This month in our Promoter’s Voice series we chat to Glen, Strathpeffer Pavilion’s Marketing Officer, to find out how their first Pay What You Decide event – Pip Utton’s show Playing Maggie – went in May.

What led you to pilot the Pay What You Decide scheme?

At the Pavilion we’re always looking to try new things. There seems to be a common understanding that all problems ought be solved elsewhere, that we should look to the major cities or ‘more innovative’ places like the Netherlands of Scandinavia to come up with a solution to dwindling audiences. If we waited for others to figure this out, we wouldn’t be here. So we did our research, found this idea and thought we’d just press ahead with it ourselves.

So what exactly is it?

Basically, it’s a new option for our audience to buy tickets – Pay What You Decide. This will apply to certain events throughout our programme, so whenever audiences see the PWYD logo, this means that the tickets have no set price!

It has been trialled in a couple of theatres across the country and has improved audience participation, so we are keen to welcome new people and regulars alike to enjoy something different. If our audiences like it, we encourage them to “Pay What You Decide”.

Do you feel it’s a risk?

It is a risk in the obvious financial sense, but no more so than it would be to run it as a ticketed show. We know that theatre here doesn’t draw mass crowds at the Pavilion, the overheads are the same no matter which way we ‘charge’ for it, so we decided to try this as a calculated risk.

How did you promote the event? Did you use any different marketing techniques?

Not particularly. We benefitted from good local press coverage across all titles, and promoted it heavily online, on our social media and in our programme. The Pavilion is quite unique as an enterprise as we do such a wide variety of business, so we’re very keen that all of our activities fall under the one umbrella – that is, the Pavilion. Marketing these shows alongside our regular ones gives us the opportunity to see if they set themselves apart naturally, ie. whether or not PWYD is a factor.

What size of audience did you get for your Playing Maggie, and how does this compare with your usual audience sizes?

The seated capacity of the Pavilion can go up to 300, and up to 650 for standing events. Our regular audiences tend to fall within the 80 to 120 mark, with 200 being quite normal for classical music. For theatre however, our audience numbers tend to be around the 30 to 50 mark.

Playing Maggie, our first PWYD event, saw 36 people come to the show, which is pretty much bang on target from the last similar performance.

And the million dollar question – what was your income like for the event and how did it compare to what you would have expected from a “normal” ticketed event?

Interestingly, we made more than we would have made if we’d sold regular tickets. An event like this would usually command £10 full and £8 concession tickets. I kept a breakdown of the audience and worked out the difference after the event, which showed that PWYD took in £70 more than regular ticketing. The average spend was just over £11 per person.

That’s great to hear! Did you get any particular interesting comments / audience feedback, and did you reach any new audience members?

Most people were happy with the performance, and agreed that they would come back again. The overall feel is that we will have to do this scheme for a while to let it grow properly.

We did benefit from tourist walk ups, which may not have happened if there had been a ticket price in advance.

Were there any unforeseen benefits or negative outcomes?

So far everything has been remarkably positive. The admin side of delivering the box office that evening was much, much quicker and easier than our regular method of tickets, collections, stubs etc.

Is there anything you would do differently for the next PWYD?

Perhaps make what the show was a bit more clear – Playing Maggie was essentially an audience with Thatcher, and we didn’t know this until we saw the performance ourselves. I think making that clearer on the posters/promo might have made people switch on more to the humorous possibilities of the show. Thatcher also is such a divisive character here that perhaps it is not the best show to measure this scheme with. We’ll be interested to see how it fairs once we’ve done four or six performances, and the natural follow up to that will be whether or not we extend it to other types of event.

Thanks to Glen for taking the time to chat to us about the Pay What You Decide scheme – it’s really interesting to see a promoter in The Touring Network trying this out, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it progresses, and the effect it has on the Pavilion’s audiences.

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