This article is a guest blog post, written by Stephen Skrypec, Head of Communications at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
Why do we work in the arts? Whatever the reason, I think we’re all incredibly passionate about what a difference we make to the world. If I need to remind myself why I put up with this mad industry, I stand at the back of our theater at the end of a show and watch our audience’s response; and then it all makes sense. We’re passionate because great work needs to keep happening on our stages and in our community, reaching as many people as possible.
Seems simple? At the New Wolsey Theatre, the only way we could continue the level of artistic and community output was to make some big changes to our business to ensure we operated as efficiently as possible and that our resources were prioritised in the correct way.
All too often, especially in a Marketing or Development department, we’re fiercely protective and defensive about the work that we do. I’ve been amazed by stories from venues where departments barely talk to one another. It’s astonishing when we’re all here for the same goal, the same passion and a shared love. At the Spektrix Conference in a keynote presentation delivered by our inspirational Chief Executive Sarah Holmes, she declared it was time to “smash the silos” and join forces to ensure we reap the maximum benefit of our efforts.
Making big changes within the organisation
Last year we took the plunge and restructured our Front of House, Marketing, Development and Box Office teams into one customer-focused Communications team. Each department has a specific responsibility within the customer journey with one simple goal: for more people to visit here more often. First and foremost, once we’ve sold a ticket we need to ensure they have the best experience when they walk through the doors. Then we need to make sure they come back again, hopefully in the same season. Once they do that our priority is to build their loyalty, taking them on a path to become a season ticket holder or friend.
It’s not just paying customers who are experiencing something new. Our Relationships (formerly Development) team manages our pool of Volunteers, treating them to the same experience that our Friends and Donors receive – after all, their donated time is just as valuable. These small tweaks already equal big successes.
Making changes to our processes
Once we had our new structure in place, we made some big changes to our Pricing and Membership schemes with the long term aim of increasing loyalty and earned income. We chose to work with data and results-driven US based consultants TRG Arts, who created a new, simplified pricing structure which promoted early booking and package buying. The simplified pricing table ensures money is not left on the table with concessions and offers a range of price points for all, including 40 tickets at £10 for every performance. Yes, that means no concessions. Yes, we were terrified. No, it didn’t stop people visiting. In fact, it’s enabled us to have more open and honest conversations than ever before about our business model and the work we do in our community. Autumn 2015 was our best attended, highest engaged and highest grossing season. On top of that, we reached the most households ever and re-engaged many lapsed bookers.
Having the same goal
A lot has happened in twelve months here, but above all it’s made me realise how important it is to have the right team around you with the same collective goal: to make the customer journey the best it could be, so that they become the most loyal patrons and support the work we do, both on and off our stages. I believe we have a bright future ahead of us for 2016 and have made some very exciting plans to make our work with audiences even better. This is only going to work if we smash those silos, support each other in making bold and brave changes in our organisations and encourage each other to do the same. Surely our choices should be just as bold as what we put on our stages?
To find out more, visit our post on Arts Professional here to read about how the New Wolsey used data and cloud technology to increase ticket sales and diversify its business model.