AFTERBURN REPORT 2009
The 2009 ticket season got off to a fast start with the decision to offer a limited number of pre-sale tickets prior to the holidays. Folks had asked for years about the possibility of getting tickets in hand in time for gift giving, so we decided to give it a shot, and it went beautifully. We've gotten so much positive feedback that people were happy to have the option to give the ultimate gift, or even just avoid the intensity of launch day all together. All in all, it was a win for everyone involved.
The pre-sale offering prompted a dramatically expedited production schedule for the ticket, and it went flawlessly. We now have several years under our belt of working very closely with the designers, our ticketing partner, the printer and finishing house on the production of the ticket, and all that experience working together really paid off in the form of a truly stunning ticket featuring a lush illustration and several aesthetically-pleasing, security-enhancing features such as a sculptural emboss.
We were also able to get some help in quality checking our ticket stock before it gets all of the variable information printed. This is a huge, time-consuming job and having a couple of eagle-eyed perfectionist volunteers step up to help with this was a life saver! A huge shout out of thanks goes out to our dedicated ticketing volunteers. We thank our lucky stars for the unwavering help of our skilled volunteers who in addition to helping with quality-checking stock also help open the heaps of Low Income mail and help in various stages of processing ticket orders. We truly would be lost without them!
And then there was our main ticket launch in January. After two consecutive years of perfect ticket launches, we thought we had this one in the bag, too. But alas, it was not to be. On the whole, the launch was successful, but a number of early people were negatively impacted by a problem caused by some new third-party security software that had been integrated into our system. This problem was further compounded by some vague and confusing error messages that left folks unclear as to whether their order had gone through successfully or not, and in the heat of the moment many opted to play it safe and put another order through, just in case. As quickly as possible, the software error was corrected, followed by an extensive process of combing through all the initial sales to cull any duplicate orders and make necessary refunds. While it was a frustrating experience for some, it did have a silver lining for quite a few ticket buyers: we made the choice to honor many more sales of the first tier tickets than we had originally intended.
It's a sad thing, but again in 2009 we saw people trying to counterfeit tickets, resell stolen tickets, and scam our community. One of the biggest repeat scams we see is people buying tickets from someone remotely - they ask for the ticket number, which the seller has gotten from another legitimate seller, the transaction goes through and then the buyer is sent an empty envelope with little to no recourse. Besides shouting from the rooftops and doing everything we can to inform our community, there isn't much we can do in these situations, since the fraud is not being committed directly against us, so it's up to the individuals to pursue corrective action. All of this is to underscore something we try to emphasize again and again: please be careful when purchasing tickets from a third party! We do everything in our power to verify third party tickets via email, but if something seems fishy or a ticket is being sold below face value, you should be wary! Be sure to verify the ticket BEFORE you buy it, not after.
Sticking with the 2009 theme of Evolution, we saw a whole lot of change internally. The good people at the helm of our parent department moved on and we moved offices in the middle of our busiest time of year (as we were again buried under last minute Low Income ticket applications). Moving our office during a time when we couldn't afford to lose a single day was pretty disruptive and proved to be a huge challenge. Once we'd settled into our new (temporary) digs we helped to hire our new financial Controller and also took the opportunity to redefine some existing roles. Another unfortunate byproduct of our move was that all of our internal ticket requests were significantly delayed, and this caused a lot of unnecessary, last-minute work and stress for the ticket team.
With all of that change was also the return of a wonderful constant: our amazing Walk-in Ticket Outlets. All of our Outlets from 2008 were back with us again and did an incredible job of being the public face of the in-person Burning Man ticket buying experience. In general our ticket buyers are warm and gracious folk, but in the urban context of a retail environment it's sometimes too easy to forget about our Burner manners. Please remember that as a group we should do everything we can to be good to these businesses - they are active members of our community and sell our tickets at face value, getting no additional fees or services charges from us. They offer this service as their way of participating and giving back, and they deserve our utmost kindness and appreciation. (This includes being prepared with correct forms of payment an having exact change!) Another big plus with the Walk-in Ticket Outlets this year was the return of our amazing Interim Outlet Manager who skillfully holds down the fort after we've all relocated to the desert.
As the on-playa face of the Ticketing Department, the Box Office had to withstand all of the aforementioned change. Planning got off to a rough start as a result of the upper management change mid-season. We were fortunate to have our four long-standing Co-Managers to help see us through the transition. With everything up in the air for a couple of months, we had the good fortune of having the opportunity to reevaluate how we do things. A bunch of new approaches were implemented, and while there is certainly room for refinement, on the whole they were incredibly successful. Some examples are changing our shift schedule to synch up with the Gate so that we could share the new staff shuttle that serviced the Gate, revisiting Co-Manager roles and responsibilities, and having an official Box Office camp for the first time. Challenges came in the forms of our new registers and shift change procedures, staff scheduling resulting in an inefficient use of our most experienced crew, not having a large enough set-up and tear-down crew, and working with the Airport satellite Box Office, to name a few.
In summary, 2009 was a big year for both the year-round Ticketing Department and the on-playa Box Office. It wasn't always easy, but with a lot of hard work we came through it with a fresh perspective, some lessons learned, and on the whole flying colors. Many thanks to everyone who helped make it happen!
Rebecca Throne and Frog Gilmore