How A Small Theatre Company Achieved Big Results
Great River Educational Arts Theatre (a.k.a. GREAT) is a small but mighty regional producing theater company in central Minnesota. After years of, as Executive Director Dennis Whipple put it, “becoming addicted to TRG’s free studies and videos,” the organization decided to sign up for two TRG consulting sprints that focused on subscriptions and single tickets.
“We saw potential for growth and had a desire to be more effective in our marketing and messaging,” said Lacey Schirmers, Managing Director. “It was appealing that our data would be analyzed and a roadmap created specifically for our organization.”
GREAT’s team traveled to TRG’s Center for Results in Colorado Springs in January 2017 and left with customized 2017-18 season subscription and single ticket marketing plans. While implementing the new plans meant lots of organizational change—from messaging, to database segmentation, to rethinking discounts and pricing, to revamping how to measure ROI using data rather than gut instinct—GREAT’s team executed flawlessly and achieved outstanding results.
In just two seasons, GREAT has seen record-breaking subscription and single ticket sales and incredible growth, including a:
Increase in subscription revenue
Increase in subscription packages (mostly from new subscribers)
Increase in single ticket revenue
How They Did It
A key component of their success was organization-wide buy-in. The sprint attendees included Dennis, Lacey, and GREAT’s board president, Cassie Miles, so all levels of the theatre company worked alongside each other to create the new plans. While there were skeptics on the board of directors, the entire board supported the “experiment,” and their doubts subsided once ticket sales started to turnaround.
“We knew we needed to trust the plan to see the return on our TRG investment,” Lacey said.
TRG worked with GREAT on segmenting its database and creating customized messaging for each segment that would entice patrons to take action. And, based on learnings from their work with TRG, GREAT shifted its discounting practices to reward patrons for buying early instead of using deals to fill the house last-minute. After leaving TRG’s Center for Results, the staff was armed with data to drive decisions, no longer relying solely on instinct.
“We had been making so many choices based on people’s opinions alone. Our success increase when we listened to the data and used it to make marketing and patron decisions.”
Dennis Whipple, Executive Director
Following on the heels of a completed capital campaign and motivated by the success of their marketing sprints, GREAT signed up for a TRG Annual Fund Sprint and also has plans to engage TRG for a future Loyalty Sprint.
“Our work with TRG has revolutionized GREAT’s revenue growth, allowing us to produce really amazing art while transforming the lives of thousands of young people and families in our community,” Dennis said. “We were fortunate to have all levels of leadership present in Colorado, gaining us organization-wide encouragement to really make change happen. Thanks to everyone’s support, we’ve increased revenue and diversified our audience. Now our only problem is we’re out of seats, since the majority of our shows are sold out. What a wonderful problem to have!”
GREAT is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1998 by its Executive Director, Dennis Whipple, and based in Waite Park, Minnesota. Currently the largest community theatre in the region, its state-of-the-art production facility includes rehearsal halls, a scene shop, costume shop, administrative offices, and the 150-seat Helgeson Learning Lab Theatre. A team of professional staff and hundreds of volunteers produce the shows that are performed at the Learning Lab and nearby Paramount Center for the Arts. Each season, GREAT educates and entertains over 62,000 audience members, introducing thousands of kids to the excitement of theater arts.