Plum Benefits is a leading corporate entertainment benefits provider that specializes in discounted attractions, events, and hotels for company employees, with a particular focus on Broadway. For the past three years, this company has been owned and managed by Shubert Ticketing, a division of The Shubert Organization, which is also the majority landlord on Broadway, owning 17 of the 40 Broadway theatres. After acquiring it from its founder Shara Mendelson in 2011 for a reported $2 Million, the Shuberts have continued to run the company, apparently profitably. As of April 2, 2014, they have announced a merger with TicketsAtWork.com, which is a similar business owned by Entertainment Benefits Group (EBG). Though it is technically a legal “merger,” the resultant business will be largely managed by EBG, with internal management for Plum Benefits passed over to the Shubert sub-division “Broadway Inbound”.
The difference between the two companies is that while Plum Benefits is based in New York City and specializes in promoting Broadway shows to Fortune 500 employers in New York City, TicketsAtWork has a wider reach both geographically and its roster of major entertainment companies, hotels, flights and travel. In addition, Plum Benefits has until now been using a link-off site transaction process, requiring users to purchase tickets outside of their platform, whereas, TicketsAtWork is using an internal transaction process, offering a proprietary ticketing technology developed by EBG that allows customers to buy tickets within their website. The Shubert’s have ultimately provided a competitive advantage to EBG in terms of allowing them to circumvent broadwayoffers.com, the traditional website that all other players have been forced to use for online discount Broadway tickets for all shows that use Telecharge (Another Shubert division) as its vendor. Its unclear if the Shuberts are just testing the waters with TicketsAtWork and plan to roll out the ticket API to other discount companies or whether they intend to keep this advantage for their own use only.
The new website for Plum Benefits looks largely identical to the existing TicketsAtWork website, not only in terms of structure but also design, but now Plum clients are pitched a dizzying array of other products and services.
Plum Benefits is now called “Plum Benefits, powered by TicketsAtWork,”. Even the IP address for the PlumBenefits.com website is now owned by EBG, further underlying who has the power in this relationship. Despite the duplicate layout, the differences in the companies’ specialties are clear by the activities that are advertised on each of their homepages: presently, Plum Benefits’ site advertises Aladdin the musical, as well as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe, and the jukebox 80′s musical Rock of Ages. On the other hand, the TicketsAtWork site promotes Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Cirque du Soleil, and the recently much maligned, Sea World.
The business model for Plum Benefits’ had thrived under Shara Mendelson’s rule principally because it was a free service exclusively for employer corporations and organizations, which is especially attractive as employers have been cutting back on “fringe” benefits in recent years. Their revenue, then, comes from fees paid by the producers of the entertainment events, so members incur zero cost while producers pay for the promotional benefits of the service. Therefore, it is surprising that the Shuberts would decide to share ownership of this cash-cow so soon after acquiring it themselves. Fortunately for them, the agreement provides that they retain rights to the name and trademark of Plum Benefits, and presumably take a fee from all transactions, though EBG conducts the business on their behalf. In effect, they are erasing jobs within their organization, removing what they may have considered to be redundancies. It is unclear whether the company was failing to make sufficient profits, or whether there was some other reason for this merger decision.
In any case, existing Plum Benefits customers can now enjoy an expanded roster of entertainment options, as well as a streamlined booking process. With a 19 hours a day, 365 days a year, dedicated customer service team and the seamless back-end ticketing technology that the Shubert’s have allowed EBG to implement on their behalf, the merger appears to be a step forward from the consumer perspective.
Plum Benefits’ existing client roster may, however, balk at the multitude of new choices that their employees now have access to, through the new relationship. HR departments are very wary of being aligned with this new service. Their approval may be taken as HR encouraging and approving of “shopping at work.” HR employees are very concerned about being seen as providing benefits, but not distractions, for their employees at work. The new Plum Benefits’ site does not provide a method to switch off offers and all employees are force-fed these offers, often against their will. What is missing from this model is the HR manager’s desire to pick and choose what offers they want to provide to their employees. Also, with EBG being based in Aventura, Florida, it is clear that offers will no longer be focused on New York and certainly not Broadway shows. Plum will inevitably see a dilution of interest in Broadway show attractions as they have now allowed their client base to peruse hundreds of other competing offers, something that does not seem appropriate given that Shubert’s mission statement is to help develop Broadway Theatre, but instead have sold them out for cash, or at least 50% commission on the sale.