Archive for February, 2013

2012 Triumph

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing on February 9, 2013 by richardhowle

If you didn’t see it, this was my article published in this week’s edition of The Stage:

For those of us who work in theatre advertising and marketing, 2012 will be a year that we won’t forget – aside from what happened during that magical sporting festival.

As well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games we had the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and one of the wettest summers since Noah applied for a pet passport.

For us, the planning began in 2011 and with so many different scenarios possible we didn’t so much have a Plan A and a Plan B but more of a Plan A-Z to cover every possible eventuality. No one knew what would happen.

As it turned out everything happened and we went through all of those plans and devised more – at the lowest points we quickly found ourselves rifling through Plans O,M and G. We launched new initiatives, found new sales channels and created new campaigns. It required cool heads and smart thinking, but we got through it.

Just how well we got through it was revealed by SOLT (Society of London Theatres) last week who announced that, against the odds, 2012 saw record breaking gross sales and a year-on-year (YOY) rise in attendances. The margin was only small, but considering the challenges it was our equivalent of winning five gold medals.

For me, the most revealing aspect of the numbers released last week was the average ticket price paid, which showed a YOY drop. This reflects the fact that, although we attracted more people to the theatre, we had to work much harder than ever before to reach out to them. Across the board shows engaged with promotions and discounted further than they have ever previously had to.

2012 was like a jam sandwich – a sticky mess in the middle with two thick bloomers either side. The beginning of the year saw amazing audience levels, with play attendance in particular helping to drive overall admissions. Then came the summer of despair, the low point being the final week of July – usually one of the best of the year – with many shows reporting YOY drops in attendance of up to 25%. But it quickly improved as people began to realise that the West End wasn’t the no go area that we had all been led to believe that it would be.

Then, as London 2012 became a triumph, we began to hear word of a phenomenon that gave us great heart. Our friends in the travel industry were reporting a massive upsurge in enquiries for London breaks. Domestic tourism was booming with bookings for the autumn surging. And then they came. With quality new product in the market, audience levels returned to the highs that we had seen in the first part of the year.

So what lies ahead for 2013? Well, advance sales are at record highs and, as well as all the favourites, there are some great new shows due to open – combined with very strong forecast figures from tourism bodies, this year looks set to be a blockbuster.

But we can’t rest on our laurels; we can’t just expect audiences to come along. With the economy showing little sign of recovery the fight for the leisure pound remains as tough as ever. Our world leading creative industry has to put on high quality product and we have to create high quality campaigns that will sell them.

We must also be aware that some of the tactics that we employed last year were for exceptional reasons and should guard against them becoming the norm. We need to be wary of training our audiences to wait for last minute discounts. Like the rest of the world, the costs associated with producing theatre are going up. With inflation rising, further falls in the average ticket price will become unsustainable. This shouldn’t preclude us, however, from making theatre accessible and developing audiences for the future.

We also need to be acutely aware that at the heart of the West End’s commercial success is work derived from the subsidised sector which is facing severe cuts in its funding. Money generated through ticket sales is going to become even more important in the creation of the productions of the future.

Despite the success of last year, 30% of seats went unsold. As an industry we need to continue to be more innovative and creative at finding more persuasive ways of attracting audiences. By embracing new technology, employing modern thinking, opening our minds to dynamic pricing (up AND down) and by giving ticket buyers the best experience, we can do this. We can encourage the person who comes twice a year to come three times; we can convert the person who doesn’t think that theatre is for them.

2012 was a triumphant year, but the success will count for nothing if we can’t build on its legacy. The capital had the world’s attention and many more people will experience the city and our theatre as a result. We need to show to all those new visitors who have been attracted by last year’s events exactly why London is one of the greatest cities on the planet, the home of the greatest theatre.