Joining the E-Mail Age

Most arts organizations have some sort of e-marketing program. Whether it is through PatronMail, Constant Contact, Exact Target or similar, the general principals remain the same. You collect e-mail addresses and then send out pretty, formatted e-mails about upcoming events.

Groups should also be receiving special information on a regular basis. Whether it is to announce your upcoming season, offer a special deal, or remind about an approaching payment deadline. It is also great to produce an e-newsletter just for groups perhaps with “behind-the-scenes” information or information about a special group benefit.

Don’t let your Marketing Director or Box Office Manager forget about you when they are sending our e-mail blasts!

Pittsburgh: Most Livable City

Just this past Thursday, Pittsburgh, PA was rated the nation’s “Most Livable City.” Over 300 metropolitan areas as scored on attributes in nine categories: housing affordability (cost of living); transportation; jobs; education; climate; crime; health care; recreation; and ambience (museums, performing arts, restaurants and historical districts).

Although I’m sure the score was low in the “climate” category, I can be certain that “ambience” made up for it.

Pittsburgh’s performing arts and cultural scene is thriving. With the centrally-located Cultural District featuring theaters, museums, and galleries, as well as the internationally known Carnegie Museum and Library and Warhol Museum. It wasn’t random that the first ever National Performing Arts Convention was held there in 2004.

It doesn’t hurt that some of the largest arts funders are headquartered in Pittsburgh – Richard King Mellon Foundation, Grable Foundation, Heinz Endowments, McCune Foundation, and The Forbes Funds (just to name a few).

So, KEEP IT UP Pittsburgh!


Welcome to the first installment of innOVATIONS! This will be a monthly (or maybe more frequent) series on exciting stuff in the world of group sales.

Be sure to let me know if you have something you’d like to be featured on the blog!

by Jennifer Batoon, Group Sales Manager

Group leaders are busy people. In group sales, we strive to make it easy for them to bring their group to us. San Francisco Opera devised the “Flexible Sales Plan” for groups that can’t or won’t resell tickets on their own. Instead of buying a block of tickets and collecting group members’ payments as required by most “traditional” group sales plans, we offer group leaders the option of setting up a custom “flexible” webpage where members buy their own tickets directly from the Opera.

The Flexible Sales Plan process is outlined in the attached Group Coordinator Checklist:

1. Select an opera and performance date.
2. Estimate how many people will attend to determine the discount. (We base the discount off their best estimate since, at this point, we’re not sure what the total number of tickets sold will be in the end.)
3. Decide whether the group wants any additional activities, e.g. private lecture or cocktail reception.
4. Group sales department drafts the webpage text to include the group’s name and schedule of events, then our IS department creates the custom webpage.
5. Group leader promotes the event through e-mail blasts, mailers, etc. They simply include the URL to the webpage (i.e., enter offer code XXX), and members buy their own tickets online.
6. Once the webpage expires (7 days before each performance date), I send the group leader a list of names and e-mails of everyone who ordered through the webpage. They can use the list to send a reminder before the event or even create nametags if there’s a reception.

*An invaluable marketing advantage of the flexible webpages is that we collect the contact information of every group member who orders through the webpage (as opposed to having contact information for only the group leader).
*Groups like how the webpage can be customized to include multiple performance dates, the group’s logo, special messaging, etc.
*Some groups, especially membership groups like alumni associations and social clubs, who find it difficult to collect everyone’s payment on their own appreciate this time- and effort-saving alternative.
*Groups like how there’s no financial obligation with the Flexible Sales Plan (if no one buys tickets through the webpage, they didn’t lose any money, nor do they have to place an advance deposit).

*Since there’s no financial obligation with the Flexible Sales Plan, sometimes our Marketing and IS departments put in a lot of time and effort that goes unrewarded if no one buys tickets through the webpage.
*Sometimes performances sell out, and group members who order late are out of luck. With traditional group sales, seats are reserved in advance. With flexible group sales, this is not the case, and orders coming through the webpage are treated like single ticket orders. This can be upsetting when a group has promoted an event to its members, so we always emphasize that people should “order early as performances often sell out.”
*Since people are ordering through the webpage at all different times, we do not guarantee contiguous seating. If this is important to a group, we refer them to our traditional group sales plan.

To see a sample flexible webpage: go to, and enter offer code FAF7B. This accesses our Friends & Family special offer for Summer 2007. We use the same setup for our online special offers where patrons must enter a code to access the offer.

San Francisco Opera uses Tessitura, and the functionality to create these webpages involved custom work by POP. Feel free to ask me any questions, or let me know if you’d to get in touch with our IS department.


Multi-Level Marketing

I’ve always thought that “Group Sales” was a bit of a mis-nomer. I prefer to think about it as “Group Marketing.” Why? Essentially, Group Sales Managers aren’t really hard-selling or cold-calling but, in fact, carefully crafting plans to get information out to the right people and enticing them to purchase tickets.

On another level, the Group Leader that the Group Sales Manager is “selling” to is at the same time “selling” it to their group members. This possibly is the most important phase. If that Group Leader can’t get enough people on their end to buy tickets, the group ceases to exist.

What can we do? Provide the Group Leader with all the information and collateral possible to then pass along to their group members. It is great if your company already prints show-specific posters or postcards that can be submitted. Also, preparing materials that might give background information about the performance is great. Something with a synopsis, “behind-the-scenes” information, cast information, and anything else that would be pertinent. If that same document could be reproducible on a common copy machine and still look good, you’ve hit the jackpot. Send only one copy to the Group Leader and they can copy as many as they need.

The more information that a potential ticket-buyer has, the more likely that they will actually purchase tickets.

Groups Go Techno

Most group sales professionals have heard about, but there are some other sites popping up out there as well. is a relatively new one with exciting prospects for arts organizations. They offer banner advertising on search results pages.

Lets say that the group is planning a trip to Pittsburgh, for example. When they put in that information when looking for hotels or restaurants, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust banner would appear. Hopefully the group leader will say, “Hey, I think we should go to a show!”

The advertising is not the cheapest thing in the world, but perhaps a couple organizations pooling their money could make it doable.

That Extra Little Bit…

Wouldn’t it be great if all groups wanted to come and see a show just for the joy of art? If it was so important to them that it doesn’t matter what the tickets cost and they are thankful for the group discount. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. Group leaders are bombarded with offers from various attractions that might include many things in addition to the group discount on the tickets themselves. How do arts organizations keep up and still make themselves viable?

Offer something extra.

This could be something as simple as a complimentary keepsake of some sort (program, t-shirt, poster, etc.). It could also be a bit more lucrative such as a free drink ticket to the bar at the theatre. Interactive elements work really well also such as a backstage tour, meet-and-greet with the performers, special pass to watch the ballet dancers warm up on stage. This also helps the groups to become more involved with your artform and make it more likely that they will fully enjoy the performance. The more they know, the more they’ll like it.

Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

How can I get more groups?

Question: My last postcard/brochure mailing was successful in gaining repeat groups. But what about the other 2000 groups on my lists that have never been to one of my performances?

Answer: Host a FAM.

Most FAM tours are hosted by area CVBs or other Cultural Council or Cultural Trust organizations. Just because you either don’t have relationships with those types of groups, or those groups don’t do FAMs doesn’t mean that you can’t have one yourself.

It is often just a matter of giving free tickets and a goody bag.

Send a letter to your list of groups that have NEVER been to your show or groups that have LAPSED. Enclose an order form for them to fill out and mail back to claim their tickets. Got a huge mailing list, but can only give away a finite number of tickets? Just note that on the letter: “Offer good for the first 50 people who respond” and so on.
If you can have a little pre-performance soiree at the theatre, all the better. If not, put a little goody bag on each group leader’s seat and make sure you introduce yourself before the performance starts.

I am a firm believer, that if a group leader sees the performance they are much more likely to bring their group in the future.

A Nebulous Existence

Group sales professionals in the performing arts: we are a minority. Stuck between the Marketing department and the Box Office. Sometimes working with Education and Development. Having tentacles that reach out to almost every aspect of the organization.

There isn’t an organization or association that is just for us, so a blog will have to suffice.

I hope to provide arts group sales professionals with information as well as community.