Ever get the feeling that you are on your own? That the challenges your organisation faces are unique? That there is nowhere to go to get really decent objective advice about how to improve business or marketing performance?

We all share those feelings. As well as the opportunity to network and share experience and expertise available through the Arts Marketing Association (AMA) and other networks which helps to lessen them, here is another idea which may help: benchmarking.

What is benchmarking and what is it for?

Benchmarking is a way of measuring performance in both marketing and business terms against that of other organisations, with which yours has something in common (e.g. art form, industry sector, scale and marketplace).

Benefits of benchmarking include:

  • The chance to measure performance against others - are your programme sales as good as they could be?
  • Evaluate campaigns - why did that gallery get so many more attenders to the same touring exhibition?
  • Discuss issues with similar types of organisations - do you get a level of funding from your local authority that matches others – if not, why?
  • Evidence for both internal and external advocacy/PR work - answers at your fingertips when Trustees ask why you don’t run a marketing operation like the Royal Opera House
  • Knowledge to inform future marketing and business planning - understand why it would be a good business idea to double the amount of space in your front of house areas, and project accurately how much additional income you’ll be able to generate

Benchmarking can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. It already happens at an informal level in most organisations, but it only becomes a really powerful tool when it’s focused and structured more formally.


For the last eighteen years, Norwich Theatre Royal (NTR) has taken part in a benchmarking project along with fourteen other large-scale regional presenting theatres. We compare information on business performance in a number of different ways, mostly to do with sales e.g. tickets, programmes, merchandise, catering, sweets and ice creams. We also compare average price paid, payments to producers, wage costs, staffing levels, expenditure on training and marketing, number of Friends and income generated, business rates, maintenance costs, capital expenditure, sponsorship income, grants and local authority support.

Membership of the group has fluctuated slightly over the years, but the majority of participants have stayed the same. The usefulness of the project should be self-evident, but its longevity is due to several factors:

  • Primarily, it is business-led, not led by any other agenda or external influence
  • The information is concise
  • Its main focus is on sources of income
  • It is confidential – we all see the individual figures for each theatre, but undertake never to show them to anyone else

What we can show in the table is our own set of figures against an average of all the other participating venues: Large scale presenting venues benchmarking figures - 2013/14

Averages excl.

Norwich Theatre Royal

Norwich Theatre Royal


Average Capacity




Number of Performances




Annual Capacity




Total Seats Sold




% capacity filled




Total Net Box Office




Average ticket price paid




Payments to Companies




Retention as % Income




Programme Profit




Programme Profit/Admission




Merchandise profit




Merchandise profit/admission




Catering profit




Catering profit/admission




Confectionary & Ices




Confectionary & Ices profit/admission




Total Profit




Total Profit/Admission




Salaries & Wages Costs




Full Time Equivalent Posts




Staff Training




Marketing Expenditure




Marketing Spend/Seat Sold




Friends Membership Numbers




Friends Membership Income




Business Rates




Maintenance Costs




Capital Financing Charges




Capital Expenditure




Sponsorship Income








Local Authority Support (net)




Net support per seat sold




Key findings

For NTR, the key findings from 2013/14 include:

  • NTR played to nearly 15% higher capacity than the average
  • Average ticket yield is higher than the average
  • Box office retention compares well
  • Merchandise profit is lower (but we didn’t present The Lion King in this year and a couple of the other venues did - which skewed the figures)
  • Marketing spend per seat sold was nearly 40% lower than the average
  • Friends’ numbers are over 7 times the average
  • Friends’ income is over 5 times the average

(Note: Clear definitions are needed to ensure that comparisons are valid, e.g. does marketing expenditure include salaries or not?)

This information was one of the main drivers for our 2007 capital appeal and modernisation plans which among other things delivered a new Theatre Royal front of house with double the amount of foyer space we had previously. We now generate an additional £0.40 per head profit from front of house sales compared to pre-modernisation.

Even after eighteen years, the discipline of assembling and comparing these figures with our peers each year is still a strong focus for us. Our aim for 2015 is to learn more from other venues whose business performance in catering and merchandise is better than ours.

Taking benchmarking further

Over the last two years, we have added a more qualitative element to our benchmarking, measuring levels of audience satisfaction with various aspects of our service (ticketing, bars, catering etc.), the artistic quality of performances, and an overall rating for their complete experience. Twice a year, we compare these measurements to the average of a group of thirteen other venues (a mix of presenting and producing theatres). This is a commercially-run benchmarking project, devised by Katy Raines of Indigo (more information here).

It provides us with information on why people attended, how they felt about it, how they rated their experience of the venue and their assessment of value for money. The example shows how audiences rated the artistic experience.

We then use this information to aid programming decisions, assess our performance in terms of levels of customer service, for internal advocacy (especially with Trustees), and to help our visiting company partners assess their artistic performance.