All posts by RT

Fair play for ticketing professionals, and the customers?

Coming out of the first ever Ticketing Professionals Conference (TPC) in Birmingham, UK on Friday 26th, it felt good to be part of our industry.  A hugely successful conference run by ticketing professionals for ticketing professionals, which must be repeated.

Then I saw the reports about Live Nation (LN), with a record year of revenue “and a whopping $1.2 Bn in secondary-market tickets alone” according to IQ – iq-mag.net – out of total revenue of $7.6 Bn.  A sixth of total revenue on the secondary market?  Weren’t these the people who put the tickets on the primary market in the first place?  But LN owned Ticketmaster owns leading secondary ticketers GetMeIn and Seatwave anyway, so they are part of the problem while pretending to be the solution.

Live Nation: $1.2 Bn in secondary ticket sales

Then one of the less controversial BBC Radio 4 programmes Moneybox on Saturday lunchtime 27th broadcast a complaint about the booking fees at the Colston Hall in Bristol.  By a twist of coincidence, Jonathan Brown of STAR and I had presented a session on the law around booking fees at TPC on Thursday, moderated by Colston Hall’s Jon Swain.  And Colston Hall is a registered charity fully compliant with the law, only quoting inclusive ticket prices, with no surprises.  The BBC piece seemed to suggest that booking fees were a terrible rip off and why weren’t ticket prices like supermarket prices – inclusive?  Which of course they are required to be in the UK and are at Colston Hall.  There is the daft complication of per transaction fees used by some venues, but not Colston Hall.  Double daft for the BBC and a trading standards officer to so misrepresent this.

payment-method related charges now history

I suspect the Bristol complainant was fondly remembering the days before the law intervened when many venues did not charge booking fees to personal bookers buying tickets over-the-counter and paying cash.  But payment-method related different charges are now history.  Perhaps the Colston Hall mistake is that as a registered charity they do carefully explain on their website how ticket prices are made up, based on a 7.5% commission rate.  What?  Only 7.5% you chorus, when it is usually 10-15% and higher!  Well as Newcastle Theatre Royal has pointed out, once they stopped their booking fee being explained separately, the complaints stopped.

Adele tickets £24,000 on secondary market

Then on Sunday 28th the front page of The Observer heralded Adele’s tour starting in Belfast today (29th) with news of secondary market tickets for £24,000.  Yes that is twenty-four thousand pounds sterling for one ticket, including GetMeIn’s £2,840 booking fee (at least they included it in the price quoted); Seat face value £85.  Upwards of 290 times face value.  StubHub slightly cheaper at £23,600.  What is painful about this is that Adele did not want this to happen to her fans, and a pre-registration process had been thought to eliminate 18,000 touts, and Adele had agreed an official re-sale site Twickets at face value.  The Observer story:  http://gu.com/p/4h5f4/stw

if a rip-off is possible, somebody will rip-off

But if a rip-off is possible, somebody will rip-off.  Fans of Brit award indie group Catfish and the Bottlemen found out to their cost on Friday (26th) when tickets for their tour sold out instantly then appeared moments later on the secondary ticket sites, £27.50 tickets offered for £328.90 on GetMeIn.  The law is supposed to protect fans using secondary ticket sites by giving full details of the seller and their tickets, face value, area, row and seat numbers, but monitoring by Which? found that many of the secondary market companies were letting re-sellers break the law – because in some cases the primary ticket providers have terms and conditions which mean they can cancel tickets re-sold unofficially.

Of course Labour MP Sharon Hodgson co-chair of the UK’s Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse has called on the Government again for protective legislation, protection that some artists like Adele, Sir Elton John, Prince, Mumford and Sons and Coldplay all want.  There is a Government report coming in May on whether the UK Consumer Rights Act 2015 provisions on secondary ticketing are working.  They are not.

It is about time the ticketing industry wanted fair play for itself and for its customers.  And not to feel that we have ‘white-collar’ crooks in our profession.

Roger Tomlinson

Monday 29 February 2016

New UK guidance on Data Protection changes the rules

Websites and Internet ticketing engines need to be changed to accommodate new guidance agreed with the Information Commissioner, which applies specifically to how arts and entertainment organisations operate under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (2003), known as PECR (pronounced “pecker”). The whole process of recognising returning customers, what ‘notifications’ are given to purchasers about who is processing their data and what for, and how permissions are collected is interpreted differently for on-line sales, over-turning previous guidance.

The Audience Agency, in the form of Leo Sharrock, and I have been in discussion on this with the Information Commissioner since the end of 2014. This all started when various presenting venues objected to sharing their data with touring companies, a requirement that comes into force for Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations in April this year (2016).

I had previously been researching this issue together with Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas on behalf of Peter Bellingham, then at Welsh National Opera. Clearly, many venues were not complying with the previous guidance agreed with the Information Commissioner in 2005, negotiated by Tim Baker and I, which actually was a fairly positive regime in terms of assumed “soft” opt-ins and “dual-key control” sharing of data. Non-compliance included problems arising from not recognising returning customers, as well as what happened when ‘notifications’ were served up and ‘permissions’ collected.  This often meant that the customer’s status and permissions were not correctly recorded on the system. The ICO officer helping us, simply said our sector had had over 12 years to comply with the 2003 PECR rules, so it was not unreasonable to expect it now!

Don’t confuse Data Protection with PECR

The fundamental issue, covered in the new guidance and information website – https://www.audiencedatasharing.org/ – is that PECR is different and on top of the 1998 Data Protection Act (DPA). That means it over-rides DPA on-line.  Looking around, it seems most ticketing system suppliers and the websites of arts and entertainment organisations have based their on-line processes and texts on the DPA, and not changed them when the 2003 PECR came in.

Recognise returning customers

From a process point of view, returning customers on-line need to be recognised early in their transaction process and their status used to determine if they need to be served up notification statements again and asked permission again. This isn’t a matter of choice: returning customers must be recognised and then advised on how to change their permissions if they wish, and subsequently given the opportunity to unsubscribe at the top of every email communication. The words meaning “at the top” are in the law. Don’t see much compliance with that.

So recognising returning customers comes first.  It is also a serious problem if the system allows duplicate records to be created or confuses the status and permissions of existing customers. What we see at present is that some systems permit purchasers to click past the notifications and permissions without answering anything, and then shows their status as “None” or even “Not asked”, in some cases meaning subscribers and members end up as “Do not contact”. That in itself could a breach of the law.

Some see that the real challenge to existing practice is that notifications are different and specific for PECR and not the same as for over-the-counter or phone sales under the DPA. So on-line terms such as “third parties” or “other arts organisations” are not acceptable. This completely changes how ‘notifications’ are worded and permissions obtained. And it completely changes the basis for permission to share data.

Data sharing under new rules

Ironically, the major objection of some venues has been that Data Sharing is not permitted under the DPA – always entertaining to wave the ICO’s large green published guidance document Data sharing code of practice in response – you wonder how hard their lawyers had worked on this? However, the ICO emphasises that on-line under PECR it is the notifications given and how the permissions are obtained that are crucial. Best practice is always to seek separate permission for the venue by name and the touring company by name, with the customers being asked to opt-in to hear from each.  Looking at venue websites, usually on system supplier pages, that needs big changes.

New notification and permissions regime

The guidance has lots of detail on this, including the long convoluted wording the ICO wants if it is thought difficult to insert the name of the touring company the customer is buying tickets for into the notification. No, don’t laugh, some people have actually said it might be difficult. I am sure system suppliers will not be laughing, since supplying software which is not ‘fit-for-purpose’ under UK law is a breach of various laws in itself. And venues won’t be laughing as they review how they approach getting permissions on-line on a company by company basis.

Leo Sharrock and I will be talking this through at the Ticketing Professionals Conference in Birmingham on Friday 26th 10.45 to 11.30 so that is a good opportunity to get your questions in: http://ticketingprofessionals.co.uk/sessions/concurrent-session-5b/.

Roger Tomlinson

February 2016

Keeping up to date: whose responsibility?

When Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas, Ron @GroupofMinds Evans and I compare notes from our experiences with TheTicketingInstitute.com, we are always surprised about how easily, sometimes how quickly, users of ticketing systems become disenchanted with their suppliers. It can sometimes seem that it is not what their system can do that pleases users, but entirely the service they get from their supplier and, fundamentally, the relationship with them.  Genuine communications seem to break down so easily and people can feel neglected and taken for granted when what they are receiving is “normal service”.

Is their current system a ‘match’?

One particularly concerning dimension of this is when users complain of the inadequacy of their system, when in fact it can already do what they want, usually because of upgrades. This is not when users have failed to upgrade to the latest version, but simply because they are not keeping themselves up-to-date with the functionality being delivered to them. Ron Evans therefore offers venues the opportunity to put their needs profile on the Functionality Builder and simply for him to report whether their current system is a ‘match’ that meets their needs: http://groupofminds.com/choosing-a-ticketing-and-crm-system/. Quite often it is, and the users have then to either tackle their relationship with their supplier or still decide to change.

Oh, but it does!

I recently found myself meeting a number of users of one system and hearing their feedback about the software. Unfortunately this was “the system doesn’t” with the repeated refrain “Oh, but it does” routine. But what I also heard was users who assumed it was the responsibility of their supplier to keep them up-to-date with the knowledge about their system’s capabilities.  If necessary they expected the supplier to be returning to give them the training their staff needed to ‘work smarter’ and get the most out of the system. Their expectations went way beyond release notes with a new software version.  They were surprised to be told this was unrealistic.

Staff churn defeating continuity

Not much dialogue was needed to find that any supplier’s communications strategy to convey knowledge about the system capabilities is quickly going to be undermined by staff churn in their users, people changing jobs so core expertise leaves the user’s organisation with them, no handover – often significant gaps before the new person arrives – completely defeating continuity. I can recall Select Ticketing (before they merged into Tickets.com) expressing concern about the impact this had on PASS users, at a time when systems were less intuitive in their interface than today. Select managers wanted to make it a condition that, to obtain support, at least one person at a user had to have been fully trained by Select, and if that member of staff left, the user organisation was to be immediately informed of their need to get someone new trained – at a cost.

Charles Shatzkin (now fronting PatronBase in the US) tells me Select never actually removed support, but their “PASS University” did inculcate a culture of being a trained and knowledgeable user, and, like Tessitura today, the network of users was able to deliver much training on new initiatives and share case histories at their user conferences, to “raise the game” of system users.

Too low a common denominator

But there is another and equally concerning dimension to this. It appears to me that too often the staff, as everyone says, “in the front-line” using these ticketing systems, are not given enough training to be able to properly do their job.  Their supervising managers are often not fully versed in the latest marketing and sales promotion techniques (and are often the ones with unrealistic expectations of suppliers).

Talking to one system supporter, the challenge is that sophisticated systems require intelligent users with knowledge of CRM, direct marketing and related functions and strategies. If the users do not know what they should want to use a system for, and how to carry out advanced ticketing, marketing or CRM tasks, then they may find themselves in a Catch 22 before they even look at the software. Setting up a membership scheme, configuring a subscription package, sorting out the rules for a fund-raising campaign, are not tasks to be tackled without prior knowledge.  This rapidly translates into managers who don’t know what they could use their system for, and sales staff who can’t do much more than sell a ticket. That is one big gap for any supplier to close. It is to be hoped that the new ticketing staff qualifications being proposed in the UK (details at the Ticketing Professionals Conference: http://ticketingprofessionals.co.uk/sessions/concurrent-session-4c/) might start to challenge that issue. More than one international supplier is discussing providing “foundation” training in ticket sales to help close this skills gap.

Users need to get real

But more attention needs to be paid by users to this issue. We have seen the way Select in the past, now Tessitura, has managed to get on the agenda of the senior managers in arts organisations, and therefore get the attention and resources that ticketing and marketing needs if it is going to deliver the CRM and fund-raising benefits most organisations want. It does seem to me that senior managers need to get real about their responsibility for ensuring staff are knowledgeable and trained up-to-date.

Perhaps I can make a simple comparison: most venues today have sophisticated computer controlled lighting systems for their stages, which require training on what you can do with the system and how you do it. I don’t know a single venue that puts an untrained member of staff to drive the system during a live performance with the audience. Why, if that is the case back stage, do we it allow untrained staff front-of-house in daily live interaction with our audiences?

Roger Tomlinson

February 2016

 

 

Ben Curthoys takes a different path

The software supplier marketplace for ticketing, marketing and CRM solutions in the UK is over-crowded, too many suppliers chasing too few customers, and ‘entry-preneurs’ always wanting, they think, to make easy profits out of ticketing.

So it is not surprising that many ticketing system suppliers emphasise their differences and some claim they do business on a different basis. For example, Spektrix have made a virtue of their Cloud-based SaaS model and high levels of customer support; Tessitura champions its not-for-profit co-ownership network; AudienceView the first comprehensive browser-based solution; SROv4 with the first system centred on a powerful Rules Engine to enable huge configurable flexibility; and PatronBase with their unique “not just for profit” low cost but high spec. model. Ben Curthoys and Monad Ticketing is different from all these.

From Backstage to Front-of-House

I am intrigued that Ben Curthoys helps make an argument I feel strongly about: that backstage in venues high standards of systems and training are an absolute requirement of computerised systems, but F-o-H lower standards are allowed to apply, despite being the centre of inter-actions with audiences. Ben is the proprietor and developer of Monad and wants to deliver ticketing, marketing and CRM tools with a different design philosophy, focussed on helping people ‘work smarter’, evolving to meet future needs.

He started out as a backstage techie, doing lighting design for example at the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) – a shared experience I have – and worked at the C Venue in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1996 where he found the venue was struggling with a poor ticketing system. Of that geeky generation that had started programming as a teenager on a BBC Micro, Ben decided that the challenge of earning a living as a freelance lighting technician was too much (Michael Nabarro at Spektrix still freelances as a lighting designer) so he joined the Artifax development team in Epsom.

Ben clearly feels strongly about the commitment of suppliers to their customers, and praises Artifax for employing people with a practical operational background in the arts and entertainment industry and a “real world sense of urgency” about what people need and the fixes they require. Asked to work for a web-based recruitment company to re-write their technology and expand their team, Ben thought he had found the way to manage delivering success, but “job done” wanted to be back in ticketing. He decided to contact Richard Leggatt at Galathea STS, part of the Seatem Group, and with synchronicity Christian Terrill from them (another NSDF alumni) proposed he apply for their Director of System Development role. Ben was appointed, confident he could achieve a new standard of system.

He is reluctant to talk about his experience there, but he says he learned the hard way about people “over-selling” and the system being perceived as “under-delivering”, where internal conflicts between sales, support and development actually got to impact on customer relationships. The challenge was that the back end of the system at the time prevented it becoming the excellent system Ben believed was necessary.  And, “as someone who could read a balance sheet”, he was concerned about the company’s health, especially after staff were asked to take a 20% pay cut, with some redundancies. From that bad moment came the liberation of deciding to form Monad, using that balance sheet understanding and his development skills to take a different path: http://www.monadticketing.com.

Monad is the name of a hieroglyph

So first what about that name, eschewing anything to do with the usual ticketing or patron? Ben named the company after one of his tattoos (I have seen it in the flesh!) – a hieroglyph devised by Elizabethan alchemist John Dee, preferring a name that did not limit the company and its solutions to the core around ticketing. That certainly seems to be borne out by the ticketing system delivered so far.

So second, what about that ticketing system and its differences? Ben remembered one of the pitfalls they had found launching Artemis at Artifax – “they had made the system so flexible you needed to be a computer programmer to make it do anything useful” – and strove to balance abstract flexibility with concrete functionality, adhering to the principal “Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible”. He was also aware of the surprising contrast between how people designed for the web and their end-users, and how they designed for the back-office system functions in a different way, with some systems offering “buttons everywhere’. He naturally wanted to do it differently.

The same ease of use for everyone

From his experience, he knew of the challenges users found in getting the best out of systems. He decided he wanted the staff on-the-phone, over-the-counter, in the marketing office, should have the same ease of use and logical process flow which helped ticket purchasing customers. “If you’ve gone to the trouble of making your website as easy to use as possible for your online customers, why are you giving your staff an interface which is harder to use?”. That has proved the core of his development philosophy and what Monad delivers to a small group of committed users. This runs from how you set up and configure performances and prices through to the ticket sales front end, customer data capture, and the marketing tools.

It took Ben on his own a year to deliver a competent system to sell tickets, and a second year to deliver a complete venue solution, with quick sign-ups once people saw what he was delivering. His chosen business model is the partnership, where venue and supplier work together to achieve success and therefore he decided on a ‘per-ticket charge’ for using the system, believing that both sides benefit. He doesn’t see that as a charge on the end ticket purchaser, but simply a way of counting up the cost for users using the system, and one related to their degree of success: the number of tickets they sell. His focus is on functionality to achieve larger audiences, with venues earning more, so marketing needs to drive sales, enable revenue management, and help venues be successful. All service and support is encompassed in that per ticket charge. He writes an unusually frank blog, which certainly is very honest about his experiences in developing Monad: http://benonticketing.blogspot.co.uk.

“Small is beautiful”

The software certainly delivers on his approach and there are about 20 satisfied users, and rising, from the Hazelmere Hall in Surrey, the Old Firestation in Windsor, and the Cockpit in London. Latest to join is the Broadway in Barking, where to re-develop their website as well they are using Monad as their Content Management System: http://www.thebroadwaybarking.com/. Intriguingly, if you visit that website (February 2016) you’ll find it connects to two ticketing systems, since Monad is migrating their inventory, so events on the previous system are transferred steadily to Monad as the data is converted, taking some of the pain out of data migration.

Current USP is the way he developed dynamic pricing, with NESTA support via the Old Firestation, which helps venues maximise incomes in response to demand. Firestation MD Dan Eastmond has written an interesting blog about this: http://www.IamDanEastmond.com

The other part of Ben’s business model is “small is beautiful”, with Ben joined by Jo Scott and a distributed team of free-lancers, slowly expanding when they find the right people with practical experience.

Ben hopes that users are staying because they are on a journey to a better future together. That sounds like a different path and it will be interesting to see how the company grows and keeps close to its users.

Roger Tomlinson

February 2016

Huge challenge to international ticketers (and you?)

This could be a big Whoa! moment for international ticketers, and the many venues that use their services.  On 6 October 2015 the European Court of Justice ruled that the so called  ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement between the EU and the US was invalid.  At a stroke this meant that EU Data Protection laws, commonly applied across the single-market, including the UK, meant that EU citizen’s data could not be transferred to, pass through, or be processed on servers in the US.  It is simply no longer legal to transfer customer data between servers in the US and Europe.

Irish case with consequences

The Financial Times noted the impact this decision had, coming from a Facebook data protection case in Ireland: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/521a2c58-6c3e-11e5-8171-ba1968cf791a.html#axzz3nyaRHFxe

For some providers, this may pose a huge challenge because, though they could have server farms in Europe as well, the nature of  global infra-structures is complex.

This all starts with Edward Snowden

You would be right in guessing that this all starts with Edward Snowden.  In doing the right thing in exposing what the US’s NSA and the UK’s GCHQ was doing in monitoring data traffic around the world, it also revealed that the US Government did not feel obligated to comply with the customer privacy terms of the ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement with the EU.  Smart Insights reported the details: http://www.smartinsights.com/marketplace-analysis/digital-marketing-laws/implications-for-marketers-of-the-end-of-the-safe-harbour-agreement-smartinsights-alert/

Fundamental implications for The Cloud

However, this European Court of Justice ruling impacts on ‘The Cloud’ in a way which many have feared since the activities of the NSA and GCHQ were revealed.  Many globally focussed companies – Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft are the quintet regularly mentioned – run a global infra-structure which hosts, routes and links data anywhere in the world.  Your version of Word or your Google documents or your ‘customer wallet’ are as likely to be in the US as anywhere.  But that includes hotel chains, airlines, and of course ticketers.  Now the EU want a ‘Walled Garden’ around the EU to protect their citizens under applicable EU laws.  That quintet are all said not to like this.  There is huge consternation in the US about the way this impacts on global business: Internet advertisers for example cannot route tracking into the US.

What can individual venues do?  Check that your system supplier or system host is confining your service and data and applications such as payment gateways, etc. to EU based servers.  What can international ticketing companies do: ensure EU customer data is retained and processed only within the EU – fast.

A Dynamic Increase in Revenue at the MAC, Belfast

I wrote this Case Study for Baker Richards because I am particularly interested in how arts organisations are incorporating dynamic pricing into their every day operations, especially for smaller venues with simpler pricing structures.  The most surprising finding for me was that the MAC was operating dynamic pricing manually  because their new ticketing system had not been able to implement it.  You can read the original with illustrations here: http://bit.ly/1Pgjbjn

Back in 2011 after the surge of early adopters of ‘revenue management’, the conversation, in the US and the UK, turned to dynamic pricing and how to make it happen, especially for smaller venues. That was the challenge that the new MAC in Belfast, due to open in April 2012, brought to Baker Richards, in a joint commission with Deloittes, working on their income projections. The “old” MAC had closed in 2010, and Aine McVerry, Director of Marketing and Communications, points out that the new venue was a very different building, so they felt they were opening without a legacy and with a new ‘brand’.

Up front and honest

Aine says that “dynamic pricing felt right for the new MAC brand, doing things at the cutting edge of international practice, but importantly being very open and transparent to people – up front and honest. It communicates that we are fresh and modern, with real flexibility, and people know the rules about our ticket prices”.

As an arts venue, there were the expected parameters of needing to offer accessible seat prices, some discounted tickets for specific categories such as students and pensioners, and the need to encourage early booking – not just for cash flow but to help focus marketing. As a new venue, with modern auditoria and great views from most seats, they weren’t intending to charge separately for different parts of the theatres.

Relying on their extensive research and analysis, Baker Richards was able to confirm that for most organisations, there is a core of people willing to pay the top price for what the audience perceives as the best seats to see something they really wanted to see; and crucially that where there was demonstrable demand – a surge in purchases – ticket prices could rise within a reasonable range. Essentially, if you see seats at a particular price are selling out, you can increase their price and enhance income.

Baker Richards defined a simple pricing strategy that would enable prices to rise dynamically in response to demand:

  • Set a range of Standard ticket prices from low to high, £12 to £22 at the MAC, with an agreed number of tickets to be sold at each price according to whether demand was expected to be Peak, Mid, or Off Peak according to day, date and time, moving sales up to the next price when the agreed number is sold.
  • Set a limited number of specific best seats at a top “Premium price” on sale from day one, ideally with added service benefits (in the case of the MAC £22 tickets, with pre-booked booths with waiter service in the bar)

Part of the original strategy included a number of “Take a Chance” tickets where the price is fixed low and customers are allocated into available seats on the day in order of purchase, in order to maintain accessibility for the most price sensitive customers throughout the sales cycle. However, this was found not to be necessary and removed from the schedule after the first year.

So in April 2012 the MAC opened in Belfast with a dynamic pricing strategy which was straightforward to explain to the public, clearly incentivised advance booking, and made sure core enthusiasts could book the best seats from the beginning, without diminishing the value of those seats or the revenue from them. Children, students, pensioners, all got discounts.

The biggest initial challenge was that dynamic pricing only works where there is demand, and in some cases the pace of sales did not trigger increases. So over the next couple of years as the MAC built demand, and attenders learned the financial benefits of booking earlier, the inner workings of the pricing strategy were refined. This fine-tuning alone created a 15% increase in average income per performance.

 fine-tuning alone created a 15% increase in average income

In order to encourage more early booking and reflect the intended movement of prices, it was agreed that Standard seat prices would always increase to £15 two weeks before a performance, regardless of demand. And premium prices were increased to £25 and increased in number reflecting people’s actual seat choice. Also reflecting people’s seat choice, some specific seats were capped to £17, so not rising to the highest price – you might say honestly matching price to the experience in a seat.

Whilst always striving to ‘keep it simple’, the MAC also experimented with discounting. They started out with a £5 ticket for under 25s but initially found this discounted price was denting their anticipated income and dropped it in 2013/14. It then found this was a disincentive to this young target segment and brought it back in 2014/15. More recently a group booking benefit for 4 or more seats was introduced to incentivise full cars and people carriers, with considerable success, though it soon became apparent that this needed to be changed to a fixed cash discount rather than a percentage off, in order to limit the impact on yield from top price seats.

 ticket yield was up 30% and average income up 36%.

In practice what does all this mean? The obvious benefits are that MAC is experiencing much higher ticket sales income than it projected before opening in April 2012. When demand is there, the dynamic pricing mechanism works. A key to this is transparency: on-line it is possible to see what the price is for each performance in a run, and customers seem to respond by booking earlier, flattening the usual curve as attendance increases over a run, particularly seen with earlier in the run attendances for their Christmas productions. By August 2015, sales analysis was showing that in the main auditorium “Downstairs” ticket yield was up 30% and average income up 36%.

Have there been challenges from audiences in Belfast? The under 25s didn’t like losing their £5 tickets. And some audiences buying on the door for music events by outside promoters were surprised to find ticket prices higher than they expected, despite the simple explanation in the brochure – there is now a clear statement of the ‘on-the-door’ price. Have there been challenges for the venue? Despite enthusiastic monitoring and action by a “fantastic” Box Office Manager, Aine says “automation of the dynamic mechanism would have been easier – sometimes high demand has taken tickets before our staff could move the prices up”.

But since April 2012, over three and a half seasons now, the dynamic pricing strategy Baker Richards developed has demonstrated at the MAC that it can work in terms of bringing in much greater income in response to demand, while maintaining accessible prices. Aine says the funders were initially nervous about dynamic pricing, a new initiative in Northern Ireland, but in practice “audiences were re-assured by both accessible prices and a clear transparent strategy, which reflected our brand and values; that may be marketing speak, but it worked in delivering better income for us and satisfying audiences”.

As the MAC learns from their audiences’ specific behaviour, the prices will steadily rise, perhaps faster, as bookings come in, and income will keep on growing.

Roger Tomlinson

September 2015

Baker Richards & JCA announce Segmentation Engine

Initially available for Tessitura system users – launched at their conference this week – Baker Richards and JCA Arts Marketing are releasing what they are calling a Segmentation Engine to help arts marketers profile and segment their customers more accurately, making it “more viable for marketing, development and ticketing professionals”.

to help arts marketers profile and segment their customers more accurately

The new web tool takes data from ticketing systems transactional and donor data so it can be configured to automatically score and profile customer records on the basis of the classic ‘recency, frequency, and value’ criteria and other variables, and, if users wish, tagged with socio-economic and demographic segmentation profiles.  Key factor is that this is then written back into the customer record and enables selection for direct marketing or donor campaigns based on real behavioural data. So e-campaigns can be immediately generated to targeted lists from an instant segmentation.

Their announcement says:

“The Segmentation Engine is a new web application that allows anyone to create a sophisticated audience, visitor or donor segmentation. It brings together transaction and donor data to provide a full picture of patron behavior and allows users to create and customize a range of behavioral variables. The tool then automatically generates a range of alternative segmentations, based on those behavioral variables, and creates tags which are imported back to the organization’s ticketing system to populate patron records with variables and segment information. This allows organizations to:

  • Incorporate a deeper understanding of their patrons as input to strategic planning.
  • Deliver more targeted communications to increase Return On Investment (ROI).
  • Manage customer relationships more effectively.

The Segmentation Engine builds on extensive experience in undertaking highly detailed data analysis and consulting for hundreds of arts organizations worldwide. It is currently available for users of Tessitura® software, with wider distribution to follow.

Baker Richards and JCA are also joint developers of their Revenue Management Application, used by over 80 licensees worldwide to optimize their pricing decisions, and of the arts data warehouse that drives The Audience Agency’s Audience Finder dashboards, which benchmark customer and ticketing data across over 100 arts organisations in the UK.”

This looks to be an intriguing development in the light of the Segmentation Wars we have blogged about before.  We need tools that use real data on customer behaviour and take directly into account their individual ticketing history, attendance patterns, and relationship with the arts organisation, such as whether they are Friends or donors.  It will be good to see this available to more system users than just Tessitura.  Tim Baker will be talking about this and all things pricing at the Ticketing Professionals Conference in Birmingham at the ICC on 25/26th February 2016.

Baker Richards say that “Segmentation is one of the hottest topics around for arts and cultural organizations seeking to improve their communications and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy”.  For more information:

For North America contact JCA: Susan Hornung, +1 212 981 8418, susan.hornung@jcainc.com

For Rest of the World contact Baker Richards: Debbie Richards or Rachael Easton, +44 122 324 2100, debbie.richards@baker-richards.com or rachael.easton@baker-richards.com

Segmentation Wars?

There was an under-current of discussion at the Arts Marketing Association’s great  ‘Stay Curious’ conference in Birmingham this July. Kicked off by The Audience Agency’s breakfast briefing about Audience Finder and Audience Spectrum, with the former now free to UK arts and cultural organisations (previously only free to Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations), and reinforced by the frequently repeated references to Morris Hargreaves McIntyre’s Culture Segments from the conference stage. There are pilot MHM projects in the Northeast and in Auckland, NZ and we await the results. With consultant Katy Raines also talking about segmentation, this subject is clearly rising high up the agenda.

Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas and I have wondered in the past whether in practice the application of a ‘profile’ to a customer record really makes that much difference compared with reliable factual information on the customer from their purchase behaviour.  This is very much a matter of statistics. Those of us with long memories remember working with CACI in the early 1990s on what we hoped would be an Arts ACORN, combining ticketing history data with CACI’s socio-economic and demographic data. Duncan May, now at ATG, worked closely with them on building the profile. But in the end they said the results were not statistically significant and an Arts ACORN did not emerge.

Degrees of statistical significance was of course Peter Verwey’s mantra

Degrees of statistical significance was of course Peter Verwey’s mantra at the Arts Council of Great Britain about the use of the Target Group Index data at postcode sector level. As a lottery funding assessor I read quite a few marketplace analyses in business plans which were written on the basis that a small number of people in a rural catchment area were for example factually “contemporary dance attenders” when in practice such data was only a projection and unreliable in a small population at that level. One of the benefits of Audience Spectrum is to build in real attendance data from across the country to inform the accuracy of the profile – I must declare an interest as an adviser to The Audience Agency. And MHM’s Culture Segments uses some qualitative “golden questions” to get at attitudinal and motivational factors.

 Just how much information did we already have on customers

At the AMA conference Andrew and I also had a few quiet conversations with honest folk who wondered why segmentation profiles were apparently so important, just what difference could it make, how should they use it, and would it in fact really make a difference for them? This took me back to 1993 and the conversations with Duncan May, Christopher Travers, John Matthews, Vivienne Moore, Jonathan Hyams and others when I was writing BOXING CLEVER. Just how much information did we already have on customers in the new computerised ticketing systems and what should we be doing with it? My late colleague Tim Roberts mused 20 years later, after two editions of FULL HOUSE, published in multiple languages, that people were still not understanding frequency of attendance or using it to segment attenders according to their behaviour, and our 15:35:50 frequency formula remained neglected (and you can refine data today much better than that simple formula).

Michael Nabarro of Spektrix has blogged about arts organisations needing to get their heads around customer data, and they and PatronBase have expanded the tools to make analysing customer behaviour and grouping people together easier. If you want to, you can directly add in segmentation profiles. Of course, going back to 1993, we knew that actually it was not the group that was important, but each and every individual customer; CRM consultant Helen Dunnett reminds everyone about the “niche of one”: they know about their relationship with your arts organisation, but do you know about your relationship with them, and do you use that data in the ticketing system to drive the tailored communications to them?

The ticketing system suppliers are mostly collaborating with the proprietary segmentation tools emerging, but in most cases these are projecting on to individual customers a profile derived from large samples. In the past when there was just ACORN and Mosaic we wanted to test out which was “better” for targeting. But Stuart Nicolle (“You can get 35 pieces of data from 7 collected in the customer transaction”) with his “Balanced Database” tool at Purple Seven demonstrated repeatedly that real data could be used to focus and sharpen marketing effort, contacting fewer people with bigger results – we know, Helen Dunnett and I helped carry out a test at Colston Hall in Bristol with him.

“just push the button” marketing

Peter Verwey joked about one day reaching the stage of “just push the button” marketing. We are not there yet, and we can watch the segmentation wars, while recommending that people should perhaps concentrate on their actual customer data for targeting until something proven to be better comes along.

 

Roger Tomlinson

August 2015

Jack Rubin: ‘pilot’ or ‘captain’ of the good ship Tessitura?

His name has been inextricably central to the Tessitura message since it launched fully fledged into the ticketing marketplace in 2000, with its unique ‘not-for-profit’ business model and radical way of working with its co-owning users. I think he sees himself as a ‘pilot’ in the shipping sense, nudging with his experience and knowledge the Tessitura crew in the right strategic direction; others, including me, credit him as ‘captain’ leading and motivating the crew and keeping focus on their mission, especially good at articulating that “fitness-for-purpose” of the system as a solution and the Network as a community.

service levels in the 1990’s inhibited by the available technology

Tessitura, the system, came out of New York’s Metropolitan Opera (The Met). Like many other arts organisations, they saw their service levels in the 1990’s inhibited by the available technology, and their patience with their suppliers meant they were always behind the customer curve as the on-line wave broke. That turned to impatience, and, unwilling to wait for consultants and techies to fix it, they decided to develop their own in-house solution, creating a unified ticketing, CRM, marketing and fund-raising system. They appointed Chuck Reif as Senior VP of Technology and allocated a budget of $5M over 3 years to build their unified system. They succeeded where others failed. Chuck of course remains in charge of Tessitura technology.

Originally called Impresario, The Met wanted to achieve some return on their investment and licensed the system to a couple of other users, and even investigated the possibility of selling it. This is where Jack enters the system’s history in 2001. From a background in finance and marketing in international corporations, being involved in some start-ups and acquisitions, and having worked at Hotels.com to help take them public, he was running a venture capital backed Internet e-commerce solution, and was one of the people The Met talked to about the future of their system.

Jack was invited by The Met to facilitate a discussion with other interested not-for-profit arts organisations, leading to a meeting in Santa Fe with 35 people from 7 different arts organisations. Was there a business model that could work better for them, certainly better than the increasingly problematic investor-driven model that was causing problems for former market leaders in ticketing systems – evidenced for me by the difficult times with Tickets.com?

Was there a business model that could work better for them, certainly better than the increasingly problematic investor-driven model

That Santa Fe meeting drew up a mission statement which is virtually word for word in the Tessitura mission statement of today. There was a confluence of need, critical to their success, for arts organisations to deal with a changing world, changing communications, with Internet, email and new e-commerce models. The goal was about making arts organisations more successful by working smarter and working with an “enterprise solution”.

The seven organisations that were the early adopters of Tessitura invited Jack to form a new company with Chuck Reif, but not one that could be commercially morphed into something else. They set up a not-for-profit corporation with a Board from the users of the system, creating the co-ownership Network model. The Met saw themselves as helping benefit arts and culture while getting some of their investment returned through licensing, initially at a higher level than is now charged today.

It is worth saying that the targets for growth were modest, originally for 50 users, reflected in the Network’s decisions to be a virtual organisation, with Jack as the front man presenting the system and its business model to potential users, and Chuck and his team concentrating on keeping the technology at the leading edge. Users felt trust and confidence in the business model, but wanted the system to exceed their expectations, with core functionality as the key to meeting their needs.

The Network’s membership model is now based on variable licensing costs and annual membership fees according to turnover – in 14 years only 4 membership fee increases. Licenses are for a lifetime, unlimited, without charges per user or any transaction fees, and all Tessitura functionality is bundled in so Tessitura does not play the module game that some suppliers do (there are some add-ons available which are separately charged).

147 people on the Tessitura team worldwide, working in 8 countries

So in 2015 there are 147 people on the Tessitura team worldwide, working in 8 countries, with over 515 organisations using the system. The team did not include a marketing person until 2014. And over 200 of the user organisations in fact share their system with other organisations, such as the Wales Millennium Centre model in the UK; the largest of these has 14 regional theatres in Philadelphia sharing their system. Since 2001, retention has been over 99% for users and 85% for staff from their first employment. Tony Barnes has been regional operational director for the UK and Europe for 10 years now.

Jack reports to a Board drawn from license holders – small, medium and large – covering geographies, genres and skill-set, driven by a desire to lead innovation, provide great service, and keep costs down. That innovation is driven by a Member Advisory Committee, working with Chuck and the Tessitura development team, that prioritises the ‘road map’ for development. 70% of ideas come from users and 30% from the team, who spend their lives on the road with Tessitura users. They deliver a new release every year in a transparent process, with new code posted to a ‘sandbox’ so users can review and test, see every change, and help prioritise and identify enhancements. Some users then beta test the latest version as it goes through quality assurance. Hundreds of enhancement requests, big and small, are also submitted each year, and many of them are also added, in addition to the big road map-driven items.

by users, for users

Reflecting the co-ownership model, they chose to hold an annual conference from the beginning, driven by a planning committee of the users (apparently 200 people on it for this year’s this month) as Jack says “by users, for users”. This is now quite definitely the world’s largest arts and cultural conference, with much more than ticketing on the agenda, since it is cross genre, cross functions, cross geography, and open to all ideas. There are twelve concurrent tracks, covering all functions such as ticketing, philanthropy, web, CRM, marketing, etc.  Reflecting this, American opera singer Renée Fleming will give their keynote on August 18th in Orlando on topics for which she has long been a strong advocate – audience development, community engagement and arts education.

Indeed Tessitura is becoming a TEDx of arts and culture with its free webinars sharing knowledge on a global scale with the Innovator Series and posted on a Tessitura YouTube channel.

secret sauce

Unusually for a ticketing/ CRM system supplier, Tessitura has a VP of Community, headed up by Don Youngberg who leads what is effectively a full time community team.  Community is their “secret sauce”, since the Network has proved to be founded on sharing to help each other and make each other better. That seems to irritate other ticketing system suppliers, who see Tessitura relating to CEOs and Artistic Directors, and running a conference that attracts people from all parts of user organisations. There are also large regional conferences: in November, the Tessitura Network European Conference will be in Nottingham with likely 350 or more attendees; there will be an Australia/New Zealand conference in April 2016 in Sydney.

Tessitura has behaved differently from other ticketing systems from the beginning, since you might say it has been clear from the beginning that it is not just a ticketing system. Chuck Reif came to the UK for six months to install the first UK clients, working on localisation and specific needs. Given that users see this as mission critical, the “enterprise solution” has delivered both “out of the box” configurable functionality, and a platform on which users can build their own customer experience tools. So far they say the users have not found a technological restraint in Tessitura. And they continue to innovate to help arts organisations facing financial challenges and to enable audience development and to raise funds via philanthropy and memberships. Tessitura was designed from the onset to be equally strong for fund-raising as well. The biggest release in the history of their software is about to roll out to complete a major expansion of the system and the user interfaces.

Tessitura has added a small services division to help provide techie and database administration skills to user organisations, and now has an enterprise consulting division on marketing and fund-raising to help build the business capabilities of user organisations.  Jack says their success is partly because they avoid a corporate culture and focus instead on anti-bureaucracy and on collaboration, with themselves as partners, not vendors.

Jack talks well about the Tessitura Network and his belief that the right staff with the right business model can deliver the success the users want. With strong staff retention, they have a sabbatical system, with a 7 week paid break every 7 years to help staff re-charge and re-think. Jack seems to me to have been the Network’s leading salesperson since the effective consortium was formed, and he has certainly been reticent about adding marketing people (first one in 2014) and expanding client development functions (some churn in this function in the UK), and he remains careful about the solution and how it is presented. With the team all wearing their Tessitura logo dress shirts, focussed on the corporate mission and values, and with a coherent core message, and users that all have a good word about “their” system, you can see why arts and cultural organisations sign up to join something much more than a ticketing system.

How much credit do we give Jack Rubin for what has been achieved?  He has certainly made a big difference.

There will be some live streaming from this August’s Tessitura Conference, week of 17th August 2015: http://www.tessituranetwork.com/live

Roger Tomlinson

August 2015

How bad before intolerable?

I am a frequent attender at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge.  It has an audience that seems to book the majority of seats in advance online – the Box Office is rarely staffed and the few people on the door buy tickets from the bar or merchandise counters.  That audience takes advantage of reserved numbered seats and the ability to take drinks into the auditoria in glasses (not plastic).  There is also a very successful membership scheme which eliminates booking fees, gives some free seats and discounts on tickets, and there are wine and snack packages.

Until 2014 the Arts Picturehouses chain was independent, but was then taken over by CineWorld.  At first we saw little change in Cambridge, except that operation became somewhat more chaotic and staff less informed – especially if asked about the many live relay streamings.  Not knowing the actual performance time or interval details is unhelpful to audiences attending a screening due to take nearly 5 hours.

the online booking service seriously deteriorated

However, in February 2015, the online booking service seriously deteriorated.  With failing bookings online, beleaguered staff when phoned said it was due to the introduction of a new website, and later that it was a change in the ticketing system.  Arts Picturehouses were apparently migrating from their Newman system which had fully met their needs, to Vista, used by Cineworld, which plainly didn’t.

Now, changing systems and the likelihood of some short term disruption is possible, and this runs the risk of upsetting some customers, but surely five months is too long a time to not get it right?  Especially for members.  For a period, advance booked screenings of streamings could not be accessed, and tickets weren’t accessible for many events.  The basics can be frustrating.  Are the seating plans accurate in layout and in showing availability – apparently booked seats remain empty through a screening.  And increasingly they offer only “General Admission” screenings, removing one of their core USPs.  Membership numbers are repeatedly not recognised , denying access to discounts.  QR codes to validate tickets have mostly disappeared.  Often the purchaser will see an error message that their transaction was successful but they can’t send the tickets through.  We now have to phone very often to complete/check our transaction.

I hope they didn’t think we were just “bums on seats”

The staff on the phone acknowledge the difficulties – it is as bad for them as for the public – and are endlessly patient in resolving the issues, usually satisfactorily. But the core of the business has been disrupted, and relations with customers badly damaged.  Arts Picturehouse customers are not just consumers of movies, and the chain markets itself as a different and more engaged experience.  So why risk alienating the audience with apparently bad technology?  I hope they didn’t think we were just “bums on seats”.

What do we put customers through when we give them an unsatisfactory purchase experience?  Andrew Thomas and I will be reviewing how you can use Google Analytics to help optimise the purchase experience in the Digital Hub at the AMA Conference in Birmingham, or visit us at Consultants Corner on Tuesday afternoon 21st 2-5pm at the Rep – you don’t have to be attending the conference:  http://theticketinginstitute.com/consultants-corner-pre-ama/

Roger Tomlinson