Sunday, June 24, 2007

Developing a Participation Matrix...

During a session of the ASAE Membership Marketing Conference, one of the presenters encouraged attendees to keep a close eye on the participation levels of their members. His argument was that membership was about participation, not about revenue. Although I understood his point, membership and subscriptions are about both revenue and participation.

Keeping this in mind, I would encourage marketing directors who are responsible for growing membership or subscriptions, to monitor the participation levels of their "members" (for our purposes in this post, I will use the word members, but please note this includes subscriber programs found at most performing arts organizations around the country). I am in the process of building a participation matrix that gives quarterly reports on the participation levels of members. That way, I will know, especially with our important donors and members, how active they are with our organization. Usually a member's participation level is a steady predictor on whether or not the member values their membership, and subsequently decides to renew. If I notice at the end of the first and second quarters that a certain portion of our membership isn't participating, that will give me enough time to find ways to engage that segmentation before they are asked to make the decision to renew their membership for the following year.

I would also suggest sending a participation report at the end of the year to each member along with a renewal solicitation. Something along the lines of --

Did you realize during the 2006-07:
  • 30% of your employees participated in member's only listservs
  • your organization saved $1,400 by using your membership discount through bookstore purchases and convention registrations.
  • you attended 7 performances at the magnificent PLUG THE NAME IN HERE theatre, which received 5 critics picks and 3 RANDOM Awards during the year.
  • you enjoyed an evening with acclaimed artistic director SOMEBODY FANTASTIC and the cast of AMAZING PRODUCTION #5.
Keep your members involved, and remind them of the value of their membership when you ask them to renew. Members who don't use their benefits or tickets aren't likely to renew--so catch them early, and find a way to get them active.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Living your Brand Promise...

For the past two days, I have been attending the ASAE Marketing & Membership conference in Baltimore, MD. I went to a session entitled "Brand Image vs. Brand Identity: What do your Members Experience?" The presenter defined Brand Identity as what the organization wants to project--the brand promise that the organization is making. The Brand Image on the other hand is what people actually experience and what they really think of your organization. So the presenter proposed a relatively simple, but very thought-provoking question--is everyone on your staff projecting and living your brand?

Now this session was in the morning, and I still had my mind on my experience with the Hyatt Regency Hotel that I stayed at the previous night. I was excited to arrive at my hotel, because I booked late and the only thing I could find was a room a the luxurious, four-star Hyatt Regency Baltimore. I was shocked that the room cost almost $350 but I figured it was a splurge that I rarely take.

When I think of a Hyatt Regency Hotel (my Brand Image), I think of fantastic service, luxury and an overall great experience. In fact, Hyatt's website lists its Brand Identity: "Hyatt Hotels have long been known for going beyond simple accommodations to create rewarding experiences for its guests. Through dramatic design, innovative cuisine, and attentive service, Hyatt approaches the hotel stay as an opportunity to inspire. Now, that philosophy known simply as The Hyatt Touch®."

I was expecting The Hyatt Touch. What I got:

1) a double bed instead of a king because they ran out of king rooms.

2) an environment where everything was "pay to play" -- parking: $32. Internet: $1 per minute in their business center, otherwise you had to pay the T-mobile charge for wireless.

3) a locked mini-bar, so I went in search of where I could purchase a diet coke. I found out that there were no vending machines or convenience stores in the hotel which sold diet coke, so I asked to have the mini-bar unlocked. After three phone calls (one in which I was on hold for four minutes) and fifty minutes later, a repair man showed up.

4) the repair man had to come back to fix the television because it was stuck on the menu (again it took three phone calls).

If this is the Hyatt Touch, I don't want it. Even my $100 per night Holiday Inn in Minneapolis had a working television, free Internet & parking, and vending machines with Diet Coke. In this case, it is obvious that their Brand Identity (the Hyatt Touch) and their Brand Image (what I experienced) are not the same. They aren't living their brand, and therefore I won't return.

You can produce thousands of brochures with your brand promise, but if you aren't living it, it doesn't make a difference.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It has worked for the movies...why not us?

The Royal National Theatre in Great Britain launched a YouTube channel recently to showcase trailers for its upcoming productions. We did something similar at Virginia Stage Company when I was there and it is much easier than it sounds. All you have to do is get a stock and standard digital video recorder, capture some video of a dress rehearsal, edit it using a easy to use editor like Adobe Premiere Elements, and tada--you have a trailer. Only warning I have here is that if you are a union house, make sure you are staying within the rules. If you aren't sure, I suggest contacting your bargaining representative or an attorney. Don't expect movie quality in your homemade trailers, but they will definitely be a good enough quality for YouTube and your patrons will love the sneak peak.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Have you ever taken a rental car to the car wash?

I just wrote a blog on my experiences at the recent TCG National Conference on the Americans for the Arts ArtsBlog. I figured you guys might be interested in it as well since it talks about our responsibilities for developing new audiences. Check it out HERE.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What happens when the packaging doesn't match the content?

I am in Minneapolis for the TCG National Conference and the host theater is the brand new Guthrie. Let me start off by saying that I don't want to rain on their parade. The new Guthrie Theater is absolutely amazing--it has three performance spaces including separate thrust, proscenium and black box theaters. It is situated right on the Mississippi and is a glorious example of modern architecture. Not to mention, they have been fantastic hosts. So what seems to be the problem?

As I approached the building, I thought to myself, "what a wonderful place for experimental, new edgy work. I bet it would be fantastic to work here." Then I entered the space and I was surprised to see that their two large productions in June were George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara and the musical 1776. Neither of which would I consider bastions of modern, edgy or experimental theatre. Future productions include Private Lives, Jane Eyre, King Lear, The Seagull, A Christmas Carol, and Peer Gynt. The edgy, modern, or experimental productions when produced are for the most part confined to the smallest of the three spaces.

I know that with the opening of a new, large theater comes an increase in expenses, which demands a relatively "safe" season. However, why choose to build a brand new theater that stands as a pillar of modern, experimental architecture and program it with standard fare that you could find at any regional theater in the nation?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Only Thing to Fear, is Fear Itself

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.

Recent Successes:

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.