I have witnessed performing arts organizations bleed away the majority of their revenue through overly liberal comp policies or through inadequate communication or adherence to comp policies. I was on the board of an organization that had an average ticket price of $20. However, when you factored in the significant numbers of comps, the realized average ticket price was more around $3.50.
Certainly, there is a role that managing comp tickets should play. Schools typically give each faculty member one free ticket to encourage them to see the school’s performance. Nonprofit organizations often give actors a couple of comp tickets as an incentive to participate in the performance. Inviting the Press and giving them comp tickets is obviously a low-cost high-yield marketing strategy.
These are all valid uses of comp tickets, and indicate a solid approach to managing comp tickets. However, there are five critical mistakes that performing arts organizations often make in managing comp tickets.
1. Overly Liberal Comp Policies
First, the policies for comp tickets may be overly liberal. I worked with a college once that provided six free tickets to parents of performers. One must question why? The parents of the performers are the ones who would eagerly come and pay for tickets to see their children perform.
I worked with another organization that put no real limit on the number of tickets the performers were entitled to have and give to their friends. These types of policies are simply unnecessary and erode road a huge portion of the revenue.
2. Comp Policies Not Effectively Communicated
Sometimes the organization’s policies for managing comp tickets are good, but they are not communicated sufficiently to the box office or house staff. It is not an easy task for a box office ticket person to argue with a patron about how many comp tickets they are entitled to. If the staff member has any uncertainty as to what the policy and rules are, he or she is in a weak position and is likely to provide comp tickets in situations where they should not.
To effectively manage comp tickets, all box office staff should receive a clear communication about the comp ticket policies and understand that they are not to go against policy.
3. Comp Policies Not Effectively Enforced
There may be a good policy in place for managing comp tickets, and it may be well communicated, but not well enforced. The organization mentioned above which entitled parents of performers to six tickets actually ended up providing far more than six free tickets in many cases. Parents tended to take as many tickets as they wanted. There was no tracking mechanism in place to let staff know when the parents’ entitled number of comp tickets had been reached.
Sometime ushers as well may let people in without valid tickets thinking it is acceptable.
4. Inability to Track Comp Tickets
Even if there is a reasonable policy in place to manage comp tickets and it is well communicated with low tolerance for exceptions, if the number of comp tickets provided to any patron cannot be tracked, then almost certainly more comp tickets will be given then were planned. Any ticketing system should be able to track the number of comp tickets per patron.
5. Lack of Confidence in the Event
Giving away comp tickets may be related to management’s lack of confidence in the event itself. If management feels the event is somewhat weak, they will be more willing to give away comp tickets in order to fill the seats. The obvious solution is to focus on quality of the event itself and feel entitled to get the expected prices for the valuable tickets.
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