This is a great question, but also presents a dilemma. As new advertisers are relentlessly pursued, the question often arises of whether the advertiser prospect can get free tickets with the purchase of their program book ad. And here is where the dilemma lies.
Philosophies on the subject of complimentary tickets vary. From a sales perspective, complimentary tickets can be a powerful sales tool. Complimentary tickets introduce the advertiser prospect to how the program book is used—at, during, and after the event. Some may not be aware, but our experience has been that there is a huge misconception about program books being discarded after the performance, which is not always the case. Because everyone in the audience uses the program book and sometimes keeps it as a memento, it is this experience that allows the prospective advertiser to witness first-hand how this unique marketing medium can work.
A second positive outcome of complimentary tickets is that it can be a great sales tool for future ticket sales for the performing arts organization. From our experience, we have had many instances where the prospective advertiser not only purchases the ad after going to an event, but actually purchases a subscription package because they loved it so much. In more than one case, the subscription package was not for that individual, but for the use of other employees within their business—they are a great perk for business owners to give to their employees, which then exposes even more people to the arts!
Typically we find that the performing arts venues have two different views of complimentary tickets. They either love it, and are fully aware of the potential benefits and have tickets set aside for this very reason. Or, they believe complimentary tickets should rarely be issued. The thought being that it somehow diminishes the value to those in the audience that have purchased the tickets. There are some very valid reasons why a performing arts organization would not want to give complimentary tickets. One reason is that it will be a sold out event. There are those groups we work with that do an outstanding job of selling the events to 90% capacity, so in these instances it is a valid reason not to provide complimentary tickets. In these instances, this is the best advertising sales tool, because then we have the great pleasure of saying “the house is sold out!”