"Not selling? Change literally anything."
The New York Times recently ran an article on how ticket and subscription sales have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. In it, many leaders from performing arts organizations share their guesses as to why audiences haven't returned. The reasons include "the magnetic force of people's couches" being "wary of public spaces," the reduced number of people working in the offices near the venues, and "fewer tourists, fewer older people, and very few groups." Not mentioned is the natural churn that happens to your audience every year, as people move away, change circumstances, become parents, and die, among other things, and not just over one year, but two. The piece also links to an article from 2018 on declining opera subscriptions, and how opera companies around the country were struggling. I know many of you don't even need to read these articles, as you're experiencing reduced attendance and subscriptions yourself. I agree that there is a pattern here.
But this intense focus on why some people aren't returning is distracting us from the real work that we need to be doing.
The performing arts sector needs to refocus. Rather than changing audiences, what are we doing to change our organizations, offerings, and ourselves as individuals? What are we doing that is different? Newsworthy? Daring? Unexpected? Delightful? What's your gimmick? What is going to make people sit up and go "Whoa. What?"
It's certainly not the subscription benefits for the opera organizations listed in the article, even through it's 2022 and we've come out of the pandemic. I took a look at the subscription options for San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and The Metropolitan Opera. This is supposed to excite people? It's all the same. Discounts. Priority seating. No fees on exchanges. Yawn. At least SFO spices it up with a discounted parking pass. While you may find value in these benefits, do they excite or intrigue you? Do you care about them enough to overcome competing offers for your time?
We simply can't expect the performance to be the only attractor. The whole experience needs to attract.
If we are in agreement that audiences have changed, I hope that we can agree to change ourselves. Our industry has talked for decades about being "scrappy" and creating rapid prototypes for new ideas. Do folks feel that they need permission? You've got it!
Not selling? Change literally anything. Test your change. If you see improvement, keep it. If not, change something else. Retest. Repeat.
Time for you to implement. It's Ron's Monday Mission™
If you're an arts leader reading this, I want you to forward it to your staff and tell them: "Experimenting is OK. Failure is OK. Learning is OK. You've got a green light from me." And then encourage them to report back with their ideas to create change that grabs eyeballs, gets clicks, and attracts audiences.
Need ideas? Book a call with me below and I'll help you. I've got case studies that worked.
Have a great week.