Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Power of Print Media (or lack thereof)

TCG is holding a monthly teleconference for marketing directors from their member theatres. It seems that everyone is talking about how major daily newspapers are losing power with their declining number of subscribers. Lately, I have been noticing something similar in the Washington, D.C. area. The major daily paper is The Washington Post, and according to our sales reps, it is the fifth largest newspaper in the world when looking at circulation. So, you would think that a strongly positive or negative review could potentially determine the success of a production (much like how New York City waits for Ben Brantley to send his word from on high).

To be honest, I have seen the exact opposite since I have been at Arena Stage. Arena Stage opened its season with Moises Kaufman's world premiere 33 Variations. The show got a lackluster review from the Post critic but was an immediate hit with our audiences. The second show of the season was Lisa Kron's Well which got an amazing review from the Post critic, but didn't seem to have the word-of-mouth that 33 Variations did. From a financial point of view, even with a not-so-positive review, 33 Variations performed very well. In years past, I have heard that if a show didn't get a positive review from the Post, it was very unlikely to succeed at the box office. However, that isn't the case today. So if potential audiences are no longer being influenced by reviewers from the major dailies, who are they listening to?

30% of 0ur audience when asked states that their decision to purchase a ticket was influenced by word-of-mouth from a friend. That is way above any other factor. So I have started to concentrate on how word-of-mouth travels, especially as it relates to new technology. New technology allows discussions to happen instantly. Audience members can text their friends from intermission, giving either a thumbs up or thumbs down. These are the people who have the real power -- the audience members themselves. And that is how it should be. Empower your audiences to be your advocates and sales will increase.

I would also pay attention to a relatively new website called Yelp. allows the average person to experience an event and then review it online (much like a travel website). However the Yelp community is growing very rapidly. Recently I invited several "yelpers" to attend a performance of a show and asked them to honestly review the production. We treated them exactly like a member of the press. I would encourage you to do the same. The power now resides in the hands of "citizen reviewers" instead of the reviewers from the major dailies.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Virginia is for lovers...

First off, my apologies again. I have been on sabbatical from my blog for a little over a month. Soon after coming on board as the Director of Marketing & Communications at Arena Stage, we announced our groundbreaking on the Mead Center for American Theater. The company is in an amazing place in its history, and has raised over $100 million towards its $125 million goal for the new complex. But with growth comes growing pains. With that said, when we announced that Arena Stage would be breaking ground on the Mead Center in January, we also announced that the company would cease to operate in southwest DC for 2 and a half years while the building was being built. Instead, we would transfer our main headquarters to Crystal City (a section of Arlington, VA) and perform at a newly renovated, underground theater and at a separate DC location called the Lincoln Theater. And all of this would happen in a matter of months in the middle of our 2007-08 season. So how do we move a quarter of a million people annually to a separate location, across the river in another state from a place where people have been going for fifty years?

Over the next two months, I will be blogging about what we at Arena affectionately refer to as the "transition." For an arts administrator and arts marketer, the "transition" is incredibly complex, and therefore very interesting. I love taking on projects which I know will push me. So far I have become much more adept in city zoning and sign regulations than I ever thought I would be.

One of the goals of our transition communications strategy is to make the move as easy as possible on our long time subscribers and supporters. The new location is only three miles away from our permanent home, however in DC, the Potomac River serves as a physical barrier. In my eyes, we have one shot at getting our subscribers from Maryland and DC over to Virginia. If their first experience is difficult and aggravating, they won't return. So we have developed a reasonably extensive campaign to alleviate the stress on these folks.

Part of this campaign involves using PURL technology. I first learned about PURL technology when I was working as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Americans for the Arts. PURL stands for personalized URL. A direct mail piece is created for each individual with their own personalized website landing page. When they visit the landing page, they find information specifically tailored to them. A personalized website might have an address like this: We are sending all of our subscribers and ticket buyers a personal note from our Artistic Director with a PURL listed in it. Recipients will then go online, type in their personal website address, and will find the following: step by step directions from their house to the new theatre, a seating diagram showing them the location of their new seats, promotional offers from local restaurants, and an opportunity to sign up for our e-newsletter. I at first was a little concerned that some of our long-time subscribers wouldn't be on the internet, however Arena Stage conducts annual market research that shows that a huge percentage (over 95%) of our total audience is on the internet.

Hopefully the PURL campaign will be one tool that eases the transition to our temporary location.