Whether it’s to do with funding, community involvement or audience engagement, often arts organizations in the same town or city face similar challenges. In some areas venues are coming together to see how they can collaborate to meet these challenges head on. They can do this by sharing audience insight, working together on developing a festival program or collaborating on marketing activity. Whatever it is, they recognise that everyone needs to work together to make the arts more successful as a sector.
Organizations coming together to share resources have the potential to offer a range of benefits, from enhanced customer service to greater audience insight and reduced costs. However, these benefits can only be realized if organizational goals are aligned, both now and in the future. Only then can you make a case for sharing something like a ticketing system.
Making a case for a shared system
If you think this could be something your organization might want to do, you should consider what resources you have at your disposal and if you can share them to save time and money.
Before deciding to implement a shared ticketing system across separate organizations, you should think about whether there is a strong and sustainable case for it. All of the partners involved need to establish if they have common business goals and how both the common and individual goals would be supported by a shared system.
Here are some things to think about:
Is it possible to maintain your level of customer service?
If customers have a relationship with you or any of the other organizations already, you’ll want to make sure customers will receive the same or better service.
One of the main focus points of a shared system might be to provide a single ticketing outlet for the cultural offer of a town or city. Venues could sell for each other at their box offices and a single website could offer online bookings for events taking place at any of the partner venues. If organizations aren’t near to each other or if they have a very different program of events and activities, a single point of sale can be less valuable in providing better customer service, so this alone doesn’t make the case for a shared system compelling.
How can you use the shared system for marketing and audience development?
When organizations are near each other, there’s probably a lot of crossover in the customer data they hold on their systems. A shared system may offer you the opportunity to consolidate this information, giving each organization a more complete picture of how customers engage with the cultural offering in the region.
A better understanding of customer engagement could help inform your product and audience development strategies, helping partner organizations to work together and offer a balanced program of events and activities for the region. When marketing these events, you can make effective use of a shared system by making sure that schemes are targeted at the right people at the right time and that you’re not bombarding customers with conflicting messages.
Arts organizations work hard to develop a distinct brand so that they stand out, and many have spent years cultivating relationships with their audience. If venues aren’t near each other, or if they offer quite different programs, there may not be much crossover in audience. In this case, you’d need to evaluate if a shared system with tools and configurations common to the group will give you the freedom and flexibility you would have with your own system.
Will you be able to cut costs and generate revenue?
All arts organizations need to work within a robust and cost effective business model. Within your own organization, check that you’re equipped to deal with changes to funding arrangements and shifts in the wider economy. If you’re considering sharing any resource, including a ticketing system, find out if there are savings it could result in. You should think about the potential for indirect savings, such as consolidating certain functions like event setup or dispatching postal bookings. Evaluate the value of any such saving against the benefits and any compromises there will be if you share a system.
How will you be able to increase customer spend?
You should always be looking for opportunities to increase customer spend and diversify revenue streams. A shared ticketing system could mean you’ll have more opportunities to partner events in a single transaction, as there will be a higher number of related events and activities available to customers. For example, with a diverse and joined up cultural program available from any point of sale, you could structure a city wide membership scheme to generate a higher return on investment than separate schemes running at each organization.
Will you benefit from shared initiatives?
If organizations in the group are operating as non-profits and running their own individual giving campaigns, you should think about how any shared initiatives will affect their relationship with prospects, supporters and sponsors. Organizations that generate a proportion of their revenue through fundraising schemes will need a system which provides them with the tools to cultivate supporters and manage the relationship with them.
Think about the customer experience
Another thing to consider is the experience of customers as they engage with each organization. From a customer's point of view, there might be confusion over the location of the event they’ve booked for or it may not be clear to them who they’re giving their details to. You’ll need to ensure that your messaging to customers is really clear so that they understand who they’re engaging with, and who to contact if they need to make any changes to their booking. Think about the online customer journey, as you’ll want to make it clear that customers have just one account and one customer record across all of the venues.
Be consistent in the service being offered across the venues. Think about policies such as refunds and exchanges. If the customer books for events across multiple venues, what happens if they can no longer attend? Will the same policies be adopted across all organizations so that there is some consistency in what you are offering?
Are the other organizations an operational fit?
If you’re in a group of organizations who agree to share the same ticketing system, it has to be a system that offers the functionality needed by each partner and everyone as a group. It should let everyone manage procedures which are common to all of them so that they can provide a high level of service to their audiences and meet their collective business goals.
The system should support their individual goals so that no partner is required to make significant compromises to their ways of working. For example, a mid-sized arts center and a community visitors center may share a small number of operational requirements, but all of the differences between their businesses are unlikely to be addressed by any one system on the market. Trying to implement a system that doesn’t fit with the needs and goals required for all the organizations involved will ultimately undermine the benefits of any collaboration.
When building the case for organizations sharing a ticketing system, consider and evaluate other approaches too. There may be simpler and lower impact options which could provide a good opportunity to test shared ways of working.
If the organizations were to operate separate systems, could common reporting formats and an agreed segmentation model be a good starting point for building a shared audience development strategy? Could small allocations of tickets for related events be shared between venues to facilitate cross-selling activity? If some or all of the venues are operating their own instance of the same ticketing system, could they collaborate on training and share staffing during busy on-sales?
Once you agree to work together
If you agree to use a shared system, you need to plan how you’re going to work with other organizations to make sure the arrangement is successful in the long term. All partners should be open to new ways of thinking and considering not just their own needs, but also the needs of the wider group. Everyone should look beyond day to day operations and think about how you will formalise and manage the relationship. Here are just some of the questions to ask yourself:
What will be the structure and governance of the group?
- Will there be an overarching company independent of partners, or will one partner be the lead organization?
- What, if any contractual agreement will exist between the partners?
- How will you agree on strategic decisions on the use of a shared system?
- Who will be responsible for contracts and commercial relationships with suppliers?
- How will the group decide on addition of new partners?
- How will you manage any exit from the group by one or more partner?
How will you control the data?
- What data capture will be common to all organizations and what, if any, will be unique to individual organizations?
- How will you agree on the use of customer data and who will be the controller of data held by all venues held in the group?
- How will customers know who has access to their data and how can they change their marketing preferences?
- If a partner venue chooses to leave the group, can they have access to any of the data they have captured? This point requires careful consideration, particularly if the collaboration is likely to be for a fixed or short term period. We’ve explored the complexities to extracting a partner from a shared ticketing system here.
How will the system be managed?
- How will you find the most appropriate system?
- Who will be responsible for managing the configuration of the system?
- Who will assign access to users?
- What functions will be carried at the venues and what functions will be carried out on behalf of the group? (e.g. event setup, segmentation, report building, sending marketing communications)
- How will the system integrate with customer-facing websites and who will be responsible for any website rebuilds or refreshes?
Each organization who is considering taking part in such a collaboration should spend time carefully evaluating the benefit to them and to the wider group, against any compromises needed to facilitate this new way of working. There are many benefits to having a shared system as long as all the organizations involved have similar goals in mind.
To read about this in more detail, check out our white paper How to Get it Right with Shared Ticketing Systems.