Following a $32-million renovation, the Alliance Theatre opened the Coca-Cola Stage this past January. Even as construction was being completed during the 2017–2018 season, the show had to go on, and leadership at the Alliance made the untested (and rather bold) move to produce 12 shows in different locations around Atlanta, selecting venues that complemented themes of the work being produced. The hope was that they could meet Atlantans where they lived and bring them back to the newly renovated stage once it opened.
By Adam Fristoe, Out of Hand Theater
Thanks to a scholarship provided by the Arthur Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable, Out of Hand Theater’s Co-Artistic and Marketing Director Adam Fristoe was able to attend the 2018 National Arts Marketing Conference in Seattle, Washington.
Over the past five years, Out of Hand has focused our work toward social justice, civic engagement and community building in Metro Atlanta. In Seattle, Washington, both the city and King County have policies in place that make a commitment to equity, in particular to racial equity, including taking into account historical inequities. In Seattle, I was specifically looking for guidance and best practices in implementing such a commitment at Out of Hand, as well as for strategies to advance advocacy for these policies in Atlanta.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!