Ticketing and marketing systems for audience development

AmbITion Forums Digital Doctor Ticketing and marketing systems for audience development

This topic contains 18 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Ronald Santos 1 year ago.

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    The established ticketing system suppliers to the not-for-profit sector are facing quite a few challenges in their marketplace. They actually led the way in developing marketing and CRM tools to fully manage relations and communications with customers, through a one stop shop, and they led the way into Internet ticketing. Unfortunately too many stopped there, as if, once they had supplied a working version, the job was done.

    So too many systems are looking out-of-date and not really into Web 2.0, before we even think about the “semantic web”. That brings a rash of web developers thinking it is easy to develop ticketing solutions – its NOT – and they keep getting it wrong at venue’s expense. It also brings a rash of new companies who think that they can develop completely new ticketing systems because there must be a market out there for them to make lots of money. And they talk to venues and think they can exploit them because they don’t really understand what they want or need, and aren’t IT savvy.

    I recently was asked to evaluate available systems by HQ Theatres and they came up with a list of 16 suppliers. The trouble is, only a handful really understand our sector and what we are trying to achieve in audience development. We need joined up thinking, joined up tools, and easy to use solutions. What are your experiences? I’ve an interesting perspective to add from recent experience consulting with a lot of organisations in the US, so more of that to come, after you.


    I know little to nothing about the ticketing systems currently in place but everything you say makes sense to me.

    Perhaps we need to consider re-inventing the system across the board and tailor make something just for the not-for-profit sector. Joined up tools, joined up thinking with a system tat is above all, easy to access and perhaps even universal in an open source fashion across the board. This would mean it could grow and evolve as the marketplace does. With theaters across the country using versions of the same system there would be no shortage of ideas as to how this could be made simply and easier.

    If you are looking after your own marketing/social media, then it seems a small step to integrate all ticket sales into this as well.


    Well this leads me straight into what I found in the US as lead consultant on the Project Audience project. In the US, where funding is much more precarious, arts organisations often cannot afford the solutions offered by the mainstream ticketing suppliers, even those focussed on supplying only the ‘not-for-profit’ sector such as Blackbaud. They therefore find themselves in the unhappy situation where they either make tickets available through Ticketmaster and watch their customers get charged large fees, or they use very basic and sometimes ‘home-made’ solutions which don’t really do what they want. That unhappy situtation is made worse because on the web and for customer relations management and marketing they need to know who their customers are, what they purchase, what they look at on their website, and they want to join up the data so they offer information to customers relevant to them and to an extent personalised and tailored.

    Well, helped by the Mellon Foundation it looks like two groups in the US are going to tackle elements of this. One project, jokingly called “Restitura” (“Tessitura for the rest.”) is setting out to create an “open-source” ticketing and CRM system. This is based on the “community of practice” approach espoused by the Mellon Foundation and seems fundamental to me. I’ve always believed in collaboration, and Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds confirms that (my quote) “not all the brains are under one hat” and we develop better solutions if we share thinking, experiences and ideas for solutions. Project Audience is using this approach to look at developing tools and systems for audience development, especially ones which will interface with other systems.

    It is intriguing to me that the not-forprofit sector in the UK has not considered this approach. Museums have, I understand, collaborated on various curatorial and collection management tools. Tessitura has come in from the US and brought a non-profit distributing and co-ownership model, though I am assuming the “Restitura” project means some people cannot afford that solution.

    But are there ways we could get the existing suppliers to be more attunded to the developing needs


    Interesting article in the New York Times about the changes in thinking around ticketing, which seems relevant to this discussion: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/arts/music/14tickets.html?_r=1

    Thanks to my colleague Tim Roberts in Australia for that.


    The perennial question I get is “which system do you recommend?” and I used to write a Which?-style Best Buy guide for the Arts Marketing Associations’ ticketing.org website, now sadly in abeyance. Since I fairly frequently run system tender processes, for venues of different sizes and scales, I do get to see most of the systems from the suppliers and evaluate them in detail. However, I find each venue actually has subtle differences in what they do and the way that they do it, and this means the devil is in the detail. It is essential to check out exactly what functionality the venue requires and what each system offers. My ‘functionality spec.’ to cover ‘state-of-the-art’ has over 220 items.

    But after ‘what the system can do’ comes ‘what kind of working relationship’ does the supplier offer, and ‘at what cost?’ I think most venues expect a working ‘partnership’ in which the supplier helps ensure the venue gets the most out of the software and can interface it appropriately with their other systems and sales channels. And doesn’t rip them off.

    Sadly there seem to be only a handful of suppliers who work with venues to achieve solutions and that affordable partnership. Two of them have a not-for-profit ethos, and while one is a huge co-operative international network, with many advantages from that, the other is a small private operation offering a personal and individual service, both apparently satisfying users on cost.

    Plainly, Tessitura from the US broke the traditional supplier model and sustains sophisticated implementations across the globe, ensuring joined up tools, at all sizes and scales, perpetually licensed. Look at the Tessitura network site:

    Similarly, PatronBase confounds the usual supplier financial equation, with a small dedicated team delivering optimised solutions, matching, sometimes exceeding, the functionality needs, and at truly affordable costs. But it is an intriguing irony that Pitlochry Festival Theatre chooses Tessitura, and its near neighbour Horsecross (Perth Theatre and Concert Hall), with whom they used to share a system, chooses PatronBase from New Zealand.

    Ben Jeffries says: “It has been great to work with PatronBase: a supplier who is keen to develop their product around our needs, and we have really seen the benefits in having an off the peg system tailored to fit. I look forward to developing the partnership further and bringing all the many existing features of the system into use to Horsecross’s advantage. All in all, PatronBase is shaping up to be just what we wanted – truly a next generation system without a next generation price tag.“

    You don’t hear that very often. Horsecross joins the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, Derby Quad, the Bluecoat in Liverpool, RichMix in London and Llangollen International Eisteddfod in choosing this solution originating in New Zealand; John Caldwell’s team, joined by Andrew Thomas from ts.com, pay personal attention to tackling the interfacing and ensuring that the whole solution works. Look at the PatronBase website. But perhaps the most interesting feature is that PatronBase can come in at a quarter of other tenderers’ costs, with no per ticket fees for any sales.


    I think a lot of arts organisations think the ‘ethos’ of their supplier is an important part of the mix. I hear the PatronBase users got together in the UK this month (Dec 09) and had a constructive discussion about working together in partnership with PatronBase on the development agenda. Delivering solutions which meet the needs of the users, their way, seems crucial if there is to be a creative partnership around the technology to engage with the public. This isn’t about the speed of resolution of support calls, but about the attitude of the supplier when in dialogue with the user. Speak to users of systems such as PatronBase to understand this.

    I can remember that the old Dataculture offered that same ‘ethos’ for Databox, subsequently swallowed by Tickets.com. Tessitura of course came in and changed the relationship offered users, with a co-ownership structure in which users pay a one-off lifetime enterprise license to access the software and then join the Network, which develops, maintains and supports the system. Users get to vote on development priorities and there is an annual conference in the US where users make much of the input into sharing what they are doing with the system. Their users can be positively evangelical about the benefits of their joined-up solution.

    The key point is that Tessitura is an enabling system, which, with appropriate customisation and interfacing, can meet the most sophisticated users’ needs and in particular can be implemented to offer the ticket purchaser/customer powerful inter-active and CRM experiences. Some users take the co-ownership model further and share their system with other venues. It does seem to be an effective solution when a larger venue hosts the system and shares it with others, as happens in Manchester at Bridgewater Hall.

    Originally developed in the 90s for The Metropolitan Opera in New York, Tessitura is seen by many arts organisations as the state-of-the-art standard, serving some of the most sophisticated ticketing system users in the world and achieving complex functionality. However, there continue to be concerns about just how easy it is for the end user to get the best from it, (though T-Stats has solved many of these issues), and about what the overall costs of ownership are to an organisation, with user implications on IT staffing as well as system upkeep and development costs. More and more arts organisations seem to be tackling this by sharing the Tessitura solution, and this is a recommended approach, though the pricing mechanism will depend on local negotiations.

    Of course, ultimately these solutions depend on what you can afford, and the Fractured Atlas ‘open-source’ project in the US, funded by the Mellon Foundation, developing a solution called Athena Tix, should provide a low cost alternative, long term. Don’t get your hopes up too high: think of the ‘developer years’ which went into Databox so Athena Tix could be a competitive solution on functionality in three or four years time! Read Clay Lord’s blog from San Francisco about this.

    Clay’s Blog also lets out the secret on the new CRM and ticketing system the enterprising Gene Carr has been developing at Patron Technology, the company behind Patron Mail (and not to be confused with PatronBase or Blackbaud’s Patron Edge solutions. This is in beta test with an early adopter, and it should increase the competition to supply affordable fully specified solutions to the not-for-profit sector.



    I’ve recently been working with the Gulbenkian Theatre Canterbury on their selection of a new ticketing and marketing system, and they have chosen PatronBase from New Zealand to replace Databox. Watching Andrew Thomas ([email protected]) working with the Gulbenkian team – he fronts PatronBase in the UK now, and they have opened an office in Cardiff – the ethos of the company comes across in so many ways. Planning the data migration and go-live process for the Gulbenkian every step was taken to reduce the costs to them. He has installed an even further updated version since PatronBase went .Net last year and is full of talk about integrating social media networking and website interfaces. OK a small supplier is inevitably hands on and engaged with the users, but this looks like the attention to detail some of the other suppliers are only willing to offer for £700 per day. I will get a chance to check this out further since I am giving a presentation at the second PatronBase users group meeting at Derby Quad next week, and the next day I am at Horsecross in Perth with Ben Jeffries. Incidentally, users seem to get enthusiastic because PatronBase comes with an optional extra room booking and event calendaring tool. This so reminds me of the Databox/Dataculture days.



    Talking with clients in the last couple of weeks has brought out even more clearly the challenges many venues have in replacing their ticketing systems. If you have got used to the kind of annual charges which Tickets.com makes for Databox, then the level of costs some of the suppliers ask for is an impossible stretch. I keep being told that venues have seen x or y supplier’s system, been impressed, but then shocked by their indicative pricing. So we are going to try and address this in Scotland by a collaboration by the Citizen’s Theatre, the AmbITion project, Glasgow Grows Audiences and The Source project.

    As part of my work I get to evaluate in detail ticketing systems and their suppliers – 16 recently for the HQ Theatres’ tender process – and of course to see their price quotations. So I am aware that there are some suppliers willing to quote at more affordable prices and yet who provide near ‘state-of-the-art’ solutions. So I have identified for the Citz four system suppliers who I think can offer them a solution which they should be able to afford. And the Citz have decided to share their day with other venues who GGA have indicated in their research for The Source project that they are considering changing systems.

    So some venues will get to see some system suppliers, most of whom are relatively new to the UK market, and to understand both what they offer, what their differences are, and broadly how they charge. They’ll get a briefing from me about exactly what the current ‘state-of-the-art’ actually is and what they could and should be looking for. And we might end the day with a discussion about a shared procurement process.

    Apologies that this is not an open process either for venues – we’ve had to target chosen venues because we cannot extend to too large a crowd around the Citz and their process – or for the suppliers: some will be excluded who might have hoped to be in the frame. For those who need to know: in alphabetical order, we have included AudienceView (from Canada), PatronBase (from New Zealand), Spektrix, and TicketSolve (from Ireland). And these bring a range of payment methods and price points for their solutions, and appear to offer a can-do approach to solving problems and interfacing with websites.

    Of course this kind of day can be repeated elsewhere – the suppliers are up for it – and it makes a big difference to be informed about what is on offer in the marketplace and to understand the price-points. If you were buying a car, would you seriously look at the Rolls Royce if you could really only afford a lower cost model?



    You can guess easily that some of the suppliers of ticketing and CRM solutions are unhappy not to have been invited to the Glasgow sessions organised by GGA for Friday 14 May – and so many venues wanted to attend it has had to move to a larger space. Of course, if suppliers aren’t included in these sessions it is mainly because people have had demos or seen them before, and the target is newer or unfamiliar systems, especially if they are offering low cost models. This doesn’t mean other suppliers are excluded from eventual tender invitation lists.

    But, having visited TicketSolve in Dublin this week, the interesting point is that more suppliers are offering fully fledged systems with sophisticated functionality, but at lower costs than many of the familiar name mainstream suppliers. And experience is building that these newer lower cost suppliers can offer reliable systems with good support and positive customer relations. It depresses me how many of the more expensive systems have customers who complain about how they are treated and that they are charged whenever the supplier thinks it is possible to do so.

    Most of these newer suppliers are willing and able to supply systems which really are solutions: joining up the thinking to handle CRM, customer e-mail communications and e-marketing, website registrations, social media interfacing, etc. All this, and to have a choice of supplier too.

    What’s not to like?



    Update from after the Glasgow sessions with system suppliers on the 14 May:

    Perhaps it is stating the obvious but: whereas once there were ticketing systems which stretched their remit to CRM and then the web and e-marketing, now we have some system suppliers who have built their solutions entirely around CRM and customer- facing web tools. It can almost seem that functionality for ticketing in the Box Office is just an extra module, however excellent.

    For example, AudienceView has really gone the extra mile and their system now comes with a built in website Content Management System so that if you wish, you could drive the entire website from their database. Since this solution drives the NEC’s Ticket Factory, it can support hundreds of separate ‘skins’ for websites while handling all the complex CRM functions with built-in e-marketing tools.

    The really good news is that this means suppliers are offering joined-up solutions to help joined-up thinking. And at appropriate prices for many small to medium sized organisations (and some large ones too). In Glasgow the suggestion was that up-front “capital purchase” systems could be acquired for £10-20K with annual running costs under £4-5K. If you don’t think that is cheap, it is less than one third of most of the established mainstream suppliers’ charges. Since in most cases this gets you into a per-ticket-fee-free zone, this is good news for most venues.

    There does seem to be a challenge in the perceived implementation costs of the systems, with some of them effectively incorporating this into their quoted purchase price. It is hard to compare directly except on the basis of actual volumes of annual sales, especially with options such as life-time “enterprise licenses” which buy ticket volumes in advance.

    A couple of the suppliers were still talking about alternative models based on percentage commissions or per ticket fees and even the “we want to share in your success” phrase was used. Most venues can work out that costs add upwards at a steady rate and after just over two years most would be better off with an up-front capital purchase model. In these financially constrained times, one supplier was talking about spreading the capital cost over two to three financial years.

    On Friday PatronBase and AudienceView retained their “Best Buy” status (partly from having completed in-depth evaluations as part of tender processes) though fitness-for-purpose and affordability remain key criteria. It is harder to judge for those not yet through detailed tender evaluations, though TicketSolve definitely looked like a “Good Buy” with a leading edge in some functionality and a widening range of accessible purchasing options; this is a strong contender. Spektrix is definitely one to watch with some great features and a great user interface, adding functionality all the time. Some of the venues in Glasgow are talking about following this up so we may to get to “prove” functionality specifications with in depth detailed evaluations.

    What was most re-assuring was that some of these systems, ‘out-of-the-box’ so to speak, could get an arts organisation up and running very quickly with a joined-up solution, migrating the customer data from all their sources. So customers could sign up on the website for Newsletters and profiles straight into the ticketing system, send and manage e-mail campaigns from the system, offer social media inter-actions such as posting to Twitter and Facebook, and offer memberships, packages, sales promotions and merchandise sales, with the whole centred on CRM.

    For the second time: What’s not to like?


    Think about the benefits of Joint Procurement.

    Culture Sparks (the Glasgow Grows Audiences new name), have organised an initiative after the Citizen’s Theatre Glasgow and I suggested sharing their procurement process for a new ticketing, marketing and CRM solution. Culture Sparks had been working on The Source project in Scotland and identified that a number of organisations were discussing changing their ticketing system in the near future – mostly Databox users.

    After the day long session reported above, some of the venues agreed to share the process through to system selection. This means they will develop a common Functionality Specification, based on the one prepared with the Citz, and then issue Invitations to Tender – these will be sent to all the main suppliers in the marketplace, though with clear indications of the price point.

    One key step in the process is that Culture Sparks wants to help them develop the business case for the ‘state-of-the-art’ solutions they all need, pointing out the benefits to customer relations and earned income of the latest joined-up solutions.

    Once tenders are in, the organisations will meet together to evaluate in depth and compare notes on their perceptions of ‘fitness-for-purpose. The intention is not to all choose the same system, unless that happens as a result of the process. And more than one supplier has already proposed financial incentives for a group decision on a simultaneous purchase.

    The participants are hoping for the benefit of sharing expertise, and bringing down the cost of getting help with the process (a fraction of the go-it-alone cost of course), and probably mutual support when they change their system. Some people think a key benefit is defending themselves from sales-people and expensive solutions which break their budgets.

    It is also clearly having a benefit in that the collective voice of these organisations is focussing the suppliers on some developments in web and social media inter-facing and deeper integration with email tools, Facebook and Twitter, with results being shown already.

    Together we are stronger


    Profile photo of derek allan
    derek allan

    We evaluated all the main players when we looked to move away from Databox. We had presentations from all the suppliers, including Patronbase, and Ticketsolve. For various reasons none came close to the Tessitura solution which for us defined what we wanted to do in terms of CRM; printing a ticket was the least of our worries. What was key for us- we didnt want an unfinished product which is what we were getting with some suppliers and some had basic reporting gaps; post code analysis for one. Happy to share our experiences with others.


    There is no doubt that Tessitura is an excellent solution Derek, but not every arts organisation can afford it. This is reflected in the US by the “Restitura” project intended to create a Tessitura type solution for the rest. The challenge for many arts organisations in Scotland is to find low cost and effective systems today, which meet their needs today. Because systems are under continuous development, they improve all the time and some of the lower cost options are now very much a “finished” product. One point of this consolidated tender process, to which Tessitura will be invited to respond, is to ensure that suppliers demonstrate that they can truly meet the organisations’ needs without the gaps you refer to.


    Profile photo of derek allan
    derek allan

    When I looked at a new system Roger, cost was a key factor, however if you look at the costs over a longer period of time (5 years) Tessitura is no more expensive than most others and indeed costs less than some. I fear that venues that focus on getting the cheapest solution will miss an opportunity to really grow their business. In terms of companies ‘improving’ their products I would not want that at the expense of my business; you wouldn’t buy a car without the wheels would you. This is one of the reasons so many people are migrating from Databox; constant assurances of development that never materialised.

    I’m aware of the Resitura project but any solution is years away and I believe is focussed on a general admission model.

    I do think it is positive however that Scottish organisations are starting to focus on the need to understand audiences, but its important to remember that CRM systems are not just about the technology- its a mindset that involves the organisation at every level and that box office systems are just a small part of the solution.


    Of course we use a five year cost of ownership model to evaluate the comparative costs of systems. I have had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement to see Tessitura tenders, so I cannot say anything about the detail, but the systems we are discussing are coming in at less than one third of the main competitors, while matching the main functionality.

    Yes, pleased to see CRM being adopted and the customer-focussed mindset more visible. Julie Tait did point out recently that my first book on the subject was dated 1993…. In many ways some of your predecessors at Pitlochry Festival Theatre were pioneers of database driven marketing, pursuing packages, frequency, loyalty and what we now call relationship marketing.

    Now for the next generation


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