An expert view with…

RICHARD HOWLE

HEAD OF TICKETING AND MARKETING,
AKA

What are the core considerations you have in achieving successful group business?

Very early on in my career, when I was working in the box offices of Really Useful Theatres, I learnt about the important role that groups play in the economics of a successful theatrical production. There aren’t many sell outs that aren’t built on a foundation of group sales. For me, the over riding consideration when marketing to groups is to remember that ultimately you are selling tickets to individuals and that any successful groups campaign is about providing the GTO with the tools to sell to those individuals. There are the obvious things such as rates and availability, but we also have to create the demand. It is no good just sending out a groups mailer and expecting the groups to come flooding in; this has to be supported by a proactive marketing and advertising campaign, even if this is ahead of the thrust of the main campaign.

What are the differences between group and individual ticket bookings?

We live in a last minute, instant age and people don’t like to wait. Unless they have to, say if a show is a true sell out, people don’t like booking months in advance. Nowadays, most individuals will book their tickets within three weeks of a performance. This is a nightmare for producers and marketeers. It makes us extremely vulnerable to events (weather, transport problems etc.) and means that forecasting and campaign planning are very difficult to get right. This is why group bookings are highly sought after and carefully courted with competitive rates. They book in advance and put in a layer of base sales that can then be built upon. There is a direct correlation between the number of advance group bookings and the number of late (and sometimes damaging) open discounts. If you have enough of the former you have to do less of the latter. Using groups to build demand, we can then encourage individuals to book earlier at full price rather than waiting for a last minute discount.

How do you recommend that promoters and venues handle customer relationships with groups?

The successful shows and attractions are the ones that value groups and don’t take them for granted. GTOs are the events on the ground sales force – enthuse, reward and support them and they will go and sell your tickets for you. It is also vitally important not to undermine them by discounting later on to such an extent that it would have been cheaper for the group booker to have booked independently.

A lot of ticketing is online now; how can group suppliers provide an online service whilst still retaining a personal and tailored approach?

I am lucky to work with fantastic groups agencies who nurture valuable relationships with GTOs. This is a vital marketing channel and it would be a bad thing for the industry if technology meant losing that human touch. That said, I do believe that technology can, and should, be harnessed to make the booking process easier for GTOs. Once the reservation has been made, if the organiser is able to access the booking online to make adjustments and make part payments, that can only be a good thing. Being as flexible as possible is key to developing groups business. One of the most important technology developments for group bookings, particularly for the less formal groups, is ‘crowd payment’ whereby one person makes a group reservation but, rather than being responsible for collecting payment from the rest of the group, the individuals in the group can log in and pay for their ticket directly. This technology has been around for over five years (I first saw it in Australia in 2008) but has yet to be fully embraced. The new booking system at The O2 has a function called ‘AXS Invite’, which works on this principle and with the potential to be integrated into social networking, it surely has to be the future.

Richard has worked in ticketing for 14 years, currently at aka, one of the leading global marketing and advertising agencies for cultural attractions and live entertainment. He has been responsible for ticket sales and strategy on productions all over the world.