Leadership / 01.12.22
History of INTIX: Our Organization’s Very First Member Remembers the Early Years
In 1999, the INTIX conference threw a “Music City Celebration” in Nashville. It was the 20th anniversary of INTIX and the Chair of our Board of Directors at the time was a friendly, familiar face: Maureen Andersen.
In her message, published in the 20th anniversary history book, Maureen challenged all members to look to the future. “We all need to cultivate and encourage new membership; to continue to be leaders in your industry, to promote INTIX in your region, state, province and country; to participate in the organization.”
From the very beginning, Chloe Watson, the organization’s very first member, has done just that. In this new series, as we document the history of INTIX from the membership’s perspective, Chloe reflects on the early days, what was on the minds of members, the first conference, how much the conference flourished in just a few years and more, all in her own words.
“From the very beginning, when the very first conference started, I was working in the same building as Patricia (Pat) Spira. I was working for the Milwaukee Symphony at the Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, which is now known as the Marcus Center. It was easy for me to hear and learn about what was then BOMI [or Box Office Managers International], and Pat applied a certain amount of pressure to be at the conference.
L-R: Chloe Watson, Patricia Spira and Angus Watson.
“When it started to come together, I was surprised at the number of people not only expressing interest but offering financial support to get BOMI off the ground. It was kind of startling. Initially, I think Pat thought maybe 20 or 30 people [would come]. I think there were quite a few more. They came from literally all over the world, another unexpected benefit. The Paris Opera, two or three venues in Canada, I think there were [even] two venues from Australia … and then all across the United States.
“In those days, we did not have any mechanism at all for box office managers to speak to one another, to share information or even have lunch. We were scattered all across the country and sometimes only across a city, but there was really no way for us to meet or connect in any way. We basically needed to look an organization or venue up in the phone book and find out who we could talk to. There was no web to crawl … and get to know one another. Plus new people coming into the industry, all they learned was from their predecessor. There was always the question, ‘Is there another way to do this?’
“[There were other questions too, like], ‘Is there another way that I can make donating tickets easier for my clients, or how can I get the word out that we offer exchange possibilities to our subscribers other than our own direct mail and methods of doing things?’ Perhaps there was a better way somewhere else, but we had no way to find that out.
“One of the overriding things in those days was phone sales. There were what we began to know as ‘boiler rooms’ popping up in various areas of the U.S. and in Europe, where a bank of phones and people manning them would scour the local area, call people and try to sell them tickets to various events. Ballet companies would submit their lists of clients, their list of ticket buyers and subscribers, and symphony orchestras would do likewise. That created a bit of worry. Would my ballet company subscribers be asked to buy symphony tickets? I do not want my subscribers to be on somebody else's sales list, et cetera. There was a certain amount of customer protection that we wanted to make sure we had.
“These pop-up boiler rooms were apparently very profitable because they started appearing everywhere. Even in Milwaukee, there was one that started out. At the same time, Ticketron and Ticketmaster appeared on the scene and venues were contracting with them to sell their tickets, and they became yet another phone room so to speak. But with phone rooms — Ticketron and Ticketmaster — there was the beginning of the idea of computerizing tickets for ballet, symphonies, boxing, rock concerts [and more]. That is where Ticketron and Ticketmaster got their foot in the door; they provided that contract to sell the tickets.
“For the arts organizations in particular, our customers were becoming more mobile. They were traveling the country and traveling the world. When they chose a place to visit or a place that they were doing business, they would want tickets to the local ballet or to a local concert. Box office managers and subscription managers were calling up organizations to get information, contacting these places and trying to get nice seats for their subscribers in other cities. That was one of the only ways that box office people came together. It was a very small scale, but I think it was growing.
“There was a certain amount of pressure from Mrs. Spira because I was right down the hall [as the subscription manager for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra], and I mean that in the kindest way. I was very intrigued when she came and explained to me what she wanted to do. It was important to me because I was new in the job and I had not been in my job very long. I had come from being an assistant manager in a large venue, so subscriptions were a little different for me. Finding out that I might be able to mix and mingle with other subscription managers, other box office managers and other [more experienced] box office representatives was exciting. I wondered what we would talk about. What was funny, the talking never stopped. Once we were assembled together, it was very exciting.
“When the first conference took place, there were a lot of eyes opened. A lot of people used different kinds of forms to do a settlement. Sometimes the forms were designed better, they were easier to read or took less effort to put together. I found a couple of forms that I came away with to change the way we did our ticket donations. Richard Carter [from Toronto and credited as almost a co-founder of BOMI] had a particular form that [had everything we needed] together on one form, with perforations and carbonless paper, and it was miraculous to me. It sounds silly now, but it streamlined a rather cumbersome thing we had to do every day.
“There were people [at the conference] who were reluctant to talk at first, trying to figure out where the conversation was going to go. When we all learned that we were in this together, rather than us versus them, people started to share their experiences and ideas.
“There were several organizations and subscription [professionals] that I spent time with, including another one right there at the Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, Peggy Rose from the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. I was able to talk with her at some length, get some tips on what she did to manage her subscription renewals and the various steps involved with a subscription ticket, per se. There were people from sports, baseball clubs and football clubs. It was interesting to hear their take. Their biggest concern was the day of the games, how do I move X-thousands of tickets? Those are the people who I think were the first to jump into the phone sales industry, these boiler rooms I mentioned earlier.
“The whole idea of getting even more industry people involved was already there. For me, I had obtained some forms, some ideas and I thought, ‘We need to be part of this because the industry is changing.’ That, I think, is why I wanted to become a member and remain a member. It was very affordable for our organization and symphony orchestras never have any money. It didn’t take much to convince our general manager to go ahead and pay for the membership, and he was pretty excited by it. The whole idea of getting together again with these people and other new people was something to look forward to. In the meantime, I had phone numbers and addresses of all the folks that had been at the first meeting. If I had something to talk about or questions to ask, I could just pick up the phone, whereas before I would not have known who to call.
“I do not think the idea of a permanent organization [was on people’s minds at the beginning], but by the end of the [first] conference, I think that is what we all wanted.
“When I attended the fifth conference, which was in Los Angeles in 1984, I was amazed at the number of people. The growth had been unbelievable.
“I was [now] at the Houston Grand Opera, again as subscription manager, and the only way the opera would pay for my attendance was if I shared the hotel room with someone. The subscription manager of the Houston Ballet and I went together and attended that conference.
“The issues had radically changed. From the first conference there was the discussion that some professional organization had written a spec to have their tickets computerized …This was big news. A lot of us with hard tickets could not imagine how that could possibly work …There was [also] now a trade show event along with the annual conference.
“That was fabulous, being able to see professional equipment, professional design from companies all across the country and some from Canada. It was a kid in a candy store kind of moment.
“[My colleague and I] were both very excited that we had been able to meet up with so many other subscription organizations and had been able to pinpoint issues. One of the exploding issues that had started prior to the first conference was becoming even more pressurized. Again, it was the boiler room phone sales concept. It was to a point where [there were] individuals who had a bundle of money and wanted to help certain nonprofits, certain theaters. The phrase was, ‘I will take over your phone sales and you will not have to worry about that.’ [They would say] you would not have to worry about that cost, the cost of setting up, the cost of maintaining, the cost of hiring staff, the ancillary costs. The organization would get a percentage back from whatever sales they were able to achieve. Some of these grew to be rather unscrupulous, and there were some serious problems. I think there were some lawsuits. I think there were dissatisfied subscribers who quit, [plus] various other implications. It became a big issue for the arts organizations in particular. In fact, there was one situation I knew of where the [boiler room rep] did actually say, ‘Look, please buy the ticket and I will come pick you up and take you each time.’ I heard that with my own ears and I was livid.
“This was something that was talked about quite a bit at the Los Angeles conference. It was an issue that did not die. The whole phone room concept of boiler room sales just kept growing and growing, and each conference there was more and more concern being voiced by the organizations and the venues that were on the other side of this.
“The management structure of where to put the box office is another issue that [came] before the first conference for some of the initial members. [For example, people would say,] ‘I am way under the second bookkeeper in the management chart and I have no say in anything.’ Another may say something like, ‘I am the third clerk on the house management staffing list.’ That ‘where do we fit, where do we belong,’ is another issue that kept cropping up in those early conferences. That was something that [my colleague from the Houston Ballet] and I both experienced. We were below middle management as I would describe it, so our say in whether or not our organization used one of these boiler room operations, we had a very tiny voice, maybe a whisper. I actually reported to the financial director, which made slightly more sense to some of us. The subscription manager of the Houston Symphony said he was under publicity. His manager, his boss, was the manager of publicity.
“By the time we were in the fifth year, computerization of tickets was well underway, even when I started at the Houston Opera in 1983. By 1983, the Houston Grand Opera had stepped into computerizing their subscription. What I found was something that needed work, then I found something I never considered would exist. Attending the Los Angeles conference and trade show, finding out more about computerization of tickets and seeing how many computerized ticketing vendors and products was growing was astounding. It told us that we have to jump on this bandwagon, or we are going to be left behind, so it became very important.
“So many of us, we had worked our jobs with a pencil, a piece of paper and an adding machine. That is about all the box office managers had — and a pile of hard tickets and stubs that they had to count all the time. The advent of more and more computerization taking place, it was the trend. It was the way we were going to have to go to be involved with the successful marketing and sale of our products.
“When it was first being talked about, I was very wary. I am not a computer programmer. I do not know how that works. I do not know how you do it. That was my thinking at the time. It was [a situation where I had to] sit back and listen. After a while, you start picking up on the terminology and what that terminology means in terms of computerization. You would start to build a bridge with the computer [professionals] and understand what they mean. Eventually I was excited, but I was not excited at first. At first I was wary.
“There was [also concern about] the concept of having to do everything twice. When I arrived at the opera, I was intrigued with how the subscriber order forms had been marked, filed and notated …There was some sort of little code being written on each order form. I inquired about that. Well, they said, ‘We are thinking that eventually we have to put these names on a computerized list.’ I thought, well, if we are going to put them on a computerized list, why don't we computerize the whole operation? I did not see any point in doing it piecemeal. That was the point that I became excited that this could make everybody's life a lot better.
“It was great to find other colleagues that were in the same situation and others that had been but were able to move on [towards computerization]. They would explain what they did and how they did it and that is how you get through this whole process. That was extremely helpful, and it eased a lot of minds for those of us in that situation. It also gave us some confidence because we learned from our other colleagues, so we could go back and talk with the people involved in that computerization process and be speaking the same language. This allowed you to ask the right questions.
“Pat Spira was literally my box office manager. She got all of my tickets that were not subscribed to. She was a guiding light. She is a dynamo and her energy cannot help but rub off on you. She is an inspiring person, and she makes you excited about her industry — our industry. She never said no, and she was always looking for the next thing.
“There was a time at our building where one of the presenters used Ticketron tickets, and she would not allow them in the building to hand out their will call. They had to hand out their will call outdoors, in the rain, in the snow. That was pre-1980. She had to change her ways and so did the rest of us, but she edged into it very cautiously at first. Those Ticketron tickets, the Ticketmaster tickets, they did not fit her ticket racks. Racks were for hard tickets, which are skinnier most of the time. She had a certain resistance and I think because of BOMI, she overcame that, because she saw what was happening. She saw her members getting excited about computerization, getting excited about the next best thing and she could not help but go along.
“In most places, the box office manager and staff were considered nothing more than clerks. I think BOMI brought about the box office being seen as a sales tool, as the front line to the customer, and if the treatment at the box office is excellent, the customer will be happy. But if the box office is merely a clerk, the customer is just buying a ticket, and the customer needs to matter. I think BOMI changed that kind of thinking because, after the conference, the box office managers and subscription managers would go back to their places of employment and they would stress how customer service is the focus now. We have done computerization, we have done phone room, but what we need to continually do is upgrade the face-to-face, upgrade the ear-to-phone, making sure that the customer experience is top notch. I think that has gone from BOMI to INTIX to a whole different kind of thinking in the ticketing world. The managers that have box office managers in their organizational chart think differently now than they did all those years ago, because the box office, box office telephone, the box office online response, that is all facing the customer. I think the customer service is the most important thing BOMI has changed. It has made it the number one issue of importance.
“Being seen as a clerk is sort of a dead-end thought. If they only think I am a clerk, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? Whereas now, the box office, the subscription managers, they are the customer service. They need to make sure that experience is top notch, that the customer is satisfied … INTIX has created that whole different thinking about the box office.”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Memberships , Leadership , INTIX 2022