We live and breathe Tessitura,”
says Howard Levine, Senior Director of Marketing at the State Theatre New Jersey. “It gives us all the statistics that we need to really understand our patrons.”
“We blew away our ticket goal” by 300%.
A structural realignment
The State Theatre strengthened their commitment to understanding their patrons with an institutional change: they brought together their fundraising and marketing teams into one department. Within the new External Affairs department, said Senior Director of Development May Van Norman, “We were given the focus to move forward and really look at the patron as one person.”
Photo courtesy of State Theatre New Jersey
Levine came to State Theatre during that restructuring. “This was a really good realignment, which ensured that marketing and development worked very closely together.” He reflected: “I come from a belief that our patrons experience the institution both from a ticketing and a fundraising perspective. And we need to understand those relationships together.”
Van Norman noted that Tessitura is a key tool for achieving that unified understanding. “For me, the best thing about Tessitura is the ability to look at a patron’s history and the relationship between their ticket buying behavior, how much they’re at the institution, their level of involvement over time, their giving history.” Tessitura helps them consider “the coordination of those two behaviors: what is really incentivizing them to do what.”
With marketing and fundraising now working side-by-side, the State Theatre looked at their data to see what they could discover.
“Our patrons experience the institution both from a ticketing and a fundraising perspective. And we need to understand those relationships together.”
Discovering an opportunity
In examining their patrons’ buying behavior, the State Theatre discovered an exciting opportunity. “We quickly identified that our Broadway series, which has been building over the past many seasons, had a lot of interest with patrons,” said Levine. “We could easily look into the database and see from prior seasons that we had a great many repeat customers.”
He noted the unusual structure of their Broadway ticket offerings: “We were not offering subscriptions, and we were offering rewards tickets where the more you buy, the more you save.” Patrons bought multiple shows each season in the rewards program, and “that was increasing year over year.”
Van Norman agreed, noting that their Broadway programming was becoming a catalyst for audience growth. “It had been not only drawing repeat customers, but also new audiences coming to our theater for the convenience and the experience of seeing these shows in our beautiful historic theater.”
So, Levine concluded, “There was a really good opportunity to offer fixed seat subscriptions, which would both bring in ticket buyers as well as greatly increase donations that season.”
“The best thing about Tessitura is the ability to look at a patron's history, the trends, what is really incentivizing them to do what.”
Turning opportunity into action
“Tessitura really made it easy for us to identify that there was a demand,” said Levine. But that was just the first step. Next, the State Theatre team needed to create a plan to implement their changes — and to shepherd their patrons along with them into the new program.
The creation of a new fixed-seat series meant that Broadway Series patrons had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lock in their desired seats from the very beginning. In contrast, patrons of venues with longstanding subscription series often wait for years before seats in their preferred location become available. With a full house of seats open to new subscribers, the State Theatre could offer premium seating as a key incentive for current and potential donors. As Levine put it it, “The better the relationship you had with our institution, the better your seats were going to be.”
Photo courtesy of State Theatre New Jersey
That opportunity became the core of the State Theatre’s messaging. Said Levine, “We reached out to those patrons with a season ticket offer for our Broadway series. And in that season ticket offer, we were very matter-of-fact and said that this is your unique opportunity to lock in your seats, and those seats could be yours forever.”
“We knew that we had to highlight in our messaging that this was really the opportunity for them to purchase and make a commitment to attend Broadway for the season,” said Van Norman. In addition, since donors above a certain level gain tiered access to premium seating, “it was also a tremendous opportunity for donor acquisition, upgrades, and early renewals.”
The next step was to determine which patrons to target, and for which level of gift. Tessitura, with its unified view of patrons’ full ticket and donation history, helped them determine “which patrons to target and how to target them with really good segmentation,” said Levine.
“Tessitura really made it easy for us to identify that there was a demand.”
Targeting the right patrons with the right ask
“We went to work segmenting and segmenting and segmenting,” said Van Norman. “The development team started with our two main groups of patron levels, and we went line by line. And we looked not only at where they were right now, or whether they were a prospect,” but at other factors as well.
For example, “I didn’t feel comfortable asking a $500 donor to increase to $1000 if last year had been their first year giving to the organization,” Van Norman explained. “We looked not only at the number of years they’ve been giving, but their frequency and attendance over the past several seasons.” All of that data, she said, “painted the picture for what the perfect ask would be, and then what we were highlighting alongside that ask.”
Levine echoed the need to consider patrons “very holistically,” with marketing and fundraising working closely together — as facilitated by their newly combined department. He underscored the need to “make sure that we’re engaging with our patrons at their level of commitment to the institution, and understanding when to ask for a cross-genre ticket sale, or a donation, or an upgrade in donation.”
Tessitura was the key to enabling that deep level of segmentation, said Van Norman. “Tessitura enabled us to pull our lists and form extractions based on really complicated layers of behavior… I don’t know that we would’ve been able to see with that much detail and put that much thought into without those capabilities.”
“It enables us to really take a step back on both the ticketing side and the contributed income side,” she continued, and to “think really creatively about what we’re asking the patron to do, and how we’re looking at them over time.”
“Tessitura enabled us to pull our lists based on really complicated layers of behavior.”
Launch: a smashing success
The launch of the Broadway series subscriptions was even more successful than the State Theatre team had hoped. While they had anticipated high demand, said Levine, “Even that wasn’t enough to tell us how strong the demand was. When we launched the season tickets, we were over 300% of our goal.”
“We blew away our ticket goal,” said Van Norman, and “we were really pleased at the results on the contributed income side as well.” This campaign brought in high percentages of their giving for the year: “A quarter of our higher-level members come in through this campaign, and for the ones who are below that $2,000 threshold, we saw a third of the acquisition for the whole season come in through this campaign.”
The launch of season tickets for the Broadway series was “a catalyst for a whole launch of patron loyalty that we’re working on in the institution,” said Levine.
Van Norman added: “This campaign is really setting the stage for us to move forward with major patron loyalty initiative across teams, across the whole organization. We’re really excited to take what we’ve learned from this campaign and continue to work through Tessitura and what that database enables us to see across teams.”