Dana A.

Director of Marketing & Communications, Tessitura Network

Five stories of success we heard at TLCC

7 min

More than 4,000 people gathered online 

for the 2021 Tessitura Learning & Community Conference during the first week of August. Dozens of sessions at the virtual conference featured speakers from Tessitura member organizations sharing their stories, successes, and insights. We heard about change management and building engagement, hybrid festivals and new subscription models. Here are five stories that stood out to us during the week, from Cheltenham Festivals, Dallas Theater Center, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Belfast Waterfront Hall & Ulster Hall, and Scottish Ballet. 

1. A hybrid literary festival for the books

Martin Perks, Box Office & Tessitura System Administrator
Cheltenham Festivals

In the before times, the Cheltenham Literature Festival presented around 500 events with over 900 writers, performers, and speakers from all over the world. In 2020, the organization decided that the autumn event would be their first hybrid festival.

They trimmed the Festival’s scope down to 120 live events with numerous safety protocols, including physically distanced seating. Audiences were able to select their own seat when buying tickets online, which helped them feel safer and in control when returning to in-person events.

With a digital-first mindset, the festival arranged for each event to be professionally filmed, and created a microsite to share the broadcasts. All events were free to watch live; audiences could also purchase a #CheltLitFest subscription for £25 to watch any event on demand. Supporters of the festival received this on-demand access for free as a thank-you offering.

They sold 7,000+ in-person event tickets and 8,500+ subscriptions to the #CheltLitFest player.

The results showed that their hybrid festival was a success: they sold over 7,000 in-person event tickets, and garnered more than 200,000 live online views from around the world. Over 8,500 people purchased subscriptions to the #CheltLitFest player, which received around 80,000 views since the close of the Festival. And the hybrid event resulted in over 2,500 books sold between online and in-person bookshops.

2. Building value through storytelling

Mercedes Brown, Manager of Individual Giving
Imani Thomas, Social Media Manager
Dallas Theater Center

“Social media is really just storytelling,” Imani said. But when she started at Dallas Theater Center, she recalls, “We had a story but struggled to tell it.”

Since then, Dallas Theater Center (DTC) has developed a content strategy rooted in a spirit of curiosity and awe. Their content “always lets the audience insert themselves into the world we create,” she said, whether they’re sharing memes, witty messages, time lapses, behind-the-scenes video, or another kind of content. And their engagement has skyrocketed.

Dallas Theater Center Instagram post

And their ongoing collaboration between marketing and development has helped build a more effective giving program. For example, DTC’s gift solicitations used to promote the benefits of giving. But they’ve seen greater success by leaning into the philanthropic message, telling the story of why audiences should support DTC.

In 2019, they worked with a member of their acting company to create a multipronged campaign with social media, printed mailings, and an email blast. The core is a video in which a member of their acting company tells the story of how Dallas Theater Center enabled him to dream and achieve his acting goals. Printed materials used emotionally compelling quotes from the video.

Their campaign garnered 1,960 donations from 1,463 constituents in 2019, a significant increase over 769 donations from 664 constituents in 2018. 

The campaign saw a huge increase in both the number of donors and the amount raised: from 664 constituents and 769 donations in 2018, to 1,463 constituents and 1,960 donations in 2019.

3. Rethinking orchestra subscriptions for a digital world

Elle Docx, Director of Communications
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE)

Before 2020, many people declared that the season subscription model for orchestras was dead.

But there are new ways to look at season subscriptions. In 2020, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launched OAE Player, a video subscription service with a vision to become the Netflix of Baroque music. Powered by Vimeo OTT, the service offers more than 50 high-definition films that include performances, master classes, and interviews.

OAE Player is integrated with the orchestra’s Tessitura platform, making it a seamless process to maintain relationships with their audiences because all their customer data and reporting live in one place. Customers purchase videos and subscriptions through OAE’s existing purchase path, which is built on Tessitura’s e-commerce platform.

The orchestra worried whether their audiences would want to subscribe to the new OAE Player. In fact, a survey indicated that while many were willing to pay for one-time video access, most weren’t keen on subscriptions.

OAE set up both one-time and subscription options anyway. The gamble paid off: they’ve sold eight times more subscriptions than individual video tickets. The subscriptions have proved to be a valuable source of recurring revenue, and have attracted viewers from around the world.

As the OAE looks toward the near future, they are planning a season with in-person, digital, and hybrid events.

4. Managing change — expected and unexpected

Ashleigh Davidson, Head of Entertainments and Exhibitions
Oonagh O'Reilly, Sales and Marketing Director
ICC Belfast | Waterfront Hall | Ulster Hall

Belfast Waterfront Hall & Ulster Hall had been on a roll for a few years: establishing a digital-first strategy, launching their Tessitura CRM and a new website, winning a spot on the CIM Award shortlist, and reaching their ambitious economic impact target a year ahead of schedule.

In early 2020, their CEO announced her resignation. Her last day was 13 March — the exact time that the pandemic was forcing organizations in the UK and beyond to close their doors. The remaining small executive team faced the task of managing both the expected and the unexpected change through many uncertain months.

How did they do it?

They focused on two essential things: keeping their team engaged, and setting themselves up for the future.

Belfast Waterfront Hall & Ulster Hall dug into their digital-first strategy: creating a hybrid studio from which they could broadcast events, investing in an LED wall that would eventually help them generate revenue, and leaning into advancements in their Tessitura platform.

They sold more than 3,000 tickets to Live from Ulster Hall, and generated £45,000 in ticket revenue for local artists.

The studio helped them create Live from Ulster Hall, a series of digital programming that received enthusiast praise from viewers. They sold more than 3,000 tickets to Live from Ulster Hall, and generated £45,000 in ticket revenue for local artists. And the LED wall is on target to pay for itself months ahead of schedule.

Recently, 94% of their stakeholders said that the organization could not have done anything more in response to the pandemic.

5. The secret to growth

Kate Carter,  Director of Brand, Audience and Digital
Scottish Ballet

Kate Carter from Scottish Ballet shared their journey toward a new vision of customer engagement. While their identity has traditionally been one of a touring company, they began to pioneer digital content in 2017 and were able to lean more deeply into digital during the pandemic.

“It’s no longer anyone’s job to be digital; it’s a skillset we expect everyone to have.”

This paralleled a shift in their organizational focus: they revisited their core values to hone them to the moment. Operationally, they optimized their Tessitura CRM to support their strategy and developed more collaborative cross-departmental way of working. For example, Kate said: “It’s no longer anyone’s job to be digital; it’s a skillset we expect everyone to have.”

In October of 2020, Scottish Ballet soft-launched a ‘freemium’ membership program to build engagement with their audiences. The program offers exclusive access to videos, classes, and other content, as well as the value of being part of a community.

Their wintertime digital production, The Secret Theatre, offered an opportunity to grow the membership program. The Secret Theatre was a feature-length film created to resonate with audiences who felt a special connection with ballet at Christmastime. The film reached a broad audience: 33% were new to Scottish Ballet altogether, and 50% were from outside Scotland. Perhaps most importantly, 11,000 new members signed up through this production.

Overall, one-third of their membership and one-quarter of their donors hail from outside Scotland. Two-thirds of online class participants are from outside the Glasgow area. Scottish Ballet is next working to target geographical segments more closely and to focus on the programming that has the most potential to grow.

“We have always had the ability to reach a global audience, but we haven't had the ability to build relationships with them,” Kate said — until now.

Top photo: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment players.


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Dana A.

Dana Astmann

Director of Marketing & Communications
Tessitura Network

Dana Astmann joined the Tessitura staff in 2016 and in 2021 took on her current role leading the marketing team.

In her previous position as Manager of Communications at the Yale School of Music, she served as the lead content strategist for YSM's Webby-nominated website and the editor of the alumni magazine. Earlier jobs include box office and development positions at the Norfolk (Connecticut) Chamber Music Festival and Long Wharf Theatre, respectively. Dana holds a B.A. in music from Vassar College and an M.A. in musicology from the University of Toronto. A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Dana is a board member of Congregation Mishkan Israel and plays accordion with the klezmer ensemble Nu Haven Kapelye.