With Deidra Sibila on Festival Events
Join Ticketbud Tidbids for a chat with Deidra Sibila, an expert in event ticketing. Deidra has managed ticketing for holiday festivals, major concert tours with artists such as Coldplay, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake, as well as ACL and Lollapalooza music festivals. We talk to Deidra about event planning, the role of ticketing and ticket programming, dealing with the unexpected, and the importance of Event Protect ticket coverage for unexpected cancelations.
- Unexpected event cancelation
- Ticket revenue protection with Event Protect
- Managing unexpected challenges
- The role of ticketing
- Large festival event planning & key roles in the organizing team
- Building a run of show
- Ticketing management
- Event page digital experience and purchase flow
- The importance of ticket programming
- Event day logistics
- Gate management communication
- Choosing a ticketing partner
Deidra recommends asking the following questions when choosing a ticketing partner:
- What is their event cancelation policy? What solutions can they offer you?
- Is their site mobile optimized?
- How detailed is the reporting and what information are you getting?
- Do ticket buyers have to create an account, how easy is it for people to buy a ticket?
- Do you have the flexibility for various ticket types which allows you to do effective ticket programming?
- Can you have access and promo codes for discounted or sponsor tickets?
- Can you customize the ticket information for different ticket types, such as a map relevant to that ticket?
- Can you communicate to a specific ticket type easily to send custom messages through the ticketing platform?
- What are people saying about them? Ask for recommendations.
- Do they have hardware available? How does that hardware work if things go offline?
- Are they willing to listen to your feedback as an event organizer and make improvements?
Event: Austin Trail of Lights, Holiday festival.
The Austin Trail of Lights is the largest holiday tradition in Austin and the 2nd largest event in the city. The annual event held in Zilker Park and run by the Trail of Lights Foundation, welcomes 400,000 people every year over two weeks in December. As you walk through the park you will see 2 million lights, and experience themed light displays. The family friendly event shares Austin music, food and holiday fun.
Deidra has done it all from theatre events to concert tours and festivals. Deidra worked for Live Nation for 13 years including corporate touring as Senior National Director of Ticketing for Touring in North America. Deidra managed ticketing for major concert tours across the US, from Coldplay to Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Jay-Z She has also managed ticketing for C3 Events, known for festivals such as ACL and Lollapalooza. Deidra now works as an independent contractor for festivals and events including local holiday favorite, the Austin Trail of Lights.
Lisa: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits. We’re here to bring you tips, advice and insights from fellow event organizers, across a wide range of events we work with. My name is Lisa Carson, and I’m the Content Marketing Manager here at Ticketbud. You may have noticed I have an accent. I am an Aussie, and a recent import to Austin, and I’m new to the Ticketbud team.
Kayhan Ahmadi, our Ticketbud CEO, is also joining us today.
Lisa: And we’re here today with Deidra Sibila, who is going to talk to us about all things ticketing. We’ve interviewed Deidra a couple of years ago, for our very first podcast. If you haven’t heard that before, you can check that out later.
Deidra has a huge amount of experience in ticketing for large events, from holiday festivals to major stadium tours for the likes of Beyonce and other big-name performers.
Kayhan: Give us some big-name performers, Deidra.
Deidra: Coldplay, One Direction, Rogers Waters, Jay-Z.
Lisa: Nice! Well, welcome to the podcast, Deidra. For those who haven’t listened to the previous podcast, please tell our listeners a bit about your professional experience in the ticketing industry.
Deidra: Hey! Thanks for having me back. Ticketing tidbits is so cute! I love it. Ticketbud Tickets.
Kayhan: Thanks for being back, Deidra.
Deidra: Yeah, thanks! So, a little backstory about me; I’m from Ohio, and doubled in music and business at a school in Cleveland, C-Town! I got an internship at a venue in Cleveland, and just kind of fell into the box office, when I was still in college, and worked shows. Then, ended up becoming the box office manager at that venue in Cleveland.
Then, worked in the box office at another bigger venue in Cleveland, and did that.
Kayhan: Is it true that Cleveland rocks?
Deidra: Cleveland does rock!
Kayhan: I’ve heard Cleveland rocks.
Deidra: Yeah. At the time, it was individual promoters that have since, now become what we all know as Live Nation today. So, I went through the myriad of changing from just a small local promoter that ran the venue in Cleveland, to then becoming Clear Channel Entertainment, then SFX, then Live Nation.
With Live Nation, brought me some other opportunities, and I went to Phoenix, and was the box office manager at a 22,000 seat amphitheater there, for a few years. Then from Phoenix, I moved out to the Live Nation corporate touring office in Beverly Hills, California, and was the Senior National Director of Ticketing for Touring in North America.
Kayhan: Big title!
Deidra: Very big title, and it was a lot of fun. Like Lisa said, I got to work on the arenas and stadiums side of tours. So, when Justin Timberlake goes out on tour, I would help do all of the ticketing for all of those events.
I was with Live Nation for a total of 13 years, formally, since they were Live Nation. I left there in 2013, to come to Austin, and worked for C3 Presents, which is more of a festival ticketing company, and ran festivals such as Austin City Limits here in town, Lollapalooza in Chicago and South America, and a lot of other festivals; the NFL draft in Chicago a few years, doing ticketing and credentials.
In 2016, I resigned from C3, and went out on my own, and said “Hey, I can do this with other event organizers,” which has led me here now. Right now, I’m just an independent contractor, out there hustling.
Kayhan: Quick plug for Deidra, I’ve worked with her on the ticketing side for 400,000-person attendee events, festivals. If you’re a festival out there, looking for a ticketing director, established, new, whatever it is, give us a shout out. We’re happy to provide an intro to Deidra. We definitely, definitely have a great working relationship, and recommend her. But Deidra, just giving you the plug there.
Deidra: Thanks! Appreciate that! I’m a testament of that career ascension. Started as an intern, and now here I am, with a 20-plus year career. Thank you!
Lisa: We’re going to start on a personal note, and ask you a bit about – seeing we’re talking about events – I want to ask you about a favorite event that you’ve attended, and what you loved about it.
Deidra: I really had to think about this, because I’ve gotten very spoiled over the years, and in all of the cities that I’ve lived in. I’ve got to be honest. I don’t buy all of my tickets, all of the time. Perks of the job.
But one of the things that comes to mind is a Los Angeles Kings game back on June 11, 2012. It was the Stanley Cup finals. I was living in L.A., and that is an event where I did the whole ticketing shebangabang experience, from start to finish.
Kayhan: You did the ticketing for the Kings?
Deidra: No, no! I did it, meaning I was a person that bought a ticket.
Kayhan: The consumer experience.
Deidra: Yes, the consumer experience. I purchased a ticket online, through the Staples Center. The ticket was emailed to me. Then, the day of, or maybe the day before, the Kings and Staples Center sent a “Hey, here’s tips about coming to the Stanley Cup finals. Parking…”
As I’m driving down to Staples Center, I’m passing parking lots that – I’m not kidding – were $100 to park anywhere near the Staples Center. So, Staples and the Kings were really good about sending out “This is where we recommend that you should park, because it’s near this entrance, which you should come in, which is near your seat, which is here.”
So, it was very customized and tailored messaging, to help make my experience wonderful. Also, some street closure information, because there was a fan-fest going on for the Stanley Cup finals. That was great.
And that kind of ties into the ticketing part, because us in the ticketing office provides the data to the Marketing Department, who customizes those emails, who helped make my experience good, before I even got to the Staples Center.
Then, I get there, and I’m ready to walk in, and I forgot my ticket at home. So, I go to the box office, and a girl, a friend of mine in the industry, was working, and gave me plenty of heat for forgetting my ticket at home. But my experience at the box office was great. I was able to get a reprint.
I go into the event, go to my seat, scanning was a breeze, and the best part of the story – we brought the Stanley Cup home that night! I got to see it with my own eyes, covered in confetti. It was awesome!
So, that was an experience where not only was the end result and the event, what I was going to was awesome. Because that’s why people come, right? Because of the event. They’re not coming to one of our gigs for the ticketing experience.
But that was one where everything was great. I did the full gamut, like I said, buying the ticket, forgetting the ticket, and getting to the product was awesome, which is that silver Stanley Cup.
Lisa: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that with us. That sounds great! We got the whole picture, there.
So much has happened in the event space, since you were last on our podcast about two years ago. Ticketbud has evolved a lot, with a lot of updates since then. One of our new products is the rollout of Event Protect, which we implemented with you and Austin’s Trail of Lights, last year. We can chat about that a little bit more, in a minute.
Deidra currently works as the Austin Trail of Lights Ticketing Director. I got to experience my first Trail of Lights Festival last year, and I absolutely loved it. It was great to get to enjoy an Austin holiday tradition, and a cold Christmas, which is a very new thing for me. I’m used to barbecues and sunshine, so that was great.
Deidra, can you tell us – describe the Austin Trail of Lights Festival for people who are not from Austin, and have not been before?
Deidra: Sure! If you are from Austin, get down to the Trail of Lights. If you’re in the area, come! The Austin Trail of Lights is about anywhere from 14 to 16-17 days of holiday light experience at beautiful Zilker Park, which is in downtown Austin.
It is an experience with two million lights, and it’s a 1.25-mile walk, so you walk through it. We’re going on the 55th year of this event. It’s been a tradition in our town for a long time. With the growing of the event, we have now grown our ticket opportunities. So, it involves anything from a ticketed admission ticket to purchasing your parking pass online, in advance.
We have a shuttle operation that runs from two different locations in town. So, you buy a ticket for the shuttle, through Ticketbud, hop on the shuttle, come down to the park. We have an extensive holiday party and corporate party program, and hospitality efforts, where organizations are sharing their holidays and their company parties with us, for the month of December.
We also have some premium ticket opportunities, such as a Platinum program and what we call a Zip Pass, which is our early entry program. And all of those are ticketed through Ticketbud.
Kayhan: This event has really evolved quite a bit. At this point, I think it’s ranked either the first or the second largest event in the city of Austin, by attendance. 400,000 people. It’s a great event, and not just a great event for the city. But it’s really kind of best in breed of these holiday family-friendly events that we’re seeing come up across the country.
We’ve really enjoyed working with Deidra and the production company, and the Trail Foundation, to bring this event back to glory. Because it wasn’t always this complex. The population wasn’t always this big. The offering wasn’t always this robust. But we have something really, really cool, and it really does a great job of servicing the Austin community.
When you have your friends in town, your in-laws, whatever it is, what are you going to? Trail of Lights!
Deidra: It used to be a free event, that you drove through. So, someone is spending five minutes in the car, zipping through the park. Now, we’re seeing guests average two hours at the event.
Lisa: Excellent! As I mentioned before, Ticketbud event organizers can now obtain Event Protect’s comprehensive ticket revenue protection. This coverage gets built into the price of the ticket, and protects the full value of the ticket transaction. I believe that Ticketbud is the first to partner with Event Protect, in the U.S.
Organizers have a lot of costs leading up to an event, from venue fees, setup and vendor costs. Event Protect is about minimizing that financial risk for organizers, if their event gets cancelled unexpectedly. An event can be cancelled for all kinds of reasons, from flooding to strong winds. We’ve even heard things about cancellation caused by squirrels chewing through electrical wires.
I’m not used to squirrels, but they do that, apparently.
Kayhan: It’s like a wallaby.
Lisa: Deidra, do you have any stories about unexpected reasons that an event had to be cancelled?
Kayhan: Before – I’m going to jump in real quick. I want to talk a little bit more about Event Protect, and how it came to be, for Austin Trail of Lights. We’ve been working with you guys for several years. One of the major challenges for your event, it’s in December. It’s outside. It’s 14 days up to 17, depending on how the 25th falls.
One of the challenges is, what happens if on a Saturday night, you get four inches of rain, and the grounds are flooded? Or what happens if something else out of your control; nature, weather, whatever, causes a closure for a night?
In the past, we’ve done a pretty good job of informing customers about a cancellation, or shifting your Saturday’s ticket to a Thursday, but a lot of the people that purchased a ticket on Saturday can’t come on a Thursday, to make it up. So, what do you do in a no refund situation, where you’ve sold that inventory?
You’re also cannibalizing inventory for the next day, because you have caps on certain VIP or parking tickets, something like that, where there’s only so much inventory available.
So, we’ve spent a lot of time looking for, what are some innovative solutions? Is it messaging? Is it flexibility in pricing? We spent a lot of time figuring this out, and we came across Event Protect. They’re out the U.K.
They specialize in a protection product, not just for the event organizer, but for the ticket holder, if the event gets cancelled. And not cancelled for any reason, but cancelled for a qualifying reason like the grounds are unsafe because of heavy rain and flooding. If a squirrel chews through an electrical line and the show goes down, because you can’t produce the show anymore, they provide a full refund to the ticket holder, and the event organizer gets to hold on to the ticket revenue.
So, they’re not in financial jeopardy, because of the refund. It really enhanced the consumer experience, because people are buying tickets months in advance. They don’t know if it’s going to be bad weather. They don’t know if it’s going to be high winds.
So, it takes some of the risk out of both the event organizer and the ticket buyer. We wanted to bring you in, specifically to talk about this, because you guys were the first big event that we piloted this with. We encourage other event organizers to use it as well, but we want to hear it from the event organizer’s perspective.
How did it work? What did you think about it? I wanted to really kind of frame the conversation about just cancellations in general, that we’re seeing across the board. But how this product improved the event for you and for the patrons of Austin Trail of Lights.
Deidra: There’s a lot of different insurance opportunities out there that you’ll see, when you’re purchasing tickets through different ticketing companies. A lot of them are opt-ins, and some of them have a considerable fee associated with it.
What was great about Event Protect is that it was very seamless, from the customer side. It’s just included with the ticketing transaction. It’s automatically included, and very minimal cost to the guest.
Another great feature about it is that it can supplement your standard organizer event insurance. So, where you’re getting your insurance for any structural damage, you can also have this for any ticket revenue damage, as well. So, you’re not competing with general event insurance, in your ticket protection insurance.
We had to cancel one of the days this year, in 2018, due to high winds, at the direction of the parks and the city.
Kayhan: Yeah, I remember that. It was like, it was 5:30. The event opens at 6:00. And at like 5:45, it was 50 mile an hour winds, and tents were being blown. Big tents.
Deidra: Like the box office.
Kayhan: Yeah. The box office was being blown across the park.
Deidra: Yeah. It came out of nowhere. It went from being “Boy, it’s breezy,” to the box office is now in the middle of the road.
Kayhan: Otherwise, it was a perfect bluebird day, gorgeous outside, decent temperatures. You guys had sold like 5,000 tickets in the last 30 minutes.
Deidra: Absolutely. And people are standing there with their tickets, waiting for us to open at 6:00. Meanwhile, trusses are falling over, tents are blowing over. It was very unsafe conditions for the patrons, as well for staff. And you’ve got to make a game time decision.
That’s where Event Protect and Ticketbud came in. It was great! The city officials decided to close the park, due to the high winds, and our ticket purchasers were protected, and we didn’t have any worries. We provided some supporting documents from the city, regarding closures, provided our press release statement to Event Protect.
I sent along some pictures, mostly for entertainment purposes, so Kayhan can see the tent upside down, and Barton Springs Road, with the Ticketbud logo on it. But also, just for some backup to Event Protect, should they require it. Like “This is what’s going down at the park right now. This is why we’re cancelling the event.”
From there, it was very easy for ticket purchasers to get their money back. And the event didn’t lose any revenue from those ticket sales. Ticketbud, actually, I’m going to say I don’t know what Ticketbud did, and Event Protect, because I never had to do anything else, from the organizer’s standpoint.
We provided the documentation. You all stepped in. Then, Event Protect stepped in from there, and it was a very seamless process, from what I understand. Just notify the ticket buyers, give them their money back, and we’re moving on to the next night.
Kayhan: Yeah, it was pretty seamless from the ticketing platform, from Ticketbud’s perspective. You guys obviously provided all of the necessary documentation. It fell under the coverage of the Event Protect program. We provided the documentation to Event Protect. They kicked on everything on their end, to start the process.
We got messaging out to customers, within I think it was like 24 hours. Less than that, maybe. Some customers asked “Hey, can we exchange our tickets?” And we honored that, along with you guys. The majority of customers just got a refund, and repurchased for a night that made sense for them.
We’re talking about thousands of people. One of the challenges with trying to just manage transitioning from one day to another is everyone has different needs, and different days. They bought five tickets for this day, but they only need four tickets for the next day.
So, a product like Event Protect, it’s just you send out the message, and the refunds start the process flow on their own. It’s not something that’s super, super manual. That was a huge help for us. We had years where we had like four cancelled days during our run of show, and it was really, really hard to transition that much inventory.
Deidra: Yeah. This year made it very black and white. When we get into an event like the Trail, or if you have another holiday-centric event, with peoples’ travel schedules and “Hey, I’m leaving town,” or “My family is only in town for this date,” when you start to shell game some of that inventory and tickets, that’s where it gets hard. But with Event Protect, it was “We’re going to wipe the slate clean, and you can start from scratch, and you come on another night that’s convenient for you,” instead of us having to tailor requests for each person.
Lisa: Other than high winds blowing tents upside down and relocating things, I was just wondering about other unexpected reasons why events have had to be cancelled, that you’ve come across.
Deidra: Sure! Well, force majeure and Mother Nature are -.
Kayhan: Let’s explain that one to some of our listeners. Force majeure, if you’re unfamiliar, it’s Francais for act of God.
Deidra: Yep. Out of your control, shit happens. A lot of that includes weather; high winds, rain, hail, flooding conditions. I think what gets challenging is the days where it’s gorgeous. Yes, it rained overnight, or it rained the previous day, and now the skies have cleared and the sun is out. What do you mean, the event is cancelled? It’s a beautiful day.
What they don’t know is that your lighting displays are under water, and it’s unsafe. We’re dealing with electricity. Or the entrance is completely muddy, and if you want to do a tough mudder run to get through the gate, then by all means. That’s where it starts to get hard.
Kayhan: In addition, if you’re having an event in like a public park, the park foundation doesn’t want people on – even if there’s like two inches of standing water, they don’t want to put 10,000 bodies across that standing water, because it’s going to destroy the park. Now, the park is out hundreds of thousands of dollars in remediation, when really, what they needed to do was say “Hey, this water has to drain, before you bring the patrons back to the park.”
Deidra: Exactly. You have to consider your conditions, and the safety and longevity of the park, and the structures that you’re using.
Lisa: Other than weather and things like that, what other sort of unexpected challenges have you had to deal with, when you’re managing an event?
Deidra: Some other non-weather things can include artist illness. If you’re doing a concert, and the artist is sick, or too hammered to perform. I’ve been in those situations, too, where you start out with a song or two, and there goes the lead singer, falling into the drum kit, and you’re calling it a day.
Also, some other challenges, particularly in the festival world – not at the Trail of Lights, but some other events that I do, are fence-jumpers, or people that are going to rush the gates and say “Nope. We’re not paying for a ticket. We’re just going to hop the fence and sneak in, or find a hole or something.” That’s always a challenge.
Lisa: What do you do with that? If someone just tries to breeze past the front gate and go through, what’s the sort of policy? Send security after them?
Deidra: Yep, yep. Security will have a field day with that. A challenge in this day and age are firearms. In Texas, we have open carry. Obviously, you can’t do that at the event. So, being at the front gates, where it falls under the ticketing responsibilities, we have to be on the lookout, with security, for firearms.
Kayhan: People don’t realize that. As a Ticketing Director, you’re the first thing that a customer experience is. It’s the first thing they experience online, when they’re buying the ticket. It’s the first thing that the customer experience is, when they get to the gate.
Like you were talking about your Sacramento Kings Stanley Cup playoffs.
Deidra: Excuse me! Los Angeles Kings!
Kayhan: Oh, excuse me, excuse me. Los Angeles Kings. We’re talking hockey, not basketball, here. And how that was all related to ticketing. Ticketing and marketing, they’re so closely related today, because of digital ticket delivery and digital marketing, digital messaging. So much of what your role is, is the first thing.
Lisa: It’s the customer experience.
Lisa: It’s the customer experience, so you’re a massive part of that.
Deidra: Yeah, absolutely. And part of that, also, and another challenge of that customer experience are any production or technical difficulties. Did you lose internet? Did you lose power? How can we still scan guests in, to make sure the right people are getting in, that should be there? Others that shouldn’t, aren’t getting in.
Another challenge, are the no-shows staff? Or staff that come and sneak in the porta-potty, and are drinking beer, which has happened to me before? You’re dealing with cash, at the box office. You’re dealing with theft and some things. Are staff not showing up, or being rude to customers? Those are challenges, as well.
Lisa: Okay. Let’s take a step back, and talk about what goes into putting a large festival like Trail of Lights together. Can you run us through some of the planning process?
Deidra: Yeah. I think one of the big things is your community buy-in. We’re very fortunate at the Trail of Lights, that we partner with the city of Austin and the Trail of Lights Foundation, and they’re fantastic partners.
The second big thing is a solid ticketing partner, which again -.
Kayhan: Who might that be?
Deidra: We’ve got it made in the shade! Ticketbud’s great! So, having the buy-in with those partners. Also, a reliable vendor system, like your food vendors, your stage setup, everything that goes into that. Your marketing team, building up a great database. And your website, and developing some helpful FAQs and customer service programs.
Kayhan: I think database is huge. I think that, especially today, as these events are growing, and becoming bigger and bigger, production companies behind events are either acquiring or developing or they are taking distressed events and putting resources to bring those back up. One of the ways that we’ve seen, that event production companies have been very successful, is by leveraging that database, and making sure that they’re segmenting their customers, their VIPs, their early buyers, their late buyers, their general admission guys, and creating the right messaging.
Owning that database is really, really essential. I’ve seen a lot of events come and say “Hey, we want to do an email blast, and buy a bunch of email lists, and send those emails out.” But those email lists, from talking with different event producers, those that you buy or source third party, tend not to have the best conversion rates, because these are customers that are probably getting hundreds of emails a month on these email blasts. You’re not getting hyper, hyper targeted, and who that customer is.
Deidra: Yeah. You want to make sure you’re hitting the right people. It also helps with some return customer development and loyalty programs. We’ve been working with Ticketbud on the Trail, I think this will be our fifth year?
Kayhan: Yeah, I think so.
Deidra: Going back and looking at that data with you, and analyzing, “This person started out as a general admission ticket, has graduated to the next level. Can we get him in at the next premium ticket, this year?” Looking at those data trends, and Ticketbud does a great job of providing those analytics.
Lisa: What are some of the key roles needed in the organizing team, to manage a large festival like Trail of Lights?
Deidra: I think you have to have goal-oriented and service-oriented individuals, with like mindsets. Like we want to have a great experience, from start to finish. Even your person that’s hanging signs around the festival. Are they just throwing up signs, and zip-ties have tails on them, and it looks like garbage? Are they putting up the signs, they’re straight, they’re cutting any tails, it’s nice and crisp and clean?
So, it really goes with everybody in the organization. You want to make sure that the aesthetics are pleasing, everything is safe. Obviously, you’re up to code, so you have individuals that are knowledgeable of safety concerns, they’re knowledgeable about your community, they have good customer service.
Social media, obviously, is huge right now. So, having a Social Media Manager that can work on real-time updates, because as we mentioned earlier, there are situations where you need to let someone know right now, what’s happening.
From my perspective, on the ticketing side, gate managers, because we have several different entrances. Most big large events and festivals do. Customer Service Managers, and answering all of the fun emails. And I think some of the key characteristics, to take your question a little further, like what key characteristics are needed, is tell people to check their egos at the door. We’re all here, we’re all on the same team, we all do the same thing. I’m not impressed by what – do you know what I mean?
Kayhan: Deidra is not impressed.
Deidra: Like okay, cool. We all have some experience, or we all wouldn’t be here, so let’s take it down.
And just being calm under pressure, because it is a high volume event, and in a very limited amount of time, you’re getting people in, you’re getting people out, and making them safe. And they’re choosing to be there with us, so we want to have a good disposition.
Another thing that’s really helpful is having a Run of Show document for the event.
Lisa: Okay. So, a Run of Show is like a major organizational element, particularly important for large events and multi-day festivals. For new organizers, can you explain a little bit about what that is, and how a Ticketing Manager contributes to it, and what advice you might have for people wanting to create a Run of Show document?
Deidra: A Run of Show document is kind of like your master itinerary bible for the event. It starts up all the way to your build schedule. “This is when we’re reporting. This is what time we expect you to be onsite at the park. This is when porta-potties are getting delivered. This is when your tent is being built.”
You know, all of the operational things that lead up to the day of the event, so everybody that’s working on the project knows what to expect. Then, when you get to event days, what’s happening today? “5:00, doors are opening. 5:30, the music starts. 10:00, we’re down. 10:30, we’re sweeping the park.” Just so everyone is on the same page.
It’s particularly helpful for the ticketing department, because we know, as Kayhan said, we’re the first point of contact. So, we know at the entrances, what is happening. What time is Santa going to come? Great, he’s going to be in his house at 7:00? Awesome. We can help answer those questions for people.
Conversely, when somebody is leaving the parking lot at the end of the night, and saying “What time is the street going to open?” That way, now the parking lot person knows “You can hang a left on Barton Springs, at 11:00.” So, it just keeps everybody informed, because knowledge is power.
Kayhan: It also keeps everyone accountable, as well.
Deidra: For sure, for sure.
Lisa: Okay. Tell us a little bit about the role of ticketing, specifically, so what you have to consider when managing ticketing for a large event, and then you can maybe talk about ticket programming, as well.
Deidra: Sure. One of the things that I like about ticketing, that I think is super cool, is it’s a good balance of the administrative side and the operational side. So, you get to pivot. You’re doing administrative planning, with ticket scaling, building the events with Ticketbud or your organizer, putting customer service documents together, answering customer service, the staffing.
Then, when you get onsite, you pivot and transition into more of this operational role. That’s when my work gloves come on, and I’m slinging tables and bike racks, and setting up, and making sure that the guests can get in safely. How is this flow going to work? Testing your equipment, with the internet, setting up logins, helping with the ticketing portion, going back to like website navigation, like collaborating with your web developer.
How is the guest getting to the ticket purchase page? Now that they’re on the Ticketbud page, working with them on how is the best purchase flow going to happen. What type of confirmation do they receive?
Kayhan: Purchase flow, huge. Huge. In the last year and a half, we’ve seen – a year and half, two years ago, 60-70-80% of tickets were bought on desktop. In the last six months, we’ve seen the shift go from 70 to 80% purchasing mobile. A huge change in consumer behavior.
How are the ticket orientation displayed digitally? How are we optimizing for that? It’s something that you have to work really closely with your – for me, I have to work really closely with my event organizers to understand and see trends, year over year, so that we can constantly improve, constantly roll out new interfaces and updates.
I don’t want to harp on that too much, but you have to think about that customer experience and that customer journey, not just onsite, but that digital experience.
Deidra: And the volume expectations, and the load. Is the site going to crash, if everybody buys a ticket? For the Trail of Lights in particular, we do a lot of advance sales, but the majority are day of. “What am I going to do tonight?” Particularly when it comes to our transportation options, such as parking and the shuttle passes.
Kayhan: I would say that most family-centric events, if you’re looking at an average ticket below $20, those are day of decisions. If you’re a family of five, and you have a husband or a wife and three kids, you don’t know two months down the line, if there’s going to be a kid with the flu. There’s just so many variables.
So, with these types of high volume, family friendly, low ticket price events, relatively low ticket price events, that’s happening. That decision, whether you’re going or not, is weather-dependent. It is schedule-dependent, it’s health-dependent.
Kayhan: Behavior-dependent, yeah, totally. So, you have to look at your ticket inventories, and you have to look at historicals, and get an understanding of “Alright, it’s noon. We have six hours until the gate opens. And we know that we typically are going to sell 60% more ticket sales, in the next six hours, if conditions are good.” Or whatever it may be.
Or if you’re sold out, make sure that you have the staff on hand, to handle that giant volume at the gate.
Lisa: The other thing I was going to follow up and ask you about was the importance of ticket programming, things like early bird sales, VIP experiences, tiered parking, which we’ve sort of mentioned before, and how that helps you maximize sales with different audiences.
Deidra: Sure. We want to try to incentivize people to purchase as early as possible, for obvious reasons, to get that paper! But also, it helps you plan operationally. You have an idea, and it creates buzz for your event. There is nothing better than that word of mouth. “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” “I’m going to the Trail of Lights.” “Oh, dang! I want to go, too.”
Get on, click click click! Mobile-optimized version of Ticketbud. You have your tickets. The next thing you know, you’re caroling through the park, with some hot chocolate.
So, that is great, and you get your early bird presales, which comes back from your repeat buyers, your VIP experiences. Parking for us, in this event in particular, is a limited asset that we have, so we really encourage people to purchase parking in advance. I think a lot of organizations can do the same thing there, as well.
It helps manage guest expectations, so that they know what they’re getting into. And it helps us be able to communicate with them, and say “This is what you’re going to expect tonight. These are the streets that are going to be closed.”
It goes back to that Kings story. We can help tailor their event experience better, if people do purchase early.
Kayhan: Yeah. And for other event organizers out there, everyone has a different relationship with the venue that they utilize. Some people own their venue, and parking is unlimited. Some people have to contract with a venue, or contract with a city-owned property, and parking is limited.
So, how does your ticket programming reflect that? Are you offering shuttles? Are you offering parking incentives?
There’s events here in Austin that you have to drive 20 miles to get to, and once you get there, you have to pay a $15 parking cover, in addition to whatever tickets you bought. If you’re not aware of that, that might be a pain point. That might be something that, if you’re conditioned year over year, you understand. But is that something that you can message ahead of time, and appropriately message that to your patrons, and potentially capture revenue from that?
Lisa: Let’s move on to event day, which you talked about a little bit. But I want to sort of hear about the event day logistics for a large holiday festival. There’s so many things to consider; managing multiple entrances, lines, setting all of that up, ticket scanning, point of sale. Can you walk us through what you’re event day looks like, with starting setup?
Deidra: Absolutely. The first thing I do is decide what fun and funky Christmas sweater I’m going to wear that day.
Lisa: Love it!
Deidra: Then, I usually start with just assessing the picture. What our current sales are like. What is the weather going to be today? I’ll send out an update to everybody in the organization. “Here’s where we are with ticket sales.” Kayhan and I are constantly talking about the weather, what our inventory levels are, chatting with the city and other park officials, regarding park conditions.
Did it rain overnight? Did anything happen overnight? Are we full operating? Just a standard rinse and repeat. So, kind of getting a mental picture of what is the day going to bring, before we get onsite.
Once we get onsite, looking at what’s offered that day. Some events might have two gates open on one night, one gate only open on another night. With our event, and some of the corporate holiday parties that come, a different organization comes in a different gate or a different tent every night, so we’re changing out signage.
We’re reconfiguring bike rack, to make different queues, based on the expected amount of guests. At what entrance are we selling tickets tonight? At the box office, we’ll prepare cash banks. Briefing security and the event staff, when they come in. Positioning staff at each particular location, as well as setting up our point of sale.
Ticketbud does a great job supporting logins per day, so that we can track all of the sales, and make it really easy for the box office to reconcile our sales data, because they give us a different login per day, per location. So, I can specifically say “Jennifer, at the shuttles, sold 100 tickets.”
Kayhan: That’s actually something that has come up in conversation with other multi-day events that we work with, where they previously had one event page that sold tickets, and you can buy a ticket, and show up any day, and redeem that ticket. This is like a multi-day show, a three-week show, and what we try to say is best practice and direct is, create an event page for every day of your show.
Because you might have a specific day that is incentivizing the local schools. You might have a specific day with different staff. And if you really want to develop your event year over year, and you want this to grow, you need to look at data on a daily basis, and understand trends; weekend sales versus Friday sales versus these types of sales, when weather is looking good, these types of sales, when weather is looking bad. You have to have that digital interface that’s breaking down sales by day.
Deidra: Yeah, and we rely on the historical data from Ticketbud, as well. It was Wednesday last year. Today is Wednesday. What did we do?
Another key component that starts with the morning is the customer service feedback. Going to our socials and going to the Zendesk, and seeing what comments have come in overnight. Was someone upset about something? Did something super awesome happen? Just continuously improving the experience each night, based off of the feedback that we receive.
We’re very fortunate with the long-running events, where you can constantly make tweaks, and make sure that you address concerns throughout.
Lisa: One of things I was going to ask, as I got to work on the door of Trail of Lights this year, which was good. It is a very high volume event, with a lot of people all coming in at once. So, having good communication is really important, so that everyone knows their role, and what they need to do in certain situations. So, I was wondering if you could share a bit about how you ensure everyone is on the same page, at that entrance point.
Deidra: I think pre-event, before you even get to the event day, just developing a solid operational plan for the event as a whole. Then, departmentalizing. Like we will have a big operation plan for the entire event. Then, I’ll also make one specifically for the box office and customer service. “This is what you should expect onsite, from the ticketing and gate operations.”
Also pre-event, is having an emergency preparedness plan, not only for the weather and force majeure things that we talked about earlier. Sadly, we live in a day and age where there are some violent threats that are imminent, so we have to be prepared for those things. What are we going to do in that situation? What is a point of safety for our guests, for our staff?
What measures can we take? Is it a road closure? Is it a police presence? What can we do? So, planning those things in advance.
When you get to event days, having a pre-event meeting with your entire team, like an all staff meeting with your managers. We do this 17 days in a row. Some days are very similar, and you’re just on Groundhog Day, and you’re like “Okay, here we go! Merry Christmas!” And you move on.
But every day, sometimes there’s a new corporate party coming. Or like I said, this gate is open, this gate is closed. Or oh no! This area of the park received some damage last night, so this particular activation is off limits. So, getting everybody on the same page from a managerial standpoint, and then taking that a step further, with your respective departments.
When my ticketing and gate staff and scanning team arrives, we always do a pre-show huddle on what to expect. What do the credentials look like this day? What day is it? Because you start to forget what day it is. “Today is Thursday, the 17th, and having some fun with it, in just quick, quick huddles.
Lisa: Also, you’ve got volunteers, and some people working different days. Or this might be their first day, even though other people have worked many days.
Lisa: Like me, I worked one day, so I needed to hear all of that information fresh, so that’s good.
Deidra: Yeah, it’s great.
Lisa: So, a little bit about Ticketbud. What do you honestly look for, when choosing a ticketing partner? Why was Ticketbud able to help?
Deidra: I’ve done some RFPs over the year, and Ticketbud is great. A few things that you want to look for, when selecting your ticketing company, is are they going to be your partner, or are they just going to be a conduit that just sells tickets, and that’s it?
Ticketbud is awesome, as I mentioned. Kayhan and I probably talk every day, when we get into the Trail. Several times a day.
Kayhan: At least 10 times a day.
Deidra: Yeah. In the morning, in the afternoon, via text, at night. It’s great. Kayhan and the ticketing team are always available.
Kayhan: But it’s not just me. It’s all departments. Do you have a good relationship with customer service, with marketing? Here we are, sitting down doing a podcast. At least for us, we try to really engage with our event organizers, and try to bring as much value as possible, because ticketing is somewhat commoditized. There’s a lot of providers out there.
How can your ticketing provider help you, beyond just saying “Oh, yeah. We’re going to sell your tickets. No big deal.”
Deidra: Exactly. You’re absolutely right. And part of that is ongoing customer support. Your customer service team is fantastic. I’ve done customer service for years. It’s not easy. It’s hard. So, having a supportive customer service team, and a platform such as Zendesk, or another software to manage your customer support.
Your marketing support – what does your ticketing company bring to the table? What database do they have, that can supplement your event database? What is their refund/cancellation policy? Such as Event Protect. That’s definitely something that sets Ticketbud apart, which I think is very important for outdoor holiday events that can have adverse weather to look out for.
Is your ticketing company mobile-optimized? Ticketbud is great in that respect. Sometimes we see lines at events, and we can go over and canvas the line and say “Hey, don’t wait to pay your admission with a live person. You can do it on your phone right now, and then come into this entrance.” So, that quick mobile optimization with Ticketbud is fantastic, and allows us to do that.
What’s the reporting like? Ticketbud is great. They give us reporting on the year over year data. Where are your people coming from? What are their zip codes? Are you finding that the guests are local to your area? Are they coming from the state? Are they coming from around? What is that reporting looking like?
What’s your scanning reporting, so you can track the attendance behavior? When are your peak load times? When are your peak purchase times? When are people buying their ticket, and what ticket are they buying?
Kayhan: I think peak load is a statistic that event organizers under-utilize. I mean, it’s great to understand what the buying behavior is, but onsite, are 90% of your patrons coming in the first 35 minutes of your five-hour show? Or are they equally distributed, like 20% every hour, for the next five hours?
Deidra: Another great thing to look for with your ticketing provider is that purchase flow that we touched on. How easy is it for someone to purchase a ticket? Do they have to create an account, or not? If they do create an account, is their information stored, and it’s just a one-click situation, like “Yes, I want to go”?
Also, if you’re running a multi-day event or a series, how easy is it to purchase tickets for different events? And how difficult is it to purchase something for the wrong event? You want it to be hard for someone to make a mistake. You don’t want that to happen easily.
Also, do they have unlimited ticket types, to support the type of program that you’re doing? Multiple offerings? Multiple days? Parking? Or are they limited in what they can provide?
Kayhan: We’ve actually seen in our industry, different ticketing platforms starting to charge for offering more than one or more than three ticket types. It’s like these tiered pricing schemes. “Oh, you want to sell 100 different types of tickets? That’s a whole different package. That’s a whole different pricing package.” That happens. That’s real.
Lisa: Which is not really realistic, because like we were talking before, you need programming. You need different types of tickets. You want to do early birds. So, the minute you want to do an early bird sale, that’s more than one ticket type, anyway. Not many events are going to have just a general admission ticket.
Deidra: Or with a family-oriented event, are you getting into four-packs, six-packs, something that includes parking, something that now includes tickets, admission, hot chocolate? Or some other type of “skip the line to ride the Ferris wheel” type of package. You can really start to go buck wild, if you have the functionality to do so.
Also, do they have the opportunity to do promotional codes or access codes for your sponsors, or some of your internal opportunities? Oftentimes, we focus on the customer experience from a consumer standpoint, but there’s a lot of internal operations that go into ticketing, as well. When credentialing your staff, helping provide tickets to your media partners, your marketing partners, radio giveaways, sponsors, and other internal operations.
So, what does the guest list management system look like? How easy is it to send a ticket to someone directly, if you need to? Or you do a group sale internally, and now I need to process a check for 100 people. How easy are those types of opportunities and those ticket transactions?
What do the custom tickets look like? With all of those different opportunities come different communications. Ticketbud is awesome in that we can not only customize the text that’s on each ticket, but also put some custom images on there. So, if you purchase this ticket, you’re going to go in this entrance, and here’s your map that correlates to that.
Also, in conjunction with that, we can easily communicate with just that ticket buyer. So, if everybody that purchased a parking pass, now we can say “Oops! There’s a crash on this exit. We recommend you take this exit.” And we can easily email those people through the Ticketbud app, and it’s part of that custom ticket.
What other events have they done? Getting information and feedback from your peers in the industry. If you’re considering a few different ticket companies, like “I know they do this event. Hey, what do you guys think of them? Have you been supported? Do you like them? What do you like?”
Also, some hardware functionality, like are they providing hardware for you? Do you need to go out and buy scanners and equipment? Are they going to provide that equipment for you? What is the offline functionality with that equipment, when you get into the squirrel situations and the wind, and the whatnot? Is your equipment going to work?
Also, another thing is the willingness to listen to your feedback, as an event organizer, which Ticketbud has been fantastic at. We’ve made some tweaks and some reporting changes, and with you all coming down and scanning onsite, you’re seeing firsthand, the operational experience, and the guest experience, and saying “Wow! Now that I’m here, and I’m standing here scanning tickets myself, I understand. And it would be cool if we could X, Y, Z.”
Kayhan: It’s the “It would be cool if,” right? We can sit down behind code and think about things, but I think one of the reasons that we’ve developed such a good working relationship is we put ourselves in the shoes of the event organizer, and we see the challenges. We can build and optimize, not around theory, but around practice.
That’s been very, very helpful for us, in developing our roadmaps and finding products like Event Protect to roll out. Because when you actually experience the pain point yourself, from the standpoint of the event organizer, not just the ticketing provider, it informs so many, so many product decisions.
Deidra: Yeah. And it shows your dedication to the event organizer and the client, and your willingness to learn how your system performs.
Kayhan: This has been Tidbits at Ticketbud, episode 15, with our absolute favorite, Deidra Sibila. Deidra, thanks so much for coming in. If you’re an event organizer, if you’re a festival, if you need an absolute ticketing rock star, please reach out. We’re happy to provide an intro to Deidra. She does events all across the U.S., everything from EDM to festivals to everything in between. Awesome! I can’t say thank you enough. Hopefully, this was beneficial for the event organizers out there listening.
To collaborate on a podcast please get in touch.