One-on-One: Thom Morgan, Director of IT, American Conservatory Theater

Small organizations can make huge decisions. When American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), San Francisco’s premiere non-profit theater company, made the move to AudienceView, realizing new revenues and controlling ticket fees were key objectives. After two years on AudienceView, it was clear A.C.T. had made the right choice. We talked with Thom Morgan about the organization’s decision and how controlling fees has opened up so many choices for A.C.T.

AV: You came to AudienceView from a software vendor that forced ticket fees. How did that impact your ability to manage your service experience?

Thom: The problem with our previous ticketing provider is that they took a cut of the fees for online transactions because it’s how they made their money. This limited our options. For example, if we had an event in the theater that was entirely free, it was actually costing us money. We couldn’t charge the customer anything, but we paid a fee for all the comp tickets that were reserved on the Internet. In addition, we do Young Conservatory and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) program shows in addition to our main stage productions. In cases where we didn’t want to charge very much, we were still paying a fee for tickets sold online and, in many cases, we collected no actual income. What we collected just covered the ticketing fee.

AV: When A.C.T. did the return on investment analysis with AudienceView, how did it incorporate controlling and keeping 100% of your fee revenue into the analysis?

Thom: It played a large part in our decision. We were keenly aware that A.C.T. was going to keep the entirety of all fees and that, instead of a percentage, we were going to collect 100% of the fees. This was a huge selling point. AudienceView also gave us more flexibility in delivery methods and an ability to manage fees in various ways.

AV: How long did it take for you to recoup your investment?

Thom: In a strictly dollars sense, the investment was recouped rather quickly.

AV: When moving to AudienceView, you could have removed fees altogether. How did you approach ticket fees once you gained 100% control over those decisions?

Thom: Initially we transferred the same framework to AudienceView. If the ticket fee was $1.50 for a $15.00 ticket with our previous provider, it was $1.50 on a $15.00 ticket in AudienceView. As we became more comfortable with the AudienceView system, we created more subsets so the fees were more fair to the patron across all price levels. We didn’t have much granularity in the fee structure with our previous provider – now we do, and that ability to really narrow down price points and fees is incredibly useful. For example, with AudienceView, we are able to adjust fees by price and also whether the patron paid full price or was offered a promotional price. This control and flexibility over our fees, together with subscriptions features, the ability to change prices on the fly and other tools we use in AudienceView, have made our ability to meet our goals much stronger. We are not nearly as nervous about numbers as we once were.

AV: In the past, you could point the finger at the software vendor for the fees being charged. Now, you take the ownership of this choice. How are you handling this and are your customers more or less willing to pay fees?

Thom: Customers understand that there are going to be fees. As long as you don’t take advantage of that, they are fairly accepting of the idea. That said, we do offer our patrons a couple of ways to avoid paying fees. Subscribers don’t pay any fees on any additional tickets they buy. Once they pay their subscription order fee, they could purchase 500 tickets over the course of the year and not pay even a dollar more in fees. We also offer patrons the option of not paying fees if they come down and purchase tickets at the box office window. With many options in fees and delivery methods at our disposal, we are offering our customer options, and rewarding the customer behavior that we appreciate most. AudienceView allows us to make these choices.

AV: When organizations like A.C.T. research software vendors, they usually do a cost analysis. What advice would you give an organization looking to do this analysis?

Thom: You really have to look at the overall cost of the system – not just what the software costs, but also the overall costs and additional revenue that you would generate through incremental gains in fees, ticket prices, upsells and add-ons. For example, with the other system we were considering when we selected AudienceView, we felt we would have had to hire more people. At that time, which was still in the depths of the recession, this was not an option. We also thought the other software was prohibitively expensive and that any benefits it might offer wouldn’t outweigh the additional cost.