Kenny Blank Receives Nexus Award; Describes the Arts as First Responders for the Heart and Soul

With very special thanks to Veronica and our friends at the Atlanta Contemporary, it is a great honor to accept the Nexus Award on behalf of my colleagues at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, plus our champions for the arts at the Blank Foundation, and everyone here, who works for—or supports—an arts organization in our community.

The word “nexus” in this context has particular meaning for me, because in my experience, success has come from positioning myself at the intersection, or nexus, of many extraordinary individuals who, if I’m lucky, share some of their talent and wisdom with me. A large part of leadership derives from following others we look up to…

What is the Price of Being Stubborn?

By Joy Johnson, The Georgia Ballet

Are you responsible for the financial health of your organization?

Have you been through some hard financial years in your organization? Well, I certainly have.

When I arrived at The Georgia Ballet (GAB) in early 2013, the organization had been through an entire management change with most of the staff leaving. Why this happened is a story for another day. Suffice to say that there were many past due invoices and no documentation. At that point, money was everything — we were just trying to keep the doors open.

“Baby Come Back” to the Rialto!

By Darlene Hamilton, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications
Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University

The Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University was among five arts organizations chosen to participate in the second cohort of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable Patron Analysis: Putting Data into Action. We were thrilled to participate in the study. Each organization provided three years of data on Single Ticket Buyers (STBs), Subscribers, Members and Donors.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Superuser!

By Laura Flusche, PhD, Executive Director, Museum of Design Atlanta

In 2017, when the Audience Building Roundtable of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation offered member organizations an opportunity to be part of a second cohort working with TRG Arts to analyze patron data, MODA jumped at the chance. We have an expansive database — we use Blackbaud’s ALTRU — but didn’t feel that we’d developed enough effective methods for analyzing that data and using it to build audience.

Dad’s Garage Addresses a Primary Barrier to Attendance: Not Having Someone to Attend With!

By Lara Smith, Managing Director, Dad’s Garage

Our “Social Spaces” project addressed one of the primary reasons people don’t attend arts and cultural events: They don’t have someone to go with! We want our theatre to serve as a community gathering space, and we currently host birthday parties, game nights, volunteer appreciation events, fundraisers for other organizations, neighborhood meetings, and many other events. “Social Spaces” took this one step further and identified groups we could engage with our unique brand of arts programming, with fun events before and after our shows.

Audience Building Innovation on Display at the Alliance Theatre

By Gevin Reynolds, Fellow, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

 At the Audience Building Roundtable workshop on July 27, 2018, the Alliance Theatre presented the results of their Audience Building Innovation Grant, awarded by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to fund innovative audience building initiatives in their 48th, 49th, and 50thseasons. Below is a summary of their presentation.

JULY 2018 ISSUE: The Results are In: True Colors Theatre’s Patron Retention Analysis

True Colors Theatre

By Jamie Annarino, Audience Building Roundtable

True Colors Theatre is not unlike most arts organizations in that it strives to determine the most effective strategies to maintain audience engagement and keep ticket buyers/patrons coming back. But how does an organization know if it’s on the right track? Which marketing strategies really “move the needle” and contribute to the organization’s bottom line and which ones only have a marginal impact on patrons returning to the theatre? 

In November 2016, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation offered the opportunity for member organizations of the Audience Building Roundtable to participate in its first “patron retention study.” The Foundation contracted with TRG Arts, a national arts and culture firm grounded in data-driven consultation, to conduct the study. 

The study included a comprehensive review of transactional audience information, including each participating organization's growth in the number of households in its database of ticket buyers and subscribers; the rate of attracting new patrons (first time buyers;) the attrition of both new and existing ticket buyers (exits) and the data about same-year multi-ticket buying. Each of these metrics were studied by type (ticket buyers, members, donors, etc.), and then compared in each category to the other organizations participating in the study and to TRG's national comparison group. 

 The analysis included:

  • Buyer type trend analysis
  • Analysis of audience behavior for each individual organization and among the five participating organizations
  • Analysis of age cohorts for each organization and in the aggregate for the 5 organizations
  • A survey administered to non-returning ticket buyers, members, donors and subscribers to understand the reasons that they were not returning to the theatre
  • Analysis of marketing expenditures

True Colors Theatre was one of five organizations chosen to participate in the study. The key findings offered an opportunity for True Colors to revise its marketing approach. 

  • True Colors’ season subscriber growth is slightly above the national average, with the lowest attrition rate among the five organizations in the study
  • From 2012 to 2015, True Colors Theatre’s total household ticket buyers and supporters remained steady, then experienced a decline in 2016
    • True Colors Theatre became more reliant on its existing households as its new household growth slowed during 2016
    • True Colors Theatre was losing its existing audience at a greater rate than it was acquiring new audience members (households) and its attrition rates were similar across all demographics
  • The organization’s expenses remained flat while its revenue was declining
  • The study revealed inconsistent growth in philanthropic support and a marketing expense budget with above-average marketing expenses 


Translating Data into Action

Keep Em’ Coming Back
The study suggested diversifying marketing efforts to convert first-time ticket buyersinto returning patrons(multi-buyers, subscribers, and donors;) specifically, the analysis recommended using direct mail as a means of outreach. 

Following True Colors’ show, King Hedley II, a targeted direct mail and email marketing campaign was implemented - aimed at the first-time ticket buyers to the seasons past three productions. True Colors Theatre mailed a simple “thank you” postcard with a stunning image from this show and included a follow up 50% discount promotional code to these single ticket buyers; the code was good for tickets to attend the upcoming show Dot, with a promotion period of 6 weeks. 

The postcard mailing yielded a break-even on costs. True Colors indicates that this was probably because the follow up was sent months after the performance the ticket buyers attended; in the future, True Colors intends to implement the follow up postcard mailing within a week of the first-time ticket buyers attending a performance.

Cutting Costs
With the new season looming, True Colors is drastically reducing its subscriber renewal telemarketing budget (from $30,000 to $10,000) as well as raising adult ticket prices from $35 to $40 per show. Last season, the total subscription and single ticket sale revenue was $409,112. To date for the 2017-2018 season, revenue stands at $559,592, with one additional show on this season’s calendar. True Colors Theatre has implemented email and direct mail strategies for subscription renewals and will kick off a direct mail and email campaign to sell two- and three-show ticket-packages during July 2018. As of June 15, True Colors had sold $23,000 in subscriptions for the 2018-2019 season with four months to the start of the season.  

True Colors is using TRG’s expense projection report to determine revenue and expenses based on direct mail/email efforts. This report has been extremely helpful and is set up to track targeted promotional codes (that True Colors creates). 

True Colors’ achieved 95% of its ticket sales goal for its next season by July 17, 2018. (The goal was to sell half of its tickets for the entire season by July 17.)

Another Point of View
True Colors reports that it “blew their mind” to realize the impact of “household” revenue versus “individual” revenue. This realization changed the way True Colors approaches marketing to existing audiences.

In the 2015-2016 season, revenue of $505,392 was generated by 4,079 households. In 2016-2017, True Colors’ revenue decreased by $100,000 – from 300 households. True Colors’ staff notes that “in marketing, it can get overwhelming thinking about filling 27,000 seats each year (our capacity for 3 productions). However, understanding the patron retention data helped us to realize that we’re really only dealing with 4,000 households to fill those seats.”

This season, True Colors is focusing on getting those 300 “lapsed” households back, which seems much more manageable than focusing on selling 27,000 seats. 

True Colors reports that “cultivating those households when they first come to the theatre is crucial - then fostering the relationship with the household becomes easier to manage once they are more involved.”

True Colors indicates that they are better segmenting their audience as a result of the patron retention analysis, tracking the results of their marketing efforts, and using the data to work toward consistent growth of their audience. 

JULY 2018 ISSUE: Atlanta Ballet Alters Approach Following Patron Retention Study

Atlanta Ballet

By Gevin Reynolds

From November 2016 through March 2017, the Atlanta Ballet participated in the Audience Building Roundtable’s first Patron Retention Study, funded by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and conducted by TRG Arts, a national arts and culture consulting firm. The purpose of the study was to benchmark the relative health of patron retention for five Audience Building Roundtable member organizations against TRG's nationwide industry analysis group and to compare the five organizations’ results with one another. 

The patron retention analysis included:

  • Buyer type trend analysis
  • Analysis of patron behavior within each individual organization and comparing the 5 organizations
  • Analysis of age cohorts both at the individual organization level as well as in the aggregate for the 5 organizations
  • A survey administered to lapsed patrons in each organization to provide qualitative contour to the quantitative study
  • Marketing expense analysis

Specifically, TRG Arts investigated Atlanta Ballet’s household growth, their rate of attracting new patrons (entrances), the attrition of both new and existing patrons (exits) and the impact of same-year multi-support on patron retention (escalators). Each of these metrics was studied by buyer type (ticket buyers, members, donors, etc.) and was compared in each category to TRG's Analysis Group.

Before the study, the marketing team at Atlanta Ballet knew that they had been doing well with acquiring buyers, but not so well with keeping them. They weren’t seeing their donor base grow in ways that they thought they should have. Furthermore, they had experienced a change of leadership in the Artistic Director position, which translated to a shift in artistic direction and a change in buyer base. As result, the Atlanta Ballet felt that the time was right to participate in this study so that they could quantify what they thought they knew about their patrons and obtain a baseline as their new Artistic Director implemented a fresh vision.


Among other things, TRG found that although Atlanta Ballet has experienced growth in total patron households since 2011, their subscriptions had been in a persistent decline since 2011. In total, the results confirmed the Ballet’s expectations that they were excelling at acquiring new buyers, especially for the Nutcracker (their main revenue generator) but were failing to retain those buyers. The results of the study also indicated that they were retaining subscribers at a rate less than the national average, which confirmed what they believed. The Ballet was surprised to find that their patron age demographics were slightly younger than they previously thought, with higher than expected generation X/early baby boomer market penetration.

Following participation in the patron retention study, which was completed in April 2017, the Atlanta Ballet created an implementation plan to build on their patron retention study results. They focused on the subscriber experience by implementing tactics to increase their touch points with subscribers throughout the year. Ultimately, they hoped that this would accelerate the transition from subscriber to donor. They segmented their subscriber list somewhat by grouping subscribers based on whether or not they were “new to file,” and by what kind of package they had (premier package of four ballets, or a “Choose Your Own (CYO)” package of three ballets), with the goal of encouraging CYO buyers to upgrade topremierbecause of certain perks they would receive. With the support of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Ballet rolled out their plan, which focused on industry best practices for subscriber renewals, during the 2016-2017 season and continued it into the 2017-2018 season. 

For the 2016-2017 season, all subscribers received a season welcome letter from the artistic director and a thank-you with chocolates on their seats at the final performance. Premier and New to File subscribers received an invitation to a January in-studio preview. Additionally, all New to File subscribers received a Nutcracker souvenir program (if they had Nutcracker tickets as part of their package) and a signed poster at the March performance. For the 2017-2018 season, all subscribers received a Nutcracker souvenir program (if they had Nutcracker tickets as a part of their package), a personalized thank you note via mail and email after their first performance, program notes via mail and email before each performance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, and a free parking voucher for the February performance. New to File & CYO subscribers also received an invitation to the January in-studio preview.

The fruits of their labor have been sweet. Renewal rates have grown by 9%since the 2015-16 season and are on pace to exceed 10% growth heading into the 2018-19 season. Indeed, 56% of subscribers from the 2015-16 season renewed into the 2016-17 season, and 65% of subscribers from the 2016-17 season renewed into the 2017-18 season. For the 2017-18 season to date (as of June 11, 2018), 60% of subscribers have already renewed into the 2018-19 season. By comparison, as of June 12 last year, only 50% of subscribers had already renewed their subscription into the 2017-18 season. 

From this study, the Atlanta Ballet learned that focusing on subscribers can be a worthwhile endeavor for any arts organization. According to Atlanta Ballet Marketing Director Tricia Ekholm, subscribers have a less expensive cost of sale and are much easier to keep, meaning that an arts organization can generate significant revenue from subscribers in the long run. Therefore, she advises her colleagues at other arts organizations to hold these patrons closest. Her general advice to her colleagues is to stay focused on the data: track how and whatpatrons purchase as they move through the patron loyalty ladder.

The Atlanta Ballet is continuing its subscriber loyalty efforts and embedding the practices in their organizational behavior. The next step for the Atlanta Ballet is to dig deep into their data to see if they’ve moved the dial on their single-ticket retention program. Stay tuned for the results! 

JULY 2018 ISSUE: Penny McPhee talks with the Audience Building Roundtable


Penny McPhee, President of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Addresses Audience Building Roundtable

Good morning. On behalf of Mr. Blank and our Foundation’s trustees, I’m honored to be here today to talk with you about our Audience Building Roundtable initiative. 

The Blank Foundation invests in the arts because the arts make life worth living. Our trustees have a deeply held belief that communities thrive when our arts and cultural endeavors flourish. 

You and your organizations provide the creative intellect that leads to beautiful, challenging, sometimes provocative—and always thought-provoking—art. Your work is one of the cornerstones of a healthy community—and we are all enriched by it. We’re grateful to all of you for contributing to quality of life through the art that you produce and curate.

Our Foundation’s trustees challenged us to identify and invest in innovationsthat strengthen and support Atlanta’s vibrant cultural landscape.

As I talk with you this morning, I’m going to begin with a walk down the path of how we got here—in this room—today. 

When I was at the Knight Foundation, we invested in audience building strategies and learned a great deal about how the behavior of arts and culture organizations impacts their audience development activities. At the Blank Foundation, we began by looking at promising approaches that were being used around the country, including those of the Wallace, Knight, and Doris Duke Foundations. Their initiatives focused on individual organizations but held learning for us. Our Foundation is not of the size and scale of these national funders. We must, as a Foundation, continually think about scope and scale, so we tried to find a way to have a positive impact on multiplearts and culture organizations in our community. 

We spent time talking with our own community’s funders and listening to cultural organizations. We were mindful of the Community Foundation’s 2013 study that showed that 80% of Atlanta’s arts and culture organizations had less than 30 days of operating cash on hand. We learned the startling national statistic that 80% of arts and culture consumers do not return for a second sample.

As we listened, we heard a key theme:a loyal audience moves an organization much closer to financial stability.

By early 2015, we were taking a deep look at best practices in audience building. What we learned led us to an initiative that could support audience building in individual organizations.

Here are a few of the headlines that guided us in creating the Audience Building Roundtable.

  • People want more arts experiences. And thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts and its team of investigators, we know more about what motivates audiences to seek out arts experiences—and we know more about the barriers that too often prevent them from buying a ticket and getting to the performance halls and exhibition spaces.
  • Leaders in arts organizations canimplement game-changing audience building strategies that focus on building lifelong relationships with customers (as opposed to transactions). We know this from real-life examples—not theory and research—and we continue to confirm this every day from your experiences as part of the Audience Building Roundtable. 
  • There aretried and true techniques that arts and culture organizations are using to deepen their engagement with the individuals they reach—their ticket buyers, donors, subscribers and the individuals who may attend once or twice and not return. We have learned that arts organizations that succeed in building audiences are smart about applying the methods for capturing, analyzing, and acting on the data that they gather about their own audiences.

Everything we learned confirmed that arts and culture audiences fit into the same principles that the audiences for The Arthur M. Blank Family of Businesses fit into: that listening and responding to audiences is paramount for viable, long term impact. When I joined the Blank Foundation nearly 14 years ago, I really didn’t know or care much about football—or soccer. That’s obviously changed. Now, not only am I an avid Falcons fan—and an avid Atlanta United fan—I’m part of the team that is thinking every day about what it takes to create loyal, long-term fans. The conversations at Falcons and Atlanta United staff meetings are not very different, I suspect, from those at your staff meetings. How do we make the experience more compelling? How do we get fans off their sofas and into the stadium? How do we overcome the barriers of traffic, parking, ticket price and childcare?

No one on our team doubts that there are many more fans staying home than buying tickets. And everyone knows it’s easier to keep a current fan or regain a former fan than to find a new one. So, a great deal of energy is expended on doing everything we can to keep fans happy and make them loyal—and we focus on the “door-to-door” experience, meaning we don’t just focus on putting on exciting game. The Falcons and Atlanta United both want to provide a great experience from the moment you leave your house to the moment you get home. You might be thinking that these organizations’ budgets allow them to do more—and in some cases, you are correct—these organizations are choosing to allocate a share of their budget toward marketing and experiences. But much of what they do involves personal contact, ingenuity, and making a real connection with those who believe in what they are doing. They know that retaining those who walk through the door the first time is much less expensive than acquiring a new customer.

What’s this example got to do with arts audiences? Well, everything. We learned from the best practice comparisons in the arts that it’s less expensive to retain an existing ticket buyer, subscriber or donor than to attract a new one. We learned that, over time, this retention builds stronger arts organizations who are able to “do more art” as financially sustainable enterprises. We learned that the marketing principles applied in other customer-driven industries apply to arts and culture. We learned that forward-thinking arts and culture organizations challenge the idea that cultural events are a one-way transmission of content or ideas, from the artist to the audience. Instead, the magic happens when the arts open up and nurture relationships. When ideas are exchanged, from artist to audience and from audience to artist, loyalty builds. 

So we held an inaugural “workshop” in November 2015 to test the waters. Many of you were at that workshop, at the Omni Hotel on a morning that featured a torrential rainstorm. Still, more than 180 of you attended. In a follow up survey to that workshop, we asked you what type of audience building interventions would be helpful as you build your audiences. The result of that survey is the Audience Building Roundtable, now entering its third year with more than 50 participating organizations of all budget sizes and disciplines.

As you already know, the Audience Building Roundtable’s is focused on one thing: that each member organization increases the size of its audience and that this audience’s financial support has a positive impact on your ability to deliver more cultural enrichment to our community.

The Audience Building Roundtable’s member organizations have learned from experts in the field, experimented with new ways to both attract and retain audiences, focused on tried-and-true practices that work, and re-organized your staff, board, and budget structures to focus on your audience. 

When we began this work, we suspected—and we now know for sure—that audience building is not something that is done in isolation or in silos by the development director, the marketing director or the artists. It is not for the faint-hearted or half-willed. It takes collaboration, innovation and resolve. But, when it is done with complete organizational faithfulness, we engage with audiences in exciting ways.

Moving from transactional ticket sales into transformational experiences is well worth the effort.

We have encouraged experimentation in the Audience Building Roundtable. We’ve provided a forum for our member organizations to share their audience building experiences. We’ve heard about the ideas that have worked—and those that haven’t worked. When we began, we indicated that we would all need to have a healthy appetite for failure. We said this knowing that many organizations have very little margin for failure and we said this in the hope that when we all fail and learn from it, we do it quickly and with forward progress. We don’t all need to make the same mistakes—we can learn from those of others.

The Audience Building Roundtable’s purpose is to support our member organizations in building their own audiences—attract new ticket buyers, patrons and donors while deepening relationships with the audiences that they have. We believe that data about your audienceis one of the keys to success and using that data to effectively deliver marketing and messaging to your target audiences is another key to success. 

Just as you do in your organizations, we’re evolving based on what we learn. For 2018, here are the major changes to the Roundtable:

  1. We are requiring attendance this year by several key organizational leaders. One person from your organization, hopefully the person who is in charge of marketing, is required to attend all meetings. The meeting schedule is on your tables and on the ABR website. If your executive director/CEO is not your “designated attendee,” this person must attend at least 6 meetings this year—of your choosing. And lastly, a board member must attend at least 3 meetings this year; again, of your choosing. We have always tracked the attendance of member organizations, which has made us realize that those with consistent attendance are getting stronger results.
  2. Each of your organizations must set numeric and financial audience building goals for 2018. You began that work at the December meeting; that work will continue later this morning.
  3. Your organization must submit a report at the end of each quarter to let us know how you’re doing in building your audience. We’ll remind you well in advance of the due date. The format and the information we ask for will be consistent for these quarterly reports. We’ll be asking for the same information that you will need to know to track your audience results.
  4. And lastly, we will be asking you to submit financial information about earned and contributed income for multiple past years. This will occur once and may include your 990s, your annual audits, and/or reports from your ticketing and admissions systems. I say “may include” because we are still figuring out exactly what financial information will tell us what we need to know.

I’m sure you’re wondering “why the new requirements?”

The answer is simple: we owe it to our Foundation’s trustees to be able to articulate results over time, and in our third year of this initiative, it’s time to go deeper and understand our results. We’ve also engaged Bob Harlow of Bob Harlow & Associates to conduct an outside evaluation of the Audience Building Roundtable; we are grateful to those of you who met with Bob in December and to those of you who have completed the survey, which this year is being compiled by Bob. If you haven’t yet completed the survey, please do so by tomorrow—the survey data is a critical part of the evaluation.

I’ll close by challenging all of you to dig even deeper into audience building in 2018—even if it means re-organizing your organization’s budget and staff structure to do so.

I challenge you to take advantage of the resources we’ve created for you. Our blog, our podcast, our innovative knowledgebase, the presentations and video from previous meetings of the Roundtable—all information is housed on the Audience Building Roundtable website is available for you to consider, learn from, and use.

Our hope is that your organization succeeds in steeping itself in the practices that will bring you new audiences—and keep the audiences that you have.

More attendees—more often -means that more people will have the transformational experience of art and culture in their lives. And that is the point.

On behalf of our trustees, thank you for your incredible engagement in this initiative. We have been thrilled by your response—and now we need your help to gather the data to tell us exactly what our results are.

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