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Case Study: How Actor’s Express Grew Income by 65%

Little Shop of Horrors at Actor's Express.

Touted as Atlanta’s “gutsiest” theatre company, Actor’s Express was one of the first theatres in North America to use Spektrix and we couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve achieved.

From the 2013/14 season to the 2016/17 season, earned income grew by 65% from just around $250K to over $400K. All this while not increasing the number of programming days or marketing expenses.

How did they achieve these results? Managing Director Alex Scollon says, “at least half the reason our earned revenue grew so much is because we finally know who we are talking to, what shows they have seen already and what shows they would like to see again.”

But good data is just step one. Creating new routines and processes for staff members to be able to take action based on that data is a whole different story. Alex and his team at Actor’s Express deserve all the credit for making that happen. As their second full season with Spektrix came to a close this summer, we thought it was a good moment to reflect on lessons learned from Actor’s Express that will be applicable to many other theatres hoping to kickstart their patron engagement efforts.

1. Segment customer data to deepen relationships

There are lots of ways to segment your customers. Probably the most straightforward way is to segment by those who have purchased tickets to your upcoming show and those who haven’t. But prior to using Spektrix, Actor’s Express wasn’t able to access real-time box office data and even when they got data, it was often missing crucial information (such as when exactly the ticket was purchased). Because of this, they were forced to send marketing emails about upcoming shows to their full email list knowing that some of those emails were at best redundant and at worst, a missed opportunity to deepen their relationship with their patrons.

Now with Spektrix, Actor’s Express uses real-time box office data and easy drag-and-drop customer list building tools to create a customer list that is automatically updated based on the booking behavior of their patrons. This way when someone books a ticket for an upcoming run of shows, they are easily excluded from all subsequent email marketing communications about that show and instead, they receive information about future shows.

This builds awareness about the production early, increases the ROI on marketing efforts and perhaps even more importantly, allows them to build a more positive and proactive relationship with their customers. A relationship that has not just increased earned revenue, but also undoubtedly had an impact on contributed revenue, which grew by more than 150% in the past four seasons.

“At least half the reason our earned revenue grew so much is because we finally know who we are talking to, what shows they have seen already and what shows they would like to see again.” - Alex Scollon, Managing Director

2. Run limited offers to bring patrons back

It’s no secret that customer retention is a persistent challenge faced by arts organizations. There is so much competition for leisure activity these days and everything from the latest Netflix special to a new celebrity chef’s restaurant in town can take mindshare and income away from arts organizations. As with the segmentation example above, there are lots of strategies for encouraging reattendance. Being proactive about getting customers to purchase tickets to more than one show in a season is a great start, but inevitably it won’t be enough.

Recognizing this, Actor’s Express decided to use the Spektrix offers engine to entice lapsed customers back to the theatre. For example, customers who had not purchased tickets in over a year and a half were offered a discounted $30 ticket for select upcoming shows. Creating this offer within Spektrix with our customer tags was easy and automated so no additional work was needed to ensure these customers got their discount. Using a similar strategy Actor’s Express also used offers to entice would-be weekday ticket buyers for shows that were in lower demand. Making up about 5% of total earned income over the past two seasons, offers have proved a powerful tool to bring more price sensitive patrons to the theatre.  

3. Influence patron behaviour with dynamic pricing

Segmentation and limited offers are a tool for increasing the volume of tickets sold, but another crucial tool for revenue growth is getting your pricing right. This means being able to adjust your price to reflect demand for tickets. To do this, Actor’s Express set up a report to be emailed automatically to their staff each morning and got in the habit of reviewing ticket sales every day. With this data in hand they have come up with a set of rules that make sense for their audience and are changing prices appropriately. When a show is 50% sold, they raise the price a bit; when it’s 75% sold, they raise prices a bit more.

The effect of these tactics is that ticket prices for in-demand shows increase as the show date gets closer. This has many benefits to Actor’s Express beyond simply contributing to growing ticket revenues. For one thing, if patrons know that ticket prices are lower when they first go on sale it encourages them to book early. That means more time for Actor’s Express to further engage them and sell tickets to a subsequent show, potentially increasing customer loyalty. In addition, it’s important to realize that in the arts, our power to predict how popular a show might be is limited. We need to develop processes to gather and respond to real-time data. Unfortunately, our research at Spektrix suggests we aren’t particularly good at this as an industry. Even more kudos to Actor’s Express for being an outlier in this regard.

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For Actor’s Express, the goal of a new platform was simple: better understand their audience’s behavior and spend more time being thoughtful and creative in their communication strategy. The results speak for themselves and we couldn’t be happier to call Actor’s Express a member of the Spektrix family.

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