Unobstructed: Collecting Squirrels with Laurie B. Squire (EP. 40)

Announcer: You’re listening to unobstructed your view on the live events industry.


Mike Evenson: Hello and welcome to another episode of Unobstructed. I’m your host, Mike Evenson, your long lost host. It’s been a been a bit since we’ve gotten on here and recorded a podcast. We’ve been busy like the rest of the industry and reopening, which is so good to see. It’s great to see local venues starting to reopen and whether you’re into theater, sports, music festivals. Or drive through dinosaur parks, which is kind of the focus of our next conversation with Lori Squier from Imagine Exhibitions. You got to be excited to get back out there. And I know that that a lot of people share that enthusiasm and optimism that as we turn the calendar unbelievably into 2022, that things will get closer and closer to normal and we’ll all be able to get back to the events that we we love so much. But I was really appreciative of the conversation I had with Lori and what Imagine Exhibitions is doing not only during the pandemic and but really what they’ve done before. And they’ve kind of figured out a formula on how to run successful exhibitions all around the country and really the continent. And it was a great, great to to sit down with someone like Lori, who has so much experience in the live event space, you know, that she’s been able to cross over from theater to museums to, you know, exhibits and learned a lot from her. So hopefully you’ll enjoy the conversation. Welcome to a special live episode of Unobstructed. I’m your host, Mike Evenson, and I’m really excited to have Lori Squier join me on Unobstructed Live today. Lori is the director of Ticketing and business insights at Imagine Exhibitions. Lori is a results driven sales and guest experience professional with over two decades of experience generating revenue in live entertainment venues, museums and attractions. I’m really excited that Lori has joined me today. Lori, welcome to the live podcast this time.


Laurie Squire: That’s my great great to be here. Looking forward to our conversation.


Mike Evenson: So before we get into imagine exhibitions and kind of what you guys are focused on again to two decades, you know, in this industry is quite a long time, why don’t you give our audience a bit of a background in where you came from?


Laurie Squire: Sure, sure. It’s glad. Nice to be with everybody today. I really had spent a lot of years working in cultural nonprofits. I’m in the Chicago area and so have been here for many, many years and really started in sort of the operations and event side of things for a performing arts facility here in the Chicago area. It was a small organization that really allowed people to wear a lot of hats, you know, and anytime people are working in those small nonprofits, you get pressed to sort of do a lot of things beyond sort of what is traditional scope of someone’s job description. But it really gave me an opportunity to kind of learn a lot of different parts of the business around live performing arts in a small theater here in the Chicago area and transitioned to museums doing kind of similar work around events and marketing and group sales and at a spent some time, about 18 years at the Field Museum here in Chicago area and learned about sort of the inner workings of a much larger institution, a much larger organization, and sort of how the workings behind the scenes went on putting on a great experience for the guests that came to the museum and then spent a few years at the Adler Planetarium, which is also here in Chicago, smaller organization, but was able to lead a bigger team and learn a lot more about the ins and outs of organizations that are visitor centered organizations that are welcoming guests on a daily basis.


Laurie Squire: And the sort of the information that you gather around those guests and the experiences that they’re having and the way to spread the information and invitation, if you will, to people to join and attend those those exhibitions at museums. So coming to the table right now with a lot of experience with the back behind the scenes time at organizations like that in the service of really providing really rich experiences for people to come and enjoy, whether it’s live theater, whether it’s a museum or an or an exhibition. That’s what really I really enjoy. And so my experience is coming out of sort of museums and live entertainment and now working with Imagine exhibitions for the past four or so years as really sort of bringing to the table that museum perspective, but also knowing about audiences and markets and what really drives them to make decisions about buying tickets to, you know, have a great experience at an exhibition like what we do at Imagine.


Mike Evenson: Yeah. The triangulation of of those those three components, you know like the experience kind of the content that that’s being served up. And then obviously finding the right people to match those up is is fascinating. Growing up north of of Chicago in in a Milwaukee suburb used to always go down and visit. I don’t know for some reason I have a vivid recollection of the Museum of Science and Industry. So I’m sure you’ve you’ve been there. But, you know, as you’ve kind of learned about, you know, how to create experiences, what are the big differences you see between we talked before this started about Wrigley Field, about going to a Cubs game or or going to a live theater event or a concert. And then these kind of exhibitions like think sometimes exhibitions are seen as more interactive. But how do you see those different kind of genres, you know, dealing with that consumer experience?


Laurie Squire: Well, I think it’s interesting, you know, when you think about sort of sports versus performing arts versus exhibitions or museums, I think, you know, what drives someone to sort of do those, you know, participate in those kinds of things. And, you know, certainly from a fan perspective or from a sports perspective, you know, fans are, you know, the way we talk about them in the sports field, but it also becomes, you know, those whether it’s a member that’s a long term, you know, guest or a relationship with a with a museum or, you know, a patron of a of a performing arts facility. You know, it’s I think it’s about having that experience for yourself, but also experiencing it with a crowd around you. Those live events. Right. Has have such a such a, you know, such a dynamic sort of live opportunity to experience something with someone else. I mean, that’s what really drives my the motivation around this is not it’s number one, having a really vital experience that resonates with me because I’m a fan of something or I love something or I want to see it again. But also sharing it with the people in my life and sharing it with friends and family and, you know, going to that concert, that’s never going to be replicated again. Right? Because you’re in this venue at this place, at this date and time and seeing sort of the dynamic around how that performer is doing that show, I think that that’s that’s really what sparks me. And the reason that I do some of the, you know, the nitty gritty backs of the back of the office kinds of things that you do some around ticketing and around, you know, analyzing data, it’s in support of these experiences that people really, you know, that’s what people sparks their imagination, sparks their joy around the kinds of things that they want to attend and experience.


Mike Evenson: Yeah, no, I totally agree. I think that they all bring that own kind of unique experience to them. And the combination of kind of who you’re with and what you’re seeing, you know, creates a unique experience every time, which I totally agree with. All right. Let’s get into imagine exhibitions, because you guys are extremely diverse as far as the types of exhibitions that you create around the country. So. So tell everyone, you know what? Imagine Exhibitions is about and what you guys do, and then maybe share a few exhibitions that people might be familiar with.


Laurie Squire: Sure, sure. Imagine Exhibitions is an exhibition development company essentially, and those relationships take a lot of different shapes as far as the different partners that we work with and the content that we create and talk about and promote and all of that. We have a portfolio of about 40 different exhibitions that we work with on any given sort of time, and they range from a lot of different things where we work with a science museum actually in Perth, Australia, that produces produces about ten different exhibitions that we basically then take the content, they’ve got the content experts from their scientists there at their museum, but we then have the expertise to to build it and to travel it around the world and install it and install it in all these different places. And so we have about ten different exhibitions that we partner with that particular organization and they tend to be Stem and steam focused exhibitions that are really appealing to science museums and we move those around at all times. We probably have anywhere from four to 6 to 8 different exhibitions open around the world at those kinds of places. And so that that’s one of the core parts of our business are these exhibitions that are going into a science museum. It might stay there for 3 or 6 months.


Laurie Squire: We’re going to take it and move it to another exhibition, another space, and then another part of our business is around partnering with other folks that may they may own the content or they may have the intellectual property rights to something like that. And so, for example, we might work with movie studios or TV studios or game developers, you know, video game developers to create content based on Angry Birds or Downton Abbey, the TV show, for example, or, you know, Harry Potter, for example. So there are a number of times when we’re partnering with someone who owns that, that that IP and we’re then using that, you know, their goals are around taking that brand and extending it and expanding it to more and more audiences, right? So, you know, a video game platform, you know, those those fans of a video game platform, you know, this is a new way to expose different people to sort of the concept of Angry Birds, for example, or guests that might have watched Downton Abbey, for example, knowing that there’s a new movie coming out in the spring, for example, you know, what are ways that we can extend the brand and bring new fans to it, for example, for example. So that’s another one of the ways that we work is we’re kind of working with these outside partners and we’re then moving that exhibition around to different places as well.


Laurie Squire: In some situations we actually operate the venue too. And so, you know, we’re hiring the team and putting in the ticketing and operating on a daily basis, making sure that the lights are on and all of those things and making sure that that guest, when they’re arriving, is having a great experience as well. We’re also doing conducting audience feedback at the back end, right, so that we’re hearing from them about what the experience is and we’re feeding back to the folks that are analyzing that to understand, hey, how do we get more people to come? And so we then also operate those travel around all different locations around the globe. And then we also sometimes operate more longer term sit down shows. For example, in Las Vegas, we have partner with a hotel casino there and have a real bodies exhibition there that’s been there since, I think 2017 or so. And we operate that venue and partner with them to promote it. So there’s the exhibition portfolio is big and and the relationships take a variety of different shapes around sort of what the goals are and what the opportunities are there.


Mike Evenson: It’s interesting. Thank you for walking everyone through that. It’s interesting to think about, you know, the the beginnings of, you know, one of those exhibitions and you’re kind of thinking about, okay, well, who’s what is great fit look like? What’s the ideal kind of customer that we want to bring in? And I would assume that I’m curious to to understand your methodology around as you look to put an exhibit in Charlotte, North Carolina, or in Vegas in a casino, you know, what are what is your methodology to kind of think about, you know, how are you going to attract kind of the right people? And I would assume that it looks different depending, again, on the content, depending on the location and everything in between. So, you know, given your role, I think you’re kind of that central figure and kind of helping, you know, I guess, build that formula.


Laurie Squire: Well, you’re right about that in that we’re going to identify all kinds of different factors that are going to influence the decision of where to go on that sometimes. Sometimes it’s about how far do we need to drive the trucks to the next place. Right. Downton Abbey is 25 trucks of stuff to move somewhere. So you don’t necessarily want to go from East Coast to West Coast. Sometimes it’s those kind of factors, but other times it’s going to be like, Where’s the existing fan base already? Like, what do we know about movie viewership or social media, You know, numbers or, you know, what are the other parts of that brand that we already know where some of those fans are already. And we’re going to definitely evaluate markets based on that. We’re then going to also look at the nature of the exhibition is this are these dinosaurs that were moving around the country or is it Downton Abbey? Right. As you could possibly imagine, those are very different audiences that are attracted to those kinds of shows. Right. You know, those dinosaurs. It’s those little bitty kids that are. Three and four year olds all that are know how to spell and pronounce those dinosaur names. And they’re the ones that really want. It’s the families accompanying those really young kids that are coming to see dinosaurs, for example. And the Downton Abbey, for example. Exhibition is one that’s really appealing to sort of folks that have watched that show and have, you know, a very different demographic. So we’re definitely looking at then, what’s the nature of the content and who the fans are already, and then how do we find markets and how do we how do we find tactics to communicate with those audiences to to sort of make sure that we’ve gone to the right place and we’re talking to the right people about bringing them to that experience?


Mike Evenson: So let’s talk about you’re referring to Dino Safari, which I think is interesting in a number of reasons. One, it it was something that you launched, I believe, during Covid, right? And it was, you know, a bit of a was that fortuitous that it was just the timing that you could do a drive through socially distanced kind of exhibit or was that kind of propelled because of of Covid? Walk me through that.


Laurie Squire: Well, you know, as the the overused word pivot has come out as a part of Covid, for example, it was very much a pivot for us. We have a portfolio of five or 6 or 7 different dinosaur exhibitions. And as you experienced, I’m sure many of the people perhaps listening to this is that every single museum client was closed at one point in time, you know, back in the spring of 2020. And so as those things are sitting idle, you begin to think of what are some what are our opportunities to, you know, make lemonade as another one of those euphemisms? Right? But how do we make lemonade out of this? And so as we began to understand sort of what people were willing to do, you know, a drive through experience in a parking lot to see dinosaurs became something that people might not have ever thought they would have done in the past. But they certainly became very interested in doing that when they were looking to have, you know, a great family experience, but in a in a place that was safer that we could feel contained within their car and drive through and see these life animatronic dinosaurs that those, you know, little kids just go crazy for. Right? So it became a moment for us to really take a look at what are our assets that we have and how do we sort of take those and recognize the demand in the marketplace might be and try to make sure that we’re there at the right moment. And I think, you know, over those months that we did, I think somewhere around ten or 13 or 15 different venues for Dino Safari, that’s what we really were looking for, is it know being in the right place at the right time around where we could take those dinosaurs to the next parking lot.


Mike Evenson: And I’m assuming so it literally was a parking lot.


Laurie Squire: Some of them were. Yeah. So it would be like a state fairgrounds. It was, you know, retail mall parking lots. It was those things, those places. They had spaces where, you know, families could be in their car, could drive through. There was an audio tour where they could listen and hear about what they were seeing. And, you know, in a what they were needing at that point was a safe environment where they felt like they, you know, could enjoy being with their family. But but but, you know, be distanced from other folks as well.


Mike Evenson: I just think there’s a lot of parallels because not a lot of, you know, live event organizations don’t maybe have the flexibility or so they think to be able to just pick up and move and plop down somewhere else and just make lemonade out of lemons, as you’re kind of saying. But, you know, we saw that time and time again with with Covid, whether it was going virtual or whether it was doing things, you know, in a socially distanced manner and and stuff, I think there was a lot of innovation that came came out of this pandemic in our industry. And when I heard about Dino Safari and just I wasn’t for some reason I was picturing rolling hills and everything and Jurassic Park. But of course, it was, you know, a state fairground. But, you know, I think to be able to kind of to design that and really think about kind of what, you know, how can we keep our, you know, our value proposition and do what we do great, but in a way that that people can enjoy during Covid, you’re one think shining example. And I would just encourage organizations who are used to kind of, you know, four walls in a stage to kind of start thinking regardless of the pandemic, you know, to start thinking about how do we start, you know, moving our organization, our brand outside of these walls, outside of this, you know, of where we’re typically presenting our content, insert ourselves into our community and find new people. And so, you know, I just think that Dino Safari was a great example of that. Is it how is it shifted? I guess, your philosophies around kind of future exhibits and stuff? Are you, you know, did this create a whole new opportunity in your mind or was it just kind of a time and place because of the pandemic?


Laurie Squire: Well, it definitely was spawned by sort of how how can we react quickly. And Tom Zahler, who’s the president and owner of Imagine Exhibitions, is nothing if not kind of visionary about what he wants to do and what he’s willing to press his team to do on his behalf. I think we all were sort of like wide eyed and following behind around like, okay, are we going to really get this done? And, you know, he had sort of the boldness to sort of say, yes, let’s let’s make this happen. And I think that, you know, sometimes you you take those you make those decisions from a point of you’re experiencing some sort of pain point, right? And you are like, okay, how am I going to react to that? And, you know, certainly the pandemic has forced all of us into sort of this crucible, if you will, of pressure around what are we going to do and how do we react to that. And it’s created some very interesting, I think, ways innovations. I think as you talked about, ways to innovate on that part. I’m really hopeful, certainly as time goes on that that pressure and drive to innovate stays with us. Right. And I think that that becomes a way to really help move this industry, especially forward in the ways that I think becomes really as people start to identify and I’m hoping it probably spent some time over these past couple of years really thinking about what is it that’s important to me right now. And I think for many people it’s about spending time with family, doing, you know, once in a lifetime things. And I think this this industry is sitting in a very a very good place to take advantage of that as time goes on here.


Mike Evenson: Yeah, well, especially, I think as things are reopening, I just think that appetite, you know, to kind of get back out there and see things and do things is is greater, greater than ever. So are you seeing, though, you know, one of the things I would say that our industry is struggled with is we’ve generally been pretty rigid with regards to kind of. I guess the the. Ability for consumers to be flexible. That’s why I’m using the word rigid. But Covid kind of forced this this this flexibility to come forward. I mean, I’m talking about things like exchange policies and adding adding things, removing things like, you know, in general. I mean, I used to be in a box office and, you know, I swear I use no more than more than any other word. And I think like that’s a flawed approach as I look back. And if I could do it all over again, I would have been much more accommodating to the flexibility for the consumer. And I’m curious, you know, what have you seen that shift as well? Do you think that that that flexibility, again, is one of those things that will have staying power in our industry? Or do you think that inevitably we’ll go back to more of that rigid sorry, you bought this ticket, you can’t exchange it, you can’t return it. We’re like, do you guys have a point of view on that? And, and do you personally think that that’s going to shift over time?


Laurie Squire: Well, I think, yeah, we have definitely experimented with far more flexible kind of policies over this recent few months because we know that people are looking for that and they’re willing to pay for that and they’re willing to say, I’m not concerned. I’m not concerned if my plans are going to or I’m not. You know, I don’t know if my plans are going to change. I don’t know, um, you know, what’s going to happen necessarily. And so I’m willing to I want to pay for that flexibility in a way that then gives me that peace of mind. I think that’s really what it buys you, right? Is that peace of mind that if I have to make a change, I can still do this thing that I want to do and not lose out. So we definitely have experimented on a few different ways around whether it’s typically we’ve kind of applied a fee to sort of exchange tickets, you know, you know, pay a modest fee for the ability to change tickets. And we’ve seen really high, high uptake in that option for people that wanted to have that ability to exchange and all of those things. I think what I’d be really fascinated to see and I haven’t been able to sort of analyze this from a database perspective, data driven perspective is how is that guest you know, those guests that were offered that flexibility versus those that weren’t and their perception of the experience, their perception of the organization and their, you know, their desire to then purchase again? Right. That flexibility factor has got to make some impact on that behavior in a way that I haven’t been able to measure. But I really am very interested in ways we could measure that so we can make some better decisions on that for sure.


Mike Evenson: So so you triggered data driven decisions. And so I wanted to jump into into that because I think, you know, there was a time in this industry I mean, it’s so funny how new a lot of this is. You think about our industry and in particular, I mean, online ticketing isn’t that old, you know, frankly. But the the evolution has just been so significant. And all of a sudden we went from, you know, collecting 1 or 2 data points on a on a on an event goer or a ticket buyer to all of a sudden there’s just a almost a tidal wave of of of data. And so I know that you guys are a forward thinking, data driven organization. I mean, both in deciding, you know, where you’re going to plop down a new exhibit, but also how are you going to find people who are the right people to find to come? How do we get them to come back, which is a topic I want to touch on, you know, a little bit later. But guess what is your general philosophy around data? And, you know, where’s that sweet spot in in kind of. Finding the signal from the noise as far as like there being too much data, not enough data. Where where do you where what’s your philosophy and where is your focus?


Laurie Squire: Well, I think you hit on an interesting point around sort of that sweet spot or that balancing act that you have around, you know, you know, if you want to gather as much data as I can because I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. And sometimes the folks on my team will say that, what are you going to even do with this information, Lori? Because like, you know, if you ask too many questions, certainly people are going to be less likely to answer them, right? But if you don’t ask them at all, you don’t have that information. I had a great friend that worked was a scientist at the Field Museum, and he talked about collecting squirrels. And back in the 1950s, they would collect squirrels and all kinds of different specimens and things over time. And people would say, like, Why do you need more squirrels? And he’s like, I don’t know, because I don’t know the questions I’m going to be asking of these squirrels later. I don’t know what the research I’m going to do on these squirrels. So, you know, fast forward to the 80s and 90s and, you know, more recent years when, you know, DNA technology exists. Right. And so things that we’re discovering and can do now, they can go back to those things that they collected squirrels in the 1950s.


Laurie Squire: I don’t know. I’m surprised to be comparing our data to that necessarily, But it’s a really funny story around. They they didn’t know what they were collecting those squirrels for back then. But now we’ve got this new technology that allows them to gain new insights on the something they collected 70 years ago at this point. So use that as sort of a silly story to talk about the data that we’re collecting now. You never know what kind of questions you may want to ask that data. And so I’m always a proponent of getting more of it, but that also puts you in a position of a couple of kind of challenges around, you know, if that guess sort of gets fatigued by all the questions you’re trying to ask them and the data you’re trying to gather from them, you know, you’re going to get less quality data from them, of course. So that’s something a balance. You’ve got to definitely strike well, and then you’ve got to decide where am I going to put all this data in a way that I can access it in a way to understand the signal from the noise, as you kind of referred to earlier.


Laurie Squire: Mike, is that okay, I’ve got all of this, but how can I make sense of it? And I think you do have to kind of start with some basic questions that you need to ask yourself of those things, right? What do I want to know and what kinds of information am I going to be able to utilize? But you also, you know, some of the data that we’re able to collect through different ticketing systems that we utilize, you know, it’s there, right? And we’re asking new questions every single day almost. I’m going in and adding some new analysis, some new visualization of that data because someone has some new way they want to ask the question. And so if you haven’t gathered it, it just makes it that much harder to answer. So that’s sort of my philosophy on collecting data, I guess you could say. But the the questions you can ask of it are sort of infinite. And I think as we’re all gathering it from all kinds of different sources, right, you know, whether it’s a social media engagement, whether it’s an actual ticket purchase, whether it’s, you know, post show emails that include a link to a some kind of feedback. And there’s and there’s other of ways of gathering that data, too.


Laurie Squire: You know, we really have tried to think about it in the context of how do we use this to create like this 360 degree perspective on that. Guest Right. You know, how can we in many of our exhibitions I’ll use Harry Potter as an example, people are already they’re already on their Harry Potter customer journey. You know, the number of people who’ve seen at least one movie is an astronomical number. And so people are already sort of on that customer journey. And so we’re looking at how do we insert ourselves into this experience they’re already having so that we can begin to understand more about them as we create this Harry Potter exhibition that we’re working on currently. And how do we then learn more about them through that ticket purchasing process and through the experience after the show? Because of course, we want to then recruit these folks as evangelists, if you will, around their experience and around how that went. So that, of course, they’re spreading the word on that front. So that 360 degree perspective on that guest helps us really understand that much more comprehensively about those guests and what are the motivations to buy that ticket and visit and have a great experience.


Mike Evenson: Well and it’s interesting you you key on that with with Harry Potter because I think that um. You know, one of the one of the things that I think a lot of people struggle with is, is whether their content is worthy of repeat visitors. And I think that, like like you said, live only happens once. And it’s unique with who who, who you went with and and kind of the experiences that day even what you ate for breakfast maybe you know early in that earlier in that morning may may may affect it. But are you guys like specifically with, you know, a Harry Potter or whatever, are you as you’re gathering more data points around these these people, you’re trying to create that 365 degree view, you know, of of, you know, of of a customer. Are you trying to get them to come back? Like, I think there is this misconception. It’s like, oh, well, you know, exhibits, you only go you only go to it once. And then remember the people that went to the Star Wars movie when it first came out, the new one, they went to it like 30, 40 times. We have a Les Miz fanatic that works at audience view. And so I think that’s a bit of a misconception. And I’m curious if you guys are actively trying to get people to come back to Dino Safari to come back to Harry Potter.


Laurie Squire: Well, absolutely. We definitely want to encourage that repeat visitation. And I think there’s a number of tactics you can use to do that. And one of the ways from the conception of the exhibition itself, right, how it’s how it’s put together is that we think about from all different kinds of projects that we work on. We think about sort of the fans from a variety of different perspectives. What is a casual fan of the brand? For example? What is someone who maybe likes the brand and is familiar with it? They’ve, you know, maybe engaged it with it in some ways. We sometimes talk about people who love the brand and really, you know, have really immersed themselves in, you know, the content and and other fans perhaps. And then we talk about people who even live the brand. Right? It’s become a lifestyle for them. And so when we understand that we’ve got these different segments of our fan base, we know that we’ve got to create an exhibition that responds to all of those, all of those on the spectrum, so to speak, in that if I’ve got a casual fan who’s just going because, you know, I’ve seen something, but you know, my friends are the ones that really want to go to this thing and we want to keep them engaged.


Laurie Squire: We can’t alienate them in the content by making it so, so specific and having to have seen or read certain things about the about the content that they feel alienated from it. Right. We’ve got to give it broad entry points to the content, but we’ve also know we’ve got that super fan on the other end of the spectrum who if they’ve seen all the content in whether it’s movies or books or whatever the thing is, then, then what’s new? Why should I kind of come to this experience? And so what is that Easter egg? What is that sort of hidden nuance that they might kind of find? Or what’s that thing that only a super fan is going to know? So even from the perspective of developing the content of an exhibition, we know that we’ve got to engage fans along that whole spectrum of fandom, if you will. And that also appears applies to how we’re messaging to those folks about encouraging them to come visit. So once we’ve developed the exhibition, how are we then communicating it, messaging it and marketing it out to people and making sure that certain messaging is going to appeal to that casual fan versus those to that to that super fan? Right.


Mike Evenson: So how does that intersect for you, if if at all, with your pricing strategies? I’m curious, as you guys look around, you know, as you look to price something either when you’re first going into a market or you’re first launching an exhibition versus, you know, adjusting that price over time, do you employ dynamic pricing strategies? Like how do you guys look at at pricing and you specifically in your role? Because I think you’re playing a leadership role in making that call.


Laurie Squire: Well, dynamic pricing. I mean, that’s a topic that’s been around for a long, long time. Right? And I think it’s definitely something that people are embracing more. Our approach to it so far has been kind of what I would say is sort of a rudimentary approach in that, you know, we might create sort of peak and non peak pricing, which is, you know, maybe it’s Monday through Thursday is non peak with a lower price point that might try to attract people that that that might be a barrier to come but also wanting to really peak the peaks on those Saturdays with peak pricing to really take you know to leverage sort of those guests that are coming on those high volume days to get the revenue. So we’ve done a little bit of experimenting with peak and non peak. We’ve done sort of some three tiered pricing as well. That’s actually a that’s a new initiative for us. The three tiers of pricing that will kind of start to analyze that real very soon on that front. Um, but as far as it being sort of truly dynamic, I don’t know. I don’t know that any of us are as sophisticated as the hotels and and airline industries these days around sort of the dynamic around that. But I know there are some partners out there that are doing that a little bit more specifically, I’m curious about sort of your thoughts around that and where you think we’re going.


Mike Evenson: Well, I mean, as you were talking about Harry Potter specifically, I mean, it was you know, I always remember there was a haunted house in Milwaukee where and it’s it’s timely just given given that we’re in October. But where you paid um, I think it was 20 bucks back in the day, but there were like six floors. And like for every floor, you made it back, you got money back, right? And so you think about and for them, that was just it was about the experience and it was about creating fear and stuff. But there was this almost like financial motivation to like, keep going and keep going and like, if you could make it all the way up, maybe you save ten bucks, right? I forget exactly how it worked. And so I’ve always had that nugget in the back of my mind as as I’m thinking about, you know, superfans is like should superfans. They probably would pay more, but should they pay less because they’re more influential and they’ll kind of augment and distribute your message out there and and does a repeat visitor. You know, I mean, we’ve all gotten that, you know, hey, come back with a $5 discount kind of thing and stuff. So, you know, I, I, I don’t know that we’ll ever get so sophisticated as to say, you know, like. The airline industry, because just the way the inventory is structured, I don’t know. But, you know, I think when it comes to, again, depending on what your philosophy is around retention, retaining people and getting them to come back or, you know, like I look at packaging too, packaging is a big part of of your pricing strategy. So when I think about Harry Potter, I’m like, Well, what you know, if you’re a super fan, like, are you bringing your wand with you or is that something that you guys already that you facilitate? I think about taking my kids to great Wolf Lodge and what that experience is with with them, with with with the wand.


Mike Evenson: And so, you know, pricing isn’t just necessarily about getting getting in the door. As you know, I think there’s a lot of different, you know, strategies that that that you could employ. But and then we talk about I don’t know if this would work in the exhibit world, although with virtual reality, it certainly would. It’s like is there going to be an in-person price and then eventually is there going to be a stay at home on the couch kind of price or a virtual kind of price experience? And so it will be fascinating to see how this industry evolves with regards to pricing. And I think the big the biggest challenge is going to be. And think this will happen with marketing too, is like how much trust will this industry have in the technology? So what I’ve seen with dynamic pricing is like very few organizations are willing to totally give up the reins to let like an AI dynamic pricing algorithm, like literally priced for them. They always want that. Well, I need to check it first and I’ll say yes to this or I’m going to make a slight tweak, which is totally within their right, but I don’t know that it’s ever going to fully get integrated until, you know, the human component, frankly, is is is removed. I don’t know if you have thoughts on that.


Laurie Squire: Fear is a really driving motivator for many, many things. Right. In all of our lives. Right. That fear of letting go. And I think at the point in time that someone’s willing to sort of make. Make a test, take a test and see how it goes and really let go of the reins and see how, you know, how the data bears out. Right. Because that’s really what would happen is that you’d have to then let go see how those whether it’s AI or some other, you know, logarithm or whatever, that sort of controlling those prices, let it do its thing and be able to to kind of compare, you know, there’s a financial risk there to do that. But I’d like to think that because of some of the pressure that we’ve all been under the past couple of years is that people have have been at a place where they’ve taken more risks and have seen some payoffs there that maybe were close to sort of having that ability or or that risk tolerance, if you will, to then put aside the fear and maybe do some of that. I think it’d be fascinating to see.


Mike Evenson: Yeah, well, it’s it’s it’s it’s a it’s a tough time right now as a live event organization to kind of like say no to new revenue opportunities or say like I mean everyone has just been so, you know depleted, you know, from a resource perspective by Covid that I mean, I would be turning over every stone and finding ways to generate revenue. I think every industry is really trying trying to do that as they recover. And like you said, I think consumers, you know, are starting to accept and almost embrace the ability to pay more or less, depending on more or less flexibility, like you said earlier. And so that consumer choice in almost you know, I think there’s a fear, again, of saying, well, we don’t want to make something too expensive. And it’s like, well, you know, you shouldn’t necessarily look at it that way. You should look at it as they’re getting more, you know. And I think that that’s you know, you guys have proven that out with your, you know, just inserting flexibility into the the ticket buying, ticket buying experience. But are there are there other kind of things as we turn the clock, thankfully, to 2022? I mean, 2020 was brutal from a Covid perspective. 2021 was the path to recovery. Hopefully 2022 will start to see, you know, things kind of really turn on and stay on in full force. But are you you know, as you guys sit around thinking about the changes that you want to make and just kind of like, how do you think this is a moment that you feel like you can take advantage of as people are kind of excited to go back out into live events again or what what what things are you guys looking at as an organization as you head into 2022?


Laurie Squire: Well, I think some of the early indicators that we’ve seen in some projects that we’ve worked on are that people there is this pent up demand that people want to, you know, see and interact with the experiences and brands that are important to them. They want to they want to come with their friends and families. And not only are they willing to sort of buy that ticket, but they’re willing to you know, the merchandise sales has really been at really high levels as well. Those sort of other ancillary pieces that people are wanting to collect that that memento, if you will, because it’s about collecting experiences. Right, is where I’m hoping we’re all heading at this point. Obviously, for those of us in this industry. And I think that the trends that we’ve begun to see in these early months have been around, you know, that per capita spending is strong. And so I’m hoping that that continues. And I think that people who are have the resources to to build on that or to optimize that, I think would really have some really great growth opportunities from that perspective. And you mentioned earlier a little bit around whether it’s ticket packages or other sort of VIP opportunities, that’s another way to sort of take what is perhaps if merchandise isn’t an option, but the experience of bypassing the line or, you know, some other sort of small token merchandise item or something that can be packaged or some other unique thing to the experience, whether it’s a, you know, a button or a lanyard or whatever those kinds of things are that are around. This is the only place I can get this. This is the only, the only way I can sort of access things that we’ve seen some real success, early success in these early months of this that I’m hoping will sort of pay off as we sort of develop those kinds of opportunities going forward.


Mike Evenson: Yeah, I think, you know, again, if you’re in the the theater or music or kind of like venue space, I would highly, highly encourage you to go to some attractions and exhibitions and just see how things are a little bit different and how you can apply, you know, elements of that, I’ll give one example is, is like at Six Flags you mentioned skipping the line. Like there’s, you know, not only is there a fast pass, but there’s like a super duper fast pass now and stuff. And so, you know, you start looking at that and growing up again in Wisconsin, you think about the standing out, waiting out in the cold, waiting to get into a venue, you know, and you’re like, would I pay? You know what? I pay a little bit more to be able to valet my car or would I pay a little bit more to be able to go into the into the venue a little bit early to get to get warm. That’s like, you know, version a version of a fast pass. Yeah, maybe. You know And so I think that, you know, I would just encourage you as you can get out there and take a look at these attractions, these exhibitions, because I think there are some absolutely some things that you could pull from and kind of create a better experience, generate more revenue. You know, and I think vice versa. I think there are things that attractions and exhibitions can pull in your experience, you know, working in theatre and museums and exhibitions, I think is probably why you’ve been so successful is because you just have a very well rounded, you know, view on how to create those great customer experience, how to tell those stories.


Laurie Squire: Yeah, my husband’s actually in the wine business and you wouldn’t think that there’s a lot of parallels between selling tickets and selling wine necessarily. But as we compare stories on a regular basis, we see so many parallels in our business. And wine is about certainly a product that you drink, but wine is about the experience. Typically how it enhances a meal, for example, or enhances, you know, an event where you’re having a glass of wine or champagne or something, too. And so it’s funny how we actually extract pieces from each other’s business all the time around how to enhance an experience around whether it’s buying a bottle of wine or buying tickets to an event. We find parallels all the time. And so I think those kind of points of inspiration, you know, you know, queue management at airports is something we look at all the time, right? Like they’re the experts around queue management. Like there are so many opportunities to look outside of our specific industry and look at other inspiration out there to really try to create that ideal experience that’s going to help you meet your revenue goals.


Mike Evenson: I love that. Lori, thank you so much for for joining us on on obstructed and love what you guys are doing at imagine exhibitions and if you’re if you’re anywhere I’m assuming if you live in in the United States are you in Canada.


Laurie Squire: I’m in the Chicago area.


Mike Evenson: No, no. Are there any exhibitions in Canada.


Laurie Squire: At the moment? We might have one up there. Maybe the Toronto Science Centre? I’m not sure. Yeah.


Mike Evenson: If you’re if you’re anywhere around, you know, in the US, I would strongly suggest, you know, going to their website, finding, finding an exhibit and kind of seeing how how they do things. And it’s really not just the exhibit itself, but it’s the experience that Lori and her team have curated from Event Discovery all the way to, you know, remembering that event. But Lori, again, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate the time.


Laurie Squire: Nice to be here, Mike. It’s really a nice way to spend some time this afternoon.


Mike Evenson: Thanks again to Lori Squire for jumping on unobstructed and we hope you enjoyed listening again. If you want to subscribe, we’re everywhere you are when it comes to listening to your podcast, so please do subscribe to Unobstructed. We’re excited to continue to. Bring things to the market, you know, whether it’s this podcast or our patrons perspective, which, you know, allows us to, to kind of tap into kind of the audience mindset as we return to to live events and to share that out into the, into the live events community. So hopefully you’re enjoying what we’re doing. I know we are and we’ll talk to you guys soon.


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Laurie B. Squire, Director of Ticketing & Business Insights at Imagine Exhibitions Inc., joined Mike Evenson on episode 40 of the Unobstructed podcast. Laurie is a collaborative, results-driven sales and guest experience professional with over two decades of expertise generating revenue in live entertainment venues, museums and attractions.

They discussed the importance of data-driven decision making, storytelling, looking outside of your core industry to meet revenue goals, pricing strategies, things live events professionals can learn from attractions & exhibitions, optimizing per capita spending and much more!

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