Leadership / 01.16.23
Reports to Relationships: Great Data Is the First Step to Better Teamwork and Higher Ticket Sales
As the INTIX 2023 conference returns in full force, I’m excited to be there with Spektrix team members from the U.S. and U.K. as sponsors of the Global Village — celebrating success stories from arts, culture and entertainment organizations as the sector reopens, recovers and reconnects.
Spektrix is the system of choice for cultural organizations choosing a connected ticketing, marketing and fundraising CRM. Drawn by our cloud-based technology and inclusive support offer, we’ve seen the number of Spektrix users across North America grow by almost 20% in the last year alone, with theaters and performing arts centers including Saratoga Performing Arts, California; Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Colorado; and Classic Stage Company, New York, all joining our community.
Establishing New Benchmarks
We believe data lies at the heart of success for both venue teams and their patrons. During COVID-19, the forecasts and expectations that ticketing, marketing and fundraising professionals had come to rely on became meaningless. As a mission-driven organization and a certified B Corporation, we’re committed to the sector’s success — and so it became a priority for us to help re-establish those benchmarks and identify how some organizations were surpassing expectations.
That’s why last fall we published the Spektrix Ticket Sales Dashboard — providing clear benchmarks for ticket sales recovery, looking at both the sector as a whole and at specific artforms.
Today, with COVID-19 measures reducing and organizations exploring new strategies for 2023 and beyond, we’ve published this dashboard in time to help you review trends across the whole of 2022, map it to your own data, and use it to inform future plans.
Whether your priorities are based on revenue or on relationships, Alex Cutrone — a long-time Spektrix user from Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in upstate New York — does a great job of explaining why data lies at the heart of audience development.
“I think it’s really easy to say that there’s a dichotomy between being friendly and being data-driven. Data in the big picture gets a really bad rap, that it’s all about following people, it’s all about serving them ads. And it’s not true. I use data to know that people who are coming in to afternoon teas here are gluten free, to make sure we can get them the right food. I use data to make sure that people who need accessible seating, or any other accommodations, have it. We kept a lot of that mentality of being friendly, of being welcoming, of being hospitable — and just made it smart.” —Alex Cutrone, Director of Ticketing & Guest Relations, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Katonah, New York
Alex and his team have used powerful ticketing and marketing data from their Spektrix system to build an intimate knowledge of their guests, and they used that knowledge to build a strategy based around patrons’ needs. And it’s paid off — throughout 2022, when many cultural organizations were struggling to rebuild their audiences, Caramoor bucked the trend by selling almost a third more tickets than they did in 2019, before the pandemic changed visitor behaviors across the sector. That got us wondering which other organizations were outperforming the industry average, despite the challenges the world had thrown at them. Were audiences coming back to live events? Were they choosing certain artforms over others? What were the secrets that saw some organizations thrive, while others struggled?
At INTIX, we’re looking forward to talking with professionals from across the sector about how you’re rebuilding audiences and what benchmarks you’d like us to explore next. Hop across to Booth 413 to talk with us about the questions you’re asking yourselves and how your data aligns with wider trends.
Comparing ticket sales in 2022 vs. 2019, from the Spektrix Ticket Sales Dashboard
What Does the Data Tell Us?
Overall, it’s good news — the data tells us that things are getting better. In December 2022, the number of tickets sold globally by the 600+ organizations using Spektrix equalled the number sold in 2019 for the first time. In the U.S. and Canada, sales in recent months have averaged over 90% of 2019 levels, and overall the trend’s been positive and persistent throughout the year. We’ll continue tracking into 2023, in hopes that the slight dip in December proves to be no more than another bump in the uneven journey to recovery.
Of course, for many cultural organizations, the later months of the year are key to measuring financial success. So while last January’s sales look low — ticket sales in 2022 were less than half the number sold in 2019 — that represents only a small proportion of the year’s revenue. In November, by contrast, ticket sales were over 95% of 2019 levels — and that matters far more, because event income over the holiday season plays such a crucial part in the bottom line for many theaters, music halls and art centers.
Once we had the overall figures, we took a look at the types of organizations which were most likely to be beating the benchmarks. We learned that where both presenting and producing venues were doing well, community activity was still struggling. Then we reached out to users across the Spektrix Community to understand a little more about their success. It was fantastic to hear inspiring stories from teams who are thinking creatively about everything from pricing to relationships, and from technology to collaboration. Some stories began with data, and other stories began with patrons; but again and again, we heard how the key to rebuilding audiences lay in throwing out old assumptions and joining up data to understand what patrons need today.
In our session at INTIX, I’ll be joined by my colleague Karen Elizondo to really delve into these stories of success. But first, we’ve pulled together snapshots of some of the narratives that inspired us: from teams who seized the moment to transform their approach to data to long-term relationship building.
Understanding Impact: Music Theatre, Wichita, Kansas
Back in 2019, Music Theatre Wichita worked with TRG Arts to rescale their auditorium and establish good habits for using data across their organization. Even during the pandemic, Managing Director Angela Cassette continued to put data at the center of the team’s work — making changes to pricing, maintaining their relationship with TRG and Purple Seven, and adopting Spektrix to give them greater visibility of patron behavior, replacing manual data analysis with automated reports and drag-and-drop segmentation. National networks like NAMT, INTIX and the Spektrix Community have helped the Music Theatre Wichita team understand how their approach and impact compares to others, whereas more local networks have sometimes proven limiting as so few nearby organizations are truly comparable in their patronage or programming. It remains a challenging time, and the theater’s forecasting a deficit for the next two years — but knowing they have the data on hand and the features available in Spektrix to build increasingly sophisticated campaigns has helped them develop a persuasive narrative for donors and ticket buyers and to pre-empt the impact of changes to their program.
Targeted Marketing: The Stiefel Theatre, Salina, Kansas
April Decker, Administrative Director, knew that after 16 months without live entertainment, patrons were hungry to return to the Stiefel Theatre. They’d made it clear just how much the venue mattered to them during the pandemic when an appeal for support, sent out to every regular booker, raised record donations. Next, the team needed to understand who was coming back and for which types of events, using ticketing data to provide evidence for public funding, target marketing effort and inform forecasting and programming.
The key point they discovered was that 75% of audience members were traveling from outside Salina. That provided vital evidence for the city, whose funding is dependent on the theater bringing in visitors from out of town. It also helped the marketing team retarget their efforts. Rather than focusing just on promotion within the city, they expanded their geographical range, running fewer broad-brush radio and newspaper ads and instead pulling segmented lists to identify patrons who’d attended specific shows in the past. Then they targeted those audiences with a combination of Facebook ads and physical mailings, seeing a great return on investment through that more focused approach.
April and the team also adjusted their strategy to target people with the most disposable income, knowing they were most likely to return. They’ve added a few more events designed to appeal to 35-50 year olds and used their data on ticket sales by income band and demographic to more accurately predict ticket sales across the season.
Connected Strategy: Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, Katonah, New York
Following COVID-19 and ahead of major shifts in strategic planning and diversity, equity and inclusion work, Caramoor’s marketing team identified 2022 as a “bridge year” — a time to use their own historic data and sector benchmarks to drive clear, measurable priorities for growth. Using sales and membership reports in Spektrix, they established that they were good at attracting new audiences but lagged behind industry standards when it came to reattendance. This discovery helped them define three SMART goals based on loyalty and affinity with their brand.
The targets were to grow the center’s active audience, drive reattendance by first-time visitors, and build visit frequency. With those ambitions agreed, Alex and his team began using data on a more individual basis. As a first step, he reached out to Spektrix to access our inclusive consultancy offer and talk through his marketing plan, understand how best to use the data he needed, and access ideas from peers across the sector. He used those reports to explore customer motivations, booking and giving history, and to build personalized campaigns based on visitors’ main priorities — offering multibuys to promote reattendance, addressing COVID-19 concerns, adapting to price sensitivities and connecting with a great on-site experience, especially for first-time attendees.
Engagement and Audiences: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, England
For our last example we crossed the Atlantic to Wolverhampton, a mid-size city in the West Midlands of England. Vicky Price, Associate Director, and Emma Acton, Head of Audiences and Marketing, reflected on their five-year journey to build closer links between marketing and outreach, building an audience that’s both larger and more representative of the diverse communities in which they work.
The empty theater building suffered in 2020. From moth infestations to burst water pipes, it was a tough time for the team. But those problems didn’t extend to their audience — creative and community work continued throughout the pandemic, with regular communications to all patrons and ongoing outreach activity for target groups. Since reopening, they’ve re-established connections with community ambassadors and arts teams, and focused on “next steps” to grow participants into independent audience members. Free youth membership and low-cost adult friends schemes make it easy for everyone to stay in touch, and the team’s there to help overcome blockers to attendance whether cost or confidence is holding people back. While maintaining a “no discounts” rule for the general public, overall ticket sales remain well ahead of 2019 levels, and independent attendance is visibly increasing among target demographics. By connecting outreach and marketing activity, their work in the community becomes not only a valuable activity in its own right but also an investment in their future audience.
All four of these teams used data as a starting point for innovation and strategic planning that impacted customer success — and each of them saw ticket sales increase between 2019 and 2022 in response to their efforts. This year, we’ll continue working with them — and all of our 600+ users — to discover what patrons are looking for in this post-COVID-19 world and to deliver it, from their first website visit to the moment they arrive at the doors.
Ready to find out whether your organization’s beating the benchmarks? Visit the Spektrix Ticket Sales Dashboard to see the most recent figures from across the sector, and use our calculator to compare your own sales trends.
This article was sponsored by Spektrix.
Tags: Leadership , Data , Ticket Sales