Ideas from the team


Meeting the challenges of the new arts economy

Cambridge Folk Festival. Photo by Rich Etteridge.

Formed in the Spring of 2015, Cambridge Live is an amalgamation of former Cambridge City Council venues, attractions and staff promoting more than 400 events and reaching 300,000 visitors each year. By wrapping the council’s creative and cultural properties under a single banner, the new organization was designed from the start to meet the challenges of the post-budget cuts arts economy. Reduced funding was a constant challenge and, like many organizations, it had a smoothly functioning box office already in place, managing a growing number of events, performances and workshops on a daily basis. It made pure business sense to wring more out of assets like its box office operation to bring in extra revenue.

Enabling a new business model quickly and cost-effectively also requires new investments in technology. Cambridge Live was looking for a box office system with full CRM functionality, where data extraction would be much easier and less time-consuming. It also wanted a more developed fundraising capability to support its non-profit model.So, Cambridge Live needed something robust enough to support the organization’s moves to diversify its business. It wanted to expand the use of its various venues, and also act as a ticketing agency for the whole of the east of England. Ticketing complexity and customer experience were issues that needed to be addressed. While ticketing for the Corn Exchange and the Guildhall was fairly straightforward, the online purchase journey for the Cambridge Folk Festival was in need of simplification.

“The folk festival is very complex ticketing-wise,” said David O’Hara, Head of Sales and Marketing. “If you buy a weekend ticket there are numerous optional inclusions for camping. If you travel as a family, children must be accompanied and only an adult can buy a child’s ticket. We needed to simplify the purchase process for all these conditional sales as much as possible – and somehow make the variety of choices at each step seem easy for the customer.”

A new platform

To meet all these needs Cambridge Live opted for the Spektrix box office management system. Based in the cloud and needing only an internet connection to use, Spektrix is designed to be quick and intuitive for end-users, be they staff in the box office or customers making a ticket purchase from desktop or mobile. The system’s application program interface (API) makes integration with venue websites a straightforward technical proposition, while at the back-end it captures and correlates sales and charitable-givingdata from all customer touchpoints with the organization.

Timing was crucial. Implementation would begin in August 2015 and once switched on we would have to immediately support current programs as well as the forthcoming on-sale date for the folk festival. The question was, could the new system cope? Would it be ready in time? Would it integrate easily with the Cambridge Live website and provide the optimal user experience as promised?

Smooth implementation

Implementation involved weaving together multiple existing databases from marketing data held by partner Purple Seven to email contacts, box office transactional data and development lists. With that in place the software’s e-commerce capabilities also needed to be fully integrated and flawlessly operational within the Cambridge Live website, requiring close collaboration with the organization’s website provider.

After a smooth, three-month implementation process, the software went live in October. Ticketing for a show on the Saturday that week switched over without a hitch. The next big challenge would be the Folk Festival’s 2016 on-sale day in November.

On the first day of sales 3,115 tickets were sold with an income of £337,800 ($496,190). Compared to the previous year, that meant an increase of 6% in the volume of tickets sold, with about 86% of sales happening online, and a total increase in revenue of 7%. On top of that, a conversion rate of 26.2% was achieved for customers making a donation while booking, and an average donation size of £3.20 ($4.20) for their education program.

“We were very pleased with these numbers but just as important was the uplift in positive customer feedback,” said David O’Hara. “The day after the Spektrix implementation, one of our trustees logged on and was impressed to see his entire ticketing history from council days to present. That was a great moment.”

This article was originally published in Arts Professional.