Very often, venues consider that it’s better to offer a more personal booking service, usually by phone, but this is potentially discriminatory if some customers are and some are not able to book online.
The issues need to be understood and policies and sales processes need to change to meet the needs of customers with disabilities who want to book online.
STAR, along with SOLT, UK Theatre, NAA, Attitude is Everything and other industry organisations, are working to encourage this change.
These workshops are aimed at increasing awareness for everyone involved in ticketing about disability, the law and equality, as well as helping suggest practical solutions and steps for improvement. It’s an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the issues, with a workshop specifically tailored to focus on ticketing. The workshop leader is Martin Austin of Nimbus Disability.
Bristol Hippodrome – Tuesday 25 April 11am-4pm
ACC Liverpool – Thursday 27 April 11am-4pm
SOLT/UK Theatre Offices, London – Friday 28 April 1pm-5pm
The workshops are organised by STAR in association with SOLT, UK Theatre and the National Arenas Association. If you are a member of one or more of these organisations and do not have the code to be able to book at the relevant discounted rate, please contact email@example.com
As much as I may sometimes appear a bit ‘picky’, there are a few things that really do “get my goat” – mainly when venues fail to abide by some pretty simple and very well publicized regulations, directives or laws.
If you have attended a conference, a briefing, a seminar or user group – or read one of our newsletters, or those of membership organisations or vendors, you cannot have missed the “All inclusive fees” discussion, guidance or compliance.
There are still some venues and systems who are not compliant – some blatantly, by adding fees in at the last possible moment, some who are technically not compliant, as they don’t display them completely ‘pre-contract’
Now, the fee is the fee, or fees. So you would have paid that anyhow, it’s about presentation.
What about items you didn’t ask for / didn’t want? “What do you mean?” I hear you ask.
I’m talking about extra cost items, such as ticket protection, merchandise or more commonly – DONATIONS
It’s the law, and has been for over two years now that you cannot add items into a basket that a customer has not actively chosen to add to their basket.
CONSUMER CONTRACT REGULATIONS (2014)
The Regulations make it clear that a trader won’t be able to charge a consumer for an item where it was selected for the consumer as part of that purchasing process, rather than the consumer actively choosing to add it to their basket.
For example, retailers are not allowed to charge for an extended warranty if it was added into your basket as a result of a pre-ticked box.
If a company does charge you in this way, you are entitled to your money back.
The Regulations make it clear that a trader won’t be able to charge a consumer for an item where it was selected for the consumer as part of that purchasing process, rather than the consumer actively choosing to add it to their basket.
For example, retailers are not allowed to charge for an extended warranty if it was added into your basket as a result of a pre-ticked box.
If a company does charge you in this way, you are entitled to your money back.
To be clear on this, if you ask a question such as “Would you like to give a £2 donation?” and the customer can answer YES and it’s added or NO and it’s not IS compliant, as they are making a clear decision……TO ADD IT.
If you add it into the basket and the emphasis is on them to REMOVE IT, SET AMOUNT TO ZERO or any other way of UNTICKING or DELETING then it is not compliant as THEY did not ADD IT. You did.
Heh, it’s a pain, I have worked with many venues over the last 10 years who collected size-able amounts from this type of auto-donation / round-up or other methods. I remember one or two possible times a customer had complained about it pre-these regulations. The simple fact is now, that you are not allowed to operate in this way. Many vendors have been innovative in making a light-box appear, a prompt or some other way of making the opt-in smoother and more appealing, with some even removing the ability to auto-add, a lot, it seems haven’t.
Venues, c’mon, regulations are there for a reason. Play nice, play fair.
In my twitter timeline I have seen tweets from BONCulture and Theatre2016 advertising the report of their conference, along with a headline of Samuel West “Theatre is not Ryanair”. Today I gave it a read.
The “Ryanair” part is actually a very small part, and talks of drinks and programmes at high prices in theatres. Of course, I agree with this. The headline is very weighted to one part and, actually, I firmly believe theatre NEEDS to be more like Ryanair – whoa! I can already hear teeth grinding, so just give me a chance on this one…….
For all that is sometimes portrayed to be bad about Ryanair, some fairly, some unfairly, “Rip off Fees” “Pay-per-use Toilets” “That DAMN Bugle” it has achieved many things that need to be applauded and that theatre could to well to at least strive for.
Price and Location Accessibility
Not twenty years ago, if you wanted to travel to Bucharest, for whatever reason, your choice was not really a choice. It probably started with “Drive to London” – your choice was then Gatwick or Heathrow and a choice of BA or Lufthansa / KLM via Munich or Amsterdam. All for the “bargain” price of perhaps £300 per person.
It’s great you can see them, folks living in London
So for those of you in the deep South-west, North-east England or Scotland, you were basically excluded from easy access for a weekend break by your geographical location. You would have to leave late Thursday/early Friday and and return early Sunday, and you’d spend more time travelling than enjoying the break.
The same is true of many shows that perhaps are born, live and die in London. It’s great you can see them, folks living in London, but those outside the South-east cannot see them, without an overnight and travel, yet more expense on top of a ticket, without even counting another day away from work.
Queue all day schemes are great, but again, if you have time or are geographically advantaged.
Price is a fun subject to talk about in ticketing or theatre. Let’s also face facts that not all, or perhaps ANY seats on Ryanair on FR2005 (yes Stansted is a London Airport!) – actually sell for £4.99 – but there are now examples of at least SOME seats being readily and fairly available to flyers around the country at this price. Theatre ‘queue all day’ schemes are great, but again, if you have time and/or are geographically advantaged.
So, making a range of accessible prices to people at locations across the UK (not just the South East) is a trait of Ryanair I would welcome in Theatre.
I have taken a fair few ‘punts’ on shows before. We all have, most likely at things like the Fringe. I have seen some from the awful, painful to the down right embarrassing. There have been some superb shows, though, not just at festivals. A trip last year to Welsh National Opera kicked me back into seeing Opera and also Symphony Orchestras. Not as a subscriber, but just enough to be engaged.
Looking back at that Bucharest trip – didn’t a lot of us get our first taste of European city breaks from Ryanair, Easyjet, Go!(remember them?) or BMI-Baby? For sure, now we are older, and, hopefully, with a better income, we can spend four days in Rome, then go onto Pisa and Milan. But in the past, unless you went Inter-railing (or lived in the South-east), it was budget airlines that opened up your mind to travel, to new ideas, architecture, food, drink or fashion.
New audiences come from experimentation
Without that £9.99 fare would we have been willing to experiment with a weekend away? It may seem like I am repeating myself here, but it’s not so much about the price but about the opportunity to experiment.
“Pay what you like”/”what it was worth” or ‘no-quibble’ refunds can be very risky, but the value conscious consumer likes service providers putting their money where their mouths are.
This is not the solution to all of the problems though. I remember talking to my bank manager about WNO and their “£5 Under 25” tickets (yes he was only 23) and he said he was not sure whether he would “risk it” – as it “wasn’t for him”.
New audiences come from experimentation or through recommendations after experimentation, so we need to help people broaden their consumption to new arts forms, just like Ryanair did with getting us to a weekend in Stavanger.
In the past I have blogged on airline loyalty. I love it and have recently ascended to another tier on my current programme. Board first, extra bag, upgrade, lounge – I’m sure many of you are familiar with the perks; these don’t really have a place in theatre, although some chains have their lounge programmes.
There is a snobbery with loyalty, or even among regular flyers – looking down on those who are in economy from their lie flat beds, or a snigger at someone not understanding a closed luggage bin means it’s full.
We must make all customers feel equally welcome
Let’s not forget that theatre – or let’s widen the definition to “buildings that show performances” – have rules, ettiquette as well as names and sounds that people don’t understand or appreciate exist.
Budget airlines stepped forward and wiped away a large amount of exclusivity or elitism. Yes there is “Speedy Boarding” (first to board the bus to the aircraft), but that was mainly used for you to be able to sit together. On board, there is no little curtain to separate rows 5 and 6, no different toilet etc., etc.
If you’ve flown in the past four years, you’ll be familiar with the announcement “we know many of you have heard this before, but please spare us a few minutes of your time” – frequent flyers may tut, but it is yet another inclusive, welcoming policy or wording that explains things.
We must make all customers feel equally welcome, that they are just as valued in the £15 seat as the £100 ones, just like Ryanair.
Becoming a Common Thing to Do
A week or two ago, I got chatting to a guy who I was fishing next to. He told me he was taking his first flight in September. (he is in his early 50’s). I was actually shocked, as I have chatted to him before and he did not strike me as a flight virgin. He asked me if I had flown before, so I replied “yes, 43 times this year”; he was equally shocked by my binge flying.
His is perhaps now becoming a harder to find story, just one of not getting round to an experience or wishing to do it. I am guessing, outside of medical or psychological issues, most of us, our family and friends have flown. A great many people’s first flight is on budget airlines (or only flights), because of price and accessibility issues.
Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.
This has led to flying being a normal thing to do: most people fly, have flown, have views on flying, airlines to compare, stories about great flights they have been on, as well as the odd unhappy ones or plain awful ones. In short, reviews, sharing, recommendations, talking about experiences, what we ALL want people to do about theatre. Share, recommend, encourage, organise group trips and bookings.
For sure Ryanair don’t make people share stories, but by breaking down barriers, they have, along with other airlines, made air travel more and more popular and something we regard as normal activity. Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.
Yes on Ryanair the drinks are overpriced and £20 EACH WAY for a suitcase may sound extreme, but this is just like the booking fees of some theatres. So we need to look at the overall contribution and barriers we need to remove.
Looking for what WORKS
No, we don’t want a bugle for another “On-time curtain up” for sure. It’s not that I am against Samuel West’s comments, but more the headline. Let’s look at what we can GAIN from other sectors to help ours succeed.
There are enough challenges for us right now, we should all be looking at opportunities.
Roger and I are running a repeating 20 minute session at the Arts Marketing Association conference in Birmingham later this July. It’s a brief introduction on how to use Google Analytics to dissect your customers’ online ticketing journey.
As part of our session we will look at how to identify the pinch points, drop outs and stall sections of the journey.
If it annoys you, it annoys customers, and annoyed customers can easily become just annoyed and not really customers.
As data drugs go, Google Analytics can be pretty addictive and there is nothing more satisfying than watching real time goal conversions and e-Commerce scripts firing in front of your monitor screen.
I spent last night doing just this, whilst logged into a large entertainment venue’s Google Analytics account to configure some new settings in order to collate some data.
To be honest, this session has crept up on me, so I decided to see what Google themselves have to say about online basket abandonment, when I came across this fantastic video.
As much as we can all laugh and appreciate the stupidity, we probably all recognize the symptoms here, and have probably all experienced them, buying anything from an airline ticket to that Christmas gift for Auntie Pat!
find out where and when people dropped out or walked away, even where they went to; what it will not do though is to definitively tell you WHY
The analytics approach is a great method to find out where and when people dropped out or walked away, even where they went to; what it will not do though is to definitively tell you WHY.
So, without naming venues or system providers here’s a quick 5 things to look through on your own journey before settling down to some Analytics.
1. No Seats or Limited Seats
It is amazing how few venues (or systems) actually allow and publish the fact that inventory is running low. There is nothing worse than navigating into a seating plan to find only two seats remain ( one in the stalls and one in the dress circle). With a high demand show, perhaps the potential booker will leave if they cannot purchase a specific performance, but, for trying to find ANY seats in a four week run, basic availability details per perfromances help customers find tickets and avoid frustration or walking away.
Whereas some systems can go down to exact inventory being held, AudienceView for example have a great traffic light system available as part of their standard package.
Simple Traffic Lights Help Customers Avoid Sold Out Performances
2. Ridiculous Data Collection
This is one that does seem to end sessions, not just in ticketing but anything on line: the over zealous data collection.
When does it become intrusive to ask all of this? When does the customer just walk away?
Name, Address, Email, Phone Number, Privacy Options – the famous five of online ticketing.
Whereas the example above is not actually a ticketing transaction, it often can be. We all know the power of data, but really, what do we want to do with a customer with tickets in the basket? That’s right, close the sale and take the funds. Data collection needs to be limited to what is required and what will help us stay in touch with and nurture the customer. How much of this could be obtained much earlier, especially by recognising returning customers through registration. Data Protection guidance in the UK is that we must recognise the returning customer and not repeat data collection and permissions.
Name, Address, Email, Phone Number, Privacy Options – everything else will only push the customer further away. If you need to ask / collect anything else, explain it and make it easy to do! We used to send follow-on “preference questionnaires” so we could tailor communications: definitely a better way to engage customers.
3. Payment Worries
So you have your tickets, you’ve selected your delivery, you’ve logged in and you press the pay button – Boom! You are transported to a new site, a new domain, a new ‘look and feel’ that is asking for Credit Card and address details.
I am not against third party payment screens, since a great many ticketing systems and e-commerce providers have to use them. We are all familiar with PayPal, being used to process eBay transactions or groceries from an online store, sometimes, they even have the logo in the corner! There are a great many on-line payment gateway providers, most of which, give the ticketing system company the chance to customise the page and ensure it is seamless in ‘look and feel’ to maintain the venue’s branding and identity through the purchase process.
But look at this example below: Now, should I be worried? Well I know that Theatre A uses System B and Payment Processor C so when I see the screen below I think I understand who I am dealing with, but what for the general public – jittery? Will they close the browser and plan to call tomorrow?
ACTUAL payment page for a theatre. Only the PSP Brand is blacked out. Note : ZERO Theatre branding or reference.
4. HTTPS Warnings
As per the last point really. You have a great new website where FINALLY you can deep link shows, up-sell, have rich media, and integrated credit card functionality. Then someone goes and adds unsecured links or resources to your transaction pages. The result? As below
Does this put off worried / vigilant consumers?
5. Fees at the ‘Last’ Chance
So despite the changes in legislation (in Europe and the UK) surrounding the presentation of fees PRE-CONTRACT (law since June 2014), there are still organisations who seem insistent on hiding fees from the the consumer until the last possible moment, in the shopping basket.
We would hope that those that are legally bound to show fees will do so, or Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority will be after them. However, if your venue does not have to comply with such legislation, perhaps you should try? All fees clearly upfront – “the price you see is the price you pay” – allows customers to have no nasty surprises in their basket.
Removing ‘price shock’ from the basket can allow you to focus on why there are people ditching their basket and try to resolve these issues as opposed to relying on a ‘hunch’ that the fees could have put them off.
What you could be doing today
Take time to go through and navigate your site, from start to end, from selecting some shows, registering a new account and even getting through to a payment screen.
I challenge anyone not to find ONE thing they could improve: it could be a typo, a font, a colour or layout or something aesthetic. It could be a circular process where you keep being referred back to where you came from – surprisingly common. Or a Continue button “below the fold” on tablets and laptops. Perhaps it is a mandatory field that’s not marked as such or not clear, meaning you have to keep putting your credit card and/or CVV number in over and over again. So there are issues for the web team or system provider to correct.
I will be around with Roger at Consultant’s Corner on the 21st July in Birmingham at the Rep if you want to discuss your own web ticketing issues.
More and more of my time is now being spent discussing with vendors and venues the subject of bar-codes. I might hasten to add, not how can we get more people to print at home, get them to their seats faster or even monetise the real estate on the piece of paper concerned. No, its all about the ongoing patent discussions.
I know there have been organisations who have paid licence or usage fees, as well as some, that have refused to. I am no patent expert, but I have my views on what is happening and its validity, which perhaps you can guess?
A number of vendors have discussed their conversations and actions with the company affected with me, as well as sharing some arguments put forward by the respective legal representatives. One has suggested, several have agreed that the Ticketing Institute website would be a good place for information to be shared, where it does not breach any legal agreements undertaken. I thought this was a great idea, and have now established a distribution list for this purpose.
This list will
Any questions, please contact us
I recently wrote about why booking fees are important, where I explained how booking fees brought a transparency to ticketing that helped the consumer to make informed purchasing decisions. So it seems a little contradictory to be writing this week that we should end booking fees. But, whilst I stand by what I wrote, I really don’t think that transparency is enough to gain the confidence of the ticket buying public. Although that explanation may help consumers understand why there are booking fees, it won’t convince them that they aren’t being ripped off. As I said, no one likes booking fees – given the choice ticketing companies would get rid of them if they could. After all why have a policy that so infuriates your customers if there was another way?
There is no need to unnecessarily alienate so many people with outdated policies and unjustifiable charges.
Ticketing never receives positive headlines. It is never going to be a popular industry, and at best it is just a necessary evil in order for fans to access their favourite artists, sports people, shows or events. And when demand outstrips supply, it is the Ticketing Industry that bears the brunt of the public’s wrath.
The perils of being the gatekeeper are just something the Ticketing Industry will have to put up with, since there is nothing that it can do about that. But it can and should eliminate some of the other practices that make it so unpopular. There is no need to unnecessarily alienate so many people with outdated policies and unjustifiable charges. Ticketing is a service industry and we should always remember that. Whilst the Ticketing Industry is never going to be popular, it would be considered more favourably if we adopted the following:
End the blanket “no exchanges and refunds” policy.
This is a policy formed entirely out of self interest. The theory behind it is that once a ticket is sold, decisions about marketing and pricing as well as operational decisions are made on the basis of that sale. So if an event has sold 1,000 tickets then the organisers will make financial decisions based on that volume of sales. If 500 of those tickets were to be returned, then those decisions may no longer be the correct ones and may cost the organiser money, particularly if those tickets are returned at a time too late to resell them (or after the advertising budget has been spent). This is all well and good and are legitimate concerns but there must be an alternative that can meet those concerns without alienating customers.
Because, for customers, this is a serious issue. In most other areas of retail a customer can return an unused product if they have changed their mind – as a minimum to exchange it for another product or a credit note. The Ticketing Industry is already given protection in the form of exclusion from the Distance Selling legistlation that allows consumers a 14 day window in which to change their mind and get a refund, so the blanket refusal to allow exchanges often leaves consumers with an expensive purchase, when other circumstances may be preventing them from using it. This has long been deemed an Unfair Term or Condition by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading.
Rather than a blanket ban, if customers are allowed to exchange their tickets for an alternative date, for a fee (recognising that there is an admin. cost) within a set time period (recognising the concerns of the event organiser) then not only is the customer happier, but it might also make them more confident about booking in advance. When there aren’t alternative dates there should be a resale option which offers to resell tickets on behalf of customers (provided that all other tickets are sold etc.).
Be transparent about the secondary market.
Currently the refusal to provide exchanges or refunds only provides fuel for the secondary sites such as Stubhub or Viagogo. By offering official resale channels (at face value with nominal admin. charges) they would eliminate the need for people to go to these secondary sites. This is important because the Secondary Ticketing market is one of the biggest causes of public resentment towards the Ticketing Industry.
A ticket is one of the only products where it is more expensive to purchase online.
In a free market economy people should be free to buy and sell tickets at whatever price they wish to. But there needs to be transparency about who is selling the tickets, particularly if they are coming from event organisers or primary ticketing companies. Those event organisers who do not wish for their tickets to be sold via these sites should stop the supply of them, not punish the customer who bought the tickets by cancelling them.
Make it cheaper online.
Although, as I explained last week, it does cost money to sell tickets, it is undoubtedly cheaper to do so online. A ticket is one of the only products where in practice it is usually more expensive to purchase online. There is no excuse for savings not to be passed on to the consumer
Stop the fees altogether.
One of the bug bears of consumers isn’t the existence of booking fees, per se, but it is the layering of fees (facility fee, booking fee, print-at-home fee, transaction fee). The reason why ticketing companies do this is to make the individual components appear smaller, rather than just having one, bigger fee. They should just bite the bullet and be honest about what they want to charge when people buy tickets. Or rather still, we should just eliminate fees altogether.
Ticketing fees should all be absorbed into the ticket price with ticketing companies buying tickets from event organisers at a negotiated wholesale price and sold at or around an agreed recommended retail price. Ticketing companies can negotiate their margin based on a mixture of volume and distribution opportunities, without it being played out in public – confusing and causing disillusionment in ticket buyers.
This is what the public wants and as a service industry this is what we should give them. However, for the public it will be a question of being careful of what you wish for because there will be two direct consequences.
1. It will make ticket buyers more vulnerable to being ripped off by rogue companies (see my previous post). The industry will also need to be much clearer about who are legitimate, authorised sellers and what consumers should expect to pay for different tickets.
2. It will put prices up for everyone. By eliminating booking fees it won’t eliminate the charges that sellers want to impose on ticketing. By absorbing these within the ticket price, it will only raise those prices for everybody. This will particularly be felt by those who buy tickets via sales channels that don’t currently incur booking fees now (such as in person sales at the box office). The current face values would likely become wholesale prices with retail prices being 10+% higher.
The higher ticket prices would then mean that a lot of the wrath of the ticket buying public would then move to the event organiser. Which is why, in reality, none of these things will actually happen.
You see, whilst not perfect, the Ticketing Industry is really the fall guy for event organisers. They, rather than the public, are its paymasters. They are the ones for whom the Ticketing Industry provides a service. The Ticketing Industry takes the blame and the public flack for the decisions of the event organisers.
Refunds and exchanges.
It really makes very little difference to the Ticketing Companies whether there are refunds or exchanges. Yes there is are some administration costs to doing so, which can be covered, but actually they pale into insignificance compared to the cost of dealing with the consequences of that policy from handling complaints right through to the reputational damage. A senior executive at a ticketing company told me recently that after a customer had complained so much they decided to refund the customer (at their own cost) in order to resolve the issue. The customer then tweeted that they had received a refund. Having read this, the promoter contacted the ticketing company demanding to know why a refund had been made without his permission. From a ticketing company’s point of view it would make life easier, enable them to have better relations with their customers and gather more data from additional customers (a consequence of reselling tickets), if event organisers allowed refunds / exchanges.
It is an open secret that some event organisers supply tickets directly to the secondary market in order to boost their income. The cloak of anonymity then allows them to decry the practice in public and lambast the Ticketing Industry that allows this to happen.
All ticketing companies would choose, if they could, not to have booking fees. It is the event organiser that decides otherwise. They are presented with the costs of ticketing and then choose to pass those costs on to their public (blaming the ticketing industry on the way). Of course, they should view the cost of ticketing as just another cost of putting on the event – they wouldn’t expect the customers to buy a ticket to an event with an additional lighting charge to pay for the costs of lighting that event.
..it is time for us all to engage in some sensible, adult, conversations and to make some changes..
So whilst the Ticketing Industry may wish to better serve the public it will often find that its hands are tied by policies which aren’t theirs but those of the people who have engaged them to sell tickets.
Many event organisers will say that they don’t have any choice and are unable to change the way tickets are sold because they don’t have enough clout on their own to take a stance. That may well be true but if we, as a live entertainment industry, continue to alienate those people who support our businesses by buying tickets, then we risk biting the hand that feeds us. And, if the Ticketing Industry really wanted to make a difference it could take a stance and demand a better service for their customers from event organisers.
Whoever takes the lead, it is time for us all to engage in some sensible, adult, conversations and to make some changes that ensure that it is the events that make the headlines, not the ticketing.
Many venues and organisations in the ticketing industry welcomed the November 2014 move by the UK House of Lords to add clauses to current legislation going through Parliament to extend the Consumer Rights Act. In a defeat for the Coalition Government, a cross-party coalition of Peers passed an amendment to curb the actions of ticket touts and to increase transparency in the event ticket resale market.
The amendments mean secondary market re-sellers and touts selling their tickets through major internet platforms like Seatwave and Viagogo will have to prominently disclose key facts to potential customers, including:
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, which held an inquiry at the beginning of 2014 into the secondary ticketing market, hope that the information being made public will enable event holders to identify the largest ticket touts and prevent them from buying up large quantities of tickets to re-sell, leaving ordinary fans with a better chance of getting tickets at face value, instead of being forced to pay inflated amounts on the secondary market.
It is almost 3 years since Channel 4 Television’s Dispatches programme: The Great Ticket Scandal, exposed how secondary platforms court major ticket touts and take allocations directly from promoters to sell on, above face value, to unsuspecting consumers.
And it is almost 2 years since Operation Podium, the Police unit set up to tackle Olympics-related crime, produced a report calling for legislation to tackle “unscrupulous practices, a lack of transparency and fraud” within the secondary market.
Of course, in this crazy world of ours, there are people in the ticketing industry happy to perpetrate this fraudulent and/or unscrupulous activity, and a UK Coalition Government that prefers to encourage rip-off Britain in the name of market ideology, at the expense of the public. So there is some dismay at the passage of the amendments, and plans to lobby Parliament against the amendment when the bill returns to the House of Commons. You might think that if you are honest, not planning fraudulent activity, not intending to rip people off, then you have nothing to fear from this consumer protection.
This article was commissioned by the Arts Marketing Association and published by UK Theatre in November 2014 on the provocations from politicians and the desire for “representative audiences” and culture for all
This June 2014, in a surprising co-incidence, both the new UK Culture Secretary and his Labour Shadow made speeches within days of each other about “cultural exclusion”.
“A lot of people who are paying to support culture through their taxes and lottery tickets seem to think that consuming it is simply not for them. That the work they subsidise is for other, richer people.” That’s Sajid Javid, the UK’s Culture Secretary in his first speech on Friday 6 June, at St George’s in Bristol. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/culture-for-all
“It is every child’s right to open up and explore their artistic and creative potential which should be a journey which goes on for the rest of their life…How, then, can we accept a situation where some get that opportunity and others do not? How can we tolerate cultural exclusion?” That’s Harriet Harman, the Labour Shadow Culture Secretary the following Monday, at the Roundhouse in London. http://press.labour.org.uk/post/88265413304/speech-on-young-people-and-the-arts-by-harriet-harman
Both of them laced their speeches with personal experience. Like Sajid Javid, Harriet Harman made the point about who the arts was actually reaching: “when I went to the Opera House last week – even from the cheapest seats in the house – I couldn’t see in the audience anyone who wasn’t like myself – white, metropolitan and middle class. For institutions which get public funds, it can’t be like that. To change audiences, there has to be committed, focused intervention.”
Sajid Javid: “Never forget that every penny of taxpayer support and lottery cash that goes to culture has been provided by hard-working people from every community in the UK. Communities like the one I grew up in. My family lived on a road that has been described as “Britain’s most dangerous street”. And for a bus driver’s son in that world, the idea of popping along to the Donmar Warehouse – or even the Bristol Old Vic – to take in a cutting-edge new production was simply not on the agenda. It wasn’t what people like me, people from my background did.
Harriet Harman went on to say “we must have state support through public funds for the arts. It cannot be left to the private market or philanthropy. But there is a democratic imperative for the arts to show why the hard-pressed tax payer – struggling with the cost of living crisis – should fund the arts.” Sajid David pointed out “I want you to make what you do accessible to everyone. That doesn’t mean striving for popularity and aiming for the lowest common denominator. It means ensuring that everyone in the UK has the opportunity to engage with our artists and actors, our history and heritage. It means giving everyone a chance to develop their own cultural tastes.”
Arts Council guidance
This ought to be the outcome of policy combined with the knowledge and experience of the sector. Current Arts Council England guidance to National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) is that they “will demonstrate how they are sharing their work with as large and wide an audience as possible, including those who are currently least-engaged with arts and culture.” Every NPO must have an audience development plan and priorities could be that:
“current audiences are not as representative of the local population as you would expect”
It does seem reasonable for every publicly funded arts organisation to make itself welcoming to the whole community around it, and to seek to engage with as many people as possible in appropriate ways, so that most sectors of society are “represented” in their audiences.
I often ask staff in arts organisations: When you are thinking about your customers, the potential attenders, what’s your perspective? Are you standing inside your venue looking out at them? Or are you standing out there with them, where they live, understanding their circumstances, and looking at your organisation from their perspective?
Not for the likes of you
Standing with them, what do they see in terms of the communications and messages coming at you through all the different media, all the different channels, the print and the advertising? If you were them, how genuinely friendly and welcoming is your organisation; how do your marketing messages and their means of communication relate to their circumstances and lifestyles? In arts marketing this is defined as “positioning”, often complicated by the apparent “ownership” of the arts in the UK by people of particular ages and socio-economic groups, with similar higher education levels.
This is also the ‘Not for the likes of you’ argument, based on extensive action research on 32 different cultural organisations in the UK. Though dating from 2004, it is even more relevant today than then. Their focus was on how a cultural organisation can become accessible to a broad general audience by changing its overall positioning and message, rather than just by implementing targeted audience development schemes or projects (though those of course are entirely necessary). http://culturehive.co.uk/resources/not-for-the-likes-of-you-how-to-reach-a-broader-audience There are many resources in the AMA’s CultureHive to help.
People working in the arts have long recognised that there are not just geographical barriers to attendance, but physical, social and psychological barriers, and the Arts Marketing Association conferences and workshops have regularly addressed the issues. Previous UK Government and Arts Council England policy had been criticized for trying to correct the imbalances in society, described by some as “social engineering”, but, though the emphasis may have shifted subtly, even today NPO guidance defines diversity as encompassing “responding to issues around race, ethnicity, faith, disability, age, gender, sexuality, class and economic disadvantage and any social and institutional barriers that prevent people from creating, participating or enjoying the arts”. ‘Representative audiences’ need to reflect all the communities they come from.
You will still hear criticism that being “more accessible” equates to “dumbing down” and is more “worthy” than realistic, but the practical “experience is that, far from suffering as a consequence of taking access seriously, your product gains new life, vibrancy and meaning. It connects with people in a new way, and so moves them as it was not able to do before” report the Not For The Likes of You researchers. It is do-able.
Francois Matarasso in ‘Many Voices’ points out that arts organisations “need to build trust in their good faith as convenors of a cultural discourse that is fair, inclusive and open. There is no reason to expect those who feel marginalised by existing public cultural policy to accept the legitimacy of public actors”. He was speaking in 2006, but this is a particularly interesting question in the changing make-up of UK society today. Though ethnic “minorities” remain such in many parts of Britain, the not-white populations of some of our major cities such as London, Birmingham and Leicester are reaching proportions that could question that “legitimacy”. What should city centre audiences look like in the cultural institutions in those cities? How should cultural institutions reflect the plurality of their surrounding societies? Some arts organisations – the Royal Shakespeare Company is a good example – work hard to ensure that their staff and actors are representative of contemporary society, but the continuing challenge is to achieve representative audiences. http://culturehive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/24446185-Many-Voices-by-Francois-Matarasso-2006_0.pdf
It remains the case that, despite the tools for segmentation and customer relationship management, many arts organisations messages are not ‘broadcast’ but ‘narrowcast’:– a single ‘message’, one tone of voice, one vocabulary, often using “insider” jargon and imagery. So while the tools for reaching different ‘target’ communities with appropriate ‘tailored’ messages for them are available, they are just not used as they could be. However, understanding the diversity of the opportunity needs dialogue and understanding, getting closer to people and listening, to find what is relevant to them. Experian reports that “52% of consumers would walk away from a company that tried to sell them something they weren’t interested in”. But where does the lack of interest come from? We can say the problems of arts education in the UK in recent years are not helping, but ‘Not for the likes of you’ action research demonstrated that real change was possible from arts organisations own holistic efforts.
It’s one of my number one annoyances when booking anything, not just tickets.
You’ve found what you want at a price you will pay, it is in the basket and you then start to set up the shipping.
That’s when my goat gets got.
I cannot be the only one who looked with a mixed viewpoint on the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance following on the UK Advertising Standards Authority rulings on fees.
At the time, working for a system supplier, I thought “Gee, we need to get on this straight away” – followed by some eager venues calling the help desk with demands to know what we were going to do to help them comply, not an entirely easy job.
From someone who when he speaks at conferences highlights the fact he dislikes add-on ticket fees, you may think I should have been celebrating. However, as much as I dislike fees, it is the unclear information around fees, either when they are to be charged, how much they are, or to what transactions they will be applied, that annoys the public, me included.
as much as I dislike fees, it is the unclear information around fees, either when they are to be charged, how much they are, or to what transactions they will be applied, that annoys the public, me included.
So here are some ‘to fee or not to fee’ scenarios and their, in my view, compliance.
The corner shop / pub.
Sign on the cash register, telling you that all credit and debit card transactions under £10 will be subject to a 50p surcharge to cover bank fees they incur. To avoid such a fee, I often add a chocolate bar to my goods to push me over the £10! On a low value transaction such as this, there is a low profit margin, one going to be significantly reduced by the bank commission charges, so the principle seems fair. As venues you may have a 19p charge per card from your bank but the corner shop will most likely have a higher rate and may pay more for the provision of the terminal, so it is a fair figure there too.
This is clear, fair and most important PRE-CONTRACT
The rate of 2% is often quoted as the commission on credit cards, so that would be 20p for a £9.99 transaction, but again many merchant deals are based on x pence plus y%, so probably we are still fair.
Finally, that low tech. piece of paper on the cash register clearly spells out before your goods are added up the charges you may incur paying by card, making it:
In many of the talks and seminars I have been to in the past six months on this subject, budget airlines seem to be blamed for “causing this” – **** air or ****jet, advertising a return ticket to Malaga for 25 pence only to reveal as we approach checkout that the price is subject to air tax, landing fees, passenger fuel duty surcharge, all of which you CANNOT AVOID, and then added cost options to have priority boarding, adding luggage etc, and even paying by DEBIT CARD saw us pay £6 per person per leg! So even though the airline was being charged 19p for our £400+ debit card transaction, they saw fit to impose £24 in fees, or in other words they saw a chance to make profit. Now in the main, EU regulations have forced the airline industry to clean its act up, so much so that I can be really annoyed when I find a bargain flight to the US, only to find out no taxes or fees are displayed. But in Europe at least they HAVE put their affairs. Presumably this is where we want our industry to get to?
Two examples I like are below. EasyJet on their pricing grid show the complete price, and over on the right they highlight the price difference if you pay with a Credit card, again what we want to see. British Airways are again very clear on the total price, telling us at the final stages that it is made up of their fare, plus charges imposed on them, giving us a further chance to see how that figure is made up, always useful to know that standing in line at immigration in the US costs you £4.20!
LHR – JFK Fees Explanation on BA.com
EasyJet Spells out CC Price Clearly
I did go looking but could not find any airlines (in the UK) that seemed to either breach regulations or mislead customers in the spirit of “what you see is what you pay”, but then I switched my attention to . . . .
The Entertainment Ticketing Industry
There does seem to be a massive amount of either confusion, apathy or just unwillingness to adopt the same practices as the Dog & Duck or Easyjet when I speak to venues, so I decided to see how bad it really was.
hang on – ALL tickets were subject to a £2 fee – so the tickets weren’t £18.50 were they?
I went on a hunt for non compliant sites. The first one I found was more of a technicality, as it quoted prices in its Internet ticketing engine and then a pop up box stated a £4 extra premium charge at some times. Well that should all be in the from and to quoted price, with the most expensive tickets on the premium shows being the “top price”. But hang on – ALL tickets were subject to a £2 fee – so the tickets weren’t £18.50 were they? They were actually £20.50. Fair enough there was an explanation of this if I went on clicking, but the airlines don’t need a separate pop-up box, so why does the blank blank blank?
Technically not compliant but a step in the right direction?
I hit a fair few more, the Dominion with their presentation of Evita had a very CLEARLY laid out banner talking of seat levies and postage charges before I had even had chance to pick my seat, again, CLEAR, SIMPLE, PRE-CONTRACT.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of venues with no transaction or booking fees at all. Yes, many were own productions and self-promoted, but good to see. Who knows? Perhaps the cost of the box office is now rolled into the promoter deal for some of the shows I looked at? That in itself is a massive step forward.
So it is not that bad now is it, Andrew?
So I didn’t find countless examples of venues not showing or even discussing prices until the basket. So if the only thing we do have to worry about is the application and being technically incorrect in how we display prices and fees, then we may be finally “getting the message” that the public want transparency, not to mention the regulators. I fear there are hundreds of other venues who are not doing it though, whether from choice, ignorance or because their system perhaps does not easily support it.
The question is therefore not’ to fee or not to (display) fee’, but who is going to take the non-complying venues to task and when?
we may be finally “getting the message” that people want transparency