TRG blog: Every Night is Opening Night

Every Night is Opening Night

Opening nights are fun. They also are hard work. Months of planning result in huge organizational resources being focused on the celebrations that mark the beginning of a new season or production. These are important rituals of organizational renewal.

The latest research from TRG puts a patron-oriented spin on this subject. It’s telling us that opening night is happening all year long for big numbers of patrons in the audience. How so? Our just-completed internal pilot research on patron origination found:

Half of the study group’s ticket buyers had a first-time ticket-buying experience – their own personal opening night – during the season.

And, half of those new ticket buyers had no previous attendance history anywhere in their arts community.

Let me elaborate with a little background.

We recently did a pilot study on patron origination to differentiate between patrons that an organization already knows through current or past transaction history from patrons that are completely new. The pilot study was a deep dive into the consumer behavior of performing arts single and subscription ticket buyers in the Houston and Seattle arts communities during the 2009-10 Season.

We found about a 50-50 split between new and “known” audiences. This ratio was remarkably consistent across all arts forms and organizational size.

The half that’s new included two distinct types of “new-to-file” patrons – meaning households that made their first single or subscription ticket purchase with one of the companies in the study group during in 2009-10. Of new patrons:
25% were Premiere Patrons, those new-to-file consumers with no previous attendance history in the arts community. Premiere patrons are not only making their first visit to a theatre or concert hall – but their first recorded visit to ANY arts organization!
24% were Shared Newbies, patron households that were new to an organization but had a prior ticket purchase history with one or more different organizations within the community.

This is a perspective that should change the priority if not the whole approach for building patron relationships. Those who have followed this space know of our work in patron attrition — business intelligence on the “here one year, gone the next” nature of new ticket buyers. We’ve long been proponents of efforts to mitigate those exits.

We know new ticket buyers require specific cultivation. Now we have more convincing evidence that cultivation efforts should be happening after every curtain call and with two very distinct types of new patrons.

The other half of the story is “known” patrons -- those that have a history of buying tickets (or making other transactions) recorded in the organization’s resident database. The study found two types of known patrons:
37% were Retained Patrons, single ticket buyers and subscribers that had purchase history with the company in the prior season (2008-09).
14% were Reactivated Patrons, households whose ticket buying with the company had lapsed for two or more years prior to 2009-10.

As usual, these first findings make us even more curious. There's much more we want to find out about the mix and dynamics of new and known patrons. For now though, there are three key takeaways:

1. Smart organizations recognize that every night is opening night..and they do something about it. Performing arts organizations are overly dependent on advertising and promotion plans to deliver new audiences for every performance. This is not likely to change soon. That’s why we’ll keep beating the drum for retention efforts. Institutional strategy must be centered on getting first time visitors to come back again. Creating more multi-buyers – retention—is absolutely critical to long term sustainable growth.

2. Reactivation of lapsed buyers always makes sense...and belongs in every organization’s campaign. Although patrons lapse for many reasons, reactivation often is a matter of simply asking for the order. How recently a lapsed patron purchased (recency) is a key variable; the more recent, the higher the likelihood of reactivation and improved patron lifetime value. Aggressively and constantly promoting reactivation is an inexpensive marketing and development strategy that offers superior returns on investment.

3. Big numbers of new buyers are already known performing arts consumers in the community...and smart managers make list trades work. Targeting current, multi-buyers within a community data resource offers a “can-grow” segment of ticket buyers. TRG’s catch-phrase, “the more they buy, the more they keep buying,” applies. Communities like Houston and Seattle, with large and active permission-based shared databases, have access to highly qualified prospects that are easy and highly cost-effective to find.

Surprised or curious about these findings? Tell us how. Leave a comment.

Posted April 12, 2011

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