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.
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!
By Stacey Lucas, Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Children’s Museum of Atlanta, like most organizations with the word “Museum” in their moniker, has a very long history of not collecting data from guests. In general, Museums have fostered a “walk-up” culture, sometimes collecting zip codes but rarely collecting full data sets of their guests. Without accurate data, patrons become a “moment in time” as opposed to a potential return guest, member, or donor.
By Nena Gilreath, Executive Artistic Director, Ballethnic Dance Company
For more than 27 years, Ballethnic Dance Company has celebrated multicultural diversity in dance, with a uniquely Atlanta style. The Company, and its vibrant Ballethnic Dance Academy, has touched thousands of children, youth and adults throughout its history. However, as the organization embraces its mission and looks ahead to its next phase, it is grappling with financial challenges. These challenges resulted - in part - from saying “yes” to too many programming requests without stopping to evaluate the implications of each “yes” answer.
By Amy Miller, Executive Director, Atlanta Celebrates Photography
During 2016, the Audience Building Roundtable offered member organizations a four-part workshop series about audience building practices. TRG Arts, a national consulting firm focused on the arts and culture sector, led the workshop series.
After the first workshop, we had a realization. We are a visual arts organization that produces mostly free and open events at various partner venues (including outdoors) so data collection through ticketing is not something we have ever done. Most of what the workshop presenters spoke to the Audience Building Roundtable about would not apply to us.
We’ve talked a lot about data in the Audience Building Roundtable and how important it is for an organization’s data to be as accurate, complete, and mine-able as possible. We’ve also talked a lot about audience. Who is your current audience? Who is your potential audience, and how do you engage them?
RIALTO CENTER FOR THE ARTS
By The Rialto Center for the Arts
For over a century, the Rialto has been a dynamic arts venue in the heart of Atlanta, showcasing exceptional artistic talent and advancing education initiatives in our public schools. As part of a vibrant downtown landscape, the Rialto has remained true to its mission: to inspire, educate and entertain diverse audiences by presenting innovative and exceptional arts programming and cultivating community partnerships.
But the Rialto’s original purpose was to showcase what was arguably the most influential art form of the twentieth century – film. Opened in 1916, the Rialto was part of the original theater district of Atlanta. Evolving from a 925-seat vaudeville and silent film theater to the Southeast’s largest movie house to what it is today – a performing arts center showcasing live arts programs from all disciplines and around the world. The Rialto is located on the same corner as the original building, Forsyth and Luckie Streets, and has the distinction of being one of only a few businesses in the city that has done the same type of work for 100 years in the same spot.
As a celebration of our centennial year, (the “new” Rialto opened on Christmas Day, 2016) we wanted to explore our “film” beginnings. We are now undertaking a comprehensive campaign to raise money for upgrades to our current systems to allow for digital and film projection on a giant, tension-mounted motorized screen. The goal of our audience building initiative is to attract both younger patrons and new rental business. Given the bustling film industry and all of the film shoots in downtown Atlanta, there needs to be an intown space to hold premieres. We want to be that space. We requested grant funds from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable to do two things: upgrade our existing film/media equipment and implement a new AudienceView ticketing system for tracking and follow-up of patrons.
The grant funds allowed the Rialto to upgrade our film/media capabilities through the purchase of a 27’ x 15’ Stumpfl screen with an aluminum frame and legs. A screen like this was something that we previously had to rent at a much higher price point. In addition to saving the rental fees, this upgrade enables us to set up quickly, with less labor and faster turnover between events. We debuted this screen for a very special evening – a Rialto Series show designed to attract a new, younger audience - a screening of the restored print of the 1927 German silent film Metropolis, with live, original accompaniment by Boston’s Alloy Orchestra. ArtsATL and Creative Loafing gave us much-needed preview coverage. The pre-show talk, by film scholar Dr. Allesandra Rhangos, drew more than 100 attendees. Our concessions featured popcorn and movie candy. Our ticket sales topped $6,000.
A portion of the grant funding was used to purchase the new AudienceView integrated ticketing and customer-management system, enabling us to customize payment plans, create real-time reporting and connect via e-mail marketing. We have been able to capture data and follow patrons from the beginning of transactions all the way to post-event surveys instead of relying on Survey Monkey or on paper copies in the lobby after a show. The new system allows us to capture more information, including the high percentage of new ticket buyers we attracted to the Metropolis offering (First-time buyers must create an account in the new system). The follow up comments in our audience surveys included: “Very cool – loved the event;” “More film please – tonight’s performance was amazing;” and “Awesome sound with movie.” The ticketing system indicated that we reached part of our target audience since many of our attendees were students one of the stated goals in our application for funding. We had a much larger walk-up audience than usual for our Series events and observational data confirmed that the audience demographic skewed toward attendees in their 20s and 30s.
Since we chose the Metropolis event as a test program that would use both aspects of the funding we received, we feel that we succeeded. Our takeaway is that film events, especially unusual ones that attract press attention, will drive a different audience through our doors. Later in the season, we reached out to the same audience for our show Shaolin Warriors and received an enormous response from students and younger attendees. As a result of the Metropolis project, we anticipate presenting another film festival during summer 2017 (In summer 2016, we presented the Be Downtown film festival which brought 400 new attendees into the space). We will target our new audience through special discounts, offers for behind-the-scenes tours and meet-and-greets with filmmakers and others affiliated with the screenings.
We chose to focus on film and media because of observations showing a lack of proper screening facilities intown; because we wanted to capitalize on our centennial and be the only place downtown that remains a movie venue; and because of the success of last summer’s foray into film showings. We made the decision based on research: we reviewed downtown offerings and noted what isn’t happening; we asked ourselves if there is a niche we can fill; we looked into what might interest a different audience; and we capitalized on the proximity to continuous film/television shoots.
Research certainly worked for the Rialto in this case. Utilizing a design thinking approach to our planning allowed us to work through empathy: we observed, engaged with, and listened to our new audience. We used data in the define stage of design thinking. The conclusions we drew are pushing us to another level.
The Rialto was able to leverage the funding we received to purchase new equipment; create a new type of season offering; and to use the new AudienceView system to its full advantage by tracking ticket buyers from point of purchase to post-show.
At the Rialto, we feel that the grant we received from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation launched us on a new path; the funding gave us the ability to take a risk. We believe the risk was well worth it. We are now on pace to reap the rewards of upgrading our technical capabilities coupled with enhanced data capture.
7 Stages began releasing production trailers during the 2015-2016 season. The first trailer we produced was for Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists. It was a production that already had a following due to the playwright’s local and national name recognition, as well as the current staging at Cincinnati Playhouse gaining rave reviews.
By Cammie Stephens, The Michael O’Neal Singers
Thanks to The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, audience engagement has become the key strategy around which our organization focuses its programming. As Sara Leonard wrote after the Foundation’s initial Art of Change Audience Building Workshop in November 2015: “How do we invite audiences in and develop relationships with them that entice them to stay with us and become our partners? The answer lies in a process of relationship building in which engaging and serving the audience is at the organization’s core.”
What are some of the things you've done this last season?
- We've been focusing on families with free admission on the 2nd Sunday of each month. The audience is larger and there is more data, but no one is tracking their return attendance, or if they become members. We need a marketing plan specifically for this audience.
- We want to try an "art box' program for the families that attend on second Sundays, where they will get incentivized with additional art supplies when they return on days that are not the Second Sunday - to encourage repeat visits.
- Free admission, Conversion from free to paid, marketing plan
Guest Blogger: Jordan Simmons, Senior Account Executive, Patron Technology
We can all agree that capturing and tracking information and making data-based decisions is important for any arts organization, but how do you know which database tool to use to facilitate that? How do you choose a great system when there are so many varying options on the market these days?
By John Turner, President, Turner Research Network
As arts and culture organizations go forward with a data-driven approach to building audiences, one element of this is to generate information from your audience through surveys. We want to know who the audience members are and what they think about the performances or the exhibitions or the venues. We want to know about their experience with us.
Here are some tips about managing that process.
By John Bare, Vice President, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
Everybody loves storytelling.
Everybody hates evaluation.
Upon this wisdom, I issue a challenge to members of the Audience Building Roundtable: I want to see you become the best storytellers in Metro Atlanta.
An Audience Building Roundtable Blog by Greg Burbidge
Kari Mesropov reminded us in the July blog post that TRG Arts’ data shows “50% of audiences are brand new. That’s right: half of your customer base is new.” As organizations struggle to build audiences, this is no time to stay at home and wait for Balki Bartokomous’ to show up on our doorstep. We need to find innovative ways to find and invite interested non-attendees, Perfect Strangers, through our doors.
by Brad Pilcher
In Part I of this piece, I encouraged you to think of data and its relationship to audience building more in terms of a process. Rather than focus on the data, in all of its intimidating glory, focus on your circumstances, where you are in the process of connecting with the audience ...