The second in our series of client interviews, this feature looks at leading UK theatre and long-term client Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Our thanks goes to Derek Allan, Commercial Director at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for his time and interesting insights into the arts and cultural sector.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

If I could give other arts venues some advice it would be ‘go back to basics’ – pricing, packages and channels, to be precise. It’s all about adding value, not providing discounts.” That’s the advice from Derek Allan, Commercial Director at Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the man who is charged with delivering audiences to the ‘theatre in the hills’.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre, set among the beautiful Perthshire countryside, has an international reputation for the quality and number of productions. 100,000 people visit the theatre every year and Derek is set the challenge of making sure that even more people attend.

Because of its location in rural Scotland the use of digital marketing has been high on Derek’s agenda, but that has to be balanced with the way audiences interact – typically around 12% book online but many more visit the website to find out what’s on. As with many other theatres across the globe, Pitlochry Festival Theatre's audience whilst broad is a typically older demographic, meaning the company has to cater to the communications channels that best meet this target's needs.

The key challenges faced by the theatre are similar to that of many other arts’ organisations, but Pitlochry Festival Theatre has embraced digital technology to a greater extent than some. Firstly, by going back to basics and then by having a strategy in place to extend their reach into the rest of Scotland, the UK and internationally.

In the decade that Derek has been working with the theatre he says the web has been the factor that has most revolutionised his job and the industry as a whole - bringing the design function in-house and changing the way they market themselves and approach partnerships.

A look at the website (designed and developed by After Digital) shows the extent to which Pitlochry Festival Theatre use digital technology and channels to engage with their audiences. They use bold calls to action to encourage interaction and ticket purchase, such as user polls, subscriber links and a “what’s on” section. Pitlochry Festival Theatre benefits from also having a very popular restaurant and an established shop, both of which are promoted heavily on the website and allow visitors to shop online. This creates upselling and cross-selling opportunities that are not so feasible when people simply phone up to buy tickets.

So what other challenges does Pitlochry Festival Theatre face and how is it dealing with them?

In common with every other organisation the economic downturn has not made life any easier but Pitlochry Festival Theatre, with its unique blend of repertory theatre, events, workshops, restaurant and shop, has weathered the storm better than most.

Derek can put this down to a number of things: better use of their website and optimising on the application of ‘digital assets’ (including the integration of the Tessitura ticketing system and bespoke After Digital Tessitura Bridge product); recognising the need for the website to carry large volumes of information but leaving customers to choose how they wish to interact – online, by phone, by email, etc; and also by going back to basics and sorting out pricing thus avoiding the downward spiral of discounting.

Derek said; “The support we have had from After Digital in achieving our goals has been unsurpassed. By integrating our website into our ticketing system we have captured many more opportunities to sell tickets and this area continues to expand.”

In regards to the adaptive nature of the sector as a whole, Derek believes many organisations need to look to better maximise on digital to stretch their budget further and reach new audiences, i.e. younger audiences with social media and mobile technology. This is an area in which many organisations struggle. However, there are a few innovators in the industry who Derek looks to for inspiration, including the National Theatre and National Theatre of Scotland, who benefit from bigger budgets and effectively leverage video and social media to engage new audiences.

In a fast paced and increasingly digital environment organisations need to focus on reaching well defined target audiences with relevant, tailored messages, via the channels upon which they are the most responsive.