Plum Benefits is a leading corporate entertainment benefits provider that specializes in providing discounted attractions and events for company employees. Plum had a specific focus on Broadway shows in NYC, the stable from which it was born. For the past three years, Plum 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 Plum Benefits (Formerly SVM Marketing) from its founder Shara Mendelson in 2011 for a reported $2 Million in cash, 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). Although it is technically a legal “merger,” the resultant business appears to be more of a takeover as the new entity is largely managed by EBG and key Plum employees are now employees of EBG. Oversight of the Plum Benefits brand is passed from Shubert Ticketing to another Shubert sub-division, “Broadway Inbound.”
The difference between EBG’s Tickets-At-Work and Plum Benefits is that while Plum is based in the New York City area and specializes in promoting Broadway shows to Fortune 500 employers, Tickets-At-Work has a wider reach geographically and has a vast roster of major entertainment companies including 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, Tickets-At-Work uses an internal transaction process, offering a proprietary ticketing technology developed by EBG that allows customers to buy tickets within their website. The Shubert’s, who have traditionally been very slow to adopt new technology and practices, have surprisingly provided a competitive advantage to EBG in terms of allowing Tickets-At-Work to engage in end-to-end transactional ticket sales with Shubert’s own back end data from Telecharge. Tickets-At-Work has the unique and enviable position of no longer needing to use discount codes and are able to circumvent broadwayoffers.com completely, the traditional website that all other market players have been forced to use for online discount Broadway tickets. It’s unclear if the Shuberts are just testing the waters with Tickets-At-Work and plan to roll out the ticket sales API to other Broadway ticket vendors or whether they intend to keep this advantage for their own use. It’s also unclear how Broadway show producers feel about Plum and EBG’s Tickets-At-Work having this logistical advantage over all the other players in the Broadway ticket market, especially given EBG and Tickets-At-Work are outside the normal Broadway ticket sales channels.
The new website for Plum Benefits looks largely identical to the existing Tickets-At-Work 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,”, but the IP address for the new PlumBenefits.com website is actually owned by EBG, further underlying the appearance of 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 sections on the home pages: 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 Tickets-At-Work 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 for many years under Shara Mendelson’s iron-fist 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, Adding voluntary benefits made up for the void. Plum’s revenue comes from fees paid by the producers of the entertainment events, so corporate 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. At the ground level, they are erasing many roles within their organization, removing what they may have considered to be role redundancies. EBG reports that the remaining Plum Benefits staff who manage the corporate clients are now employees of EBG. It is unclear whether the former Plum organization was failing to make sufficient profits, or whether there were some other logistical reasons for this merger/takeover 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 Tickets-At-Work merger appears to be a step forward from the consumer perspective.
Plum Benefits’ existing corporate 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 already very wary of being aligned with this new service, as their approval may be taken by employees and management as the HR department encouraging and approving of “shopping at work”, something that corporate management is keen to avoid. HR employees are very concerned about being seen as providing benefits and value, but not distractions, for their employees at work. The new Plum Benefits’ site does not provide a method to switch-off the multitude of offers and employees are force-fed all these offers from the new partnership, often against their will. What is missing from this model is the HR manager’s desire, and discretion, to pick and choose what types of offers they want to provide to their employees and which ones they do not, which may mean many Corporations may jump ship to other solutions such as “Corporate Perks” by Nextjump or “Corporate Offers” which are more tuned to the HR division’s needs.
With EBG and “Tickets At Work” being primarily based in Aventura, Florida, it is clear that the bulk of the offers will no longer be focused on New York City and certainly not on Broadway shows. Plum will inevitably see a dilution of interest in Broadway show attractions, but an increase in overall income from its commissions from the other entertainment sales in this joint venture. Broadway shows expect that their overall ticket sales will go down for Plum, even though the merger with TAW opens up their product to a lot more people, most of them aren’t in the NYC area, so any ticket sales will be “Visitor” sales, something that the Broadway producer was able to sell full-price tickets to in the past, and now are stuck selling at a discount, even though they didn’t ask for one.
Plum Benefits has opened up their corporate client base to peruse hundreds of other competing entertainment offers, something that does not seem wholly appropriate given that Shubert’s mission statement is to help develop Broadway Theatre, but instead have sold them out for cash, or at least a commission on the sale.
Charles Flateman, VP Marketing for Shubert Ticketing and Board Member of the newly combined organization and Brett Reizen, EBG President and CEO did not return calls seeking comment for this story.