Audience analysis helps grow attendances at the RSC

William Shakespeare wrote: “A friend is one who knows who you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.” The same rules of engagement apply in the way that the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) seeks to engage with its ‘friends’ – theatregoers attending the company’s performances, both at its Stratford-upon-Avon home and its various London outposts.

“Like any business, we constantly strive to reach a broader, more diverse audience, but we know we have to better understand the attendance patterns of our core loyal customers and use them to dictate artistic development in terms of the shows we put on,” explains Mary Butlin, head of strategic planning at the RSC.

While the theatre company may be skilled at staging complex battle scenes, it has historically lacked the technology infrastructure, software and skills to launch marketing plans based on detailed audience analyses and segmentation.

Enter Accenture, the management consulting giant. A major corporate sponsor of the RSC, it has spent the last three years helping to develop an audience analysis capability that the RSC now uses to retain and grow current audiences, re-engage with ‘lapsed’ audience members and attract new demographic groups.

Accenture kick-started the initiative in 2004, uploading more than seven years’ ticket-buying data into systems at the Accenture Customer Insight Centre in Italy. This comprised over 2 million entries, including names, addresses, attendance history and price paid for tickets.

Using data processing technology from Teradata, and assisted by colleagues at a second Insight Centre in Bangalore, Accenture’s consultants created a new RSC audience database that could be segmented based on customer behaviour.

From there, tools from data analysis vendor KXEN were deployed. These are used to comb through the mounds of data and identify specific audience segments and patterns of attendance behaviour.

Insights quickly came to light. Accenture identified eight mutually exclusive ‘segments’ of bookers at Stratford-upon-Avon and six in London. Of the Stratford segments, four had a significant number of return visits.

These segments included ‘regulars’ who attended performances at least four times a year and accounted for 59% of the RSC’s revenue, ‘semi-regulars’, Internet users and those who attended family shows. “Once identified, these segments became our marketing priority,” explains Butlin. A similar process was applied to the London segments.

The work on customer insight continues. Each quarter the RSC audience database, managed and maintained by Accenture, is supplemented with two flat files sent from RSC Stratford and RSC London.

In the files, each row represents an individual customer and each column a variable such as show or venue attended and if children were in the party. Up to 50 variables can be identified. The most recent Stratford flat file sent to Accenture represented almost 378,000 theatregoers.

Once the data is re-segmented, Butlin’s strategic development team analyses how each segment is growing and changing, tailoring the marketing strategy to fit.

“We could never have done this alone. It’s a technical job and we simply do not have the IT resources and skills in-house to perform this level of analysis,” she says.

Branching out

In recent times, the company has left the Barbican for other London venues and undertaken a major redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, temporarily diverting audiences to their new Courtyard Theatre. “By communicating closely with audiences, we’ve been able to maximise and maintain audience attendance during this period,” says Butlin.

The results speak for themselves. In the past three years, the number of people regularly attending RSC shows has increased by 75%. Revenues raised by the Shakespeare’s Circle donation scheme have grown by 67% annually.

All’s well, then, that ends well.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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