A Blockbuster alone won’t transform the loyalty of your audiences, but used purposefully as part of a long-term strategic plan it can have a great part to play.
First published: August 2019
Northern Stage had aspirations to revolutionise their relationship with audiences. As one of the larger regional producing theatres in the UK they knew that transforming their business model to reduce reliance on core funding and increasing earned income was essential.
From 2012 to 2016, their overall attendance figures and revenues were growing incrementally but multi-buying and group admissions were on the decline. No membership scheme and no subscription packages were in place. Northern Stage knew that they needed to take a vigorous leap towards sustainability and resilience and they had the buy-in from their Board and leadership team to achieve this. With their 50th anniversary approaching in 2020, Northern Stage knew that this was the right time to act and invest to generate maximum returns.
Before Northern Stage started working with TRG, their patron journey looked like this:
- High numbers of new-to file bookers and low permission to contact rates.
- 20-24% of customers come 2+ times per year
- Only 8-9% of customers come 3+ times per year
- No subscription
- No membership schemes
- Supporters scheme for individual giving (with no interim steps)
TRG Arts hosts a number of international Executive Summits each year, bringing together leaders from arts and cultural organisations to connect with peers to learn how to effectively lead an arts organisation toward sustainable revenue growth. Kate Denby, Executive Director, participated in an Executive Summit in 2016:
“The Executive Summit was a fantastic immersion into new approaches to data analysis, customer loyalty, organisational change and leadership. I knew that our data contained a wealth of untapped information about our customer behaviour.
The Summit gave me insights into what that data might tell us, how we could use it to make decisions, and how I could lead a process of organisational change to embed this methodology within our working practices. It was clear that these concepts could create significant change for us by generating more revenue and improving loyalty across our audiences.
It gave me confidence to make the case to our Board that this was a valuable investment in our staff and our audiences: I knew that it would give us the tools to make the transformational change we all wanted to realise. Everyone was ‘all in’ from the beginning.”
First steps. Laying the foundations.
The first stage of our work together focused on Demand Management and Pricing. The results were swift and substantial. Within the first two years, from 2016-17 to 2017-18 they generated 21% increase in admissions and 47% increase in revenue from all ticket sales (surpassing £1M).
Kate says, “The team put in a lot of work to implement the pricing changes, new scale plans, applying dynamic pricing and newer patron focused marketing efforts. TRG were with us every step of the way to guide and support us, so that the knowledge and understanding of this approach was embedded across the organisation. They persisted, prodded and never let us off the hook!”
Amy Fawdington, Director of Communications and Sales, Northern Stage, adds, “Even with these great results we knew we were only really getting started on our longer term ‘loyalty journey’. It was great to celebrate these early results with the team but we knew we had to continue to build on these foundations to deepen loyalty and create lasting organisational change.”
The exciting bit.
Northern Stage’s next steps to transformation.
Northern Stage were ready to start looking at gaps in their loyalty path of their patrons, and began to focus on repeat buyers, multi-buyers and launch a membership scheme.
A big blockbuster production was programmed for 2018, a new version of the North East’s superstar Sting’s musical The Last Ship.
With this unique opportunity, Northern Stage worked hard to launch a new membership scheme in time to leverage this blockbuster to drive not just revenues but loyalty too. TRG worked alongside Northern Stage to create a value proposition (defining transaction-related benefits that would generate greater re-attendance) and create a benefits matrix (not giving away too much for too little!). Access to priority booking for The Last Ship was a benefit of the new membership scheme so this was a great opportunity to generate early membership sales.
Membership was purposefully targeted to appropriate segments within their database, positioned at the front and centre of their communications with messaging consistent across online and in print. ‘Surprise and delight’ campaigns involved front-of-house and box office teams in leading activities such as placing ‘thank you for being a member’ cards on seats, sharing vouchers for treats and sending birthday cards making their members feel special. Northern Stage wanted their members to remain active and take advantage of the benefits so that they’re more likely to renew.
The Last Ship was a huge hit and incredibly helpful in promoting the new membership scheme. Generally we expect new members who have been attracted by a Blockbuster not to be loyal, but an impressive 60% of members renewed at the end of the first year. Northern Stage know that if they can get them to renew a second time then they’re much more likely to stick around! In addition, from 2017-18:
- Members spent over £90K at Northern Stage
- Even with ticket discounts, average member ticket yield is higher
- On average, one member’s annual spend is over 2.5 times more than a single ticket household
- Members are only 3.5% of customers per year, but purchase 6% of tickets and contribute 7% of income
Membership numbers continue to grow and although the numbers are small, the impact is mighty on their loyalty to the organisation and Northern Stage’s bottom line, with huge potential for continued sustainable growth.
More evolution. More loyalty.
Introducing a subscription scheme was the next step in Northern Stage’s loyalty journey. Northern Stage had had some success with a previous multi-buy offer but the proposition was confusing.
A new subscription model went on sale for their Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019 seasons offering three-show and five-show options. These discounted packages were set up carefully to leverage demand – members who also subscribed get the best deal, plus access to other benefits and discounts from time to time.
‘Season Pass’ is importantly front and centre in their messaging alongside membership, driving people to the value of doing both – wanting to get the best deal, access and benefits. Although Season Pass only went on sale last year, Amy Fawdington, Director of Communications and Sales, is excited by the take up so far.
She says: “It’s true that renewal and upgrading to Season Pass can be tricky and time consuming. It’s a more complex purchase and messaging but it’s really worth it. Advance sales from customers who are committed to visiting you as often as 10 times a year are worth their weight in gold!”
A very special opportunity. Growing Northern Stage’s donors and advocates.
2020 will mark Northern Stage’s 50th birthday and a real opportunity to leverage giving at all levels from top-up donations to high-level giving. The team are busy preparing for the launch of new individual giving scheme, ensuring benefits are scalable, transitioning existing donors to the new scheme and that there are joined-up communications from the organisation across marketing and development.
Amy says, “We’re excited to be embarking on this next step and relaunching our giving scheme. Our loyalty focus is really embedded into the organisation as we’re preparing the campaign plans and thinking about the messaging. We want to make sure to thank customers for their loyalty to date, focus on deepening their connection with Northern Stage and not be shy or apologetic about making the ask.”
Transformational impact across the whole organisation.
Northern Stage’s diligence, commitment and supportive organisational culture has enabled them to make huge changes and results – the biggest change being that they now have a loyalty orientation across the whole organisation. Through our work together, Northern Stage have achieved some impressive key results:
- 86% increase in ticket revenue
- 9 times increase in group admissions
- 37% increase in multi-buyer admissions
- 99% increase in donors and member households
In addition, by creating and leveraging demand in their pricing, scaling and inventory management, to drive revenue and loyal behaviour, Northern Stage was able to attain these average spend levels:
Programming opportunities like The Last Ship don’t come around often. Northern Stage expected to see a leap in their annual sales and revenues in that year because of this one extraordinary show. What they didn’t expect was for the figures to continue to rise the following year. But thanks to their unswerving commitment to building customer loyalty, that’s exactly what they did.
Amy adds, “Our excellent results didn’t happen overnight. We’re two and a half years into this process. Change takes time and can be hard, but sticking with it and keeping your team motivated through the process is the key to getting the building blocks in place to build long term sustainable income.”
And she shares her takeaways; “We achieved our results by addressing these key areas:
- Prioritisation: The need to balance short- and long-term goals. Break it down into smaller parts, set a deadline, and make time to fit in all the new programmes and processes. You can do it!
- Communication: Change is hard. You need to keep at it and you can’t always see the difference straight away. Working together builds the momentum. Keeping collaborating and talking about it.
- Data: I love an ROI report. I also love outdoor advertising. Re-shaping marketing budgets to invest in direct response marketing can be tough to begin with. Data is the answer though!
- Celebrate the results of your collaboration together. New and different ways of working can be scary. As a team and as an organisation, keep sharing!”
“Everyone across the organisation was committed, but change can be hard and I anticipated that we might meet resistance at times. I knew that this was a whole-systems approach, and that if we tried to pick and choose we wouldn’t achieve the results. So, I endeavoured to be present at every stage of the partnership, to endorse TRG's counsel, to support colleagues through change, to create space and permission to try things, and encourage learning from failures or celebrate successes.
Sometimes this meant standing firm when concepts were questioned by staff or board, or reinforcing new internal processes the team were trying to implement. TRG understood the range of different stakeholders that we needed to bring on board, and helped us to make the case for change, addressing our Board and Staff teams directly, or coaching colleagues to lead the process.
As a leader, they helped me to define and set the strategy, maintain the momentum of delivery and were responsive to our needs along the way.”
About Northern Stage
Northern Stage is the largest producing theatre in the North East of England, at the heart of a rich and diverse creative community stretching from Tweed to Tyne and Tees. We support artists, writers, makers, digital creators and businesses who exist for more than profit. Last year our work reached over 130,000 people in the North East and on tour across the UK.
Whether it is on one of our three stages (with a combined 700 seats), or any place that creativity is to be found, we work with an ever-expanding network of artists to share the most entertaining, surprising and imaginative stories from around the world.
For theatre-makers everywhere who are carrying an untold story, our promise is to be a place where people of all backgrounds can come together to change the world around us. We champion high quality mid-scale production and touring, backed up by our industry-leading facilities and a dash of Geordie genius. We reach beyond the ordinary, every time.
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