Rethinking Discount Ticket Sales: Make it a Part of Your Audience Development Strategy

Lately, I’ve been pondering the following interesting question: have our audience members grown dependent on discount tickets?  And do these discount ticket offers devalue the arts?

In a early marketing director position, I remember utilising discount offer codes and working with companies like LivingSocial and Groupon to setup ticket deals for performance events.  I thought that making any money from ticket sales was much better than making none, and it is better to get more bums in seats during every performance.  But by the end of the production run, when it was time to collect and report final numbers, I realized that though we had increased our audience numbers and ticket sales the company lost money overall. 

You can imagine how upset I was to report these figures to the company’s executive and artistic directors.  Totally embarrassed!

I am currently reading Tao of Audience Development for the Arts by Shoshana Danoff Fanizza, a collection of blogs written by the author over a five-year period.  Fanizza has over 20 years experience in audience development for numerous arts organisations in the US – mostly in classical music organisations.  One of Fanizza’s articles in this book reflects her experience with offering audiences discount tickets to artistic events.  She challenges the idea that while these discount codes and offers may bring more bums into seats, do these discounts 1.) place value to the arts; and 2.) build community for the artist or arts organisation? 

I think Fanizza makes a great point.  If we, as artists and arts organisations, are desperate to earn a decent living and the respect from the community around us as a viable industry, we have to honour the value of ourselves.  I agree: offering discount tickets to the public gives leverage to the arts to be more accessible to a wider range of audience members; however, offering these discount tickets has now set in place an unfair habit.

What we, as artists, can focus on is initiating change: after all, be the change you want to see, right?   Below offer some options to consider for this change:

1.)  Offering subscriber early-bird discount tickets during a limited period of time: by offering subscribers an early bird discount generates urgency and a benefit to being a member of your community (which is what audience development is all about – building community).

2.)  Collecting contact details from those who purchase discount tickets: though this can seem difficult to accomplish, it never hurts to negotiate with the discount offer company to collect email addresses from purchases.  If the company is not willing to negotiate, place these discount tickets in seats within a specific section and pass around a mailing list clipboard.

3.)  Limiting the time period of offering discount tickets and increase the discount further: for example, an early bird discount might offer 50% off a limited number of tickets during one week.  Then, offer discounted tickets at 30% off during week two.  It’s an apparent habit in Melbourne that audiences wait until the last minute to make their ticket purchases.  This method reverses the last-minute ticket discount and adds value to the arts.

While these ideas seem risky and are solely dependent on goals and strategies of an arts organisation or artist, I believe these are worth considering.  Remember: audience development takes time because is about building long-term relationships, or growing a community for your artistic practice.

Shoshana Danoff Fanizzi’s book, The Tao of Audience Development for the Arts, is available for purchase on Amazon.