With the support of the Audience Building Roundtable Technical Assistance Grant, Actor’s Express set out to turn our large group of one-time attendees (tryers) into repeat ticket buyers (buyers) and our repeat ticket buyers into subscribers (advocates). During our 2015-16 season, which included six mainstage shows and a large summer musical, AE welcomed over 4,000 households into the theatre. Of those households, 78% were one-time ticket buyers, 14.5% were repeat ticket buyers and 7.5% were subscribers. Based on this data we determined that we really need to focus our energy on moving patrons from one-time ticket buyer to repeat ticket buyer status. We have not yet reached the end of our 2016-17 season, so cannot give a full report on the effects of the project, but we have encountered some success with our tactics thus far.
First, we employed the help of an hourly box office assistant to clean up our database. This work included inputting new customers from third-party vendors and merging duplicate records. Our database can now output more accurate data to inform our marketing decisions. We found the results so beneficial that we have incorporated these tasks into the role of a new part-time business manager who started with Actor’s Express at the beginning of 2017.
For each show in our 2016-17 season, we have been following up with single ticket buyers with an email immediately following the performance the patron attends and a postcard mailing after the production closes. The email and mailer both include a discount to the next two productions if booked by a certain date.
The good news is that the follow-up piece has increased our number of return single ticket buyers! We have compared last season’s Sweeney Todd and Yockey Repertory, which had no follow-up mailings, to this season’s Company and Appropriate, which both had follow-up mailings, in the chart below. Both sets of shows had comparable attendance and draw to the two following productions. In both cases both the percentage of single ticket buyers and first time ticket buyers for the shows with follow-up pieces (Company and Appropriate) were higher than for the show from the previous season.
While the follow-up piece did have a direct impact on single ticket buyers returning to the theatre, we did not see much use of the promotion codes. The code on the Company piece was used 32 times and the code on the Appropriate piece was used just 9 times. Based on these results, we believe it was not the discount that enticed patrons to come back, but instead the follow-up mailing was a good reminder. Going forward we plan to experiment with these alterations to the follow-up mailing:
- Using an exciting production photo from the show the patron attended instead of artwork from the upcoming shows as the focal point of the mailing
- Offering no discount on the follow-up piece but still mailing it right after the production the patron attended closes
- Using a deeper discount on the follow-up piece to encourage advance purchase of tickets
- Sending more follow-up pieces between shows
To address the next level of the patron loyalty pyramid, we have instituted a telemarketing campaign targeted toward repeat ticket buyers to turn them into subscribers. Since, in the past, we have experienced some resistance from patrons in making the leap to a subscription package, we created a special package called a 4-Pack aimed toward repeat ticket buyers. This package was not available to the general population. It was only available to the identified patrons who were contacted via telemarketing and through follow-up emails. The package, instead of providing one ticket to each show in our five-play season, allows the buyer four tickets to be used in any way he or she wants. The patron can use all four tickets for one show or use one ticket for each of four plays. This package provides a lot of flexibility to repeat ticket buyers while increasing their commitment to the next season. With the addition of the 4-pack option we saw the number of subscribers rise from 528 for the 2015-16 season to 728 for the 2017-18 season. This is a 38% increase in the number of subscribers. We plan to use the telemarketing approach in two ways for 2017-18 subscriptions.
- Target repeat ticket buyers from the 2016-17 season with an exclusive 4-Pack option
- Target 4-Pack buyers to move into traditional subscription packages or a 6-Pack option
Finally to increase patron engagement for those already deeply involved with the organization like subscribers and donors, we have created two programs based on results of patron feedback. During our conversations with subscribers and donors, we learned that patrons:
- Want facetime with Actor’s Express artists
- Want to know more about the behind the scenes work of a professional theatre company
- Were excited about our upcoming 30th Anniversary Season
The first program we created is called Fridays with Freddie. On the fourth Friday of every production run we invite subscribers and donors to have lunch on stage with Actor’s Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley. Each lunch has a theme and special guests if appropriate. The first lunch was a sneak peek into Season 30 and the second focused on the casting process. These lunches allow patrons to have an intimate insider experience at AE. We also include a donation request tailored to the event presented by our Development Director as part of the program. Each luncheon has been attended by 25+ patrons and netted at least $2,000. We plan to continue these lunches into our 30th Anniversary Season.
The second program is a fundraising campaign called the $30k Club. The goal of the campaign is to leverage the enthusiasm for our 30th Anniversary Season to raise $30,000 in new gifts to support Season 30. Patrons can join the $30k Club either by making a new donation of $100 or increasing their annual fund gift by $100. Members of the $30k Club get special access to events during Season 30 and, most importantly, a pin that gets them a free drink at every show. After launching the program in February, we have already recruited 123 members. The goal of this program is to raise additional funds for Season 30 while growing our base of entry-level donors.
The Technical Assistance grant has allowed us to really look at our own patron engagement pyramid and determine the best ways to move patrons from one level to the next. Our efforts to convert repeat ticket buyers into subscribers through special telemarketing packages and to engage our subscribers on a deeper level through programs like Fridays with Freddie and the $30k Club have been very successful. We have seen some success with converting single ticket buyers into repeat ticket buyers, but we feel there is more to do here. Over the next season, we will experiment with different iterations of the follow-up mailing in addition to introducing some new tactics.
We would recommend that our peer arts organizations really try to understand what their patrons are looking for and develop programs that are mutually beneficial to both the patrons and the organization. Is it access to artists? Is it a behind the scenes tour? Is it guest passes to bring friends? One of our keys to success is making sure that when we do more deeply engage our patrons, we don’t let them leave the theatre without showing them the next step in their relationship with AE.
During this process we have not encountered anything that we would tell other organizations to completely avoid. We would say to be wary of discounting. With people who are already familiar with the organization, this may not be a necessary tool in getting them to further engage.