Access Into – Two Fun Days with Visitor Attractions

I was delighted to attend two days of Visitor attraction talks last week at the Tower Bridge Experience as a guest of the Access Group.

A number of former colleagues from many years ago, now work at Access and we crossed paths when they completed the Functionality Builder earlier in the year, followed by being selected in a procurement project run by Helen Dunnett in the summer.

I presented two sessions, one on the “venue vendor relationship” – a fun session looking at why we lose sight of the fact that we are in a business relationship and we need to avoid emotions being part of our decision making process.

This session was followed up the excellent Chris Webb of Synurgy looking at the key stages and milestones of procurement, from business analysis to examining where the money comes from and goes to in the organisation. Despite being a bit of a bus man’s holiday for me, a large chunk of the audience really got a great deal of information and insight.

 

Speaker

Chris Webb of Synurgy talking through visual representations of revenues

At the user-group the following day I presented some “cross-industry trends” to get the day started, looking at a report card style of how Sports and Performing arts compare in areas such as Revenue Management and Commercial Partnerships, along with some general CRM tips, trick and pitfalls.

I’ll save a write up of some VERY interesting product updates they are working on for another post.

However, there is a repeat of the open, free to attend sessions next week at the Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh on 19th October. Places are limited REGISTER HERE.

 

 

 

 

Data Driven Disasters? – Re-targeting

Heh, I love data. I love playing with it, looking for trends, talking about its inherent value, what organisations could or should be doing with it. Without a doubt it has given marketing folk the ability to ‘target’ people with offers, news and a whole plethora of information.

follow me around the web like a unwelcome drunk at a bus station

I am not just talking about “name@domain.com” and that they came to “Show A” on the “Day / Month / Year” and Paid for an “Student” in “Price A” in “Stalls”, using promo code “Nofee”  and booked at “event day minus three weeks, two days, four hours and five seconds”, on the “web”, “through web interface 2” on a “tablet”, paying by Amex…………..now just in there there is load of data to allow people to target that consumer.

The last four years has seen the hidden data revolution. Pixels…..cookies……tags…….it just doesn’t stop.

Now this is progress no doubt and allows people to be re-targeted. It’s just I find it so damn annoying.

Take below, my local paper’s homepage. Over 1/3 of real estate taken up by a company whose homepage I looked at briefly to find a phone number and one who I was browsing their products…… over 4 months ago. They follow me around the web like a unwelcome drunk at a bus station……….of course I am not referring to the companies or their products but their ads.

 

TakenOver

These ads follow me everywhere

 

Being due to spend quite a lot of time in Scotland in the next few months, I have been searching routes, by plane, by multiple airlines, from and to multiple airports, connect trains and of course hotels. I have now booked my chose routes and dates, but does that stop me from endless ads to say “still want to book this hotel in Aberdeen?” / “complete your booking for flight to Inverness”. The very knowledgeable Ed Auden from VE Interactive gave an interesting presentation recently at a Toptix user day when he talked of the issues with this re-targeting (even though his company offers it as a core product) – simply because site A does not know that you were looking at routes, or more importantly that itinerary A and B were mutually exclusive or were actually booked on site C!

still want to book this hotel in Aberdeen?

Ok, Ok……I get it, the Internet is not that clever, and a cookie does not tell the whole story and track multi-site search and conversion, but why, why oh why does INTUIT – makers of quick books target me for a “free trial” of quick books, a product I subscribe to and access their system on my computer on on a daily basis. Surely my logging in must alert their re-targeting that I have already ‘converted’? Or is the thinking that are the costs per page impression so low what does it matter if some of our existing customers get served the advert?

I already pay you money, I don't need a trial!

I already pay you money, I don’t need a trial!

In ‘old fashioned’ marketing we would never dream of adding “exclude people who have already bought this production” to a query to offer discounted tickets would we? Would we also target someone consistently that registered for a newsletter years ago, had never bought a ticket, opened an email we’d sent or logged into the site?

These new tools are just different ways of managing our data and our relationship with customers, it seems that so many have rushed to embrace them, they have forgotten some of the basics that we all did (a long time ago) in marketing 101.

 

 

 

 

Tessitura Network Expands Services & Consulting Team

TN

Tessitura Network Merger Expands Services and Consulting Team

Tessitura-Powered Organizations Expand With Record Growth Year

DALLAS, May 5, 2016 – Effective May 1st, the 15 professionals of KlearSky Solutions, LLC (KlearSky) joined

the Tessitura Network. Ivan Medanic, President and founder of KlearSky, has taken the role of Senior

Vice President, Consulting, of the Tessitura Network. Ivan noted, “In many ways this has been a long time

coming. We have been a strategic partner to the Tessitura Network for a number of years and have been

providing technology services to many of the Tessitura Network members. Over the past couple of years

we have worked more closely with Tessitura as their growth accelerated further. We came to the mutual

realization that we have a lot of cultural similarities with the Network, as well as complementary business

practices and service offerings. From an operational perspective, this brings a number of exciting

benefits.”

The Tessitura Network has grown rapidly to 545 organizations who hold licenses, become Network

community members, and take advantage of Tessitura’s powerful unified customer relationship system.

This system and its capabilities provide arts, cultural and entertainment organizations with equally strong

functionality in ticketing and admissions, fundraising, memberships, marketing, CRM, and all of the ways

in which organizations connect with their audiences.

The Tessitura Team’s own expansion in recent years has paralleled that of the Network’s to keep pace and

provide vital services. The Network North American consulting team has grown from a team of nine

consultants in 2012 to 50 now. Additional consultants are based in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Demand for all services is growing rapidly as new Tessitura organizations come on board and current

member organizations optimize their use of Tessitura and operate as effectively as possible. Consulting

services were performed in 2015 for over 300 organizations. With the additional professionals joining

from KlearSky, and their business niche and credibility, the Tessitura Network will be in an even stronger

position to serve the needs of Network members.

KlearSky, founded in 2004, focused its services to four main offerings: digital design and branding, website

development, database management service and custom technology integration. They served Tessitura

clients in a number of states with retained services, web services, custom coding, and they performed as

a subcontractor for the Tessitura Network.

Tessitura Network Consulting provides lifecycle services for Tessitura-powered organizations. These

range from:

Implementation and Training Services is responsible for successfully onboarding the many new Tessitura-
powered organizations. In addition, as needed, this team provides on-going system training, consulting

and functional optimization recommendations.

 

Tessitura Services provides on-going Tessitura administration, custom report writing, and functional

assistance for organizations that require additional bandwidth on an ongoing or interim basis.

 

Tessitura Technical Consulting is dedicated to working with data for custom reports, custom procedures,

enabling special interceptors that automate service and revenue building processes, converting data from

the many competitor systems that are switched to Tessitura, and performing integrations made possible

by the open nature of the Tessitura platform.

 

KlearSky Web Services is responsible for building out web solutions centered around the KlearSky CMS

and for customizations for TN Express Web, the flexible Network service that integrates transaction

processing, sales, and arts and cultural organization websites.

 

Tessitura Enterprise Consulting provides insights to grow business capabilities, increase ticketing and

fundraising revenue, and deepen constituent engagement. Enterprise consultants provide guidance on

business practices that drive organization’s high-level CRM, fundraising, and marketing strategies.

 

Jack Rubin, President of Tessitura commented, “The joined forces of the Tessitura Network Team and

KlearSky Team are 180 strong and comprise what is likely the largest arts and cultural sector consulting

team in the world. We continue to provide the highest performing arts and cultural enterprise software

functionality, the most professional support, the broadest level of professional consulting services, and

knowledge and best practice sharing via our community model in the eight countries across the Network

community. We are excited to have the KlearSky team onboard.”

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

Karl Vosper: UK Champion of SRO

Karl Vosper is inextricably linked to SRO as its champion in the UK since 2002. That will confuse some people from the start. SRO, from Standing Room Only, is developed by TopTix in Israel, but was originally distributed in the UK from 2002 as Artifax Ticketing under that name. Then distribution was transferred to Blackbaud, and, aligning the product name with others in their portfolio, became The Patron Edge. It was not until May 2010 that TopTix UK was formed, with Karl as managing director and SRO, now in Version 4, became the recognised name.

The route to now is interesting. Karl started out in the box office at the Central Theatre in Chatham in 1993, who were to be the first arts venue to take Venuemaster from Synchro Systems in Newcastle under Lyme. At 19 he had to go out and buy his own computer to learn about what he would have to deal with at work. This was the time of the big move from DOS to Windows in 1997 and Synchro quickly decided they needed him on their team and he joined their staff, in charge of arts venues in the south with a 360 degree role from sales to implementation and support. After migrating the Royal Opera House to Venuemaster in 1999, ROH decided they wanted him on the inside instead of working for their supplier.

Artifax brought SRO into UK

At Artifax the enterprising Timothy Nathan wanted to add an integrated ticketing product to his suite of tools for arts venue planning, scheduling and operation, and chose SRO from TopTix in Israel whose SRO Version 3 was then cutting edge leader in terms of much functionality. Karl joined the team there and they were quickly successful, securing the South Bank Centre as a user. They became a by-word, reflecting the Artifax approach, for hands on help and support.

Blackbaud wanted a ticketing system too

At this time Blackbaud in the US and the UK was looking for a ticketing system after an unsatisfactory acquisition of Intellitix, in a plan to expand its portfolio of solutions to combat the rise of Tessitura in the US. The hope was an integrated ticketing, marketing, CRM, and fund raising suite of tools would help arts organisations work smarter. They decided they wanted the distribution license for SRO and the team from Artifax was TUPed across to Blackbaud.

Karl is unwilling to talk about this period, but I know personally from my own experience and a visit to the Blackbaud HQ in Charleston that senior management were concerned about the level of hands on help and support they needed to supply for ticketing, and the continuous user’ demands for better interfaces and deeper integration. When some users in the UK asked me to help arbitrate on their behalf, I was concerned to discover that ”billable time” was a key target for Blackbaud services management, responsible for support, on which bonuses were dependent. A big change in culture from Artifax.

I knew that Karl had acquired something of a reputation as the users’ champion at this time, with a friendly approach which often meant things got fixed on-the-fly instead of at the billable rates. I was once in a meeting at which his senior managers tried to persuade me there was not a serious problem in relation to credit card processing, when Karl simply confirmed that there was. This was doomed, and in 2007 he offered his resignation. Blackbaud insisted he stay on and he became the global product manager for ticketing within Blackbaud, liaising with TopTix in the development of SRO and the new Version 4. Then Blackbaud proposed at the end of 2008 he lead on the development and release of a new ‘general admission’ (GA) alternative product called Altru, now Blackbaud’s primary ticketing product. After Blackbaud decided they would not run a pilot project to introduce SRO Version 4 to the arts marketplace, Karl resigned in 2009, required to have six months “gardening leave”.

 TopTix UK launched in May 2010

John Pinchbeck had been freelancing for TopTix in the UK in the commercial entertainment sector and sport, since the distribution license for SRO held by Blackbaud was for the not-for-profit sector. So in May 2010 they formed TopTix UK led by Karl. At this time they had to work in parallel with Blackbaud, but their exclusivity for the not-for-profit sector ended and Blackbaud finally withdrew from supplying and supporting SRO in 2014. In the period before this many users realised they could switch their support to TopTix directly and many did so, with many ex-Blackbaud staff joining Toptix as a result.

I have detected here a “part of the problem, or part of the solution” dilemma for some users. Karl and some of his colleagues were seen as initially helpful, but unfortunately problems seemed to mount up during the Blackbaud years. Ironically, switching to TopTix direct support and finding these could be quickly fixed did not prove satisfactory to some people.

 “part of the problem, or part of the solution”

This situation was amplified in 2014 with Blackbaud withdrawing, users wanting to migrate to SRO Version 4, and Blackbaud’s credit card processing solution Logic TPS also being withdrawn at, interestingly, exactly the same time as Blackbaud’s withdrawal.  TopTix had used the YesPay credit card processing solution but unfortunately this had run into problems of PCI DSS compliance and in June 2014, YesPay could take no new customers, with 40 Blackbaud users due to lose their service in August.

By any standards that is an emergency, with just two months to find an alternative gateway supplier, to build and test interfaces, obtain approvals, and set up and test 40 separate users. For those two months Toptix staff were entirely on the road, already in the middle of a sequence of 9 go-lives for new users and migrations for existing users, and inevitably there were ”dropped balls” on the way.

SRO: “Best Kept Secret”

Where to go from here? My colleague Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas and I have thought in the past that TopTix could be described as “the ticketing industry’s Best Kept Secret”. There are now 250 users of SRO Version 4 around the world and over 40 in the UK, Including the Buckingham Palace operation for the Royal Palaces with 3.5 million tickets sold per annum through 80 points of sale. One of the advantages of Version 4 is that it is architected for large-scale, multi-user, multi-venue setups. The “Rules Engine” combined with the middleware capability gives it exceptional tools, helping provide City-wide solutions, such as adopted in Leicester. That means it can be the right system for people wanting an “enterprise solution”, providing an application that can integrate and interface with all their other software and solutions, and provide the ”database of truth” for the 360° view of the customer. If you can get your head round it, the Rules Engine delivers an astonishing configurability of functions and processing.

‘annus horribilis’

But that “annus horribilis” in 2014 has dented their reputation in the sector, and quite a few users still can’t make up their mind on the “part of the problem, or part of the solution” dilemma. Karl has taken a lot of steps to address this. They have stopped working virtually and opened a new office in Clapham with a new staff structure and expanded staff. In the restructuring, two people were made redundant, some left, but more have been taken on in new roles. Industry stalwarts Pete I’anson (ex The Lowry and AudienceView) and Ken Paul (ex Delfont Mackintosh, NIMAX and ENTA) have joined. In addition to their 9am to 9pm office-based support, there is a user forum and a dedicated website that is helping users to network together and share solutions on a ‘self-help’ basis. Karl worries that while many venues have got 5 or 6 users logged onto this, there are still users who do not engage, and often these are the ones who have problems that could be easily solved.

Karl says the need is for more organisations to understand that ticketing is no longer just a sales operation and, in a sense, “the system does not stop when the box office closes”. He sees the need for users to understand the up-selling and extended sales and customer service opportunities of SRO, and take advantage of the Rules Engine. Instead of just talking about making tickets available through more channels, selling tickets in the bars and cafes in venues, plugging SRO4 into facebook, recognising members, subscribers and offering them additional benefits, he wants to see more organisations adopting this philosophy with the tools that they already have available. He remains convinced that SRO is a tool to empower organisations and he wants to help them to challenge the people who interface with the customers to make a real difference.

 users have to become the champions now

Karl acknowledges that TopTix had to address their relationship with their users following the events of last summer, so they come to see again that SRO is championing meeting their needs every day. I wonder if that means the users have to become the champions of SRO now?

 

Roger Tomlinson

June 2015

No 2015 Ticketing Institute Pop up at AMA Conference

It is with great regret that we have to inform you that we will not be running a pop-up at this years’ Arts Marketing Conference in Birmingham.

We had been working on a comprehensive program with some fantastic speakers, but were unable to find a venue that could provide affordable costs for our event, despite the superb support and sponsorship by Tessitura Network who were the sole sponsors of the event.

In previous years, we have been able to find a no or very low cost venue happy to host us, along , of course, with the customary drinks afterwards. Running the event as a free to attend session, we just could not find venues to host us without significant financial exposure, being so close to the conference we had to take the hard decision not to run an event for the first time in five years.

However, Roger and Andrew are working  on an informal event to allow some one-to-one sessions with consultants as well as general networking for those interested in ticketing as part of the greater marketing puzzle. This will be in central Birmingham on the Tuesday afternoon before the conference.

Both Roger and Andrew, as well as the Ticketing Institute’s US partner, Ron Evans from Group of Minds will be running sessions at the main conference, so will be around for discussion and networking throughout the three days.

 

 

 

 

 

How dynamic is your Box office?

We hear the word “dynamic” bandied about in regard to tickets and pricing.  But it struck me, working on the UK Theatre mini-conference Cultivating Group Sales on 18 March 2015, that we could apply that word across many functions of the Box Office.  Ironically, is it less “dynamic” today?

Let me be clear: the Box Office is in what customer-care people call the front-line of customer engagement.  Those behind the counter or on the phone spend all day every working day talking to the customers.  Are they simply responding to customer requests/orders or are they up-selling, encouraging customers, adding value, closing the sale?  Do they understand that when selling tickets to someone now, the most important visit is the next one after that?

are they up-selling, encouraging customers, adding value, closing the sale?

Actually the important question is whether they are empowered to up-sell, to add value, if necessary to negotiate with a customer?  Monitoring sales all the time, are they able to dynamically modify prices, moving price bands and breaks according to demand?  If we want them to be dynamic in their engagement with customers, we need to enable, motivate and empower them to optimise for revenue and customer satisfaction.

In North America, you will see in organisations with subscription schemes that dedicated staff are often available to “help” these customers, recognising their value and the need for satisfaction and renewals.  Increasingly in the UK we now see “fund-raising” and “development” staff who pay close attention to the needs of the donors and sponsors, and sometimes of their Members and ‘Friends’, almost providing a concierge service.  Should not we extend this approach to more of the ticket purchasers, and give them the benefit of more dynamic attention?

Should not we extend the benefit of more dynamic attention?

In the Cultivating Group Sales discussions we heard that sales staff sometimes negotiate with group organisers on the ticket price, help arrange coach travel, offer pre-booked programmes, ice creams, interval drinks, perhaps pre or post-show food.  The group organisers think this is great added value, but the sales staff find themselves working with restrictive software and sometimes a management willing to heavily discount a poorly selling show to everybody but reluctant to give an extra 50p off to a group bringing 40 people.

Various Box Offices now have staff whose job description includes tweeting about shows and related activity, and ticket availability.  Places like the New Wolsey in Ipswich and the Lowry in Salford – @NewWolsey, @The_Lowry – seem to me to get this just right: no hard sell, just positive information.  Sometimes they tweet about returns for sell-out houses or last minute availability; could they be also dynamically setting ticket prices for these limited offers with limited exposure?

tweet about returns for sell-out houses or last minute availability

The irony I see is that as ticket sales traffic moves steadily on-line, we ought to see that the people who contact the staff to talk to a real person give us a greater opportunity for engagement, and the staff themselves are our great opportunity to be dynamic in satisfying customers and bringing in the revenue.  Anybody who has heard Victoria Willingale talking about the Cambridge Arts Theatre ‘Panto Wheels’ scheme for which she personally raises money will see that Box Office staff can go a long way to help customers, and in the process the venue they work for.  The Box Office can be much more dynamic in achieving success than it is often allowed to be.

P.S. The UK Theatre Mini-Conference on Cultivating Friends and Fans – about membership and loyalty schemes –  is on Wednesday 22 April 2015 in Covent Garden, London.  More details and bookings: http://tinyurl.com/oowd7nr  You get a 20% discount if you or a colleague attended Cultivating Group Sales