October 13, 2020

The Mad Science of Earned Revenue

Between the pandemic, the economic crisis, and all the visitors we’ve missed out on, it’s been a tough year for cultural attractions. But as we know, you can never waste a good crisis! That entrepreneurial spirit has been in full force for the past six months, and staff from the conservation organizations we serve have been in the lab, feverishly experimenting with new tactics and strategies to try and make the best of a bad situation.

On October 8th, Zoo Advisors co-hosted “The Mad Science of Earned Revenue” webinar with our friends at Cuseum, where we spoke to innovators who incubated, developed, and launched unconventional earned-revenue strategies during the pandemic. What went well? What failed spectacularly? And most importantly, what did they learn?

While we all want things to return to some version of normal as quickly as possible, we also can’t leave these invaluable learnings behind.

Panelists from organizations in and around the profession shared their insights and experiences:

  • Josh Rupp, Director of Events, Lincoln Park Zoo

  • Melissa Dietrich, Associate Director of Membership, Longwood Gardens

  • Carlos Simoes, Director of Membership, Zoo Miami Foundation

  • Isabella Linares, Marketing Associate, Oakland Zoo

  • Jerry Henry, CEO, H2R Market Research

Each panelist shared a unique strategy they’ve implemented during the pandemic to keep revenues flowing into their respective organizations. These strategies included:

Virtual Events & Programs
Joshua Rupp of Lincoln Park Zoo shared his department’s lightning-quick pivot to the online world. As a zoo with no admissions fee, Lincoln Park relies on other revenue-generating strategies, including its events department. With no time to spare, Josh and his team developed and launched a series of small online programs and classes, each of which carried a participation fee. The types of programs ran the gamut from meet-and-greets with animals to magic shows to speed dating. While the programs were quite successful in the early days of the pandemic, participation waned as time went on, perhaps owing to the opening of other entertainment options around the city. Josh is now focused on rejiggering his ZooLights program to be operable through restrictions on social distancing.

Member Benefit Re-Shuffle
The membership program at Longwood Gardens comprises a significant portion of the organization’s earned revenue, especially during the shoulder seasons. Melissa Dietrich was faced with a challenge: how to stay connected to her most loyal and devoted supporters while the Garden was closed? She and her team quickly developed a suite of expanded benefits, including premiums like a special edition gift calendar, as well as a unique collection of spring flower bulbs only available to members. The new benefits package also featured virtual programs like the Longwood Plant Bracket (think March Madness, but for flowers) and online jigsaw puzzles.

Reimaging Entry Sales
Anyone who’s played a role within a membership department is familiar with the concept of entry sales: there are few places where it’s easier to convert a visitor to a member than at the front gate. But how do we reimagine this strategy when suddenly 90% of visitors are purchasing their tickets ahead of time and online? Carlos Simoes and his team from the Zoo Miami Foundation have the answer. With access to the email address of ticket purchasers, they sent membership marketing emails to visitors before they even set foot on zoo grounds. The messaging of these emails was comparable to what his sales staff would be telling visitors in-person: that membership is a tremendous value, and that they can apply the cost of their tickets to their membership. The innovative aspect of this tactic is that it replicates the entry sales process when there is no physical ticket purchasing procedure!

Subscription Video Services
Isabella Linares and her team at Oakland Zoo had a vision: to keep revenues flowing and their constituents engaged by developing fee-based video services called “BTS (Behind the Scenes) Live.” Since constituents would be paying for it, it needed to have a much higher production value than typical phone-based live streams. To turn their idea from concept to product in just two short weeks, it took an all-hands-on-deck approach from a variety of staff across departments. The result? Thousands of monthly subscribers to “BTS Live” and a lifeline to constituents who hadn’t set foot on the site in months.

Leveraging Your Most Important Asset
Our last panelist, Jerry Henry from H2R Market Research, shared with the audience his perspective on the importance of properly calibrating admissions prices. While zoos and aquariums have many assets, none is more valuable than access to their facilities. And with that in mind, there’s no better way to improve your financial position than by ensuring your admissions fees are based on sound, empirical research rather than guesswork. Jerry and his firm frequently partner with Zoo Advisors to bring best-in-class pricing research to their clients, ensuring they’re maximizing their income and their fees are properly aligned to their product and market. Click here to learn more about opportunities to explore pricing research.

Overall, the most important takeaway from this session was the need to think creatively and to act quickly. Not every experiment was a runaway success, and for every success story there are a half-dozen concepts that never make it off the drawing board. But to make it through this moment, every visitor attraction needs to be unafraid to experiment with new concepts (or new twists on old concepts).

Click here to watch the recording of the session.

Recent Insights

Mixed-Use Developments and Cultural Attractions

Mixed-Use Developments and Cultural Attractions

Leisure venue guests want seamless, hassle-free experiences. They want to experience multiple activities during their precious free time. Mixed-use developments all over the world are capitalizing on this trend.

read more

+49 856 9568 95


39 Lion Street

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Send Us a Message

Dr. Frederick Lahodny

Even though using “lorem ipsum” often arouses curiosity due to its resemblance to classical Latin, it is not intended to have meaning. Where text is visible in a document, people tend to focus on the textual content rather than upon overall presentation.