I am writing this blog from Minneapolis, where I am attending the Theater Communications Group National Conference which begins tomorrow. It seems that June is a very popular month for conferences. I just got back from the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, and when I return to DC, I am off to Baltimore for the ASAE Membership Marketing Conference. Keep an eye on the blog and I will share with you some of my thoughts from these various events.
Since I was working the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, I unfortunately didn't get the opportunity to see most of the speakers (however, they are going to post audio and video of the keynote speaker and the six innovator speakers on their website and blog). I did get the chance to hear keynote speaker Lyn Heward from Cirque du Soleil. One of the things that Lyn addressed which has stayed with me over the past couple of days dealt with risk taking. She contended that one of the most dangerous things an organization could do was to remain stagnant and avoid risks for fear of failure. I couldn't agree more. Usually I see this problem with large organizations which rest on their past successes, and choose to stick with the status quo. However successful organizations are in a constant state of flux--always examining their market position and how to better serve the needs of their stakeholders.
I have been very fortunate to work for organizations which embraced calculated risk taking. I would encourage every marketing director to set aside a small portion of their budget for experimental marketing campaigns. Sometimes you will lose, and sometimes you will win, but it is part of doing business. Maybe some of these very large respectable theaters which have either closed lately or which are currently struggling at some point became comfortable and stagnant rather than remaining dynamic and addressing the needs of the current market place. Don't be afraid of failures. Embrace them. Learn from them. And move on. With that said, below is a list of some of my most brilliant failures, and quick successes:
Recent Brilliant Failures:
1. Hot Spot Marketing. A salesman from this company came to me to see if I would be interested in advertising on their new information kiosks that they were placing in hotels and destinations around Virginia Beach. It sounded very interesting. A tourist in their hotel would be able to go down to the kiosk, search for theater listings, see upcoming shows, and print out coupons and directions to the theater. Virginia Beach is a tourist hot spot and we were trying to tap into that market. So I used some of my experimental marketing funds and took a gamble. Total flop -- the tourist market in Virginia Beach is mostly over the summer and we stop producing in late May (not to mention, I don't think there were enough of these kiosks around to make a difference).
2. Concierge Guides. We created 150 concierge guides and invited several other arts organizations to send us information on their current offerings. Once compiled, we hand delivered them to the largest hotels in a 20 mile radius of our theater. At first it worked just fine, but quickly we discovered that we needed to update these guides several times a year to keep them current and if we didn't hand deliver updated information, it never made it to the concierge. It was costly and time consuming to drive to 150 hotels on a regular basis, which made it tough to keep up-to-date. Other companies were having the same problem. Soon these guides became out dated and were no longer being used.
3. Welcome Home Kits. We contracted with a national company which produced welcome home kits for new movers into our area. We would pay them a sum of money, and in return, they would insert a coupon for us into their welcome home kits. We soon found out that our coupons were being lost in the crowd, and that we could create our own welcome home kits and mail them at a cheaper cost. Lesson learned.
1. Necessity if the mother of invention. At Virginia Stage Company, we couldn't afford a ton of billboard advertising because it was controlled by one company which was very expensive. So I got to thinking how we could accomplish the same thing for a cheaper price. I worked with our master electrician, and for a $250 investment, we bought a Source 4 lighting instrument and created a custom gobo advertising our upcoming shows. We then mounted it on a building in downtown Norfolk, put the light on a timer, and beamed the image onto an adjacent building in the evening. We got permission from the owners of the buildings. It turned out great. And got a lot of attention from passersby and the press.
2. We noticed that our subscription audience was aging so we took some non-traditional methods to advertising subscriptions such as creating a DVD brochure instead of a print brochure, creating video and putting it on YouTube, etc. Over a period of two years, we had double digit growth in subscription income and over 2,000 new subscribers.
Take calculated risks. Expect and be prepared for failures, and welcome the successes. This is a part of doing business. The worst thing we can do is fear failture so much that we no longer take the creative risks that we so desperately need.