Pay what you decide – make it work for you

Rich Bates
Richard Bates

Asking for the audience to cough up what they think a theatre performance deserves can work – but you need data writes Richard Bates.

The last time you watched a show at the theatre, how much did you pay? Was it worth the price? Pay what you decide (PWYD) theatre turns the question on its head, empowering audiences to choose how much money they want to spend. There are different models for this – pay what you can (PWYC) differs from PWYD – but the principles remain the same: the amount of money that changes hands is up to the audience.

While PWYD is not a new concept, it is one that’s gaining traction. Last year, ARC Stockton announced that they had doubled their box office income for PWYC shows, then Harlow Playhouse announced a 50 per cent increase in audience members using PWYC. Battersea Arts Centre is also using PWYC. Now Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia has announced that their entire 2016- 17 season will work on a PWYD model.

For arts organisations where community engagement plays a big role, the value of PWYD isn’t just its impact on the bottom line, it’s the impact on reaching new audiences. But if audiences are just putting their money into a jar and leaving, how can you learn anything about them?

This is why PWYD strategies need data to be successful. Gathering information doesn’t diminish the relationship you’re trying to nurture. It lets you learn from customers and follow up on the relationship you’ve started to build.

Firstly, PWYD can tell you if you’re attracting new audiences. If you succeed in bringing in new audiences using PWYD, you have plenty to gain from finding out who they are, where they’ve come from, how much they paid and if they made a return visit.

And if attracting new audiences is the key motivation behind your PWYD programme, then your audience hold all of the information you need to prove if you did (or didn’t) succeed in this aim – you just need to ask them for it. Using data like this when speaking to your board, management or funding bodies could be hugely beneficial too, particularly when rallying support for your PWYD events in the future.

Secondly, if you find that a PWYD offer is attracting your existing customers, you can look at what they gave you for PWYD today, and compare it to their average spend in the past. Did they spend more or less? How much does your existing audience think they should pay to attend your events? Monitor these people in the future too, to see if their average spend changes after having taken part in PWYD. If their average spend increases, look closely at this group of engaged audience members and see if you can build them into donors and ambassadors for your organisation.

How to build data capture into your PWYD scheme

  1. One of the things that makes PWYD work well is its built-in anonymity, which means audiences can be honest about how much they’re willing to pay for their experience. So, here’s how you can try out PWYD, maintain the feeling of anonymity around payment for the customer, and capture data about them at the same time. While there’s a bit of data entry required, the insight you gain from this information will pay dividends
  2. Sell tickets (or reservations) in advance at zero value, allowing you to capture customer details. If you ‘sell’ tickets online, you can get an idea of audience numbers too.
  3. Next, your audience collect their ticket at the box office before the event, in an unsealed envelope. The PWYD tickets inside could have their own specific design, where the stub or a section of the ticket contains the unique order number, as well as space to write the amount they chose to pay.
  4. At the end of the performance, the audience simply fills in their stub and deposits the entire envelope with ticket stubs and money into a PWYD box, perhaps with a feedback form too. These envelopes contain the money, as well as a unique order number to trace back to each audi- ence member. The original comps can then be returned, and the PWYD amount can be processed for every- one who attended.

Using PWYD data to measure its impact

As well as being able to understand the impact of PWYD on attracting new audience members, the data you capture from your audience in this way can also help you to understand:

  • How many first-time visitors come back after PWYD, and the amount of money they could pay for any future tickets they might buy.
  • The average ticket spend on PWYD performances compared to non-PWYD.
  • The average ticket spend of first timers compared to returning audience members.
  • The average PWYD spend of returning audience members, compared to their previous spend.

Not only does this help you understand the true impact of PWYD on bringing in new audiences, but, assuming your experiment is a success, it’s also crucial to getting buy-in from your senior team.

Clearly, PWYD isn’t for everyone but for many organisations, the potential for developing your stronghold and opening up to new audiences is huge. Whateve

r the motivation, data is as fundamental to the success of PWYD as it is to any other sales, marketing or fundraising activity.

Richard Bates is head of support at Spektrix