Report of the Ticket Sales and Audience Development Task Force to the Chatham Chorale Board of Directors
August 22, 2017
The Ticket Sales and Audience Development Task Force has worked this summer to analyze the challenge faced by the Chorale to improve ticket sales for the coming season and to develop a loyal audience over the longer term. The effort was undertaken after some disappointing attendance at our two concerts this spring.
THE PROBLEM. Broadly speaking, the Chorale shares the challenge with many cultural organizations—competing for a narrow and probably diminishing audience that appreciates classical music. It also has a small budget mostly dedicated to musical leadership and professional accompaniment. As a result, the Chorale relies on its membership for leadership, organizational activities, the details of its operation and promotion and sales for its concerts.
The spring 2017 concerts produced small audiences, resulting in disappointment to all and demoralizing and disheartening to some. On reflection, the attendance results represented a perfect storm. The two programs were scheduled only weeks apart, one scheduled on Mother’s Day weekend; the promotion budget had been cut back and public announcements were not made on radio or in some newspapers; the patriotic program had little fresh material and yet rehearsal time was limited; and the new Monomoy High School venue is remote and its location is not well known to the public. Some of these problems have already been addressed in the budget and program schedule for the upcoming season.
THE CHARGE. The board of directors adopted the following charge to create the task force:
Interest and concern has been expressed about the unusually light attendance at the spring concerts. A task force has been proposed to examine our historical and current policies and practices regarding ticket sales and promotion of our concerts. The product of this review will be a comprehensive review and a report to the Board of Directors with conclusions and recommendations to build ticket sales in the short run and attempt to build a loyal audience in the long run.
THE PROCESS: The task force met six times: 1) organizing its efforts and proposing a charge to be adopted by the board; 2) conducting interviews with the Music Director and Board President; 3) preparing a questionnaire to distribute to the chorale membership; 4) analyzing attendance data and questionnaire returns (40 responses); 5) deliberating on its findings, conclusions and recommendations; and 6) finalizing its report.
This report is submitted to the board for its review and adoption of recommendations and implementation of those recommendations chosen. A special meeting of the board will be held to discuss the report with the task force.
CONCLUSIONS: The task force does not have comprehensive historical data on ticket sales by concert so it is not able to offer any analysis about how ticket sales are doing today versus in the past. It believes that competition from Cape Cod Symphony and other choruses and musical offerings for the potential audience is more intense.
A renewed, revitalized commitment among Chorale members for selling tickets and promoting our concerts is essential. In the recommendations listed below the task force has mentioned a number of activities that make up the backbone of this effort and have added a few new ones for consideration.
Cuts to budgets for advertising and promotion should be reinstated. Ongoing evaluation of their effectiveness should be assessed at concerts.
Equally important to sales is the excellence of each performance. The audience needs to experience something special, exciting and memorable at each encounter with the Chorale. This includes the excellence of the programming, the musical performance and the music making joy and enthusiasm expressed in the faces of the Chorale. We cannot rest on our laurels. There is room for improvement.
Our concerts of contemporary/pop music, which appeal to a somewhat different audience, are tending to become more stale and repetitious rather than fresh and innovative, daring.
Theme 1: GETTING THE WORD OUT
Organize group sales at Councils on Aging, town/regional newcomers groups, retirement complexes and assisted living facilities. Offer group discounts to these organizations. Enlist those organizations with busses to transport groups. (Give the driver a free ticket.) Acknowledge these groups at the beginning of the concerts.
Recruit volunteers to staff tables to sell tickets at grocery stores, post offices, etc.
Secure the services of a promotion expert to assist in the creation of promotional strategies and activities.
Monomoy High School location is not yet well known to many. Special attention is needed to help people feel comfortable buying tickets and finding it on performance days (sandwich boards and more).
Posters should include credit cards are accepted for payment.
Urge season ticket sales. Make season tickets available to members at the beginning of the season.
Communicate to all high school and middle school choruses through their directors.
RENEWED EMPHASIS AND REFINEMENT OF EXISTING EFFORTS:
Re-establish the “Friends” list from the Chorale membership and send out SEVERAL email announcements WELL IN ADVANCE of upcoming performances and how to buy tickets.
Re-establish public advertising: newspaper ads in Cape Cod Times, town weeklies and radio announcements. Develop personal relationships with key media contacts. ADD notices to local public access TV stations.
Organize the distribution of flyers to assure that they get to key locations: bulletin boards at post offices, banks, grocery stores, key retail outlets and libraries. Specific assignments should be made for distribution to these key locations.
Encourage members to promote concerts through emails to friends and families and ADD concert promotion in whatever social media platforms they use (facebook, etc.)
Encourage members to distribute flyers to their churches and attempt to place announcements in their bulletins. Personally promote group sales at these churches (discounts available).
Encourage members to put flyers in their car windows.
Distribute promotional material EARLIER. Some people schedule activities early and their calendars get busy.
Sell tickets when Joe gives classes at libraries and wherever else he speaks.
Theme 2: PROMOTION
Create incentives for membership to sell tickets.
- Announce at last rehearsal or concert warm up all members who sell 10 or more tickets
- Have a competition among the four sections for most tickets sold
- At year end, give a free membership to top seller for the season; ½ membership for second place
- Award members $50-$100 for selling 15 or more tickets at full price per concert (net per ticket revenue would be $18.30-$21.70 in this example).
Create a Chorale Ambassador who would organize and lead a group of volunteers to staff attendance at group meetings and find opportunities to promote group sales.
Find informal “social directors” among members’ acquaintances to organize a group of people to attend a concert and hold a social event before or after the performance.
Provide members with snappy one or two sentence descriptions of the concert material to facilitate their sales efforts.
RENEWED EMPHASIS AND REFINEMENT OF EXISTING EFFORTS
Remind and re-enforce with the membership their responsibility to sell tickets. Print out responsibilities from membership handbook for distribution at an early fall rehearsal.
Allow time for announcements and promotion at rehearsals. Make announcements after warm up while people are fresh and attentive. Share strategies from chorale members who are successful at sales.
THEME 3: OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS:
In our future programming, consider including a number by a high school chorus that would draw new audience (kids’ parents, grandparent, siblings, aunts and uncles) to performances.
Adding younger voices should be an ongoing effort. Brainstorming ways to do this is encouraged and might include a cash incentive for high school students who complete a season.
Annual budget should have a realistic surplus margin. Over time, this can help build reserves if successfully executed and, in the short run, be the first defense against running a deficit if revenue projections fall short.
Other sources of revenue need to be pursued. If successful, this would provide flexibility and opportunity for such things as lowering ticket prices, making up for fruit sale lost revenue, risk taking in experimenting with free or reduced price concerts. (Several members felt ticket prices were inhibiting sales.) Season or concert sponsors might be recruited.
RENEWED EMPHASIS AND REFINEMENT OF EXISTING EFFORTS
Capture marketing information from concert attendees. How did you learn about this concert? Refine promotional efforts and expenses based on what is learned.
Strengthen and expand the role of section leaders. Beyond attendance taking, section leaders should promote member responsibilities to learn the music and assist in these efforts when requested or needed. Assure new members are introduced, feel welcome and help them become involved in the volunteer support work of the chorale.
Chorale commitment and enthusiasm. For whatever reason, real or imagined, there is a feeling among a number of members that chorale enthusiasm and commitment have waned recently. The loss of the fruit program is an example of a group activity that left a number of people less active and engaged. The recruitment of volunteers to help with the various activities necessary to support the chorale (job fair sign up) should be an annual event. This type of participation reminds members of the value of their efforts beyond rehearsing and performing and builds esprit de corps.
Learn the music. It cannot be emphasized enough that it is each member’s responsibility to learn the music via independent practice between rehearsals. The earlier this occurs in the rehearsal cycle, the more productive rehearsals become, the more confident the individual singer becomes, the better eye contact with Joe occurs and the more enjoyment in the performance is projected to the audience.
Video the Chorale performances and show at a rehearsal to re-enforce the importance of appearance and demeanor in producing a quality presentation.
The task force appreciates the opportunity to produce this report to the board of directors. While the impetus for this effort may have been an anomaly from our usual experience, in the end, we think and hope it may have been useful to review the Chorale’s policies and practices for ticket sales and audience development. For those who responded to the questionnaire, almost all appreciated the effort and were positive in their attitude in making many thoughtful suggestions. The task force reviewed all of them carefully. These suggestions were very helpful in producing this report.
Implementing the above suggestions in an organized and thorough fashion will take considerable effort and will require support from the chorale membership to assist the board. For our part, the task force members stand ready to help in the implementation effort of those recommendations chosen. And finally, there may be other more involved and dramatic changes to be considered that require more time and deeper study than this effort allowed. Ticket sales promotion and audience development should be viewed as an ongoing undertaking of the Chorale.