The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) may be famed for putting on plays written in the late 1500s and early 1600s, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less focused on digital transformation than other organisations in 2016.
Indeed the RSC, which puts on shows at its home in Stratford-upon-Avon, but also tours Britain and produced the West End hit musical Matilda, is currently at the tail end of a major website revamp.
V3 spoke to contractor Richard Adams who has just spent two years at the RSC overseeing this effort to understand more about the process.
“The previous RSC website was good and handled a lot of ticket bookings, but it was starting to look dated. It wasn’t responsive and didn’t allow personalisation, so it needed updating,” he said.
In particular the need for a mobile-first design was vital, particularly as so many visitors to the RSC are tourists who look to see what’s on at the theatre via their phones and often want to book tickets there and then.
“While we, of course, want to keep existing customers happy we also have to accept that the culture of theatre goers is changing,” Adams said.
The organisation set about redesigning the site from the ground up as a new build, using a content management tool called Sitefinity from software company Progress linked to a ticketing and CRM software platform called Tessitura.
Adams explained that one of the key reasons for choosing Sitefinity was its flexibility, allowing areas to be amended to incorporate new elements or change the layout as required.
“We can now start to look at personalising the site, or providing different information based on a user’s location, so that we ensure the person on the site is getting a better experience than they had before,” he said.
For example, a visitor from a North American IP address is probably looking for a different set of information to a visitor from an IP address one hour away, so the site can be tailored to feature different information as a result.
Another major change with this redesign is making better use of data to understand what sections of the website prove popular with different visitor types and how they navigate around the site.
Adams gave the example of the trailers the RSC makes to promote forthcoming productions. Moving to Sitefinity gives the organisation far more data on who views its content and from which sources.
This has led to the discovery that the vast majority of people who make bookings after seeing a trailer are new customers and not existing members.
“This gives us a far better insight into what we’re doing, what delivery it has and how we should target future trailers,” he said.
“This is crucial as it means we can see exactly what effect our efforts have, rather than just guessing.”
Mobile app push
The digital overhaul has also seen the company update its RSC Live iOS and Android app with a host of new functions. These include access to listings and ticket bookings, and to screenings of the RSC’s Live From series in which plays are shown in cinemas around the UK.
Another notable element, crucial to the new app, is the ability to download and store digital programmes for the productions shown as part of the Live From series.
These are now fully interactive, with video and audio clips, and are a major improvement on the previous PDF page-turner programme.
“Now people can download, collect and keep these programmes wherever they are from Stratford-upon-Avon to Boise, Idaho,” said Adams. “It increases audience engagement and gives us a platform to sell and communicate more with customers.”
Adams’ work with the RSC has been carried out in a consulting role as an outsider. V3 asked him whether he thinks this is a better way of pushing through a digital overhaul, as it allows more freedom to bring in new ideas and move on from old products.
“I don’t think you need to get someone in from the outside to do this. What you need are people in the business who are willing to listen to new ideas and change things,” he said.
“You need to be able to get your ideas across clearly and get people to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s really the hardest bit: getting that across and getting people to get involved.”
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