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Razzle dazzle ‘em: Why Municipal and University Venues Need Their Own Websites

Kerry Lagan talks about why it’s important for your venue to have your own website, separate to that of your parent organization. Your customers will appreciate it.

Why Local-Authority and University Venues Need Their Own Websites

If you work in an arts organization that’s part of a larger parent organization like a municipal government or university, it can be tempting to share a website and keep all services under one roof. This can make your website cheaper and easier for your IT team to maintain. It can also be really useful to have lots of practical information kept in one place.

However, if you’re an arts organization there are a number of reasons why it’s better to go solo and have your own online presence:

  • Long gone are the days where your theatre website was just an information portal with listings of current events. Our research indicates that it can vary from 45-90% of sales being made online, making your website a business-critical tool.
  • A unique website sets you apart from other day-to-day council services (like parking and trash collection) allowing you to showcase your programme and engage with your audience. Customers booking through your website form an impression of your venue before even arriving for the show so this needs to be a positive one!
  • Having your own website helps put you above the competition, raising your profile, creating your own identity and encouraging customers to visit your venue rather than others in your local area. Becoming indispensable to the local community and reminding your audience why they should keep coming back will help your venue become as self-sustaining as possible.

How Princes Hall found their own online identity

An organization making the most of this is Princes Hall in Aldershot, who are operated by Rushmoor Borough council. Having their own website has helped the venue to maintain the high level of customer service online that their customers receive. Putting their audience first has been the key to their success.

Although the Princes Hall website originally came to life as part of the Rushmoor Borough council site, the venue team knew they needed their own website with its own look and feel which would be a reflection of the venue and its brand. A large part of this was having a memorable domain name that the audience could associate with the venue and easily find when they wanted to book tickets or find more information.

The team at Princes Hall made the case to the council that they needed to sell tickets through their website and as a primary sales tool, they needed to achieve the high level of customer service online that they did in the venue. Ed Haversham, Marketing and Box Office Manager, points out that,

“with services like Amazon offering online purchases in one-click it has been essential that we keep up with the increasing expectations of customers.”

Having a separate site also made maintenance easier as it meant that the venue team could keep everything up-to-date themselves, rather than having to rely on the council to do this for them and often sending countless emails back and forth. Fourteen years on, having their own website has helped Princes Hall become as self-sustaining as possible and a valuable asset to Rushmoor Borough council.

Customers can now book tickets from the homepage and complete the entire process in just a few clicks. Show times and visitor information is easy to find and additional information about the venue’s history and team build a friendly face.

Having a clear purchase path means a positive experience for the user and allows Princes Hall to cross-sell to others shows and up-sell merchandise, increasing the customer’s basket and likely spend. A streamlined service has meant they’re able to act as a ticketing agent for other organizations, bringing more revenue to the venue.

“Knowing exactly what we wanted from our website meant it could be as customer focused as possible, and the council’s web team were happy to support our goals. Both the Princes Hall and the council are keen to keep developing our web offer, and if needed we are the ideal guinea-pig for trying new methods of interaction with customers. By offering high levels of customer service,  we’ve built audience loyalty, helping us become as self-sustaining as possible” - Ed Haversham, Marketing and Box Office Manager at Princes Hall

What should you do now?

The risk of not having your own website is a frustrating and disorienting experience for your audience as they try and navigate between various different pages within one site. To make things as easy as possible for your online customers, here are a couple of things to think about when considering your website options:

  • Make it easy to browse and book. Multiple windows and clicks discourage customers from browsing your site, let alone making a purchase and entering their credit card details. The customer’s time should be spent browsing and thinking about what shows they’d like to see, not trying to complete the booking process.
  • Show your customers your website is safe. One of the main reasons customers abandon baskets online is through fear that a website isn’t secure and not wanting to share their card details. If a consumer can’t understand your website and exactly where they’re being lead, you won’t gain their trust.
  • Keep things simple. It’s also important to consider that the majority of your audience are unlikely to know (or care!) that your venue is owned by a municipality or university. This makes an unwieldy website all the more confusing.
  • Work with what you already have. Of course with limited funds available, being able to justify the cost of a separate website is key. So why don’t you look at how your current site is performing in terms of online bookings (you can benchmark against other venues here) and see where there’s room for improvement.
  • Encourage people to book online. Online is your cheapest sales channel, (and available to your customers 24/7) so encouraging customers to book online will streamline your operation. You can then spend time and effort on revenue-generating opportunities like offering a ticketing service to local organizations.

The more it’s used, the more a website can help you collect valuable data about your audience and promote your program as widely as possible, whether through an online brochure or cross-selling shows. Customers who have a positive experience will associate this with your venue and a little razzle dazzle will encourage them to keep coming back again.