|Line to get in to Hirshhorn After Hours.
Photo by Joe Loong via Flickr.
Recently I came across an excellent article entitled “Death by Curation
” on how museums have developed an over-reliance on programming special exhibits, as opposed to trusting their permanent collections to make revenue goals. Author Colleen Dilenschneider makes the point that blockbusters can increase annual revenue expectations to often unreasonable levels. The blockbuster-addicted museum then sinks more money into further special exhibits that may not be as successful as the first blockbuster, or even break even.
Over two decades, we’ve seen this pattern play out in performing arts organizations, as well as museums and other membership-based attractions. Of course, the blockbusters themselves are usually not the problem. The way that an arts organization handles a blockbuster can be. As the curation article corroborates, blockbusters have the potential to leave the organization in the lurch afterwards when 1) the previous spike in revenue leaves staff hungry for more and 2) patrons acquired from a blockbuster don’t come back. TRG and other research bears this out; just one in five patrons returns to an arts organization after their first visit
Blockbusters also have the potential to create sustaining revenue long after they finish their runs. A blockbuster by definition means an influx of new patrons, but if you can’t get them to come back, then all other future efforts to increase revenue—pricing tactics, fundraising campaigns, etc.—will fall flat. Using simple best practices, staff can leverage blockbuster programming to encourage repeat attendance or subscribership/membership. Smart organizations use innovative (but common sense) techniques to leverage blockbusters. We recently featured Phoenix Theatre in a case study about leveraging blockbusters
—in this case, Les Miserables
Phoenix Theatre’s marketing team wasn’t focused only on selling out Les Miserables
; they were also thinking ahead to filling seats for the rest of the season—and beyond. Staff diligently followed up after an advance ticket purchase, as well as after the show with an invitation to return. The effort paid off:
• That season, 30% of single ticket buyers became multi-buyers (ticket buyers who bought more than one show in the same season), up from 16% in the previous season.
• Additionally, 16% of new patrons who came to Les Miserables
came back the following season—and half of them came back as new subscribers.
There are two crucial factors to retaining patrons after a blockbuster:
Invite them back.
This sounds simple, but surprisingly many organizations don’t ask patrons back after they attend as a ticket buyer. Sending a simple, strategically timed email or postcard with the right offer can be all it takes. What’s the right offer? It may be your next production or exhibit, or a discount to an annual event or permanent collection. You might offer value priced admission to an upcoming event on a day or at a time that’s normally not well sold. It’s always best to test two or three offers and see which has the best response. The point is: keep inviting them back.
And remember: once a patron has made a transaction with your organization, you may follow-up with them one time by email, provided that you also display an opt-out for future email communication. Make sure that you make that offer a good one. Being able to go back to new patrons via email has huge return-on-investment potential.
Capture contact information.
In order to invite visitors back, you must have their contact information – ideally, name, street address, city and zip plus email address. All of that information can greatly inform your understanding of your patrons in addition to providing you with a means of contacting new patrons. Museums often do not collect non-member contact information, and many performing arts organizations don’t collect information for patrons who order online or walk up to buy their tickets on the day of the performance. It’s easy to understand why. In an effort to keep wait times at a minimum, organizations choose to not ask for the very piece of information that can make a next visit and longer term cultivation possible. There are simple ways to accomplish better contact capture:
• Encourage patrons to buy tickets online, where you can capture their information in a user-friendly form. We counsel organizations, especially museums, to give a small discount to encourage online sales. Doing so also puts in place contact information with long-term value at negligible cost and time.
• Train your front-line staff to collect contact information whenever there is time. Make sure they are collecting information from every new-to-file patron who calls in to order.
• For those waiting in line to buy tickets on the day they are attending? If your ticketing system has mobile integration give them a QR code to “sign-in” and hasten the process, or go low-tech and hand them a card to fill out while they wait. Some patrons won’t do this; others will. Don’t assume. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Leveraging blockbuster programming to bolster retention is one means of encouraging patron loyalty. Watch our webinar "The Loyalty Business Model" about using patron loyalty to drive revenue with Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre.