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Ticket to Ride
posted on: 27/8/2010 09:07:06
gadget show RESIZED
David Pearson discusses the benefits and challenges of new ticketing and registration methods.

David Pearson, consultant to visitor management service provider Interchange Communications, discusses the benefits and challenges of implementing new methods of ticketing and registration.

In 2003, Paul Byrom moved from Reed Exhibitions to Upper Street Events, jumping the gap from trade exhibitions to consumer shows. With him came ideas and ways of working from marketing on large-scale trade events which didn’t immediately translate to consumer shows.

At the time, ticketing agencies were still  working to a model that charged organisers a commission and often involved keeping the booking fee for any tickets sold for an event.

Money handled went into the ticket agent’s bank, to be reconciled to organisers at a later date. A large number of tickets were being sold via telephone and e-ticketing was rare.

Byrom came to Interchange with a list of challenges:

1) Create a booking system that like trade events, was entirely event-branded, from the booking form through to the confirmations and tickets.

2) Move all funds from the event direct to the show’s bank account.

3) Cash in on the expected huge increase in internet bookings.

4) Move to scanned tickets rather than torn tickets.

5) Give marketing managers data on who booked from which campaign, allowing them to target their marketing much more tightly to control budgets.

6) Have a single supplier for box office, badges and entrance management.

The first and second of these were relatively straightforward. Online booking forms and payment forms for trade shows, including bespoke ones, were far more advanced than in the consumer market.

The third, however, was the biggest challenge yet. The problem had always been that as
ticketing agencies had to employ hotlines for sell-out events, gigs, concerts and festivals; it was in their interest to keep them occupied the remainder of the time and hence publish
telephone numbers.

Investigating call centres across the UK (outsourcing to overseas was a dirty word at the time), the per-minute cost of call centres was around £0.70. The average time taken to book a visitor was three minutes, adding a cost of £2.10 to every booking.

Moving to e-ticketing saved yet more costs, cutting the postage charges, envelopes and printing charges, saving over £0.50 per booking.

Scanned tickets were a simple matter of barcoding them and using the technology from trade events to count, and validate, the tickets. Accurate figures on who came and when, and no more bags of stubs.

The result has been fantastic, culminating in a win for Interchange Communications for Best Innovation at the Exhibition News Awards in 2008 and another nomination in 2010. Moving forward, bringing lead-recording to consumer shows and opening SMS marketing to visitors have been great improvements.

It has opened the consumer events market to all the investment and innovation in ideas from trade shows, and been part of the solution that helps Upper Street Events and others deliver award-winning shows from both stables, from the Gadget Show to Caffè Culture.

Inevitably there has been the odd failure, and there are certain challenges where this new strategy is not fully-integrated into the marketing campaign.

If they market their event the way they have always done, publishing phone numbers on everything and not adjusting the focus toward internet and data, it simply won’t deliver the savings promised.

Independent launch events face a difficulty in that without backing from investors, or a trading history, banks have been reluctant to offer online merchant accounts at the low fees offered to some other customers, and often introduce funding delays to the cash. This has to be balanced against the huge savings that moving to a completely e-ticketed, internet-booked event could have on costs.

For the financial directors of shows, cash flow is improved and bank fees reduced, but there will be an overhead tracking the cash, processing refunds and balancing ticket sales against the money flooding into the account.

For marketing directors, it is possible to get details of who is booking from which marketing campaign, which contra deal on a stand is saving you money and which is costing you. However, for individual marketing execs, there are extra tasks designing booking forms, laying out ticket designs, sending e-mail shots and writing e-ticket text.

The final concern has always been that ticket agents sell loads of tickets for events through their own websites. Nothing of the above prevents an organiser using agents, Interchange have worked successfully with the Ticket Factory, and many others where the concept of a commission is thoroughly appropriate, paying them for helping increase attendance.

All of the challenges above have led to innovation, and some to awards and new revenue streams, some to new approaches to seating 4,000 people in an arena three times a day. Every piece has been a result of being driven by a customer for something new.

Where to next? The way people pay is changing. Just looking at the success of the Oyster system on the London underground and e-wallets on mobile phones in the Far East has Interchange hot under the collar for the next challenge.

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