Ticketing Professionals Conference 2018 Roundup

Author: Emily Childs

The dust has settled, and I have cleared my inbox, following two days of intensive tickety goodness last week at the Ticketing Professionals Conference in Birmingham. Despite travelling to Birmingham once a week to our illustrious headquarters in the Jewellery Quarter, I still managed to get lost trying to find my hotel (in my defence, it was midnight, there had been gin and regular visitors to Birmingham will know how fond they are of digging things up and re-routing you….)

It was my first time at TPC and given my current role and previous role in ticketing software (including coordinating a conference of similar size/content) I had high expectations and a somewhat critical eye…  I was interested in a few sessions in the line-up and, of course, the opportunity to catch up with old pals from the sector and make some new ones.

The schedule was nicely interspersed with plenty of break for networking between sessions and the sessions themselves were, on the whole, both practical, relevant and crucially not too long so speakers were generally focussed. This is more than can be said for some conferences I have been to in my time. The delegate price was lower than previous years, so if you’ve not been before I would recommend considering it for next year. There was also a concerted effort to redress the lack of female presenters and panelists, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of that next year.

A conference is always good for getting away from the daily grind, and remembering all those other things you promised yourself you were going to do the last time you broke free of the shackles. There were a few similar themes coming out of the day which I have been mulling over.

Invest in your staff, but don’t forget your website

The conference opened with a session from Bill Hogg who was talking about engaging employees (although he isn’t keen on that term). Focussing on ensuring staff are trained, well paid and enthused about working for you, ensuring they are living the values of what you hold dear. I couldn’t help but feel that too many venues forget to think of their website in the same way. In terms of ticket sales, your website is often one of the hardest working members of your sales team.

Like the physical staff in your venues, the website needs regular support and attention. Just as staff needing training, so too does your site need regular refinement and investment. When was the last time you booked a ticket on your own site to make sure the language and experience is the same as the in-person experience?

Always customer first

Perhaps unsurprising for a conference focussed on ticketing and full of front line, customer-focussed delegates, yet it was heartening to repeatedly hear that the customer (and their experience) is always at the forefront of what everyone is trying to achieve.

Whilst everyone is basically navigating the same issues of attracting audiences, selling tickets and re-engaging previous attendees, there are always some unique scenarios which often require a different approach – which can be scary when we all know how change averse our audiences can be.

Be it a fair ballot for a strictly limited run (Spektrix’s Alice Newton outlining the ballot approach for RADA Hamlet) or tackling the touts for the London run of Hamilton (Ticketmaster and Delfont McKintosh’s paperless ticketing approach) often the solutions proposed require the customer to change their behaviour. This doesn’t have to be a painful process. Both these examples highlight how clear instruction and timely communication can serve the customer needs, whilst gently influencing their behaviour, with little disruption or complaint.

Preparing for disaster and some hard-won lessons

We’re all in the business of navigating potential disasters. From big complex projects such as changing ticketing systems or launching a new site down to the more regular occurrences such as a season onsale or an exciting casting announcement. There are multiple moving parts, all with the possibility to go wrong. Nobody wants to think of the worst case scenario, and I’m not proposing that you try and cater to every edge case, but we will all experience times when it is all on fire. What we learn from that process and how we mitigate disaster going forward is key.

James Coleman of Supercool and Caroline Aston of Chichester Festival Theatre gave a refreshingly honest account of the website issues surrounding their member’s onsale, which included both a new CRM system and new website.

Caroline outlined that whilst they had taken steps to think about all of the potential disaster scenarios, the worst case scenario did indeed happen. Since that fateful day, they regularly refine their FAQs pages, developed their online user-guides and instructional videos and constructed a crib sheet of notifications and responses for various communication channels as “it’s easier to construct the wording when you’re not under pressure.”.

I remember this day well, I worked at Spektrix at the time and my palms sweat and my heart rate goes up at the mere thought of it. Yet I was struck by the lessons both Caroline and James had learned, how they had refined their processes yet obviously developed a constructive working relationship from the ashes of the fire. This is so very important.

Collaborative partnerships

All of the above scenarios drove home the importance of collaboration and working in partnership with the various moving parts of the giant tickety, websitey machine that is the live arts. Like most people who work in the arts I have worn various hats; box office, marketing, outreach and front of house and various others. I have also worn the ticketing software support and consultation hat and currently wear a web agency hat, so I have experienced the joys and difficulties from all angles. The single most important thing that I have learned in this time is how important a good, honest relationship is.

Our most successful sites here at Substrakt are those where we have a strong collaborative approach between ourselves, our client and the ticketing platform, with each taking responsibility for our area of expertise. Not to mention drafting in additional support from specialists such as audience development bodies, analytics experts, email providers or our friends at Queue-it to name a few. Each bring to the table experiences, new ideas, novel approaches and often hard-won lessons to tackle the myriad challenges of working in this bonkers, brilliant industry.

A look to the future

The conference ended with a look to the future, always enjoyable with an engaging speaker like Rob Williams, but to echo some of his points, I can’t help thinking that before we head off into a world of blockchain and natural language processing let’s get the fundamentals right, and keep refining them. There is still a way to go improving APIs, rethinking the online purchase path and adapting to new technologies. As Jake Grimley of Made Media reminded us, he’s been talking about designing for mobile at arts conferences for nearly 10 years now…