5 Predictions for 2021
It's no surprise that we're all looking into the crystal ball in the theatreland at the moment. While we thought at the end of 2020 we were working towards the safe opening of venues and a number of venues up and down the country had managed to re-open their doors, we suddenly found ourselves CLOSED. Some people had to close their socially distanced Christmas shows, while some moved their productions and workshops online, but the hard work of the remaining workers in theatreland were crushed.
Now we're sat at home again (or perhaps the office if you're lucky enough to have an open building), we start to reach for the crystal ball as we look to try and figure out what the future holds and work out what on earth is going to happen next. And the honest answer is, nobody knows but we can make a few good guesses.
What we do know is the vaccine is HERE, and there is lots of them and it is working. The light at the end of the tunnel has suddenly been upgraded from a rusty old parcan to a fancy moving light (emphasis on moving) and we feel a sense that things are finally going to begin to get better without getting worse the other side.
But what can we predict for the future? Well, here are my thoughts on what we can expect to see in 2021 and into 2022.
People will be 'Value Seeking'.
More than ever, people have engaged with the arts probably more than they have ever during lockdowns and the pandemic through online resources, radio and television. We've already seen that people are ready and willing to engage with art and some of the optimistic people have already booked for shows in the future to show their support.
The first question you'll want to ask yourself is 'what does value mean?'. For some, this will mean how can they can find the cheapest ticket and 'value' will be defined by what they consider to be a great find on the sale rail. For others, this will mean finding the best seat available to watch the shows they've loved and missed. Location can matter more than price for most.
If you can, you'll want to find those two types of people from your database and target them with the right kind of messaging that suits their buying behaviours. Analyse what seating inventory you have left and figure out how you can best get those people to purchase tickets in the first 6 months of reopening - once you have you'll have a better chance of retaining these come-back-ers as things start to improve in the future if you can tempt them into coming in the first place. For example; you might find that your dance audiences haven't started re-booking yet - you'll need to find out if it's because there isn't enough tickets at the right price, or if the remaining seats for the show don't match the type of audience that are willing to come back.
Value doesn't mean that cheap, it means accessible pricing to your (specific) audiences needs.
More late booking, more advance booking
I predict we'll see an immediate reaction when theatres and venues can safely re-open which will almost certainly be followed by an immediate lull. Our loyal patrons will come out in force to show they're ready, you'll get a strong reaction to your first brochure (if you manage to put one out), and the first 2-3 weeks will feel fan-friggin-tastic. However, don't let this fool you into a false sense of security! We'll see a shift in our camps of people and those that usually sit in the middle of our buying cycles may move further towards one end of the scale by booking earlier or later. The result of this will mean that we see people move to the extremes of booking either really early, or extremely late.
So what do we do?
Well, firstly keep those advanced bookers booking. If you can figure out what the average time booked in advance by these people would have usually been, you can target them cleverly with what you think they're going to love next. Tailor your post-show emails, send a well-timed letter or postcard through the post, localise your outdoor and print campaigns to areas where those people are coming from and lastly, blow the minds of your fresh 'new' advanced bookers by showing them how they can get the best value seats and what they've been missing out on.
But what about the extreme late bookers I hear you cry? Yes, we should expect there to be many people that make their choice about coming to see a show at the last second rather then the last minute. Last second bookers are great for filling gaps in your auditorium and you may find some last-second returns mean that your walk ups will get some of the best seats in the house. So, this time in your after-show communications remind them that they had some great seats due to pandemic returns and that usually these would be booked up months in advance, get them to check out other great shows that are now on sale! If they've been sensitive on pricing during their selection of seats and opted to go for lower-priced tickets, let them know that sometimes your early bird offers are 30% off in the first 7 days of when a show goes on sale and get them signed up to receive information from you in the future.
Use your data and harness the power of advance booking customers and do everything you can to show late bookers how they can do it better next time!
Your T&C's need to change
It's time to be upfront about what exactly your terms and conditions mean when it comes to buying tickets. Most theatres have a jarring 'no refund' policy and punish their bookers if something unavoidable comes up - sometimes you can get a credit if you're lucky, and if you pay the fee you can change your tickets to seats you don't really want on another night.
What 2020/2021 has highlighted for most of us is that times have changed and consumer expectation for purchases are different now. We must remember that we retail our tickets too. We see other industries around us allowing people to return the items they ordered from the internet with ease, no quibbles - we should be doing this too. As we move through 2021 you'll really need to examine what you want to tell your customers. Do you want to continue saying 'NO REFUNDS', or do would you rather say 'no problem, we'll see you another time in the future'?. Allowing people to credit their tickets is great, but is it enough and will it put people off booking in the future?
If you do want to stick to the 'no refunds' policy then perhaps it's time to start thinking about adding ticket insurance to your inventory of customer satisfaction tools. You might feel that ticket protection is a bit overkill, but at times where people are conscious of ever moving and cancelling shows that this may offer them some additional security and peace of mind. Not only that but it can become an additional revenue stream to sit alongside your other upsell items. We see this on trains, planes and in sports and arena ticketing, so why not theatre?
Old technology is new again.
2020 saw the return of the QR code. Just when you thought that those pixelated squares from 1994 (yes, seriously, that's when they were invented) were dead in the technological water, they made a comeback, just like 80's music and mullets.
During 2020 QR codes started to appear everywhere from NHS track and trace posters at the gym to on the corner of your table at your local pub. QR codes became the quick link to the things you needed to do, but contactless - even your Granny can do this on here iPad now.
We now get the opportunity to be creative about how we can use these 'Quick Response' codes and apply them to theatre and the arts. Here are a few to get you started:
- Add the to your posters; direct people to your website immediately.
- Include them on your direct mail letters; link people to a trailer to help your 2D letter become 3D
- Use them in your front of house areas to allow people to order interval drinks. Scan and pay!
- Set up a code that links you to your shout out collection form for panto. Free up your box office staff and have responses sent straight to stage management (I tried this for Christmas 2020 and it was a dream!).
- Want to see a full bar tariff before the interval? Sure, scan our QR code and download the menu.
- No programme but have a free sheet, but want to save on the stationary budget? Set a QR code to link to a page on your website with the information about tonight's performance.
- Like this bar space and thinking about hiring it? Sure, scan the QR code and see what we have to offer.
THE LIST IS ENDLESS.
You'll need to be creative with your donation asks.
2021 will undoubtedly see our sales levels start to revive and when they do we need to be ready with the right fundraising messaging. I encourage you to all be open and honest about your losses during the pandemic and you should let your audiences know they're about to play the biggest part in your theatre. Now is not the time to downplay how desperate our situation is. After all, who are the people that will be the first to come through your doors? It's going to be your fans and lovers of theatre and they'll be the most likely to donate and the most likely to substantially donate. But, I suspect you'll need to get creative.
Tailor your online asks so that it's part of the experience. Ask for help to replace Cinderella's Glass Slipper. Capture the imagination of your audience and let them engage meaningfully to your cause. 'Save Our Theatre' fund might be direct and clear but, if you visit several arts and culture venues you'll have seen the same message over and over. Make your asks stand out.
Is it time to install contactless donation stands by your exits so people and can tap and go on the way out? Would you tap and go for £3? I would. Virtual bucket shakes are a thing of the future.
Lastly, and this isn't any new fangled concept, ensure that your Box Office team (or the people that are currently doing ticket booking) is asking EVERYONE. Awareness is the biggest key to any fundraising campaign and often Box Office teams find 'the ask' difficult and awkward, so help make this easier by extra training and encouragement. If they can ask people if they'd like an ice cream voucher they can ask if they'd like to donate too. Trust me, the first ask is the hardest, but the more you do it the easier it gets. You can even let your customers know in your box office phone line's auto attendant that they'll be asked if they'd like to add a donation to the 'Replace The Genie's Lamp' campaign.
- Start thinking about how best to target your audiences when it comes to 'value' and make a plan.
- Think about how you can show off to your late bookers about the benefits of booking early after they've been for the first post COVID visit.
- Be flexible with your terms and conditions and update them meaningfully.
- Slap a QR code on everything.
- Don't underestimate the power of a good gimmick when it comes to donations. Explore new options for fundraising. Get creative!