What are we counting?

Roger is not going quietly, and here is his latest, originally published by Arts Professional here: https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/article/what-are-we-counting

This version is updated.  Roger has more questions than answers about the quality metrics system that Arts Council England’s larger NPOs will soon be required to use.  He was surprised to find the Arts Council of England’s only response to the original version of the article was to query his comments about the ACE contractors Culture Counts.  Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide have now published an article in Cultural Trends ‘Counting culture to death’ severely criticising the Quality Metrics concept.  Liz Hill reports in Arts Professional on that here: https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/only-fool-or-knave-trusts-quality-metrics-say-academics

Counting what counts?

People keep asking me what I think about quality metrics, the audience research system that Arts Council England (ACE) will shortly require its largest National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) to use.

When I try to answer this complex question, many immediately tell me they were asking confidentially and don’t want their own views known. I hear a lot of reservations and many worries, but everyone seems reluctant to say anything during the current NPO application process.

Whilst understandable, this is not helpful. It is surely essential to embark on a proper discussion of whether this will deliver reliable results for NPOs and ACE, and to address people’s concerns.

Uneasy questions

I have been a champion of audience data for a long time. I conducted my first year-long audience survey at the Vic in Stoke on Trent in 1969, supervised by Keele University. I have been commissioning research surveys for over 40 years and the Arts Council published my book ‘Boxing Clever’ on turning data into audiences in 1993. And I have collaborated with them on many audience initiatives, including the drive to place socio-economic profiling tools at their NPOs’ fingertips.

So, I ought to be welcoming the concept of quality metrics and what Culture Counts proposes to deliver for Arts Council England. I can see why Marcus Romer (read his blog from 27 September) would welcome the voice of the audience, as end-recipient of the art, into ACE thinking. But I am left with a lot of uneasy questions, mostly methodological.

Unreliable research

Most people with any knowledge of research methodology are asking the same questions, because this type of research is inherently unreliable, yet a lot of reliance is being placed on the findings.  The recent experience of surveying potential voters in the polls prior to the UK election on 8 June have rather confirmed the unreliability.

The Arts Council’s own former Senior Marketing Officer, Peter Verwey, constantly reminded arts marketers of the inherent unreliability of audience surveys, unless there were controls to manage the sample. Even then, reliability depends on respondents understanding the questions. If you ask a question and the respondent can’t ask for clarification on what the question means, then the answers can’t be relied upon. But if explanations are given, then bias creeps in, depending on what is said to them.

Sadly for Welsh National Opera, the majority who said when and where they had seen an opera, turned out to not actually have attended an opera at all.

At the Arts Council of Wales, we used Beaufort Research to check respondents’ understanding of some simple questions about the arts, including: “When did you last attend an opera?” Sadly for Welsh National Opera, the majority who said when and where they had seen an opera, turned out to not actually have attended an opera at all. The public have a very different understanding of the words we use to discuss the arts, and this can have a significant impact on whether survey questions are completed.

This is an inevitable drawback of quantitative research. Researchers have to decide in advance what precise questions to ask and have to constrain answers to a fixed choice. Qualitative write-in answers can’t produce reliable, comparable results, even though narrative answers can provide the richest source of our understanding of what a specific audience member thought.

Biased responses

Audience surveys have other equally large flaws. Peter Verwey’s joke was that the survey samples usually comprised “anyone who had a working pen/pencil when the survey was handed out”, though that has presumably changed to whether people have an email address and bother to open survey emails.

Surveys conducted in foyers after performances are inherently biased in that they capture only those with time to answer. And even “there is an app for that” only suits the tech savvy.

Analysis over the years shows that completion is biased in favour of the most supportive members of the audience and those keen to make their views known, sometimes complainants. You can overcome some of this by ruthless random sampling – only looking at the feet of the people to be selected to answer the questionnaire, for example – and similar techniques can be applied online. But the bias, of who actually responds when invited to, remains.

These days, when we are capable of creating a socio-economic profile of attenders who book tickets, we ought to, as a minimum, be expecting the quality metrics methodology to include a check for the representativeness of the sample.

Incomparable performances

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that audience surveys are inherently situational. They can only reflect what happened in a particular venue on a specific date and time, and gather the opinions of the people who both attended and chose to respond. If you have ever been a house manager and experienced the difference that a large group booking can make in an audience, you will understand the potential variability.

This makes comparability from one performance – let alone event – to another very difficult. Researchers have known about these issues for decades and therefore attempts to measure or assess impact based on audience surveys are always approached with huge caution, even if conducted for a single venue or a single performance.

Unexplored impact

Arts Council England’s own 2014 literature review by WolfBrown was clear about this: “the literature raises questions as to the plausibility of aggregating survey data across organisations and artforms, due to the highly personal and situational nature of impact, and because of differences across the forms themselves.”

It can be argued that valuing art based primarily on the experiences it produces, in fact devalues the work itself. Can you really tick a box to encompass your opinion? Indeed, post-event surveys primarily measure the ‘experienced impacts’, perhaps within a day or so, and ignore the ‘extended impacts’, probably weeks or even years later (typically assessed through retrospective interviewing and longitudinal tracking studies).

And while we try to understand these impacts on each individual, what role did pre-attendance marketing, the venue, pre-show talks, the people who attended with them, and the rest of the audience, have on the experience? Some researchers have expressed serious concerns about comparing self-reported audience experiences across different artforms and contexts because of the huge range of impossible-to-control variables being measured in these, in effect, crowd-sourced reviews.

Flawed evaluation

I had expected recent reports, commissioned by ACE, to provide the answers. I was surprised to find the final report on the quality metrics national test was assessed and written by two staff from the company that ran the pilot scheme, John Knell and Alison Whitaker. So the researchers were being asked to mark their own homework. Highly unusual, regardless of their integrity.

The Arts Council did commission an independent evaluation, from Nordicity (though the researcher is not named) though this only examined the experience of the organisations participating in the National Test, and not the methodology used in the pilot or the internal processing of the resultant data.

serious concerns raised by participant organisations about the methodology

Nonetheless, that evaluation reported some serious concerns raised by participant organisations about the methodology, saying “the majority of consultees questioned the reliability of the resulting data because of the sample frame, in terms of its representation and size” and commenting that “this aspect evidently impacted the organisations’ use of the data, with organisations unconfident to draw any firm conclusions, unable to ‘convince’ programmers of its value, and unsure of what ‘robust’ would look like in practice.” It went on to say “consultees suggested a number of areas where unintended bias or skewed data had the potential to be introduced. It is evident that these elements contributed to consultees’ overall opinion that the resulting data did not accurately reflect the quality of their work.”

Knell and Whitaker’s report makes no reference to statistical significance or reliability, or the representativeness of audiences; and despite references to “highly sensitive aggregation” there is no explanation of the basis for that data aggregation, except for some crude geo-location, artform, gender-based data-merging. It’s impossible to discern how they have overcome the huge problems of situational audience surveys and event comparability.

There is also no explanation of how audience responses are related to the other elements of the triangulated quality metrics research process, namely peer responses and internal assessments. Neither is there an indication of how respondents were selected. Indeed, the report is more about the findings of the surveys than testing the reliability of the methodology or its underlying fitness-for-purpose and statistical reliability.

Sampling problems

Obviously it is easiest to select survey respondents from ticket bookers with email addresses, and some of the organisations that participated in the pilot research chose people with particular characteristics, or a certain frequency of attendance. Some indicated that they wanted to input the data findings into their CRM systems. Did they select target samples accordingly?

Some added extra questions of their own to the survey, which in themselves might have affected understanding, response rates and completion. There is no explanation of how these additional questions were tested for respondent understanding. Also, only ‘30 responses’ is cited as an acceptable minimum for an event to be evaluated. How does this relate to the total attendance? There is no rationale given for this low number and no indication how an event with 30 survey respondents will be compared with an event with 300.

What’s more, there is no indication of how any of this will be possible under the new General Data Protection Regulation and its specific granular consent regime, which could further reduce the number of attenders available for survey and the use and processing of their responses.

The better news is that over 19,000 surveys were completed in the national test. This is clearly a large sample in UK terms, but size is not enough, especially when the integrity of the sample is unclear. We can’t rely on the national sample size if we need local reliability. We need to understand the reliability of the findings for each individual organisation in their unique catchment area. And we need to know the profile of the survey respondents in the context of both the universe of NPO attenders, and the actual attenders at each individual organisation.

Finally, there are of course other providers of post-attendance survey tools, and arts organisations already carrying out frequent surveys of attenders are worried about wear-out from over-surveying core attenders. All their other surveys are intended to understand audiences better and guide marketing, operational and audience development issues, not inform critical ACE grant award decisions.

ACE has a lot of questions to answer

I write this because I find ACE has a lot of questions to answer if it is to reassure arts organisations about the methodology and the quality of its proposed metrics. Just what is it counting, and exactly how?  The researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide have confirmed the academic concerns about using such research methods.  They write that metrics-based approaches to assessing cultural value “invite political manipulation and demand time, money and attention from cultural organisations without proven benefit”.

Their paper, ‘Counting culture to death’, refutes the “widely held belief” that “a set of numbers can provide vindication, or at least insurance, in the constant struggle to justify public funding”. They conclude that attempts to quantify cultural value are not delivering on their promises, and bring “destructive” unintended consequences.

The paper states that using indicators and benchmarks to assess cultural activities, “which exhibit no obvious capacity for scalar measurement” is a “political act”. The “ostensible neutrality” of this approach is, they say, “a trick of the light trying to launder responsibility for judgment in the competition for scarce resources”.  It is certainly clear to me that relying on an unreliable methodology could have dangerous consequences for the Arts Council.

This article is Rogers personal opinion and does not reflect the views of his colleagues or any other organisations.

Getting ‘permission’ wrong?

Roger is not going quietly…

I am not the right person to discuss the implications of the new General Data Protection Regulation, approved by the EU in May 2016, whose draconian penalties apply from May 2018. I have been frustrated by the attitude evidenced by most arts organisations in how they relate to and engage with their attenders, specifically their ticket purchasers, since the 1990s, when email exploded, having learned nothing from the experiences of the direct ‘snail-mail’ years.

I wrote my first book ‘BOXING CLEVER: Turning data into audiences’ in 1993, published by the then Arts Council of Great Britain. Though it pre-dated the use of terms such as ‘Customer Relationship Management’ and ‘Permission Marketing’, it echoed the likes of Don Peppers’ and Martha Rogers’ The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time (also published 1993) and Seth Godin’s later Permission Marketing (1999). It is worth setting out how this is defined. In 2008, Seth re-described it thus:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention”.

Putting respect into arts marketing is a key value for me. The direct marketing revolution experienced in the UK from the 1970s into the 1980s relied on getting people to sign up to receive brochures and mailings, which in the days of mostly on-the-phone and over-the-counter bookings meant dialogue was needed to comply with the law and obtain the contact details from people. People gave permission to receive what they hoped would be relevant, personal, appropriate communications posted to them in their homes. Later, the rising volume of credit card payments meant some venues started to ‘capture’ customer addresses without necessarily explaining the contact implications, and this started (or amplified) customer suspicions about direct mail, especially when many mailings weren’t relevant, personal, or appropriate communications.

This was when I found I thought differently to many other arts administrators. Running Theatr Clwyd in North Wales, for example, I thought it seemed essential to have more than enough staff to answer calls and serve purchasers, and indeed to encourage them to extend their dialogue to understand and inform the customers better, perhaps advising them of other events they might be interested in seeing, booking them a table in our restaurant, etc.; what I later found was called “up-selling”. Essentially, customer contact hopefully got permission to add people to our mailing lists and started to create the relationship we wanted. My colleague Mike Grensted was then very sensitive to what we might send out to those people to reflect that relationship; wonderfully he once sent our subscribers a photocopy of the marked-up printer’s proof of our next season brochure to give them priority to renew their subscription!

the sales staffing culture seemed to be to ensure the minimum number of people were on shift at any one time

Elsewhere the sales staffing culture seemed to be to ensure the minimum number of people were on shift at any one time, with Box Office queues and call waiting times almost a badge of success. When as a consultant after 1988 I started delivering customer care training and helping arts organisations optimise their sales processes, the fundamental issue was always the time to enable staff to serve customers properly. Many venues had the same staffing levels and shift patterns all year round, depleted by holidays as staff took them, regardless of pantomime on-sales, brochure releases, etc. Yet it was easy to work out that an extra member of staff in most cases only had to sell one extra ticket per hour for the venue to be better off (even based on margin retention). Without the extra people, the sales staff were under pressure to speed through transactions, and door sales were a missed opportunity for getting permissions. One large concert hall contracted me to help them optimise their sales process to eliminate 19 seconds from transactions, since that was the average time making sales calls too long for the staff complement to get through their typical call volumes…

That pressure meant Data Protection got in the way of speeding through sales, and managers and sales staff were reluctant to spend time seeking permission from purchasers when their contact details were captured during payment. I proved that an extra person on door sales could easily help process all the customers so permission could be asked if a venue really wanted to. Our sector did not cover itself with glory when a number of Theatrical Management Association (TMA) members decided to lobby their MPs in the Parliamentary discussions about the provisions in the 1998 Data Protection Act. They received somewhat quizzical replies, advised by the then equivalent to today’s Information Commissioner, pointing out that these provisions were already law in the 1984 Data Protection Act; more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Given the embarrassment, it was agreed with the Arts Council of England, the TMA, and the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) that I should write a “good practice” guide to the 1998 Act – actually an official status under the Act – which was published with a Foreword welcoming it from the then equivalent to today’s Information Commissioner, Mrs Elizabeth France, whose staff in Wilmslow had been very helpful and supportive during the drafting process. The Guide was published and promulgated with seminars around the country, encouraged by the Arts Council England regions and the AMA. Of course, given the law, my emphasis was on getting the right permissions from the customers.

arts organisations essentially asking how they could avoid complying with the law

I began to have to field lots of questions about interpreting the new law, and I maintained my dialogue with the staff in Wilmslow. They did point out to me that they received quite a few calls from arts organisations essentially asking how they could avoid complying with the law! The Act clearly and unambiguously required arts organisations to say who they were, what they would be doing with their customers’ data, whom they would be sharing it with, and to get permission from the customer for the chosen communication methods. Treating customers with respect should make this easy.

There were ways to make the process easier – large printed notices on display in Box Offices, recorded messages before calls were answered, full details printed in brochures and programmes, but the key fundamental was that the customer’s permission be obtained properly. Wilmslow told me of various complaints that people were being contacted without their permission, and they and I deployed some ‘mystery shopping’ to understand what was happening – permission was simply not being asked for. The irony of course is that most of these venues now had computerised ticketing systems which could easily track the ‘permission’ levels and identify which staff were complying with the law. One large venue trained up a new team of staff to obtain permission and indeed sell a paid-for list membership, and simply fired the old team members who did not comply. But the culture of selling under pressure persisted, as did non-compliance, and therefore lack of respect for customers. This seemed a matter of regret to me.

Why did/do some people in the arts talk about “bums on seats”

Why did/do some people in the arts talk about “bums on seats” (horribly “butts on seats” in the US) and treat valued customers whose “hearts and minds” they need to relate to, as if them purchasing tickets is a necessary evil, and returning customers are a necessary nuisance, de-personalising them in the process? Does that explain the terrible mistake of introducing booking fees and charges on top of the advertised price, instead of putting these inside the price? Do we see people just as income providers and not as customers we need to persuade and retain?

Note that for most marketing purposes the 1998 Act effectively pre-dates email marketing and on-line ticket sales, though many arts organisations were early adopters of websites. As the email explosion happened, the EU introduced new rules on privacy and the UK enacted in 2003 the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, known to insiders as PECR (pronounced “pecker”). Something odd happened. As computerised ticketing systems had already introduced Internet ticketing engines, they had busily ensured their software complied with the 1998 Data Protection Act, and email was just another communication method. Now PECR had a lot to say about permission regimes for email and SMS, but to my surprise was largely ignored – surprise because it introduced an assumption of consent if there was a transactional relationship i.e. an on-line ticket purchase (with various notifications given to purchasers in the process). Odd and ironic that systems weren’t quickly modified and processes changed to enable this easier permission regime.

Email marketing suddenly made direct marketing an inexpensive method – mostly the time spent crafting the message and selecting the targets from the customer database – and the desire to share customer data for e-marketing campaigns, especially between presenting venues and touring companies and artists increased. By 2005 Arts Council England was unhappy at the frequent complaints from touring companies and artists about venues refusing to share data, and Tim Baker of Baker Richards and I were commissioned to ascertain the state of play. We were clear that the 1998 Act and PECR should be enabling data sharing, provided the appropriate permissions had been obtained. We held the view that purchasers would give permission if they were asked appropriately by venues, and the right respectful dialogue and processes could get those permissions.

Essentially, we quickly confirmed that data was not being shared because the permissions were not being properly obtained, with some venues belatedly discovering that with a stretch PECR could justify them contacting only their own customers. This was an interesting moment, because the Information Commissioner, still being helpful, suggested that arts organisations could jointly notify purchasers that their data would be shared with venue and the touring company or artists performing, and permission be assumed from their ticket purchase (this no longer applies).

Welsh National Opera (WNO), under the enlightened direction of Peter Bellingham, were keen to manage their relationships with their attenders, especially those they realised could be attending in any of a number of venues, chasing their repertoire. They did not want to be over-mailing these people, to manage their communications, and needed to understand their behaviour and frequency, so wanted to know who they were, where they went, what to see – the world of big data! By prolonged negotiations, they secured agreement for the data to be shared and appropriate permission regimes to be in place, at all the venues they toured to. It was somewhat laborious and involved manual interventions but it worked. Why am I telling you this? Because when Arts Council England proposed their data sharing conditions for their National Portfolio Organisations, Peter realised he needed to re-visit their data sharing. Deep analysis by Ed Newsome of the data they had, told them something wasn’t working as it should.

I think we hope that most of the established attenders for the arts are in fact repeat attenders

I think we hope that most of the established attenders for the arts are in fact repeat attenders, so will be coming back to buy more tickets. This ought to mean we want to recognise returning customers on-line as soon as they arrive on the website, so we can serve up tailored content. In practice, most websites are set up not to recognise returning customers until they fill in their details to make payment for a new transaction i.e. at the end of the purchase process. (Some system suppliers boast that their system then adjusts the prices in the shopping cart to reflect their status!). This meant for WNO customers that in most cases the procedure of serving up Data Protection notifications, and asking for permissions where relevant, was repeated every time they booked, at every venue.

When Andrew Thomas of www.TheTicketingInstitute.com investigated, he discovered some systems allowed customers to click past the Data Protection questions (possibly an unintended “feature”), and then the system changed/over-wrote their Data Protection status to effectively a ‘not answered’ status, so no permission recorded for anything. WNO discovered that meant some of their most frequently attending customers, such as their subscribers, were not selected for contact, even for brochure mailings as well as regular email updates. This is when the permission regime and the relationship with the customer is likely to collapse. Some of these customers with high frequency attendance patterns but apparent ‘no permission’ status were phoned, and they made clear that booking for WNO and agreeing to receive communications did not mean being bombarded with (what I call ‘shouting louder’ email) messages about booking for that venues’ pantomime; relevant, personal, appropriate communications?

Unfortunately, not only the customers know that. When ACE, The Audience Agency, and I, met the Information Commissioner’s staff to update our guidance on sharing and the necessary permissions, I was reminded that the staff in Wilmslow are, of course, arts attenders themselves, and able to talk from their own experience about booking with venues. A previous Information Commissioner had served on the board of one Manchester music organisation. Our sector’s unsatisfactory ‘do minimum’ compliance is all too visible. The Information Commissioner’s staff remain very helpful, but perhaps not as friendly as in the past.

How did we ever get here? And why does the General Data Protection Regulation apparently so disturb some people? I go back to first principles, that we need customers to volunteer their permission, freely given, and that is the start of our relationship with them, as a valued customer likely to return; that we need to treat customers with respect, as people in a valued relationship.

We want customers to look forward to our brochures and emails, offering them great going-out opportunities, experiences to enjoy and value. My mantra is ‘stop selling and help people buy’, getting them into a relationship with us.

Mark Hazell at Norwich Theatre Royal has made the point for many years that if they know someone is a “friend” he can write and talk to them differently, because being a “friend” means something about their relationship. That is true for all types of relationship, based on frequency, interests, what is attended, who attends, and so on.   We don’t have to keep asking them for their permission. And ideally we would give them an on-line tool to edit and update their records (less messing about for changes of address or email, chance for self-completed profiles and preferences, and more up-to-date accuracy). We want customers to look forward to our brochures and emails, offering them great going-out opportunities, experiences to enjoy and value. My mantra is ‘stop selling and help people buy’, getting them into a relationship with us.

Now our sector seems to be reducing Box Office hours (while travel agents are re-inventing their High Street stores to “help people buy”) and we are pushing for/hoping for more on-line sales. That means we need to re-think websites, and make them mobile friendly, and understand who we are communicating with. When we email them and they read on their phone or tablet, when they visit our website from those devices, we know precisely who they are – so why aren’t we recognising them and treating them as the valued customers they are? With respect?

Obviously I am the wrong person to talk to about permissions, as I don’t understand our industry.

 

Roger Tomlinson

2 May 2017

If you do want help or advice about the application of the General Data Protection Regulation, I recommend you contact Andrew Thomas andrew@theticketinginstitute.com about system processes and website flows and Leo Sharrock leo.sharrock@theaudienceagency.org about the permissions for data sharing, profiling, research, etc.

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