Every dollar at the box office matters, whether the show is community theatre or a full-bore Equity production. However, word of mouth marketing also matters, and in many cases forms the foundation of a show’s promotional plan. Although most groups in Simcoe and Huronia are becoming increasingly skilled at using social media and databases to market their productions, once the curtains go up, the empty seats can never again be filled. Empty seats do not sit in inventory to be sold another day once ‘word gets around’.
So what about strategic complimentary tickets? Many groups or theatre companies are reluctant to issue comp tickets, perhaps in the fear that a willing paying customer will be denied a seat, or that the holder of the comp ticket, not valuing their gift, may not show up at the door. However, a comp ticket when used to thank local sponsors and prop donors, or to attract the attention of municipal politicians, can be viewed as part of a strategy to build partnerships and develop understanding which in turn can bear fruit in the future.
The issue of comp tickets popped up again recently when I was speaking to a local Orillia Councillor about issues surrounding arts and culture in Orillia. It would be fair and accurate to say that no one on the present Orillia City Council, from the Mayor on down, is a regular ticket-buying patron of live theatre. In fact, this Councillor admitted that he himself has little time to attend shows at the Opera House due to evening committee obligations. What little time remains he wants to spend with his family. He also pointed out that unless one has an income separate from the $30,000 per year Council salary, personal budgeting does not allow discretionary spending on theatre, whether a personal interest exists or not.
However, isn’t it important that municipal politicians personally experience and witness their local theatre activities? They in fact control, or most certainly influence, the policies affecting the performance facilities and the overall cultural life in all of our towns and cities. When the day comes, and it surely always does, to call on Councillors for their support for one thing or another, isn’t it advantageous that they know their local theatre scene on a first-hand basis?
A perfect use for comp tickets, wouldn’t you think? Yet, we go back to an inherent reluctance to issue freebies to politicians (or anyone else). Perhaps there is a lack of awareness of how a strategic freebie can pay off. I am not suggesting that special front-and-centre seats be reserved for the Mayor or Councillors; that would be rather blatant and embarrassing for all concerned. And certainly some procedure for monitoring whether a comp ticket will be used or not should be incorporated so a ticket does not go to waste. However, at the end of the day, an opportunity is lost whenever there are empty seats. Ticket sales histories can be a guide as to how many comps can be issued during a typical show’s duration; it may not be either necessary or wise to ‘comp out’ Opening Night. However, a strategy of targeted freebies should be part of a marketing plan to gain word of mouth favour, to build sponsorship partnerships, and to curry understanding amongst municipal representatives.
On the other hand, maybe your shows are always full sell-outs. Certainly attendance at the fall productions across Simcoe and Huronia were very strong. Some groups even considered adding extra shows to accommodate the surge in demand! This brings up an interesting development in ticket pricing being explored in certain cities. Read the article below, from a recent issue of the Globe & Mail…
Coming soon to a theatre near you: Demand-based ticket pricing
by J. Kelly Nestruck (Globe & Mail, Toronto)
To listen to his colleagues, Howard Jang, executive director of Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company, has joined a cult. “Howard’s drunk the TRG Kool-Aid,” they say, when Jang goes off on his latest tear about dynamic pricing or how to grow patrons up the ladder of loyalty.
At first, Jang was skeptical about TRG – he thought it sounded like a “money grab,” he recalls. But now, he’s a true believer in the group’s power to read box-office numbers as if they were numerology and make predictions about the future.
“What TRG has helped us do is take the information in our database – ticket patterns, what seats sell better – and provide a deeper sense of analysis and help us appreciate how powerful our data is,” explains Jang, breathlessly, over the phone from Vancouver.
Jang is not alone. Over the past six years, TRG – a Colorado-based consulting firm – has become as big a talking point for Canadian performing-arts administrators as pollster Nate Silver’s similarly data-driven methods were to political junkies in the recent U.S. election.