TRG blog: Finding new fish for your organization
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TRG Blog: Analysis from TRG Arts

Finding new fish for your organization: They’re swimming closer to you than you think.

Keri Mesropov | July 25, 2016 10:50 AM
This post was originally published on the Audience Building Roundtable blog.
 Keri Mesropov, 
VP of Client Services, TRG Arts

ALERT: Arts administrators in your area have been overtaken by a new obsession. Believed to be a relative of the mania induced by Pokémon Go, symptoms include an insatiable desire to find brand new patrons for your organization.

If you’re not obsessed with new audiences, you are really behind the trend. You’re missing out on spending hours and big bucks curating and searching for those you don’t have and yet, want with delirious desire. Some might judge you in quiet. To you, I say:

Good. Bravo. Standing O. You may be on to something.

Yes, we will always need new people to buy tickets to our art in order to ask them back and ask them to commit more through a membership, a subscription and one day, a philanthropic donation. It’s the evolution of an arts patron.

But, before we go spending beyond our means to find new fish for our pond, let’s explore a few facts.

As we’ve studied patronage for over two decades at TRG, we know that each year in the arts and culture sector, over 50% of audiences are brand new. That’s right: half of your customer base is new.

Here’s another fact: Attracting new patrons is expensive. The cost-of-sale for capturing new customers ranges from 35% to over 60%, as compared to 19% to 40% for those who have attended in the past.

And finally, here’s the punch line: In our field—across museums, attractions and traditional arts organization—our new fish escape before we can even get them to shore. The attrition rate of new-to-organization single ticket patrons falls somewhere between 74-83% each year. That means up to eight of our 10 new fish leave and do not return. And we’ve just spent upward of 50 cents on the dollar to get them to our pond, to see our art. As the curtain falls, it’s as though we’ve escorted them from their seat straight out of the door and to the curb. 

This post is not about how we close the dam to keep our new fish in. You can check out our blog for numerous writings about the desperate need for retention in the arts and cultural space. Rather, this post is a reminder of the abundance inside our own pond, inside our own database. Stop looking outside right now – there’s a quicker win for both dollars and patron loyalty. Here are two steps to get you started:

1. Reactivating patrons who have gone sleepy and inactive in your own database is a bit of a silver bullet. First, define the possibility:  How many patrons were transacting with your organization five years ago? Now, how many of those patrons have purchased something with your company in the most recent two years? What % of the total does this represent?

A few years ago, TRG pulled this metric for an east coast client. The marketing director was surprised to learn the result was a mere 17%. The executive director was appalled. We worked with this huge and illustrious ballet company to wave the smelling salt under the noses of lapsed single ticket buyers with a ‘baby, come back’ offer. With a 3.80% response rate, 1,476 patrons were reactivated representing nearly $100,000 in revenue, all at an 11% cost of sale. Good. Bravo. Standing O.

2. Once you understand the number of lapsed buyers in your database, send them a note. Tell them you miss them. And extend a hearty olive branch to lure them back. Think 50% off. Once you secure their reentry, the loyalty fire can be relit. But first, open the door and make it easy for them to come back. 

A major orchestra in the Midwest made a similar discovery: The organization was sitting on a gold-mine of dormant single ticket buyers. A targeted declaration of ‘we miss you’ with an invitation to return at a deep discount yielded a 2.7% response rate, and ushered 600 patrons and over $70,000 back in the door. The cost of sale to do this? Just over 18%. Good. Bravo. Standing O.

We see this level of result almost without exception. Reactivating those patrons who were once with you has impact on both short-term goals (filling the hall and bringing in revenue) and moreover, focusing on this group quickens their climb up the loyalty ladder.

Keep prospecting for new patrons with blockbusters as your lures. But as a regular practice for every event, go against the grain. Stop searching in new ponds and prioritize the act of awakening the fish in your own. 


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Case Study: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

Annual operating budget up 32% in 5 seasons

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma 
 Photo: Joseph Mills

After a poor year for earned revenue in 2012, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (LTO) had rebounded and was experiencing a growth spurt. In 2013, Director of Marketing Danyel Siler had turned her attention to single tickets.

Her hard work had paid off, but season tickets were still a challenge. “Season tickets were steadily declining,” she said. “The season ticket campaign had been done the same way for years, maybe even decades. And we blamed the fall on the trend that subs were declining everywhere. Our executive director, artistic director, and I all knew something needed to change, but we didn’t know what.”

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