Monday, August 29, 2011

Setting DPAC Apart!

Beverly Thompson is part of a unique collaboration in Durham.  As the director of the Office of Public Affairs for the City of Durham, she collaborates with communication professionals who represent Durham as a community via the now-best-practice, 20-organization Durham Public Information & Communications Council (DPICC.)

This body was created and has been facilitated by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) as the community's marketing agency, since the mid-1990s, to synergize and improve collaboration among communication professionals working at the various organizations that represent Durham.

The mission of the DPICC is to leverage both the quantity and quality of information distributed about the community and to jointly address issues that undermine Durham’s identity and image.  DPICC oversees Durham’s overarching brand.DPACBuildingNightCorner

I caught up with Beverly recently and learned that guests at the DPICC meeting this month were Bob Klaus, general manager of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) and two members of his staff, Cassie Jones, guest experience manager and Michael Colvin, senior house manager.

Until my retirement nearly two years ago, I enjoyed working closely with Bob and the folks on my team worked closely with Cassie, who truly epitomizes what was said at the meeting.

Bob works for Nederlander/PFM, a partnership that owns and operates theaters worldwide and operates the DPAC under contract with the City of Durham.

Week before last, the City announced that in just its third full season DPAC hosted 192 events, including 58 sellouts, which were attended by 357,000 residents and visitors including 11,000 season ticket holders for the SunTrust Broadway Series.

After operating expenses, DPAC netted $2.5 million in revenue of which just 60% is retained by Nederlander/PFM and 40% is distributed back into a City fund for the facility.  While the distribution seems a hair less than last year, these overall  measures have already transcended what was not originally projected until the fifth year of operation.

Coupled with more than $1.2 million in visitor tax revenue, more than half a million in ticket surcharges and the net from naming rights, this may narrow the overall cost of the theater for this year to around $1 million or so by my estimate.

Public infrastructure including cultural is not really meant to pay for itself other than by leveraging a vibrant community into economic vitality.  But this is as close as you get.

At the DPICC meeting this month Bob revealed four of the keys he sees to DPAC’s success to date:

  • Borrowing “best practices” from other theaters and organizations such as Disney, DPAC focused on customer service as the strategy to set the facility apart from other entertainment venues, here or in other communities.


  • Hiring at DPAC is very selective and considered pivotal to its success and every year all front line staff (ushers, ticket takers, etc.) must re-apply for positions with typically 20-30% not invited to return based on past performance.


  • Extensive training is given to front line staff on how to do whatever they can to say “yes,” rather than explaining what they can’t do.  If they aren’t able to to fulfill a request, they are trained to immediately elevate the issue/problem to a supervisor so they can get back to helping others.


  • Thousands and thousands of comment cards are solicited from customers and each manager reads every single card.  Whenever additional comments are added, Bob personally responds to each of them.

The strategy definitely works.  Congratulations to Bob and his team at DPAC, to both Nederlander and PFM and to the management and governance for the City of Durham.

Hats off as well as to Durham Wayfinders, a corps of 1,000 volunteers recruited and coordinated by DCVB that grew from an idea by Bob Klaus into a resource for all Durham festivals, events and facilities.

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