Art by Numbers: 6 ways to improve in 2015

Is your arts organisation doing better today than it was at this time last year? Data expert Michael Nabarro helps you track your performance for 2015

Programmes change, and an arts organisation’s identity is hardly static year-on-year. So how do you compare yourself then to yourself now? Chances are, you’re sitting on a wealth of data that can standardise how you measure your performance over time, giving you access to key performance indicators that are meaningful and comparable despite the changes in your programme.

Are you looking back on 2014, and reflecting on how you can improve in 2015? Here are seven examples of the kinds of KPIs [key performance indicators] data can unlock for you, exploring the questions they can answer and explaining why it’s worth taking the time to ask them.

1. Average yield per seat

This key metric – the average revenue from every seat sold – is as important in the arts as it is to the airline industry. It will naturally fluctuate from year to year, depending on your programme and any number of external factors. Nonetheless, what you want to look for is a steady increase over the long term, in line with inflation. If this metric is going down, however, you ought to question why this is happening. Could it be the price banding of your seats? Maybe you’ve been discounting more than necessary? Use this KPI to make sure your pricing strategy is working for you.

2. Advance bookings

Split your sales into groups based on when customers booked, for example: on the day of a performance, a week before and longer than a week before. Take a look at this information compared to the same period (or a comparable event) last year and look for trends. Is the proportion of customers booking close to the event going up or down? Whatever your programme, the trend you ought to be looking for is a year-on-year move away from customers booking at the last minute. If you’re not achieving this, take a close look at how you can change it.

3. New and returning customers

How many new customers have you sold to in the past year? How many of the customers who were once your first time bookers came back again (and how many of them didn’t return)? There’s such a mountain of potential data around your new and returning customers it can be difficult to approach this in a useful way. Be certain to ask the right questions of your dataset, getting more granular as you go. Comparing your data from one year to the next, find out how many of your bookers purchased for more than one event at the same time. Or try asking: how many of them booked a second event, within three, six and nine months of their last visit? Lay your data out graphically and pick out the trends.

4. Average spend per order

How big was your average basket size this year compared to the previous year? Is your big push on cross-selling working? Once you’ve already got your customers’ interest, make sure they know that you’ve got a lot more to offer them; consider your online purchase path carefully and ensure you put the right content in front of your audience at the right time. You could give them the option to choose their interval drink as they book their tickets, share related events or encourage them with a multi-buy discount. It’s much easier to make an existing customer an even more loyal one, than it is to cultivate a brand new customer.

5. ROI on your marketing spend

Do you have a way of measuring the return on investment on your printed brochures and flyers, compared to your Facebook or Google adverts? If you do (perhaps through promotional codes or different web URLs and phone numbers on your print material) can you measure how your audience’s behaviour has changed over time? For example, look at the return on investment from your last season’s brochure, and compare this to the same season in the previous year. Has your ROI increased? Print is expensive – data like this can give you the evidence you need to prove how your budget might be better spent.

6. Comparison with similar events

Unlike all of the KPIs above, this one needs to be acted upon in real-time as an event is on sale. Look at a show that’s on sale now and compare your sales this time around to the equivalent show in previous years, on a week by week basis. Take panto as an example – if, three weeks into the run, your sales aren’t as good as last year’s panto at the same point, what do you need to adjust? There’s no use looking at this one after the event, so keep an eye on it and act quickly.


I’ve written before about the rush to embrace big data and why the arts actually need to stay focused on ‘small data’. The KPIs above are examples of exactly this, where practical and easily accessible data can answer a specific question and put you in the best possible position to improve the way you work. All arts organisations have unique needs and goals, but many of the methods of measuring success in the arts come down to universal KPIs like these.

Michael Nabarro is co-founder and managing director of Spektrix. You can read his other columns for IAM here