Thursday, December 11, 2008

Round Two: Arena Stage's New Deal Program

When designing the Arena Stage "New Deal" One Day Only Sale, I knew that we were applying a temporary band-aid to a relatively large problem, and we would have to take a more systemic approach to dealing with the issues ahead of us. To keep the analogy going, I didn't expect the one day only sale to be the knock out punch in the first round, so here we are in round two (actually probably round 3).

In our response to the economic crisis, we have done the following:

Round 1: Arena Stage "New Deal" One Day Only Sale (November 14, 2008)

Round 2: Adjusted income projections and decreased expense budgets. Senior staff and members of the board formed three committees--the earned revenue committee, contributed revenue committee and an expense reduction committee. Each committee met several times over the course of a month to develop a recommendation for action for the full board. Both the earned revenue and contributed revenue committees readjusted their projections from the approved FY09 budget, presenting to the full Board conservative estimates on the impact the current economic crisis will have on the company. To match these adjustments, the company reduced its expenses and raised additional contributions. (November 21, 2008)

Round 3: Launch of the Arena Stage "New Deal" seats for all performances (December 12, 2008). Arena Stage previously operated on two classes of seats: A seats (prime seats) and B seats (economy seats). We were finding that we weren't having problems selling prime seats, but that our seats at the lower end of our pricing chart weren't moving as quickly as usual. To create a lower entry point while trying to avoid upsetting our subscribers who purchase early and therefore get the greatest discount, we created a new section of seats, called the NEW DEAL seats and set a price of $25. The NEW DEAL section would be limited to the last four rows in our Crystal City venue and the upper balcony in our DC venue. These areas of the each house didn't contain any subscribers, and therefore they wouldn't be upset by a mid-season change in pricing. To further address any subscriber concerns, we sent each subscriber a letter outlining the new program and giving them access to purchase NEW DEAL seats a day before the general public. The new $25 ticket price is 47-64% off what those seats previously cost, offering a significantly lower entry level price to all our performances. No other discounts can be applied to these tickets, and subscriptions aren't available in this price category (to prevent B seat subscribers transitioning to NEW DEAL seat subscribers). So far this move has garnered us some press attention from the Washington Post and our local NBC affiliate, and although I suspect these tickets will be quite popular, they won't sell at the pace of the previous offer. Where Round 1 was a sprint, this is more like a marathon.

I will keep you updated on the results. We opened NEXT TO NORMAL at Arena Stage last night, and I was really struck by one of the lyrics--"even the darkest night will see light."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The rules are changing, and changing quickly

I have always believed that marketing success starts with the product. If the quality of the artistic product isn't there, there is nothing a marketing director can do to put more butts in seats. Audiences will leave no matter how thought out or brilliant the marketing strategy. That being said, if the product is strong, a primary function of a marketing director is eliminating the barriers to purchasing.

Several weeks ago, I began to feel that even with a strong product, in today's economy, we must give people a reason to buy. No longer would a strong artistic product marketed well be enough. I tested this hypothesis by developing the NEW DEAL program at Arena Stage, which resulted in sales significantly beyond our expectations. The reduction in ticket price, even if for a day, gave potential patrons the reason they needed to make the purchase, especially on something that was dependant upon very limited discretionary spending.

So I wasn't surprised by an article in the Washington Post entitled "Holiday Shopping in a Downturn: Deals or Nothing at All." The basic rule of retail businesses on Black Friday is to offer highly attractive "door buster" sale items to lure customers in the door. The idea is that even after the "door busters" are sold out, customers will stay and purchase non-sale items. It has worked well for retail businesses for over a decade. But it didn't this year. The rules have changed. Customers showed up for the "door busters" as usual, but once the deals were gone, so were the customers. They didn't stay and shop. Once the "reason to buy" was eliminated, the sales stopped.

It seems like all the rules have been thrown out the window. We know the small profit margin on new car purchases, right? Dealerships make most of their money on the financing. But to get people to purchase, there are several dealerships offering "buy one, get one" deals on cars. When have you ever heard of that?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Budgeting and the artistic product

I had the pleasure of hearing Karen Hopkins speak at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Houston. During her speech, she said several things that caught my attention. Because the conference centered around how marketing and development departments could work together to maximize revenue, she outlined the revenue breakdown between earned vs. contributed sources for the Brooklyn Academy of Music:

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Expenses $38 million
Box office income: $11.9 million (31% of expenses)
Other earned revenue: 4.6 million (12% of expenses)
Contributed revenue: $22 million (private and public) (57% of expenses)
Programs:
· The Next Wave Festival
· Spring season of theater, opera, dance
· Education—serving 25,000 students at 219 schools

I have always admired the artistic work of BAM, and some of the nation's most creative work from the past several decades have been created and/or featured at BAM, including Peter Brooks' epic Mahabharata and Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach.

One of the struggles that we are facing at Arena Stage is an imbalance between earned and contributed revenue. Arena Stage is more reliant on earned revenue than most regional theaters, and it puts the marketing department in conflict with the artistic department. I joined Arena Stage because of its long heritage of superb artistic work, and our artistic strategic plan calls for the exploration of new and challenging work in the future. However, the more reliant a company is on earned revenue, the less risk and new work the company can take on because it is reliant on steady box office revenue. Thankfully the communications department and the artistic department at Arena Stage work very well together, and we are in the process of hiring a chief development officer to increase our contributed revenue streams.

To test my hypothesis about how an imbalance between earned and contributed revenue streams can affect programming, I took a look at two institutions--one known for artistic risk taking and new play development (The Public Theater), and one known for presenting/producing only well known, less risky work (Walnut Street Theatre).

Here are their breakdowns:

Public Theater (New York Shakespeare Festival)
2006 990Expenses: $17 million
Box Office income: $5.2 million (31% of expenses)
Other earned revenue: $1 million (6% of expenses)
Contributed revenue: $8.6 million (51% of expenses)

Walnut Street Theatre (from their 2006 990)
Expenses: $13.5 million
Box office income: $11.5 million (85% of expenses)
Other earned revenue: $500k (5% of expenses)
Contributed Revenue: $1.4 million (10% of expenses)

To quote Michael Kaiser from his new book, "Not-for-profit arts organizations should be doing work that commercial producers won't consider either because the work is too large or too risky. This is what justifies the use of tax-deductible contributions." As I look at Walnut Street's financials, they are very close to operating like a for-profit institution, with only 10% of its budget coming from contributed revenue. So, don't look for them to do anything "too large or too risky." They can boast that they have the world's largest subscription base, and although I like Ralph Weeks (their Director of Marketing), it isn't because they figured out the "subscriber problem" or have exceptional marketing, it's because of their programming. Their shows for this season include 5 shows: State Fair; Hairspray; A Streetcar Named Desire; Born Yesterday; and The Producers (all musicals and/or well known products).

From the opposite perspective, the Public Theater can do "large and risky" productions, which they are well-known for because more than half of its budget comes from contributed sources. For comparison purposes to Walnut Street, check out the Public Theater's season: Road Show; If you see something, Say something; Taking Over; The Good Negro; Why Torture is Wrong; The Singing Forest; Khartoum; The Native Theater Festival. As a theater insider, I have only heard of three of these projects, mostly because Arena Stage has a history with two of them.

The more a company is handcuffed to its earned revenue streams and box office, the less it's able to concentrate on its non-profit mission. And in this economy, a heavy reliance on either contributed or earned revenue isn't a good idea since an organization's revenue streams should be diversified, so as not to put all your eggs in one basket.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Results from the Arena Stage New Deal

Round 1: Economy vs. Arena Stage

Tactic: Arena Stage's New Deal--25,000 tickets at $25 each for 24 hours
Good for the first week of any remaining production in 2008-09

Results: 6,661 tickets sold for almost $200,000 in revenue in a 24 hour period

Notes:
  • The previous highest grossing day at Arena Stage was $90,000 in 2002, which we more than doubled.
  • We created 229 entirely new patron accounts.
  • Several preview performances sold out, and the remaining shows have very healthy houses which should go a long way in boosting word of mouth early.
  • We sold 1,400 tickets in two hours from 12am-2am on Friday morning.
  • We had a line at the box office at 12am, including a woman in her sleeping bag.

ROUND 1 GOES TO ARENA STAGE

Asking the unpopular--is there too much art?

The economic crisis is starting to trickle down to arts organizations all over the nation. Recent casualties of the crisis include Opera Pacific, Milwaukee Shakespeare Festival, and several Broadway shows. To adjust for the weakening economy, planned productions have been abandoned at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Washington National Opera, the New York City Opera and even at the seemingly untouchable Metropolitan Opera. Not to mention the St. Louis Museum of Art postponing its $125 million expansion or the Shakespeare Theatre missing its gala goal by $300,000.

The impact of the crisis will be felt in communities all around the country. Quite simply, the casualties listed above won’t be the last. Arts organizations will fail and close as contributed income dries up, and earned revenue weans. Although tragic for the artists connected to these organizations, the unpopular question that continues to emerge with my colleagues from around the nation is: are the closings of these organizations necessarily a bad thing?

Is there just too much art? Take for example an article written in the Washington Post on April 23, 2008 which cites a study by the Helen Hayes Organization that says in 2007, there were 402 more performances by theatre companies than the previous year but attendance was down by 36,000 patrons. From this report, it would seem that supply has significantly surpassed demand, and this isn’t surprising when you take into consideration the boom of new theaters in the Washington metropolitan area.

Artists, including myself, like to point to ways to increase demand, revitalize arts education, court younger audiences, launch massive outreach programs—as the answer to this problem. But the supply and demand conundrum that many communities face can also be solved by eliminating the excess supply. This crisis will create a de facto “survival of the fittest” culture for arts organizations. Those organizations that are financially sound and create consistently good product might feel a pinch but should weather the storm. Those organizations who were limping along prior to the crisis will probably cease to exist, thereby eliminating the surplus in supply in competitive markets and returning the community to a sustainable stasis.
In the end, although painful in its process, this crisis might create stronger artistic communities throughout the nation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Notes from Ed Keller's session at NAMP

Ed Keller, Word of Mouth Marketing Guru
Unleashing the Power of Word of Mouth
Plenary Speech
Monday, November 10, 2008

Recent example of great WOM marketing:
The Obama Campaign decided to announce his running mate via text messaging. That was the carrot to encourage people to sign up and provide their cell phone numbers to the campaign, which they used later to send out text messages to “get out an vote.” Those cell phone numbers were incredibly valuable to the campaign to set up their word of mouth campaigns.

3.5 billion brand impressions via word of mouth each day in the United States. Think about how expensive a brand impression is that you purchase via paid advertising.

Word of Mouth is the most influential touchpoint (from research done by AdvertisingAge). Word of mouth has more impact than any other touchpoint available.

What is word of mouth?
-people giving advice, insight and information to others in their own voice and in a natural, honest and genuine way.

Word of mouth marketing:
1. Encouraging word of mouth within a marketing objective.
2. Making it easy for consumers to spread the word about your brand
3. Making sure everything you do that touches the consumer is “TalkWorthy

Word of Mouth Marketing Techniques:
Online: Online buzz, viral videos, brand blogging and brand communities
Offline: street teams, house parties, referral marketing, customer activation and CRM, WOM sampling and seeding, evangelist marketing (finding the 1% of your customer base who are evangelicals about your product and helping them spread the word)

Key Questions:
1. What’s your story?
2. Who will tell it?
3. How can you facilitate the conversation (tools you can create to help WOM)

6 Key Insights:
1. Americans like to talk. The average American engages in 105 conversations a week about products and services. Those conversations contain an average of 69 brand mentions. Top three categories: Food and Dining, Media and Entertainment, and Sports, Recreation and Hobbies.
2. Word of Mouth has Impact on Audience. On a zero to ten scale, 55% rated 9 or 10 on a 1 to 10 scale. 49% of people say they are likely to purchase a product that is recommended by a close friend.
3. Word of Mouth is mostly positive. 63% of brand references in world of mouth conversations are “mostly positive,” which is seven times the rate of “mostly negative” references (9%). Research also shows that positive word of mouth has more impact than negative word of mouth.
4. Word of Mouth is mostly face-to-face. 73% of marketing-related conversations take place in person. The remainders are phone (17%), e-mail (3%), text message (3%), online chatroom or blog (1%) and other (2%). This remains true across all age groups. Offline WOM is more credible, more positive and more likely to inspire purchase.
5. Half of WOM driving by media/marketing. Nearly 1 in 2 brand conversations refer to brand marketing or media. Consumers tend to take things they hear from traditional marketing mediums and use it in their WOM mentions. 50% of consumer brand conversations refer to marketing or media, lead by television (15%).
6. When it comes to conversation, not all consumers are created equal. One American in ten tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy. They are called the influencers.

Influencers:
10% of population accounts for 1/3 for all WOM.
60% more conversations each day.
90% more brand conversations.
They are leading indicators of consumer trends.
They are consumer advocates.
They are “market multipliers” – two to three times as likely to talk to others as the average consumer.
Eager to sign up for WOM programs and more than 3/4ths of influencers like to pass along info, discounts and ads for brand they like.
More than 3/4ths of influencers invite friends to events for brands they like.
2.5 times more likely to post reviews and ratings.

Reaching Influencers
· Find them in your database.
· Media planning tools are available to plan media efficiently. More active users of the internet and heavy users of print media.
· Many times, they will self-identify. Active participation on your website. They attend your events, and contact your call center. They also post reviews and ratings.

How marketing needs to change to maximize WOM:
· new marketing objectives
· Need to focus on things that are “talkworthy” campaigns that will create a buzz
· Better integration across marketing channels and disciplines.
· New channels, tools and techniques.
· Target influencers who are predisposed to recommend.
· Focus more on current customers, not just prospects.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

First blog from NAMP

Today was my first day at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Houston. I opted to come in a day early to participate in the pricing institute, and although they presented some interesting information, I feel like they condensed their overall presentation down so far to fit into one day that it lost some of its value.

I did have one insight and a good reminder today. The insight: at the pricing institute, we discussed values based pricing. What value do you bring to your customer, and the importance of comprehending, creating and communicating your value. However, Tim Baker (one of the presenters) said something that really resonated with me about organizations that do a lot of new work. He said "if the customer doesn't know the play they are going to see, it is extremely difficult for them to evaluate value, so the value equation must rest on the reputation of the institution." I took that sentence to read that if you want to do a substantial amount of new work, you must increase your institutional marketing to brand the institution because the customer cannot make a values based decision on a product that is unknown to them. This coincides with a main argument that Michael Kaiser makes in his new book The Art of the Turnaround. Mr. Kaiser's main mantra: good art, marketed well. And he says one of the major mistakes we make as arts marketers is concentrating too much on product marketing and not enough on institutional marketing.

I had dinner this evening with several respected colleagues, one of which being Kory Kelly, the new Director of Marketing and Communications at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Actors Theatre does quite a bit of new work, especially when it comes time for their Humana Festival of New American Plays. As a consumer, I don't have to know anything about the titles or the specific products because that festival is so well branded. I feel like I could buy tickets to any of the Humana Festival productions and see a high quality production. In this instance, Actors Theatre has done a great job of institutional marketing around the festival to boost sales for individual products.

I was also reminded today that you have to sell the experience. People don't buy the product in many cases, they buy the experience, and for many different reasons. At the pricing institute, we discussed the many "types" of values that one could assign to an arts experience including educational, spiritual, therapeutic, ritual, social interaction, and relationship enhancement values. The guy who purchases tickets to the opera for his girlfriend for a special night on the town purchases for relationship enhancement and ritual value (getting dressed up, heading out for a night on the town, etc). The parent who brings his teenager to see Death of a Salesman is probably looking for an educational value. I remember while living in London that if I was having a bad day, I would pop on over to RENT and purchase a 10 pound ticket to escape life. Even though I had seen the show numerous times, it provided me an escape from everyday life. We have to communicate the intrinsic and extrinsic values of our product by selling the experience.

Tomorrow I give my first of two presentations. So off to bed to get a good night's sleep...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Just landed in Houston...

I just touched down at George Bush International Airport in Houston, and I couldn't help but think that I am pretty sure the celebratory atmosphere that I left in DC following the election of Barack Obama probably wouldn't be the same here.

I am in town for my fourth National Arts Marketing Project Conference, where I will be presenting two sessions, leading a round-table discussion and hosting a dine-around. A packed schedule, but I like it that way. I have met so many interesting people at this conference over the years.

A highlight of this year's conference is a convening of marketing experts from major regional theaters that I have been invited to on Monday, November 10. Jim Royce, Director of Marketing, Communications and Sales at Center Theatre Group and Rodi Franco, Director of Communications at the Alley Theatre are hosting the dinner. The group includes Alan Brown (WolfBrown), Mary Trudel (Wallace Foundation), Tim Baker (Baker Richards Consulting), Bil Schroeder (South Coast Rep), Linda Garrison (Steppenwolf Theatre), Anne Trites (Yale Repertory Theatre), Kory Kelly (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Chad Peterson (Northlight), Nella Vera (CTG) and myself representing Arena Stage.

The main topic of conversation will focus on how our institutions are addressing the current economic crisis. The group has agreed to let me blog about the conversation. I must say that I am incredibly excited to be at the table with this group of folks, and I hope some interesting ideas are floated.

Just today, two major opera companies announced huge changes that were blamed on the current economy. The NY City Opera announced that it has separated ways with its incoming artistic director Gerald Mortier, and the Washington National Opera announced that it has abandoned its plans to present the Ring Cycle next year. I have also heard from my colleagues around the nation at some of the largest theaters in the country that they are preparing to make substantial changes in their season. The first out of the box seems to be Seattle Repertory Theatre.

We are all in the same boat, so hopefully we can create an agenda to address this crisis together.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Arena Stage's NEW DEAL


As the anemic economy lingers, I have gotten more and more questions, from press, board members and colleagues, about what I believe the impact will be of the worsening economic crisis. As I wrote in an earlier post, the honest answer is -- I don't know. Truth be told, the first several shows of Arena's season have performed on par with previous seasons, and Wishful Drinking was one of our best performing productions in the past decade.

That being said, I am not so optimistic about the future. Money is getting tight, and some of the most talented forecasters in the retail industry are calling for an incredibly rough holiday season.

As a preemptive strike, Arena Stage announced its New Deal program today. At its core is a huge one day only sale. For one day, Friday, November 14 from 12:00am until 11:59pm, Arena Stage will place 25,000 tickets on sale for $25 each, which represents 60% off regular ticket prices. I believe we owe it to our community to make ticket prices more reasonable during these times, and this is the program we have developed.

I also believe that we have to give customers a reason to buy, and buy now. To a lot of people, a great product is no longer enough -- they need a deal that they feel they can't pass up in order to purchase. In turn, I need them to purchase their tickets now far in advance for shows months away. I refer to this as my security blanket in case the economy gets worse--almost like a subscription in a way.

Round 1 begins...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

From the trenches: It's Ok to Say You Don't Know

First off, an apology for not writing much lately. However, since I am a practitioner and not an academic, my days have been filled with trying to address the worsening economic reality, rather than writing about it. These are the days that make me wish sometimes I was in academia, because studying this phenomenon would be really interesting.

If you are like me, and like many of my colleagues, you have been hearing one question a lot lately, probably from board members and executive staff: how is the economy going to affect our sales for the rest of the season, and how do we adjust to anticipate for the impact?

I am proud of the Arena Stage board and senior staff for taking significant steps to prepare for the impact of the market crash, but if you are in a position where you are ultimately responsible for providing accurate sales projections and models like I am, it is one hell of a task. When asked earlier this week by several members of the executive committee of our board how bad it is going to get, I responded with only three words -- I don't know. They were the only three words that I thought I could deliver with integrity and honesty.

I have been running models everyday for the past four weeks. I have extensively studied the impact of the 1987 market crash and the crash post 9/11 to find some sort of path to guide me. But I ultimately decided that there is no precedent that I could find in Arena Stage's 58 year history that could accurately guide me. Which leaves me in a place where I have to "go with my gut." I hate that. I am a math and science guy in an artistic world (I have minors in mathematics and physics). I have been trained over and over again to go with scientific models because one's gut is unreliable. And here I am with nothing in our history to guide me.

So I felt that the executive staff of the company and the board needs to know that I will work day and night to get us to a place where we have what I feel to be the most reliable model that reflects the impact of the market crash, but it will be my best guess. Even though this makes me uncomfortable, I am reassured by knowing that as this is my area of expertise, I believe my projections will be the most accurate.

That being said, at the end of the day, when asked what is the impact of what Alan Greenspan calls the "worst economic crisis he has seen" (and the man is 82 years old), I feel that the only honest answer any of us can say is -- I don't know. If you believe that this is a once in a lifetime economic failure as I do, then no one has seen the impact of a market failure of this size since my grandparents generation during the Great Depression.

Morale of post: in reporting to executive staff and board, do your due diligence, prepare conservative sales models and projections, and don't be afraid to admit what you don't know.

PostScript:
From Michael Kaiser's ArtsManager Blog: "None of us running arts organizations in the United States has experienced this level of economic meltdown. The experiences we had in more recent financial downturns do not prepare us adequately for what is happening now. And the full impact of the financial crisis has yet to be felt in many cities. I know I need to make changes to the operations of the Kennedy Center, I simply do not know how much to change and over what time frame. "

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hoping to see you in Houston...


The National Arts Marketing Project Conference is a little more than a month away, and I am starting to feel like a child just before Christmas! It is the only time during the entire year that I get to see my colleagues from around the nation, and learn about what everyone else is doing. The markets are changing daily. Buying habits are shifting radically. And who knows what is on the horizon. This conference couldn't come at a better time!

This year I am honored to be participating in the following panels and/or presentations:

When I am not speaking, you will be able to find me at the following presentations:

And even though I have admitted my man crush on Alan Brown, I must say that I can't wait for the plenary luncheon on Monday with Karen Brooks Hopkins, the President of BAM. I have heard from colleagues who have worked with her that she is an amazing manager and an astute fundraiser.

So if you are looking for some interesting ideas on how to navigate the current economic crisis, or just need a good kick in the butt to get reenergized, register today! Don't confuse the National Arts Marketing Project Conference with the other one with a similar name--it might sound the same, but ask previous attendees and they will tell you it isn't by a long shot.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Navigating the economic turmoil...

If you are like me, by now you have been asked by your executive leadership and your board how you plan to address the failing economy. I would like to share some thoughts with you below. Some of these items are my ideas. Some are not. Some will be welcomed and popular, while others might be politically difficult to implement. But I found all the below strategies to be helpful.

1. Monitor your return on investment for all your advertising spends. If you have multiple productions running concurrently, and one production is showing a substantially higher ROI on your advertising dollar, then reduce your advertising spends on the lower performing production, and place those funds to promote the production showing a higher ROI. In doing so, make sure that you don't cut funds to the extent that the lower performing production is completely unadvertised--you still have a responsibility to that production and to those audiences. But place more eggs in the basket that is performing better. This strategy will ensure that you are maximizing the returns on each advertising dollar you spend, however it can become politically dangerous and could cause internal strife with your artistic team.

2. Stretch each dollar. Don't be afraid to negotiate with your vendors. This isn't a time to be shy. You have a responsibility to your organization and your employees. Get tough. Ask the tough questions. Demand more. Make your advertising representative work for you. Most likely there isn't an advertising medium that has cornered your market. In the past, newspapers might have been in that position, but with falling readership, this is probably no longer the case. In my market, for decades the Washington Post controlled the market. Organizations in the Washington DC metro area had to advertise with the Washington Post, and they controlled the relationship. No longer. Get the major players together, and tell them that you will sign major advertising contracts with those companies that play the nicest with you. Ask for free advertising. Ask for free promotion. Ask for freebies up to 50% of the value of your advertising contract. Don't accept anything less. You are the protector of your organization. Would you rather face a situation where you must cut expenses because you didn't hit your goals because you were too shy to ask for concessions or toughen up with your vendors and negotiate a deal?

3. Become more efficient. This economic downturn will have a silver lining. It forces us to examine everything that we are doing to find the inefficiencies in our marketing strategies. Be ferocious about monitoring every direct mail campaign. What segments are working? What segments aren't. Analyze your database for trends, and pay attention to the data. Eliminate mailings that aren't performing. Case in point: Arena Stage mails a package to every single ticket buyer that comes to its first couple of productions. If you are a first time single ticket buyer, you will get a letter from our Artistic Director thanking you for coming and a special incentive to return for another show (because we know most new subscribers were multiple ticket buyers in the previous season). We have a wildly successful show playing at Arena Stage at the moment which is attracting many more tourists than we normally get (in fact, we usually attract very few tourists). So I was proud the other day when our Director of Marketing came to me and asked if we should spend the money on creating and mailing these tailored packages to the first time single ticket buyers from more than 200 miles away from Washington DC. Of course not. These ticket buyers are interested in this one show because of the celebrity draw, not in attending Arena Stage on a regular basis. So we saved that money and put it toward other things. Way to go Shawn!

4. Be wise on what to cut in your expenses and what to keep. Never cut anything that sacrifices the quality of your product. That is never the answer. If your product lessens, you will have nothing to market. If you need to reduce your expenses, cut those expenses that aren't essential to the product, the experience or to the promotion of a production. So you might be thinking what do I cut then? Look at travel, software & hardware expenses, office supplies/furniture, research and development, and other niceties that might not be absolutely essential to the current fiscal year. If you want to be a friend to your executive director, don't spend the extraneous funds in your budget. Put those funds into an escrow account for use if you don't need to cut them later in the year. If you need to cut expenses later in the year because you missed your targets due to a fluctuating market, you will have those funds to cut. Remember that as a department head, you have more responsibility to the overall health of the organization than you do to a specific division or department. Don't bury funds in your budget, and be open and honest about what you can and cannot cut.

5. Always be on the lookout for new revenue sources. Just like diversifying your portfolio protects you from major losses in any one specific investment, diversifying your revenue sources does the same thing. Take a look at your merchandising, concessions, parking, sponsorships, advertising opportunities, partnership opportunities, space rentals, summer camps, education programs, etc. They are all important even if they are smaller sources of revenue. Diversify as much as possible.

6. Lock in those sales today! We have significantly increased our investment in group sales at Arena Stage this year. The best way to guarantee that your sales don't ride up and down with the market is to lock them in early (this is also the best way to protect your sales from bad reviews). Announce your season as early as possible, and put as much importance on developing your group sales brochure as your do on your subscription brochure. Group sales departments need time to sell your shows. Give them as much time as possible and the resources to sell. Invest in group sales. And a lesson I am learning currently--make sure the deposit that you require from your groups at booking is large enough to weed out the people who aren't serious in bringing a group, but small enough not to scare people away. We are working on this at Arena Stage.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Remember the entire experience

Recently Arena Stage held a couple of focus groups about membership programs at Shugoll Research in Bethesda, MD. While I was there trying to figure out whether or not a membership program could supplement our subscription options, I learned another lesson entirely.

Our first group was with recent lapsed subscribers, and we asked them why they decided not to renew their subscription. We got several answers that we anticipated--our move to temporary venues while our new building is being built, the selection of shows, not enough time, don't want to commit, etc. And I got some answers that I completely wasn't expecting:
--"I love the productions, but I was having a tough time getting a cab after the performance, even though I asked house management prior to the show. I don't want to stand around for a half hour waiting on one."
--"I understand your move to Crystal City, but do you really have to charge $5 for a cup of coffee at concessions."
--"Parking is going to be difficult at the Lincoln Theatre. I know you have valet parking, but at such a large venue, it is going to take forever to get our vehicle."

These issues had nothing to do with the product, the sales vehicles, the messaging, or anything else that a marketer normally thinks about. They have to do with the entire experience. Reflecting on these comments, I have made it my number one commitment that we will provide the best overall experience of any theater in the metro area. To do this, we have changed the way we do business, and are looking for more opportunities everyday.

We now:
1. Offer free coffee and cookies at every performance, and for every patron. Our customer service mission includes positioning ourself as "warm and friendly." What is more warm and friendly then free coffee and cookies.
2. We are working with our valet company to get the timing of every vehicle return down to 10 minutes, which is quite an accomplishment in DC on a Friday evening. We are using shuttles to shuttle valet drivers back and forth so they don't have to run to vehicles, and therefore don't get fatigued or winded. I literally have stood at the front of the theater with our Director of Audience Services and have timed the delivery of cars. We still have a little way to go, but are making headway.
3. We now require our ushers to wear black and white, and have brand new name badges. They are trained to welcome each guest at the door, route them to the free cookie and coffee bar, and then thank them when they leave. We actively seek ways in which we can go out of our way to help people (i.e. loaning an arm to an elderly patron to assist in getting out of a vehicle, walking people to a nearby restaurant, etc.)
4. We have opened our house to both food and drink. I initially thought this was going to be a disaster and we would have to increase our cleaning staff, but our audiences are very respectful of the space and there haven't been any issues. And our patrons love taking food and drink into the space.
5. We started a Money Back Guarantee for our subscribers. If they don't like the first show, we will refund their subscription. This puts the pressure on us to solve every problem they have, and to provide the best service.
6. I moved a significant amount of funds into a "customer service" allocation. If we make a mistake, or it is perceived that we made a mistake, not only will we fix it, but we will make sure our customers leave happy. If this means buying them drinks, giving them a restaurant gift certificate, a free CD, or something else, we have funds for this purpose.

These are just a couple of things off the top of my head. I am very lucky in that I have a Director of Audience Services who is phenomenal, and is just as committed to this as I am. If you have any great ideas, please share...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Is Advertising Really Dead?


I thought that you all might be a little tired of reading nothing but my writing. And there are plenty of other experts out there that I learn from on a regular basis. One of them is Jim Royce, Director of Marketing, Communications & Sales for Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. Jim is truly a remarkable guy, and one of the gurus of arts marketing. If you ever have an opportunity to hear him speak, or to pick his brain, don't miss the chance!


Check out one of his recent articles below--Is Advertising Really Dead?


Sunday, July 13, 2008

NPAC: Growing Ticket Revenues in an Economic Downturn



Speakers: Rick Lester, chief executive officer, TRG/Target Resource Group; Jill Robinson, president, TRG/Target Resource Group

Notes:

-A recession is defined by a decline in Gross Domestic Product for two quarters in a row. GDP = Consumer Spending + Investments + Government Spending + (exports - imports). The first quarter of 2008 showed a tiny increase in GDP. Although it might feel like a recession, technically it isn't (perception vs. reality). The problem with the definition of a recession is that you will know you are in a recession two quarters after you have been in it. Since 1980, the United States has gone through 4 recessions, but they have been short and shallow.

-The primary impact of a recession is not on box office, but on fundraising. People tend to give when they are optimistic, but in tough times, people still seem to go out--people still need an escape. The only exception to this is cultural tourism. Cultural tourism seems to be affected much more than regular box office.

-In a recession, marketers have a smaller margin of error and they are called into question more. There is a temptation to increase sales goals based on the drop in contributed revenue but just because contributed revenue drops, the demand for your product doesn't increase in response.

Strategies:
1. Go back to the basics by focusing on cost-of-sale ratios, database analytics, and investing at the maximum level possible. The quality of the product is of ultimate importance in all of these factors. Cost-of-sale ratios should be ran for entire seasons as well as individual productions.
2. Over spend on marketing performances with the greatest expected outcomes because they will probably generate the best return on investment.
3. When tracking response reports from your subscription campaign, continue to mail to "over-producing" segments and continue to mail to those "over-producing" segments until they cease to "over-produce." On average, 85% of all subscription sales come from patrons with previous single ticket purchasing history. These prospects are 8 times more valuable than anyone else. Poorest responses generally come from rented lists.
4. Find a way to create new multi-ticket buyers because they are your best prospects for subscriptions. Most single ticket buyers go once and never return--you must find a way to get them back in the door.
5. When looking for the best prospects for subscription campaigns, you need to examine three factors: Recency, Frequency and Monetary. The more recent, the better. The more they attend, the better. And the more money they spend with the organization in a year, the better.
6. If your budgets are cut, take the money out of your marketing for your least popular shows and put them into your most popular shows. The least popular shows will still remain unpopular. If you double your sales on unpopular shows, who cares--it will gain you a minor amount of additional income. If you increase your big budget shows by 10%, it could be a substantial amount of additional revenue.
7. Plan artistic risks at the end of the season when your subscriber renewals are done, and your blockbuster when the subscription renewals start so that subscribers feel that seats are in demand and their subscriptions are valuable when they are asked to renew.

-The biggest client mistake that TRG sees regularly is overspending on print advertising (50% of the budget or higher). Reallocate your existing budget so you spend less on print advertising, and put more resources toward direct mail, e-mail and broadcast.

You can download the entire presentation below:



Friday, July 04, 2008

Using PURLs to Drive Subscription Sales at Arena Stage

It seems like the link to my article that I had posted here is no longer working, however Stage Directions Magazine published an article about the use of PURLs at Arena Stage. That can be found here: http://stage-directions.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=939&Itemid=39.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

TCG Conference Presentation

Thank you to all of those folks who have contacted me about the presentation that I gave at the Theatre Communications Group conference in Denver. We had a wonderful crowd (especially for 8am on a Friday) and a very nice conversation.

As promised, I posted my presentation on the web for you to access. Feel free to download it and steal anything you think that you can use. It can be found here:





The only thing that I ask is that you share any good ideas that you might have with the rest of us.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

For those who have been predicting it...

it seems like the time has come: Facebook Blows Past MySpace in Global Visitors in May.

Although I don't think that MySpace is disappearing anytime soon, I would continue to encourage organizations to find creative ways to capture contact information from their MySpace friends (think product giveaways and contesting).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

National Performing Arts Convention: The Value of a Seat

Notes from the session "The Value of a Seat"

Moderators: Charles Isherwood, theatre critic, The New York Times; Joanne Steller, vice president, strategic communications, Target Resource Group Speakers: Jon Limbacher, vice president and chief operating officer, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; Phillip Matthews, director of communications, Theatre Communications Group and manager, Free Night of Theater; Ellen Walker, director of marketing and communications, Pacific Northwest Ballet

Phillip Matthews (Free Night of Theater – TCG)
-started out as a pilot program in 2005
-now in over 100 cities and expect to offer more than 500,000 free tickets this year
-1/3 of audiences made under $50k, and were non-white
-suggestion: when theaters offer complimentary tickets, they should collect the contact information for each attendee so that they can follow up with them and invite them back (as a paid attendee).

Jon Limbacher (St. Paul Chamber Orchestra)
-he felt that if an organization doesn’t have a significant, growing, sustainable audience, it should make you question your purpose
-viewed price as a really important factor in the relationship that an organization has with its patrons. They designed their pricing (most by drastically lowering their prices) to create a “philanthropic” relationship with their patrons rather than a “consumer” relationship with them.
-In their community concert series, their original prices were between $11 and $47. They lowered the prices so that 60% of all tickets are $10 and 40% are $25. They went from have houses at 60% capacity to 90% capacity.

Ellen Walker (Pacific Northwest Ballet)
-their goal is to maximize price for each seat sold
-when a performance is sold to 80% capacity, they raise all tickets by $5. Once the performance is sold at 90% capacity, they raise all tickets by $10.
-they continue to have access programs for patrons that cannot afford full price tickets.
-on average, this dynamic pricing structure brings in $200,000 more in earned revenue per year than the previous model
-the company has several hundred thousand attendees each year, and in the five years that they have had dynamic pricing, they have fielded one complaint from a patron
-there was much more internal debate over dynamic pricing then there was customer dissent

Sunday, June 15, 2008

National Performing Arts Convention: Jim Collins (Going from Good to Great)


Notes from Jim Collins' session "From Good to Great and the Social Sector." Best-selling author Jim Collins discusses his groundbreaking theory on what makes the difference between a "good" organization and a "great" one, and how to achieve superior performance in the social sector.


  • We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, but we are freed by choice and our decisions.

  • The best performing stock in the history of traded stocks is Southwest Airlines, and there isn’t an industry tougher than the airline industry. Talk about a tough circumstance, and they seemed to outperform everyone.

  • It is the wrong ideas to say that the primary path of success for arts organizations is to become more like businesses. Most businesses are average, so why would you want to strive to be average? The critical questions should be what causes an organization or a business to go from good to great, instead of modeling your organization’s behaviors after a for-profit business.

  • Greatness is a cumulative process—most major successes are built over substantial periods of time. In their studies, most major successes were twenty years in the making and on average, it took seven years of great work before a company experienced a “breakthrough.” Consider that for thirteen years Starbucks had five stores, now it seems like they are opening five stores everyday.

  • The most common cause of substantial decline was found in organizations which made large, undisciplined growth changes. They tried to do too much, too quick and were not prepared.

  • Great companies in turbulent times don’t believe that most of their successes or failures lie beyond their control. They believe that their destiny is in their control, and will not settle for excuses.

  • Who comes before what. In order to change an average performing organization, you don’t necessarily need an inspirational or motivating leader, the organization needs a leader that seeks to get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, After that is accomplished, then they settle on a collective visions. The ultimate hedge against an uncertain world is who you have with you. Invest in people first, before you invest in a plan.

  • #1 Responsibility of a Leader: Make sure that key leadership roles are filled by the best people who are committed and capable of success.

  • Great leaders must understand that sometimes the work is too important and critical to be nice. If you know that someone or something isn’t working, make an adjustment as soon as possible.

  • In their research, they found that the one key difference between good leaders and great leaders was humility.

  • Many people in an organization don’t have enough power to push through a good idea on their own, but there are numerous people in an organization that have enough power to stall or stop a good idea. Great leaders do not seek consensus decisions, but the right decisions. Leaders need to architect an environment to get enough people behind a good idea to send it forward. (He noted that great decisions usually were never made by consensus).

  • Non-profit organizations needs to put metrics in place to measure success. In the for-profit world, this isn’t an issue because success is measured on return on invested capital. However, non-profits aren’t measured in the same way. You should know how to tell if your organization is doing well or not. The organization needs to show enough results so it is apparent that the organization is successful, because people (primarily donors) want to support winners.

  • Every great organization is clear on who they are and what they do. They also know when they should say no to something that is beyond their scope no matter how “tempting” the proposition is.

  • Great companies manage themselves in good times like they were currently in turbulent times. You need to be disciplined enough to build reserves during prosperous times.

  • An organization could approach a significant change by using all of its gun powder to launch a large canon ball at its target. This usually results in finding that you aim is 30 degrees off, you haven’t hit your target and have no more gunpowder to fire another canon ball. What you should do is use a small amount of gunpowder to fire a small bullet at your target. When you see that you are 30 degrees off, make the adjustment and you will have enough gunpowder to fire another shot. Hopefully you will find that your aim is off by a smaller degree, maybe 15 degrees. Make an adjustment, reload, aim again, and repeat until you hit the target. Once you hit the target, then get out the big canon ball. You should advance strategically so that you never miss big.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

TCG Conference: Kinney Zalesne (microtrends)


Notes from the TCG Opening Plenary Session: Kinney Zalesne, co-author, microtrends: the small forces behind tomorrow's big changes: hear about some of the emerging communities whose tastes and lifestyles are shaping our future.

Microtrends are the small forces behind tomorrow's big changes. 25 years ago, the market depended on megatrends for change. Megatrends were universal forces that swept through and affected everyone (such as changes in technology). Today there is such an exploration of choice that microtrends (small forces--maybe less than 1% of the total population) can cause major trends in the marketplace.

Old Economy -- "The Ford Economy": one size fits all. The Ford Company were the masters at inventing and designing one black car that could be manufactured 1 million times and could serve the needs of a large number of people and this satisfied the consumer demand.

New Economy
-- "The Starbucks Economy": highly tailored to your personal desires; one can get almost anything they want, the way they want it; think about all the different combinations of coffee drinks that you can order at Starbucks.

People are changing things in their lives that only a couple of decades ago was thought to be unchangeable:
1. Cosmetic surgery is now a $12 billion industry in the U.S. because we now have a large number of choices we can make in regards to how we look. Some of the largest growing segments for cosmetic surgery is teenagers and men.
2. We can now pick our gender. Beyond sex reassignment surgery, a growing number of people find the traditional categories of male and female too constraining (they call themselves unisexuals). 100 corporations and 75 universities have banned discrimination on gender identity, and unisex bathrooms are popping up all over the place.

In all areas of our lives, there is an increasing amount of choice. We can no longer wait for megatrends, we must now focus on microtrends.

Microtrends Contradict:
- We have more affluent couples now than ever, but they were staying in the workforce longer
- We have more scientific knowledge than ever before, but there are 2 to 3 religions created in the world each day.

Microtrend Mindset:
- We must be comfortable holding inconsistent ideas in our heads at the same time (trends are going in every direction at a fast pace)
- We must respect the true breadth and complexity of human beings.

Microtrend Examples:
1. Long Attention Spanners
-growing group of people who want more information not less
-will listen as long as you engage them
-1/2 million Americans run marathons (they want to complete a long journey)
-Foreign Affairs Magazine has increased its subscribers by 13%
-Best-selling novels are on average 100 pages longer than they were 10 years ago

2. Young Knitters
-Teens and 20 something knitters grew from 3 million to over 6 million between 2002 and 2004
-They want old fashioned entertainment in a high technology world

3. Non-profiteers
-non-profit sector is growing far faster than the for profit or public sectors
-more than 12 million people make their living in the non-profit sector
-these folks are social entrepreneurs and people on a mission
-for profits are looking at the non-profit sector for how to attract employees

4. Southpaws Unbound
-1 in 6 people are left-handed
-more businesses are making products for left-handed people
-parents used to worry about their left-handed children and they wanted their kids to conform to society so they could fit in (and thereby taught them to use their right hands). Now parents celebrate their children's individuality.

The microtrend world is fragmenting more around issues, which is putting more pressure to find the values that bring us together--what makes us human? The arts explore these issues.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Web Channel Marketing and Advertising Survey

I have just arrived in Denver for the National Performing Arts Convention and the TCG Conference. I will be blogging from both conventions, and I can't wait for the official kick off later today.

On my way from DC to Denver, I reread the results from a survey that Arena Stage participated in a couple of months ago, and found a couple of surprising things that I figured I would share with you.

Bil Schroeder, Director of Marketing & Communications, at South Coast Repertory commissioned Klear Sky to study marketing and advertising practices at some of the larger regional theaters in the nation. Participating organizations included South Coast Rep, Center Theatre Group, Huntington Theatre Company, La Jolla Playhouse, Arena Stage, Steppenwolf Theatre, Seattle Rep, Goodman Theatre, Actors Theater of Louisville, Yale Rep, and several others.

Below are some results that I found to be interesting:

1. The average numbers of e-mail sent per month by survey participants was 6.3, but on the high end, one organization on average sends 13 emails per month. We can only assume with so many e-mail campaigns sent per month that this organization uses highly segmented and targeted campaigns.

2. There was one question on the survey that was misinterpreted by most of the respondents. The question was: "What is the average number of online impressions you have per month." I answered for Arena Stage, and I went back into our online impression reports from the past three months from every place online that we advertise. On average, we had 3,145,182 online impressions every month. Arena Stage had by far the most, with the average being 1.6 million of impressions. However, one organization reported only having 13,000 online impressions. Online advertising is relatively new, and this misinterpretation shows me that we aren't all on the same page on how to measure the impact of online advertising.

3. "Single ticket direct mail advertising has stayed the same or increase for 80% of the respondents. This remains a strong channel for advertising even with the rise of online and email advertising." I found this surprising because our direct mail campaigns at Arena Stage have decreased mostly because we are finding much higher ROIs on other types of campaigns, especially with the cost of the stamp constantly going higher and printing/delivery costs skyrocketing because of the fuel crisis.

4. Only 40% of respondents reported spending less on newspaper advertising over the past three years, which I found shocking. The state of the newspaper nationally is abysmal. Most newspapers are bleeding subscribers, and raising rates on advertising, so in essence we are paying more for less. However, it seems that less than half of the companies have reduced their expenditures which suggests that some folks like to stick with the tried-and-true techniques even as they become less and less effective.

5. Out of all the respondents, the organization that had the oldest website had their last redesign in February 2003. Most of the organizations have had a major redesign since December 2006. A note from Klear Sky says "websites that are older than three years run the risk of feeling dated and old." I always thought that the life span of a website was around four years, but now it looks like it is three years or less.

6. In 2004, I started speaking at conferences about using social networking platforms to promote arts organizations. At that time, most people didn't know what MySpace was. In this survey, 87% of the respondents reported to using MySpace and Facebook to promote their organizations.

Thank you to Klear Sky and South Coast Rep for publishing the information from this incredibly helpful survey.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Create Your Own Phenomenon


Arena Stage is in the middle of a rebranding campaign in preparation for the opening of the Mead Center in 2010. The first part of the rebranding campaign is finished, and we now have a new brand platform.

The new brand platform embraces the fact that our audience's purchasing behaviors are very different then they were ten years ago when our last brand refreshment occurred and this was a little alarming for some of the Arena Stage staff.

Thanks to the amazing work of Danny Newman, many marketing professionals have been trained since day one that the goal of any cultural institution is to design a complete season that can be packaged and sold as one product -- a complete cultural sampling if you will. Arena Stage operated under this belief for a long time, and only recently started selling subscription packages that didn't contain the entire season.

We now recognize that although our full season subscribers are incredibly important and valuable to us, our acquisition campaigns rely almost fully on our mini-packages. Even up until last year, our subscription brochure primarily pitched full season subscriptions. This year, full season subscriptions are only mentioned once--on the order page. Instead, when a customer opens our subscription brochure, on the inside front cover in large text, they see the following line: "Pick the shows that are the most exciting and meaningful to you!"

We aren't the only industry to notice this trend. In fact, customization is one of the hottest trends on the market today. Check out the following examples:

Capital One: Create Your Own Credit Card
Alltel: My Circle
Burger King: Have It Your Way
Scion: Build Your Own Car

However, even some of the most inventive and cutting-edge companies don't seem to be grasping this concept. Consider Apple's launch of the iPhone. The iPhone was supposed to be one of the hottest developments in cell phone technology, but they made the critical mistake of trying to force people to use AT&T as a wireless carrier by signing an exclusive deal with them. Then in walks George Hotz, a 17-year-old that dealt Apple and AT&T a lesson in marketing to millenials. He and four collaborators spent their summer devising a plan to unlocked the iPhone so that it can be used with any wireless carrier, and then posted the plan on the world wide web. He gained instant fame for teaching a world-wide leader in technology that they can no longer dictate to the customer, and that the customer now is in the position of dictating to them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why does someone have to tell us not to lie?

Several months ago I had the pleasure of listening to Ben Cameron speak at the National Arts Marketing Conference in Miami. If you haven't had the opportunity to listen to Ben speak, jump at the chance if you get it. One of the points he made was that potential audiences no longer believe the fake hype that marketers use when designing their advertising campaigns for productions. Seriously--if you listen to some of us, every show that we promote is going to be a life altering event. There are some of us that make promises that we cannot deliver, and our potential audiences are seeing through these promises.

Arena Stage is in the middle of a rebranding campaign, and I have been clear that we need to stick to brand promises that we know that we can deliver. If you are doing consistently good work, then it will speak for itself. We need to be mindful to not "over promise."

So I found an article on Playbill today that I found fascinating. British authorities have now made it illegal to pull a couple of words out of context from a review in an attempt to deliberately mislead consumers. We have all been tempted after unfavorable reviews to use a reviewer's words against them, but once again we would be lying to our customers. The times have changed. Information flows too quickly for us to falsely spin or hype a show that doesn't merit it. Be strong. Don't give into temptation. Or else you will pay for it later (literally if you live in Great Britain).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is this happening in your neck of the woods?

I will share my thoughts in a future post, but it begs the question--is it really a bad thing that some theatre companies are closing their doors? is this a "market adjustment" to equalize supply and demand?

From this Wednesday's Washington Post:

More Shows, Fewer Showgoers
Helen Hayes Group Cites Increase of 402 Performances, Decrease of 36,000 Patrons
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 23, 2008; Page C05

The number of stage performances and theater companies in and around Washington went up last year, while overall attendance dropped 1.9 percent, according to statistics from the Helen Hayes Awards organization.

Despite that dip, 2007 was the busiest year since the first tally in 1985, the Hayes group said, with 67 professional companies presenting 8,050 performances of 454 shows. That is an increase from 2006 of three companies, 402 performances and 20 shows. (These figures represent all area professional theaters, not just those eligible for Hayes Awards, but do not include attendance for the Capital Fringe Festival, which drew 19,000 people.) Metropolitan Washington is a busier theater district than the Chicago area, according to Hayes Executive Director Linda Levy Grossman. Though Chicago has more theater companies, "the D.C. area still does more work," she noted via e-mail.

Even so, derrieres in seats numbered about 36,000 fewer in 2007, the Hayes staff reported, with 1,908,557 people attending shows. The dip in comparison with 2006 adds more weight to the conventional wisdom that the audience isn't quite keeping up with the burgeoning theater community. Attendance also dipped by about 1.2 percent from 2005 to 2006, much less than the 8.5 percent drop the previous year.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The end of the critic?

The Los Angeles Times ran an article on Tuesday, April 8 about the possible demise of the cultural critic. In the article, they cited numerous high profile critics which have recently left their posts, begging the question whether or not they are a dieing breed.

As many major newspapers continue to lose large numbers of readers, the impact of reviews and critics is beginning to shift. I myself blogged about this experience in a previous post. This is the first time that I have read an acknowledgement of this trend in a major daily newspaper. With the rise of many online, "citizen" review sites such as Yelp.com, more and more people are looking to common lay folks for their opinions on cultural attractions. Fewer and fewer people are turning to what Mr. Goldstein refers to as the "arbiters of culture." In fact, Mr. Goldstein's son hits it right on the head when he said "I trust my friends more than I trust that guy writing the review." This highlights the power of social media--it provides a context and an opportunity for friends to share their personal opinions of your product. With this ongoing paradigm shift, we as marketers and publicists are going to need to start paying more and more attention to our online reviews as we do to the major daily writers.

Part of what that means is being consistently on our game. No longer can we invite the major reviewers in for one specific night where we all dress up and put out the good china--we have to constantly have the good china on display because every performance is going to be reviewed by someone.

Just a couple of days ago, Arena Stage hosted a panel of professional theater reviewers who volunteered to speak to the participants of our Young Critics Program (a program that invites students to attend shows and review them). On the panel was Peter Marks (chief theater reviewer for the Washington Post). One particularly smart student asked Peter about how he perceived the power of his positive and negative reviews. And although I am paraphrasing, Peter acknowledged there was a time when a reviewer could make or break a show, but he feels this is no longer the case. I can attest that the Washington Post and Mr. Marks in particular still has a very large following, but I would tend to agree with him.

And let's not forget that even though we might get the occasional bad review (and let's admit, sometimes it is deserved), critics are providing us a service by writing about us. The loss of the critic is tragic. Fewer critics = less coverage. Less coverage = less public knowledge.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Congratulations to...my boss

I promise to have a new post tomorrow, but in the meantime...

Congratulations are in order for my soon to be former boss Maggie Boland, Arena Stage's Director of External Affairs since 2003. Maggie will be leaving Arena Stage at the end of April to join Arlington's Signature Theatre as their new Managing Director. I think many of else felt that she was more than ready to take this step in her career, and I am glad that the DC theatre scene is not going to lose her. Now she is going to go work for a "competing" theater so I might have to Tonya Harding her before she leaves, but until that time, I can be very proud of her. One of her first responsibilities on the job--attend the opening of Signature's GLORY DAYS on Broadway. What a rough way to start.

Check out the article in Variety.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

National Arts Marketing Project Conference 2008--Call for Proposals

Americans for the Arts invites you to submit a proposal for the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Houston, November 10-12, 2008. Priming the Pump: Fueling Integrated Arts Marketing, Fundraising, and Sponsorships to Optimize Revenue will focus on best practices in marketing and audience development in the arts.
New This Year!

For 2008, the NAMP Conference is about fundraising too! In addition to the marketing track, there is now a fundraising track, and a track focusing on where the two areas interact. We encourage you to propose sessions in marketing, fundraising, or the intersection of both. Topics of interest include:

-Branding
-Social networking
-Sponsorships
-Young philanthropists
-Dynamic copywriting
-Loyalty programs
And more!

You can share your experience in any format-choose from three types of sessions. Applications for conference sessions, exemplary practices presentations, and roundtable discussions will be accepted. Americans for the Arts welcomes proposals from: marketers and fundraisers arts and culture organizations marketing and fundraising consultants corporate and foundation funders board members government agencies educators executive and/or artistic directors corporate sponsorship and/or marketing directors communications professionals technology professionals

Each track will be divided into two levels:
101 Level for beginner/intermediate skill level and small organizations
201 Level for intermediate/advanced skill level and larger organizations

Visit the NAMP Conference Website for the session proposal application, instructions, and more information on the conference.

Watch the website for registration and hotel information along with the program.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tracking the Blogosphere

As many of you know, Arena Stage has made quite a transition in the last couple of months, moving from its DC home of over 50 years to a new temporary performance space in northern Virginia. In doing so, we employed a complex communications plan that involved using some brand new technologies (PURLs) as well as some tried-and-true techniques. When asked about the "success" of our move, it is relatively easy to track in terms of revenue. I am pleased to report that less than 1% of our subscriber base requested a refund, which is a much rosier scenario then the company had planned for.

I also monitor what our customers are saying by reading their e-mails and reviewing reports from our box office. However, I must say that one of the best indications on the success of our move can be found in the blogosphere. The blogosphere now contains 112.8 million blogs according to a recent Technorati report. Arena Stage sees on average 200,000 people per year. Knowing the popularity of blogs these days, and the sheer number of people that visit us, I knew that our transition would be discussed in the blogosphere.

So I set up a Google Alert to notify me when certain key words were discussed in a blog. Initially, I wanted to be able to monitor what was being said about our transition, but after I read several blog postings, I decided to play a more active role in the discussions by answering questions posted on a blog or by providing more information. A great example can be seen on Michael Miyazaki's Cabaret Blog . Michael is a cabaret enthusiast and a great supporter of the local performing arts. When he came to our new venue to see Tina Fabrique in ELLA, he was very disappointed with our lack of signage and wrote a blog about his experience. Unfortunately, Mr. Miyazaki had attended a preview performance at a time when a great deal of our signage had not yet been installed (try coordinating a signage plan with state, county, and local officials--it is a long process). So I emailed him to apologize for his inconvenience and to let him know that all the signs would be in place by opening night. He took the opportunity to cut directly from my e-mail and paste my response into a blog update.

If you want to know what your audience is thinking, it might be wise to monitor the blogosphere. The blogosphere is no longer a collection of incredibly powerful blogs written by a select few professional journalists. It contains many more personal journals from regular joes like you and I who are not shy about discussing their experiences.