At the turn of the millennium, when the major headache for most organisations was Y2K compatibility, we at the REP were pondering what to do with 650 highly demanding but low-yielding subscribers, recalls Trina Jones.
In fairness, the subscription scheme had not been well looked after; a series of marketing personnel changes and consequent strategic shifts had created a complicated and burdensome system that was in dire need of streamlining. The notion of committing leisure time and spend so far in advance was clearly losing its appeal for our customers. The average ticket yield from this group was about £5. We needed something that would provide a sense of loyalty whilst also offering a greater degree of flexibility appropriate for the rapidly changing world. And we needed that membership to work for us.

Given the paucity of members and the immediate need to re-invigorate our loyal and regular attenders we (controversially) abandoned subscriptions altogether and launched a simple discount card scheme. The REP Card was introduced in January 2000, with the aim of providing an incentive to infrequent attenders to try more product for less financial risk; to reward frequent attenders by providing a consistent discount plus added benefits, and to introduce a valuable income stream from membership fees.

The membership is now over 1,000 strong with individuals currently paying £10 per annum for which they receive the net benefit of main house tickets at £10 each and tickets for the Door (our smaller studio theatre) at £8.50 each, plus priority booking information and a seven-day exclusive booking period. They receive brochures and letter updates, a copy of our corporate newsletter The REPort twice a year, invites to special events, discounts to WineREPublic (our catering outlet), free ticket exchanges and parking vouchers. Over forty members of the scheme are volunteers for quarterly Customer Circle meetings and provide regular written feedback about their experiences, promotion and customer service delivery.

Our mid-term aim is to double the membership to 2,000 and to develop members into a more coherent and supportive group that will:

? attend more regularly

? develop a long-term commitment to us

? introduce friends, families and colleagues

? act as ambassadors for all aspects of our work

? support our fundraising initiatives

? act as a lobbying group

? provide a volunteer network

? ensure the customer perspective is always considered.

A recent survey of the members, supported by anecdotal evidence from the REP Card Customer Circle, has indicated that the membership is very happy with arrangements as they stand. I wouldn?t begin to suggest that traditional subscription is dead but clearly we need to adapt schemes to suit our audiences? requirements. Our audiences may again demand a regular subscription scheme ? and if so we?ll go with that flow. As I write they are hatching plans to develop the scheme into a theatre club ? which would suit us just fine. And no ? it?s nothing new?

Trina Jones is Marketing Director of the Birmingham REP. t: 0121 245 2000; e: trina.jones@birmingham-rep.co.uk