“Quit While You’re Ahead, or, How to Stop Banging your Head Against The Wall Before You Damage the Vintage Plaster”

Often we don’t realize when something is just not working, as we are either too close to it, or just not paying attention. Apart from soliciting input from those people a little more removed (theatre staff, volunteers), at arms length (board members) or even our customers, how do we figure out when we are not moving forward?

One easy step is of course analyzing data—for example, attendance at a series of events or activities. Who is coming, why are they coming and; can you do anything to make a difference in a program/activity? If not, it may be time to STOP.

Sometimes we think we know what our audience wants, but do we really know our audiences as well as we should? It is crucial to understand who is attending shows at your venue in order to plan to attract the most diverse and supportive patron of any particular program. Our historic theatres are often in an enviable position as patrons may come to a wider diversity of programming than other venues such as sporting venues, or traditional movie theatres. We have a chance to touch nearly the entire range of our local market with a huge variety of activities both presented by ourselves and by outside renters.

Make the effort to see who is in your building at every chance. This does not mean you have to be at every show, for the entire show. What it does mean is that it is never a bad idea to be in the lobby when doors open for a few minutes, or in the lobby when a show is over. Not only does this let you see who is there, but it lets the audience see YOU which is a great way of making connections that can lead to future philanthropy.

It is also crucial to know EXACTLY what it is costing you to operate. Our margins are often razor thin and when we can see what is working, and what is not, we have a better chance of making smart decisions. For example, do we really need that many concessions staff on at a particular time? Can we find a way to utilize volunteers in a way to save money with some aspect of guest services?

Commit to spending the time to attend as many shows for a period of 3-4 months as you can, and then reflect on what you have seen. Review the data that was collected and the feedback of your support staff, volunteers and board and treat this as a regular business activity. R & D for your business – it will pay off.

Posted on: November 29, 2010