The Long Haul Model: Operational Implementation Part 3

A Series for Those Who are Serious About Changing the Narrative

Image for post
Image for post
Part 3 of a 3-part series for those who are serious about changing the narrative.

After you have worked through internal challenges/changes to be made before implementing the Long Haul Model and sorted out your staff structure to support this work, you’re ready to put pen to paper (or shall we say, put the pedal to the metal?!)! So where on earth do you begin? This final post in our three-part series is the most tactical, walking you through step by step.

In other words, create your pyramid. Start with someone’s first interaction with your organization, and define that segment: who are they, and how will you find/track them? Get specific here. As an example, we include in the first timer segment people who have not attended in four years or more (in addition to new-to-file patrons) because we decided that if someone hadn’t attended in that long, we should welcome them with open arms with the same process as the rest of the new attendees. Usually the answer to the latter part of the question — how you’ll track them — is in your CRM, and mostly transactional (i.e. based on a ticket purchase or donation), but not always, so make sure you very explicitly answer this question. In the same example of first time attendees, we don’t know who they are until we get the patron manifest for each concert from our venue. And then we import the list into our CRM, and then run a report to see who those new attendees are. If you run your box office in-house, your answer skips a few of those steps. The point is, you have to know exactly who is in each segment and how you will access that data. Then, think about the next step you want someone to take with your organization and repeat the exercise: what is that step, who are they, and how will you find/track them? Continue on until you have all the segments defined and your ideal patron journey created. Everything else in this post is useless until you have this step covered. Below are the segments we defined as the ideal audience journey at the California Symphony.

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve seen some organizations, particularly at larger-budget organizations, define their segments not by journey or transaction, but by interests, such as “classical music purists” versus “classically adventurous” versus “intimidated newcomers” versus “open and social.” This isn’t inherently bad, especially when you have a large database and are trying to figure out who all is coming to your concerts, and the rationale is that this would help you know where to sell Mahler versus John Adams versus concert formats with a social element added. However, there are two problems with this approach: 1) Basically everyone is an intimidated newcomer (we’re talking 85% of your entire database or more) until you help those newbies come back again. Seriously, look at your database and run a report of current subscribers, donors, and multi-buyers, and then calculate the percentage against all accounts in the last 5–10 years; a very low percentage is actively engaged. In other words, all of that interest-based segmenting isn’t useful until you’ve been able to further develop your patrons’ relationships with you. It’s a little cart-before-the-horse if you don’t have that first 85% or so figured out, or simply inefficient effort exerted on a much smaller segment of your audience. 2) People are pliable, and tastes are pliable. Someone can like Mozart and John Adams, or Beethoven and John Williams, and like being social. And sometimes that changes by mood, or night of the week, or because of with whom they’re attending, or any other of a million reasons why humans change their minds and have varied taste. The point is, it’s really hard to measure interest as it’s much less concrete than a transaction where we know exactly where that patron stands in terms of their relationship with us.

After each segment is defined, and you have identified the one desired next step you want every type of patron to take, next determine what tactics you will use to get that person from A to B? Ask what’s the overarching message and how you will convey that message. More examples of how that’s played out at the California Symphony:

First Time Buyers
Message = Thank you for coming! We noticed this is your first time with us (or first in a while), and we love you and we want you back again soon!

Tactics = postcard mailed after concert with copy to convey the message above, plus an aggressive discount offer to come back again. And the offer has a deadline (usually about 30 days out) to create a sense of urgency. About a week later we follow up with an email with the same content (message, discount, urgency). Then email again right before the deadline. This season we are experimenting with an added element of a thank you letter from a musician on their seats waiting for them with an additional urgent offer of free parking if they buy within 48 hours of the concert. Yes, we are hitting up first-time attendees four times with the message of how much we love them and how grateful we are they came. It’s also worth noting that the design of the postcard/email is in the theme of the concert they attended rather than a future program; memory elicitation is our goal here.

Message = The Symphony keeps getting better and better; let us enhance your experience and help you form a habit of coming here.

Tactics = no more discounts until someone subscribes; now that this person has come twice within a 12-month period, we are shifting from discounting to adding value. We mail a card after the concert (in an envelope with a first class stamp, so one step up from the postcards the first-timers get) which includes a voucher for a free drink to be used before the season ends.

First Year Subscribers
Message = Any size package you want is yours — whatever it takes to make it easy for you to come to the Symphony! When you’re a season ticket holder, you get great benefits.

Tactics = We almost never talk about fixed seat packages with this group. Even during renewal — because the ONLY thing we want them to do is renew their subscription in any way, into any package, no matter how big or small. This is the only subscriber group that doesn’t have an upsell of any kind: no donation ask, no package size upsell. And this group is the only group that has the option to downgrade their package, meaning fixed seat subscribers of two or more years are only offered renewal into the same size package or larger, whereas a first year subscriber could have come in as a larger fixed seat package and see that there is an option to downgrade to a CYO (Choose Your Own) package of fewer concerts. Before you think this is crazy, you should know 1) first year subs are the only sub group that we do this with because a renewal of any kind is worth more in the long run than no renewal at all, and 2) our first year sub renewal rate is now at 69% compared to the national average of about 50%. This group is also greeted at the first concert in their package with a welcome note on their chair from the maestro where we remind them of their awesome subscriber benefits, and invite them to pick up a welcome gift (a CSO recording) in the lobby at intermission. For us, this means we’re seat carding new subs through January; for a larger organization with more concerts, it’s possible small package buyers are experiencing their first concert all the way through the spring. That can make it tough for us as administrators to wrap our heads around — to put ourselves in that new subscriber’s shoes and plan for the first concert in their package — because by the spring we have not only personally lived through ¾ of the season, but in fact have half our brain into next season because it’s already been announced (or is very close) and sub renewals are out the door! To the patron though, of course the mental timeline is very different, and for a new subscriber, it’s critical we make that first experience in their package a good one.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

And More
We go onward with this exercise, and have messages and a tactical plan for every segment, including new donors, renewing donors, and of course major donors. We also have micro segments within larger groups, such as fixed seat renewing subscribers versus CYO subs versus subs-non-donors, etc. At each step, there is only one desired next step, and everything we do points you to that through how we connect you more to the orchestra and the organization.

In a perfect world, customers behave the way we want them to and climb right up that pyramid and love our organizations more and more with every step. But what about the people that don’t do that? Make a strategic and thoughtful plan for them, too. Hint: a “strategic and thoughtful plan” doesn’t mean “put them on every mailing list.” In the same way we have specific messages and tactics for the segments above, we have gone through the same exercise for these harder-to-wrangle but oh-so-important groups below (the topics of future blog posts to come!):

  • Lapsed Buyers
  • Lapsed Subscribers
  • Special Event Attendees
  • Lapsed Donors
  • Inactive Accounts

With so many offers for different people, and seat carding multiple segments with different collateral at every concert, and fitting all that in to a broader communications plan consisting of emails, social media, direct mail, and digital marketing, these efforts obviously must be coordinated. We granularly calendar these details across marketing, communications, and development departments. Getting all this information in one place is rarely done in my experience at organizations large and small, and rather, what usually transpires — especially in larger organizations — is multiple calendars for these different bodies of work developed in siloes, which brings us back to yesterday’s post on why our siloed org structures are a disservice to doing this work well.

Yes, this is complicated, tedious, and even thorny. It’s a lot easier to have everyone doing their jobs without intense and possibly messy coordination. The truth is the mess was always there though, and this process simply illuminates that — and then helps us get our organizations in tight working order.

This is a lot of work. But it’s different work than what we normally do, and in fact, replaces some work from the old way of doing things. Plus, it’s work that’s worth it, because when you start seeing the revenue that follows, and the audience that grows, and the donor base that increases, it makes everything else we do (e.g. programming that adventurous piece maestro has been wanting, going to the bargaining table with the musicians, expanding the education program to another underserved school, creating a more compelling compensation package for that insanely good principal player, hiring the talented staff you need to get this all done) a lot easier. I have lived this at my last two organizations of varying budget sizes in addition to applying several of these strategies with success at top tier cultural institutions.

One last piece of advice based on experience: When in doubt, do something, not nothing. A/B test an offer you’re not sure about, pilot test that new initiative you’re not ready to put tons of money behind yet; do something — anything — and see if you get results. Because to do nothing means no change in our audiences or how we’ve serving them.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Finally, thank you to everyone who has reached out with the thoughtful questions that prompted this series, and especially for the praise of a positive approach to addressing challenges we all face in our industry. Enough with talking about it though; it’s time for us all to get to work.

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony
Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when most arts organizations are scaling back programs, tightening budgets, and seeing declines in tickets and subscriptions, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (young patrons group for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to quadruple the size of its donor base. From growing audiences, increasing concerts, and expanding programs to instilling and achieving common goals across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, Bergauer is someone you want to follow — on the nationally-recognized blog she created to discuss what actually works in a changing arts landscape, and in real life, too.

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through ground-breaking marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of technology, and through taking strategically calculated risks in a risk-averse field. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of impact and execution at institutions of all sizes. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around.” (Mercury News) Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization’s mission and vision is creating a transformational change in the office, on the stage, in the audience, in the community, and going well beyond the industry of classical music.

Working to change the narrative for symphony orchestras.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store