Back in 1994 I graduated from University and started a career that has so far spanned 23 years in the theatre and arts sector (albeit with a brief hiatus into the world of Right to Buy housing support).
My first jobs were in sales. I spent a year as part of the large ticket sales team at Ticketmaster, working out of their base overlooking Leicester Square, followed by just over two years in the Box Office at the Prince Of Wales Theatre situated on Coventry Street right between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
As we have been planning our transformation strategies over the last six months at Lincoln Drill Hall I’ve been thinking about how the role of a Box Office Assistant has changed in the intervening years.
Back in the mid-nineties my job was a pretty passive and reactive one. We would open the shutters at the Prince of Wales at 10am and sit there waiting for customers to either telephone or walk through the doors to buy tickets for the show. My colleagues and I would hum along to whichever show soundtrack was playing in the foyer – during my two years at the Wales this meant Copacabana, The Hits of Elvis Presley and later Smokey Joe’s Cafe – whilst waiting for the next customer to walk through the door. As we approached showtime we’d hand out pre-booked tickets, deal with customers on the door, but the most difficult part of the job was usually dealing with the rare customer who’d booked for the wrong show, or demanded money back as Darren Day wasn’t appearing that night and ‘that’s the only reason we’ve come.’
There was never any cold calling, we didn’t have to cross sell for other shows, we didn’t have to proactively push sales for the shows in the venue at all. I think the most proactive we were during my time there was the day when someone rang the box office to say they’d planted a suspect package in the auditorium. On informing the police they suggested that it was a hoax as there hadn’t been a coded message, but that if we were worried we could always go and just have a quick check. Which we did, spending half an hour walking up and down the rows of seats and as predicted, finding nothing.
Fast forward to today and the role has changed. Our Box Office team need to be real sales people. The Drill Hall has around 300 shows a year that we’re looking to sell tickets for. There is real pressure on the organisation to dramatically increase our earned programme income so our sales staff has responsibility to cross sell across a range of events, encourage customers to book for that one other show they perhaps didn’t know they wanted a ticket for, to demonstrate passion and knowledge on a wide range of performances.
And it doesn’t end there. Ticket sales are only part of the answer. As a registered charity part of our commitment is to offer affordability for as wide a range of people as possible. Fundraising plays an integral part in allowing us to do that. So our Box Office team also needs to be skilled to solicit donations on top of ticket bookings, to encourage customers to become a Friend or member of the Drill Hall to go that extra mile and support us philanthropically as well as through purchases. It’s a particular skill and not something that was part of my work all those years ago. We’ve also got a small but perfectly formed range of merchandise available and linked to our productions. Another element for our team to consider during any transaction.
In any venue across the land the Box Office staff are often the first person a customer sees. They are the frontline. That role has changed immensely since I started out. Multiple skills in sales, diplomacy and communication are needed alongside a passion for the venue and what we’re trying to achieve. I salute all of those people up and down the land who undertake the role and especially my own team at the Drill Hall. It’s no easy task, but it’s vital to our sustainability.