Sunday, February 15, 2009

What should I cut?

I have read a couple of reports in the past few weeks that reported that most arts organizations are planning to reduce their expenses in the next year in response to the economic crisis. If you find yourself in this situation, you might be wondering what to cut. Just my two cents...

1. Printed Programs. Do you really need a four color, glossy, forty page program for each performance? Programs are created to provide vital information for audiences. If you take a serious look at your programs, I bet you can find numerous ways to reduce costs. The easiest -- reduce the number of pages in your programs, use lighter stock paper and avoid doing anything in four color.

2. Advertising. This is a tricky one. I wouldn't normally advocate for cutting advertising expenses, however as previously reported, I am finding that you can get 15-20% more for your dollar these days then you could even six months ago. If you can keep your same level of exposure for less, then count the savings. If you can't, then either get more aggressive with your negotiations or look somewhere else for cuts.

3. Audience Communications. How many of us spend thousands of dollars on printing audience handbooks, complete with performance calendars, box office policies, subscriber services, etc. More than 90% of the audience at Arena Stage regularly uses the internet. Save the money on printing these types of materials, and make the information easily accessible on your website.

4. Travel/Professional Development. Even though I am a huge believer in professional development, this might be an area in which you can cut back. Instead of flying cross country to attend a conference, is there one closer to home? can you stay with a friend? can you take a bus instead of a plane (for those traveling between DC and NYC, take the $20 Bolt Bus)? If you do need to travel, then Priceline your trip. If you name your own price on Priceline for your flight and hotel, you can save hundreds of dollars. You might not find yourself staying in the conference hotel, or you might miss a session or two because of flight times, but the savings are definitely worth it.

5. Invest in areas where your ROI is higher. Washington DC is perhaps has the most competitive theater environment outside of New York City. With that being said, I am always looking for ways to get a higher return on investment. At Arena Stage, I normally get a 6:1 ROI on traditional advertising expenditures. However, my ROI for the investment I make in group sales is 20:1. Next year I am slightly reducing our advertising budget and redirecting those funds into group sales.

6. Telemarketing. In October, Arena Stage ended its telemarketing campaign at our normally scheduled time. However, I found that telemarketing was a very effective tool for driving more sales, but I had maxed out my expense line for telemarketing services. At the same time, I noticed that our box office would experience lulls in their work, mostly between shows. We have always considered our box office to be a sales office, meaning they are not just responsible for taking orders, but also for selling. I proposed adding telemarketing to their responsibilities during the lulls. As you can imagine, at first this wasn't received enthusiastically. However, we offered sales associates incentives for making sales, and soon they started performing at the same level that our telemarketing firm was. We have some great sales people! Maybe that is why we are the best sales office in the world.

7. Make sure you RFP all your major projects. The communications department has an internal rule that we live by: if we anticipate that a project will cost more than $10,000, then we send out a request for proposal (RFP) and get competitive bids by at least three separate companies. I instituted this last year when I learned that we hadn't competitively bid our major printing projects in years; we kept going to the same company year after year. The first project that we sent out for a competitive bid was our season brochure. We got three bids, including one from the company we had consistently used for years. The company that we had used for years provided us with a bid that was $20,000 more expensive then the next expensive bid. We enjoyed working with them, but made it clear that if they couldn't match the second most expensive bid, we would go elsewhere. Guess what -- we saved $20,000 because the company matched the other competitive bids.

8. Press Materials. Are you still mailing out press releases, faxing PSAs and putting together heavy media wrap packets to ship to actors, designers and directors? Stop it all. Most editors and writers want press releases e-mailed to them these days. It has to do with timing. Imaging telling Editor A that Editor B scooped him on a story because Editor A's press release was still in the mail while Editor B received his electronically. Unless specifically asked by a major media personality, don't waste your money or time on purchasing expensive letter head, printing media releases, and then spending the money to mail them out. You can also send out PSAs and media wrap packets via e-mail (with links to photos, reviews, etc). I would also experiment with sending press invitations via e-mail. I bet the media doesn't cover your productions because they are enticed by your beautiful, four color invitations.

9. Posters. Be honest, how many of us print hundreds of posters for each show with the honest intention of placing them everywhere a couple of weeks before a show opens. Then as we get closer, we run out of time as well as places to stick the posters, and only use maybe 100 of them, throwing the rest away. Either find a more efficient system of distributing posters, or don't print them. They don't help you if you have to throw them away.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Renegotiate Your Advertising Contracts

Everyone is tightening their belts these days, and as much as I would like to moan and groan about doing more with less, I worry more about those companies that aren't challenging their staff to come up with inventive ways to maximize revenue while minimizing cost.

At Arena Stage, I am currently in the process of renegotiating all of our major advertising contracts. Most of our major advertising contracts are for the entire fiscal year, and I leverage the entire amount I plan to spend to get better rates and more promotional opportunities. So in essence, we have signed contracts until the end of the fiscal year, and although most people would think that would limit your ability to renegotiate, major media sources understand that if they aren't willing to renegotiate, then you will spend less when the contract renewal comes up.

Don't be shy! Trust me, vendors won't make a deal with you unless they are going to make a profit, so get the best deal that you can. It is the wild west out there. Companies are losing advertising dollars right and left, and that has made them hungrier for business. Throw your contracts and their rate cards out the window, and start from scratch. If they aren't willing to renegotiate, don't use their product.

Most arts organizations are planning for a 10-20% reduction in revenue during 2009. To remain healthy, you need to negotiate advertising contracts that get you as much as you had in 2008 for 10-20% less than what you spent.

There are very few advertising outlets that are so powerful and large that they will refuse to negotiate with you. In days past, newspapers could claim this status, but falling revenues and declining readership has changed all the rules. Tell your advertising reps that you view them as a partner--if they help you become more successful, you will spend more money with them. Your fates are tied together. Make them work for you. And if they aren't willing to renegotiate a better deal in this horrible economic climate, go to one of their competitors. If they take care of you, remember the gesture and take care of them when it is time to renew your advertising contract.