Ideas from the team


Why University Arts Organisations Need a Ticketing Platform

Arts organisations funded by a university or located on university campuses are in a unique position.

Being locked away on campus brings lots of challenges but also plenty of opportunities: on the one hand, you have access to a large student audience, but you’re deprived of any other passers by; in addition, the university is usually well-funded compared to other arts venues, but the institutional processes and procedures can sometimes be clunky.

If you’re the director of an organisation like this, you’re probably already aware that the right ticketing solution can not only help you overcome hurdles, but also unlock the potential of these opportunities. All this further contributes to the goals of the university your venue is a part of, and the more embedded you are with the university, the better equipped you’ll be to max out these opportunities to benefit your audiences, staff and the university. It’s a no brainer.

But how do you make the case for investing in the right ticketing solution? Making a strong case to the governing body of the Higher Education Institution that hosts your venue to allocate core budget or fundraise to pay for a best-in-class ticketing and CRM tool can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Here are three key points you can highlight to your decision-makers to get them on board.

1. The way universities get their funding is changing, so how they spend should change too.

The challenge: funding is being squeezed and researchers are under pressure to demonstrate impact

Just like the arts sector, the education sector has had its funding squeezed in recent years. Universities have to be smarter than ever in managing their finances, responding to changes in demands from funders and finding new sources of income.

The Research Excellence Framework is the system used to assess the quality of research in UK higher education and provides a basis for funding distribution. The framework has changed quite drastically in recent years and it’s now become vital for researchers and academic departments (often working in well-established and sometimes archaic institutions) to make sure their research has impact on the wider world and to measure that impact.

The solution: invest in public engagement, capitalising on the expertise of your arts organisation

One way to do this is through public engagement. Out there in the real world, people are already engaging with all kinds of subjects through the arts on a huge scale. Through cinema, theatre, museums, TV, gaming, journalism and the whole creative sector, research in the arts and humanities and across different disciplines is informing our cultural landscape.

With that in mind, it should be possible to get the public engaged with research via high-quality events and publications. For a great example of this, just look at the rise in small theatre companies co-producing with charities to raise awareness of topics like suicide prevention or the importance of knowing CPR, such as Unlimited Theatre’s production ‘Am I Dead Yet?’ and ‘Catch Me’ at Arts Theatre, supported by CALM.

As arts organisations, highlight the fact that you already know how to engage with the public. Now academics have to do this too so they’re in dire need of your skills and knowledge as arts programmers and arts marketers, to help them develop public engagement activities. If you use your inherent understanding of audiences and communities to act as a beacon for excellence in public engagement, you can further prove the organisation’s worth to the administration. By providing consultation and expertise to academics you’ll drive up the quality of their public engagement which will drive up the university’s score in research excellence, directly impacting their funding.

The takeaway

The university budget-holders should restructure the way they spend by allocating cash to support the development of high quality public engagement work and move away from relying on being funded through research grants. Core funding should pay for the tools the arts organisation needs to support academics to deliver amazing public engagement for their research.

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2. Arts organisations can provide well-needed events marketing and ticketing expertise.

The challenge: university-produced events haven’t caught up with audience expectations

You know the old adage that says just because you’re an expert in something, it doesn’t make you a good teacher? Well, this is certainly true for devising and producing public engagement events too.

University-produced events are not always as high quality as the education they provide. I’ve been to loads of events run by academics that are badly organised, a shambles on the night, and lack any post-show engagement, even though the actual content is usually great. Lots of amazing events, often free or nominally charged, do ticketing via emailing or online event management tools where they don’t own the data.

This leads to an intensely frustrating customer experience. We’re used to buying everything online now, and appreciate the immediacy of a confirmation email, not having to wait until working hours to get a response and hoping that it hasn’t sold out. It also leads to missed opportunities to for the event organiser to properly engage and market to customers afterwards.

The solution: leverage the expertise of the arts organisation and drive audience engagement

If the university have their very own arts organisation on site that regularly tickets events, then why don’t they ticket through them? There are plenty of benefits to highlight:

  • The experience of booking online for the customer will be better.
  • With access to the data, they’ll be able to remarket back to them next time there is a similar event.
  • It saves some poor administrator trying to keep track of event attendees when they have other things to do.

University events are often one-offs and exclusive to your organisation so this USP should help drive particular audiences your way, then you have the opportunity to convert them into regular attenders. Good audience insight tools and segmentation modelling makes the most of this opportunity.

The university could also provide ticketing services to other organisations off campus who don't have the resources themselves. This would allow them to provide much needed support to those organisations at very little cost, while further growing their database of arts lovers. Read our guide to acting as a ticket agent on the behalf of other organisations for help with this.

The takeaway

A good ticketing, CRM and marketing tool, alongside staff who know how to use it and have experience in the cultural sector is now vital equipment for universities. Investment (relatively small by HEI standards) in the proper tools will make it easier for them to fulfil their impact agenda requirements, secure their funding and guarantee excellence in public engagement for the future. What’s more, by providing a high quality arts destination on site they become more attractive to students and better positioned to add value to their local area.

3. Your organisation helps expose more and different types of people to the university

The challenge: universities aren’t making the most of opportunities for capturing data

I’ll bet that there are more than just existing students and staff visiting your organisation - am I right? You’re bringing people onto campus who might never otherwise come and as such contribute massively to the potential students, employees and donors for the university. But without the right CRM or marketing system to identify these people, you’re missing out on opportunities to engage with a potential new student, staff member or fundraising prospect.

The solution: the tools to capture audience data and gain insights

A good CRM and marketing tool enables you to identify these people and feed that information to the appropriate departments within the university. When academics start using your ticketing services (and even free events can be ticketed), they’ll also be able to track attendance, get insight into the types of people coming to their events and vitally, retarget them again when they’re doing something similar.

The takeaway

Great data capture and audience insight will do wonders for your organisation and the university. You’ll be able to draw on a data set that grows and grows thanks to the public engagement activities administered through your system. This will help you build a really strong communications and audience development strategy for the organisation itself, making it more resilient and driving up revenue to feed back into achieving the university’s goals.

The really great universities consider how they can capitalise on the insight into how their students engage with culture on campus and use that to develop a ‘keep in touch’ journey for their students through graduation and into the real world. These alumni can then be cultivated for fundraising opportunities, at the organisation and the university, using the knowledge you have gathered of their cultural interests.

Key questions to ask

It’s fantastic that academics are starting to think about and carry out ways of engaging the public with their work. But we need to ask some key questions if it’s going to make an impact:

  • Is this activity embedded enough into the university’s governance and funding structure?
  • Academics now know to write in budget lines for engagement work on any of their research funding bids, but is resource for this written into the university’s main budgets?
  • Universities have to dedicate financial and other resource to infrastructure that enables the other aspects of research in their planning – why not also dedicate resource to a ticketing and CRM system for public engagement?


A sophisticated ticketing and CRM system can make all the difference for an art organisation on campus. It can:

  • Support the delivery of public engagement events and activity for academics across the university – easy ticketing, venue booking, professional marketing, ensuring full events and satisfied audiences
  • Help capture more information and analyse the behaviour of the audience who attend academic driven events so the impact can be measured and demonstrated easily for case studies for the REF and for internal and external advocacy.
  • Enable better understanding of what students spend their time doing on campus and use that to inform longer term fundraising strategies

Thank you Jess and David from the Gulbenkian for contributing to this piece.

Have you had any experience in a university arts organisation making the case for your own ticketing & CRM system? Tell us what did and didn’t work in the comments.