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. We were interested in seeing where our organization stood in relation to the overall Analysis Group, the Atlanta market, cohort 1 participants, and other cohort 2 participants. The results of our Patron Analysis study were enlightening for us. There was good news and bad news:
The Good News:
85% of our Single Ticket Buyers are new and Subscriptions have increased by 11%.
The Bad News:
ATTRITION!! 90% of our new-to-file (NTF) ticket buyers are not returning for another show and 26% of the NTF buyers are Subscribers.
The results of the study sent us back to the Evolution of a Patronloyalty path a/k/a “Stairstep Dude”. We realized we were not where we thought we were in the patron evolution process. We were faced with the hard truth: we were not in a committed relationship with many of our patrons, but we were merely a one-night stand. As in most one-sided relationships, we thought we were further along than we were.
Though we were shocked to learn the truth, we knew we had to do something to address the high attrition rates and stop the bleeding! So, we relied on our learnings from the Audience Building Roundtable sessions with TRG Arts to help us turn things around. (See www.audiencebuildingroundtable.org; click on members, then past meetings – look for information from meetings in June, August, October and December 2016, and May and September 2018.)
We must win the hearts of our patrons.
Our Goal: To build a lasting relationship with our patrons by cultivating NTF STBs to return and thus reduce our attrition rate by 11%, and by cultivating our subscriber engagement to reduce attrition by 16%. In addition, we must retain our existing 47% Baby Boomer base by continuing to provide good quality programming and customer service while exploring opportunities for cause-oriented activities, social media engagement, etc.
It is common practice for us to woo our subscribers by offering chocolates at every Rialto Series performance and by sending the season brochure to subscribers well in advance of STBs receiving it. Since the Audience Building Roundtable, we have tried some new things: putting special end-of-season Thank You Notes on their seats with coupons for a free concessions item and offering “velvet rope” experiences exclusively for subscribers. Last season, we hosted an exclusive, invitation-only pre-show event for subscribers and donors featuring a tea ceremony by the menof the French-Algerian dance troupe Compagnie HervéKoubifollowed by a private preview performance. We recently held a special VIP Subscriber Preview event to provide an exclusive sneak peak of our new season over light supper, beer, wine and live jazz. We incorporated a “candy bar” at our VIP Subscriber Preview event and it was so well received, that we plan to continue offering it at select events. Our Box Office and administrative team even made personal phone calls to each subscriber regarding their show selections, then sent them refrigerator magnets with their show selections checked off so they don’t forget their dates with us.
Keeping our NTF buyers interested enough for a second date proved to be more of a challenge. We are currently working to win the hearts of our new STBs by providing fun and unique experiences at our performances. Like when Bale Folclorico da Bahia ended their performance by leading the audience out of the theater into the street to dance the night away. According to audience feedback, we consistently offer exceptional customer service with multiple staff touches—from our greeter “Mr. Bernie” welcoming patrons upon their arrival, to the box office experience, to the seamless free parking experience. We are listening to our patrons through the immediate feedback of our “Opinion Pole” and through post-show survey forms completed on site immediately following the performance. We also send post-show emails thanking patrons for attending the show, with a link to the post-show survey as well. Our attentiveness to subscribers and NTF buyers is paying off. Since the patron study was completed in April 2018, we have moved a step higher on the evolutionary staircase.
Although we are heading in the right direction with our current tactics, we need to do more to get where we want to be. Long-distance relationships rarely work, especially where patrons are concerned. We must get closer to our patrons to get STBs to buy multiple shows and NTF subscribers to return next season, cultivate them to become donors, and ultimately advocates. So, we are committed to bringing our numbers more in line with the Patron Analysis Group by decreasing our percentage of new STBs to 61% and our NTF subscribers to 10%.
What are we to do?
We are going to enhance the subscriber experience.
We will offer exclusive subscriber-only “velvet rope” experiences. In addition to offering the “candy bar” at select events, we just launched a new Subscriber Lounge, in our Presidential Suite downstairs, on opening night. The lounge offers a place for subscribers to mingle and have some snacks and a glass of wine before the show. We are gathering feedback and planning to open the lounge at select events during this season.
We are going to get a second date from our NTF buyers.
One-night stands are not for us, so we will entice our NTF buyers to come back with the launch of our “Baby Come Back“ campaign. Beginning this season, we will send a post-show email the next business day following the performance exclusively to NTF STBs offering 50% Off or BOGO discount for Rialto Virgins (first-timers) to select one of two upcoming shows to attend. Within two weeks, we will follow the email campaign with a postcard mailing to those who did not respond to the email. The postcard will include a specially selected photo from the performance they attended on the front, and the message on back of the postcard featuring a captivating heading (e.g. We Want You Back! or Was It Good to You?) and the same discount offer message as the email.
We put it all on the line, but where does this leave us?
Like all serious relationships, there are risks involved. You can give it your all and it may not be enough. We are willing to take the risk to build a lasting relationship with our patrons, and hope our devotion, attention and loyalty will be reciprocated and they will stay with us.
We wait with bated breath.
After we have done all we can, we must play the waiting game to see where the relationship goes.
Just before our new season opened, we examined our progress thus far (as of September 20, 2018), and the results are encouraging:
64% of our FY19 STBs are new
20% of our FY19 STBs bought tickets last season and again this season
29% of our FY19 Subscribers are new
23% of last season’s first-time FY18 subscribers have returned this season.
What’s the end game?
Based on trends so far, 24% of STBs are coming back and returning subscribers are on track to increase by at least 10% by the end of the season. Looks like our patron relationship is on the path to true love and “happily ever after”.