Sunday, 3 April 2016

From Rave promoting to e-marketing 101. An object lesson from TicketSellers

Rave promoters then; impressively legit now. Who knew?

Slick and online. Times have changed....
You've almost certainly bought gigs tickets online. Leaving aside scam sites who will relieve you of £2.5k for an Adele ticket, there are dozens of straightforward operations, whose business is simply to ease the transaction process for operations both small and large. Links for gigs pop up on band sites, face book and twitter. Click and you land on the site. Pay and you get a code number which you present at the gig, on paper or on your phone. You're name's on the list, you go in. Voila. Life was never simpler for small acts and promoters.  Um. Maybe. 

Shifting tickets online is easy! Well, it is now.

The great thing about operations like Birmingham's TicketSellers is, like all new web-driven small-scale tools, that they let musos market their own gigs online. 
The company handles handles all the cash; there's no messing about with notes and coin at gigs in the dark on the night, and it's free for bands, as the buyer pays the commission. As usual, the band does the legwork – but at least it's financially secure, and they don't even have to print tickets if they don't want to. Flyers and posters are still a must, of course...

TicketSellers have a glossy sleek office in the Jewellery Quarter. It's an upgrade from the less flash offices they used to have in Selly Oak. Lots of computers humming away; fridge full of snacks, IT boys bashing away feverishly... it's a proper 21st century IT operation. 

That wasn't how they started. Here's Mo Jones
Mo: We started as event organisers ourselves. We did events up and down the country. We would spend weeks driving up and down the country distributing the tickets and the thankless task afterwards was to drive round the country to collect unsold tickets and our money. And often the person who has the keys to the safe wasn't there. Or they'd spend half of it... 
So we developed e-tickets really early on, because we decided we couldn't be doing with this awful process. 
Ah, back in the day...
I knew you were going to say that! It was about 2003. We had our little shop in Selly Oak, and we got a credit card terminal, so we could start taking card numbers. Then we got clearance to do the card not present process. The banking powers that be ran credit checks on us and gave is the OK. 
So we could then talk to promoters who said they weren't going to deliver tickets to Birmingham, because now they didn't have to. We could sell their tickets and give them a list. 
Did the promoters you worked with go for that?
They did, because at that time, Flashback – our brand which we started in 1996 - was really popular. It was an old-school hard-core rave. We did out first gig a the Q club in Birmingham in 1998, and we had four glorious years there, of cracking parties. 
So it was old business hassles that created a new business proposition?
Exactly! It moved us into the whole area of virtual tickets.
But the web was pretty sluggish and untried fifteen or so years back. 
We didn't have a website! We did all this with flyers and phone bookings.
Massively labour-intensive? 
Oh yes. It was us and a couple of students,. We did ten hour, eleven hour days in the shop, and Saturdays. 

From rave to a solid business. By accident. 

I love it. Underground rave rebels, suddenly swerving into a solid business, grafting away.
Well, we were hard grafters when we were rave promoters, because we spend half our time driving around collecting tickets!  But it was so different. We had a duplicate receipt book, the ones with the carbon paper.  When someone called up for a ticket, we would write their name and address their full credit number in duplicate.  
Very secure...
Ha! And then we'd gather them up, and go over the road to the phone box, when 192 directory enquiries was was free, remember.  We'd phone 192 to see if the lived where they said the lived. You could only book if you had a landline... and that was our security check. And then we would post their receipt to them. With their full credit number on it!
So actually... massively insecure. Did you get any come back from that process?
Amazingly, no! So then we would type the details of every purchase into a word document, building it up as tickets were sold, and on the afternoon of the event, we would fax the word document to the promoter, so he could cross people off the list as they came in.  
So the basic principle was established way before you had the web to book things on. That's what made life infinitely simpler,
That's what turned our promoting business into a ticketing business. It meant there were no limits, We could sell tickets for any promoter in the country. They didn't have a reason to say no. It took away a lot of work.
Were you tired of running raves by that point?
Not really! But we knew we needed something else to apart from our four or five Flashback events a year.  So we used to sell for God's Kitchen and Gatecrasher, all the big Birmingham brands who at the time just gave is that platform. 
We just fell into it by accident. I think the people who have a vision and go for it are the brave ones. 
So what do bands expect from you, now you have this solid infrastructure? 
We are very careful with bands and event organisers, we are clear that we have a whole range of marketing tools we can offer them. But they can not rely on us to sell their event for them. We will help them to the nth degree. But we are an agency.

Market sectors - pick your agency! 

But you do offer certain niche areas, which must help people who work in those areas.
We do, We're very strong in boutique festivals.  Two thousand to twenty thousand. It's too much for a small organisation to handle, that's not tied up in global corporate deals. 
Like Shambala
Exactly. Love them! 
What interests me is buying patterns. Who buys what, when and how fast do things shift?
There has to be a reason for a person to buy a ticket. Sometimes it's an early-bird deal. Sometimes it's the date tickets are released. Sometimes promoters really hype up ticket sale dates. But sometimes when it's a smaller event, five pounds, seven pounds, it is hard to encourage people to buy in advance. Maybe they show up on the night, maybe not... if they feel like it. 
More reason for the band to push hard.
And with clubland tickets, it's all last minute. You see the sales graph – a little peak at the start, dribs and drabs, and the last couple of the days, promoters will often double their sales. It's set of the pants stuff, break-even at the last minute! It's almost a bad thing that we can enable last-minute sales.  
Being niche must be a struggle sometimes, when you consider sales on must-see mega-acts. 
I look at those agencies and think what an easy life they must be having! The biggest we did was Ed Sheeran at the Birmingham Ballroom. Three gigs, went on sale, sold out like that. One day, done!  

Ticketsellers verry swish new website

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