New Wolsey Theatre, part 2

Case Study: New Wolsey Theatre, part 2

A new model for audience development

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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.

New ticket bookers were not returning to the theatre after their first visit. 75% of first-timers in 2014-15 did not return the following year.

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

Sandy Grigelis as Sprout. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

This simple question led to a more complex one: “If we were to re-open our theatre knowing what we know now about our audience, how would we operate?” 

This question inspired New Wolsey Theatre to re-shape their business model, including:

  • changing the departmental structure 
  • determining the most important actions for each patron 
  • training every team member to participate in upgrading and re-engaging patrons

"I was shocked by the retention number. In the past we’d questioned whether we had reached a saturation point in our community. That theory is GONE. We were actually very good at attracting new audiences and there were new patrons to be engaged each year. Retention was the problem.

We felt we’d been working hard on making patrons loyal to New Wolsey,but clearly not hard enough. We had to decide to re-focus and make sure that we were measuring impact of absolutely everything. Every household mattered."

-Stephen Skrypec, Head of Communications

The Patron Experience.

How department structures changed.

Stephen: We knew we had to orient ourselves around loyalty and not waste another season. We decided on these new silo-free departments because TRG recommended a patron focused operation that aligned exactly with how we imagined a newly opened venue should look like.The Marketing/Sales department and the Development department, while friends,were working toward different strategic goals.

The first thing we did to implement this plan was to hold a consultation process with all departments affected with the change to gauge feedback on our plans and help understanding around the business need for changing the structure of the communications team.

New Wolsey's production of Made In Dagenham. Photo: Mark Sepple

The hardest thing was letting go of some long serving team members in the process. We needed to realign the team to make it completely oriented to build loyalty. This meant a distribution of skills within the existing team and also creating efficiency within the existing staff structure to enable us to build capacity for our new Relationships team.

The easiest thing was getting buy-in from everyone on the team. We were able to explain so clearly what we were trying to do that staff understood easily and got excited about engaging patrons in this way. Everyone understood how important this work was in creating resilience for New Wolsey Theatre.

Department jobs:


Staff: Marketing Manager & Assistant Marketing Manager

• Plan campaigns that talk to patrons like we know who they are

Staff: Sales Manager, Sales Pool, & all FOH staff

• Manage ticket inventory and pricing
• Provide customer service

Staff: House Manager & Hospitality Manager

• Acts as ‘party host’ every night
• Manages customer service

Staff: Relationships Manager, Assistant Relationship Manager & two officers

• Manages relationships after first ticket purchase

How the most important actions for each patron were determined:

In 2015, TRG implemented its Patron Loyalty Index (PLI) analysis to quantify patron loyalty and inform next steps in the company’s strategy. Every patron who has had an interaction with an arts organization is an Advocate, a Buyer, or a Tryer. This is a holistic view of patrons, based on the total amount they spend with the organization, how frequently, and how recently. This analysis takes into account patrons’ activities across an organization,including single tickets, subscriptions and memberships, donations, and special events.


Advocates are the most loyal and most invested patrons. Staff are likely to know the names or faces of many of these board members, major donors, and long-time subscriber-donors.

At New Wolsey Theatre, the most important thing for Advocates was to maintain the relationship and encourage them to make a greater commitment to the organization.


Buyers contribute less on a per capita basis than Advocates, but are still loyal subscribers, members,donors, or even avid single ticket buyers. They tend to invest in a variety of ways, across multiple purchase types—what we call the magic of “and.”

At New Wolsey Theatre, the most important thing for Buyers was to invite them to become a member or season ticket holder.


Tryers are the largest and least loyal group,spending the least per capita. Tryers are new audience members, one-time ticket buyers or visitors, and occasional attendees. 

At New Wolsey Theatre, the most important thing for Tryers was to encourage them to see another show in the same season.

How every team member participates in upgrading and re-engaging patrons

After re-organizing the departments and setting goals for each patron type, New Wolsey Theatre equipped each team with the information and incentives they would need to enact the plan.

Stephen: Every team member now has a loyalty pack explaining our process and plan for increasing Buyers & Advocates and retaining new Tryers. We have a selection of ‘ands’ for every customer so that we know exactly what path and journey each individual customer is on. We share these successes in our weekly Revenue Pacing Meetings and have a key selection of metrics that we monitor and report back on. We are now introducing an incentive scheme to further boost this work.

New Wolsey Theatre publishes a loyalty pack, excerpt above, for each team which guides staff on how to deepen patron relationships with each transaction.

The results

As of November 2016, the new model had been in place for a year and two months. While it’s too early to tell if the new department structure has impacted the annual new booker attrition number (75% of first-timers in 2014-15), New Wolsey is seeing promising early results. New Wolsey Theatre worked with Spektrix to specifically analyze the impact of their follow up campaign for first timers. Already, response rates to campaigns offering new-time bookers another ticket are pacing ahead of campaigns to the same segments in 2014. 

Additionally, New Wolsey Theatre has already seen the following results: 

“We are pacing ahead again this autumn and are on track for our highest grossing and attended season to date. As a team we have focused hard on our campaign planning to increase engagement and repeat attendance from our direct response efforts. This additional income is being directly into expanding some of our artistic output leading to increased confidence in making bold programming choices.”

-Stephen Skrypec, Head of Communications

4 Tips: How your team can grow audiences by re-focusing on retention

1. Understand your reality.

Calculate and regularly report on the metrics that impact ROI and loyalty. Examples: Ticket booker churn rate and #/% of same-season multi-buyers

2. Experiment! Create pilot programs around the “&.”

Think of your ticket office as an audience development lab and involve them in all your planning. Help them come up with ideas for the next ‘and’ for your Advocates,
Buyers and Tryers.

3. Words matter. “Our patrons,” not “mine” and “yours.”

Leadership takes place at any level of the organization. It can start with something as simple as the language you use when you talk internally about patrons.

4. Break down siloes. Start meeting together regularly.

Stephen and the New Wolsey Theatre team instituted weekly Revenue Pacing Meetings. Representatives from each department discuss where revenue is tracking against goal, how to adjust prices and seat holds, and initiatives related to loyalty.

Katie Birtill as Charity Valentine in Sweet Charity at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak.

New Wolsey Theatre is exploring how to develop audiences with TRG’s Loyalty Planning Sprint, which includes the Patron Loyalty Index and Key Metrics analyses.

To explore a consulting partnership for your organization, email .

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Posted January 24, 2017

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