Tag Archives: audience development and pricing

How to deal with the dealings of 50% off – audience development for the arts

It is Wednesday, when I normally have a guest blog post for you, but I had something to say that just couldn’t wait.  I am working with a theatre company that is using one or more of the discount sites in order to attempt to fill the seats.  I have written a blog post about my feelings for these types of pricing- Dynamic, Groupon, Living Social, etc.  We also had an #auddev chat on this topic.  The feedback I have been receiving is that these sites do work in helping to fill the seats, but there are two major downsides.  One, it is difficult to follow up when people purchase at the other site, and two, you are helping to create a group of people that will only come to the show at these ridiculously low prices, meaning you devalue your ticket.

When talking with my new client, she admitted that it was rare when a “Saver” audience member followed up to buy tickets at the normal price.  The theatre’s pricing is actually quite reasonable too, so each time they use the discounts, they are undervaluing the cost of the theatre experience.  They are a newer company, which means that these discount sites could be a good introduction.  However, when arts companies keep using these discount sites on a regular basis, the entire industry is going to suffer.

The arts are valuable, and if we keep devaluing what the cost of a ticket should be, we are going to keep bringing in an audience that is fickle and does not see the true value of the arts.

So, what can you do?  You feel you need to use these sites to get new audiences, and it does work to fill the seats.  Here is my list of how to deal with the deals:

1. Create a follow up plan.  If the discount site does not offer you the information about the audience member (a big red flag for audience development), figure out a way you can get this information.  As an industry, I think we should start asking these companies to work with us on this one, but I see the legal issues they may have in terms of giving us the information.  There are ways to track who your discount audience members are, and then find a way to reach out to them so they can become a part of your database.  You can seat people in a certain section so you can follow up with them at an event.  Also, find a way to offer them, “if you purchase your next ticket with us at 50%, you will also get __________.”  This way, they are purchasing the ticket with you for this time, and you get their information.  Or, pass around a clip board one night to see if you can pick up a few more.

2. Once you have found a way to start the relationship with these people by obtaining their contact information.  Start building relationships with them.  For this step, stop using the discount services and instead give these people a special that is a little closer to the value of your ticket.  For example, send them an email saying, “We are not using Groupon for the following weeks, but you can still save with us at 30% off.”  It’s a matter of attempting to ween them off the 50% to value your ticket at a higher price.  You are still hooking with a discount, but you will find out among this group who is loyal to your company and who is only coming for the 50% discount deals.

3. Build stronger relationships with the 30% off crowd.  These are the people that are definitely worth your time and effort. This is the time to survey this group to find out more about them.  You can also figure out ways that they would be comfortable in paying closer and closer to the regular ticket price.

4. In any case, implement a donation campaign to help offset the 50% discount. Some of the discount sites do have the ability to add a donation.  Add a message that their extra dollar will add up to help your arts company.  Ask for only $1 (or less) specifically since they are on these sites to save money, but the specific ask is better than asking for a non-specific donation in this case.  Or, get creative and price the ticket where they have the option to round up to the next dollar.

5. Work on building your own list to keep the information in house. You can also implement your own discount programs to keep the purchase in house.  Use email trades with other companies, purchasing lists from newspapers in your area that have the people you are looking for, and joining any group databases that might be available to reach out to new people.

6. Design a program to obtain new audience by using old fashion audience development.  Build relationships with groups of people in your community and commit to a few outreach efforts that are available over your off/slow season.  Personally invite these groups and people to your next show.  Use a few of your comp tickets to build relationships with group leaders.  The 4 C’s of audience development can help you: Connect, Collaborate, become a part of your Community and show you Care to reach out to new audiences.

You see, the discount sites are claiming to do the work for you in terms of building a new audience, but without real control, you may only be left with discounting over and over to fill the seats (butts in seats – not loyal people in seats).  The arts industry as a whole complains about these disadvantages, but I’m not seeing much in the ways to change this system.

These sites promise the easy way to build audiences, but as you can now see, they have some bad side effects.  You can use these sites as an introductory reach out point, but good old fashion audience development solutions will always be better than the take a pill approach for the long run.

Plus, I would hate to have these discount sites “Wal-Mart” the value of the arts in general.  Tickets to an arts event has value, but they will only have value, if we value ourselves.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists



“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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Filed under arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

Audience development and pricing

I have been seeing a great deal of discussion on pricing in terms of outreaching to build an audience.  Dynamic pricing has been discussed (think airline pricing with prices being lower with earlier purchase).  Also, Groupons or Living Social, or coupon sales have been discussed.  Both options can build “butts in seats,” but do they build “people in seats” or a loyal audience for your art/organization?  Maybe, maybe not.

I’ve decided to play devil’s advocate in this blog to see the other viewpoint of this conversation:

Here’s the “deal!” Lowering price is  a technique to get people interested.  It is an incentive for them to purchase, perfect for people on the fence since it nudges them to the side of buying.  However, these discounts can give the wrong message to your potential audience.

  1. It can send a message that you are not worth more than these discounted prices.  Your audience might get used to these pricing points.  In attempts to raise the price to more normal levels, you might not see a “return” on your discount investment.  This factor could be accommodated by only having these special deals at rare occasions, but these audience members may become savvy and wait until the sale happens instead. In this case, you may see a return, but at the continued discount prices.  It’s definitely a gamble.  Can you ultimately afford this?
  2. If there is no follow up involved, there is no guarantee that these deal buyers will turn into loyal audience members. Using discount methods may get people in the door, but it does not guarantee them coming back.
  3. Deep discounts could send the wrong message that you can afford selling at these prices.  I understand that there could be an argument that you can’t afford not to sell at these prices to get “butts in seats” with the potential to convert, but I guess it all depends on your bottom line.  In my opinion, there are ways to sell the value of your art/organization without deep discounts.  If people see the value, they will purchase at a regular price.  I can’t be the only one willing to go out of my way or purchase at a higher price if the quality and value are there.  If you really want something, you will pay the price.  Maybe we need to focus on people wanting the arts experience more instead of pricing less.
  4. Discounted prices can be a signal that you may not need extra support.  As I mentioned in a conversation, one of my patrons asked about our discounted subscription: “Why are you discounting? Don’t you need the money?”  Discounts can cause this confusion. Plus, people view their ticket purchase as a means to supporting the art/organization.  If you ask for a donation on top of this discounted amount to supplement, they may simply say they already purchased tickets.  You will then be out the difference of the discounted price vs. regular price, and out the donation amount since the perception has now shifted.In more consideration to these conversations, perhaps adding the choice of not discounting and paying regular price could give loyal patrons the opportunity to be  loyal, which will give you the option of being open and honest in communicating that you need the continued support.
  5. Groupon and Living Social may be popular methods, but as a nonprofit arts manager, I would look for other ways to get the word out about discounts so you don’t have to split your revenue.  Getting less than 50% of the value of a ticket doesn’t sit well with me or with most nonprofit budgets.  With ticket purchases averaging only 30-40% of  income, can you really afford to give so much away?  Shouldn’t you be figuring out ways to increase this percentage instead of lowering it?  Unless the shear volume of purchase compensates for the lowered revenue, I would look into other avenues that may cost considerably less.  Of course you need to look into the quantity vs. quality issue too.  More purchases may not equal a quality audience.

I understand the need to get people in the door, but I also see that starting people off with a discount may be setting ourselves up for some rude awakenings.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons that building loyalty has been tricky.  I guess it can be a means of sifting out who will become more loyal patrons and who are simply there for the discount if follow up occurs, but it can also mean that you are sending out the message that the arts are not worth more than a vastly discounted price, lowering the value of the arts along with continued lowered monetary support.

The only way discounts first as a method can work in the long run  is if you can convert these discount buyers to see the full value of your art.  If they see the value, then maybe they will be willing to pay full price in the future.  Are we implementing programs to make sure this conversion happens?

However, on a further limb,  discount pricing to build an audience, in my opinion, should be used more as a last resort and not as a first resort.  I tend to discount towards the end if seats still need to be sold. The audience that is loyal will purchase at the regular price.  The audience that sees the value will too.  The audience that is on the fence will buy based on the later discount.  You might be shooting yourselves in the foot if the discount is sooner rather than later.  The loyals may purchase at the discounted price since they tend to purchase sooner than later, costing you the difference.

In some ways, inviting them for free may be better since they will know that this won’t last and regular pricing is going to happen.

Lastly, without audience development, nothing will be developed except lowered value in the end.  Have you honestly tried audience development?  I know when I switched to audience development and fair valued pricing, I found myself with a bigger and better (quality) audience.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists
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“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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