As the curtains go up on your latest production, you notice that your house isn’t as full as it has been in the past. Years ago, your theatre was bustling with people clamoring to find their seats before the overture. You saw a devoted audience to any show you produced. Your receipts are down and so you feel the pressure to invest more in your marketing. This possibly might work, but in this post, I want to tell you that arts marketing is not going to save your theatre.
Ironic, isn’t it? You’re visiting this page and understand that I am here to help grow your organization through marketing and now my second post is all about how marketing your organization is not going to help me? What gives? Here are three possible reasons arts marketing is not going to help your theatre.
Your season is not compelling
If you aren’t filling your houses as much as you used to, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the programming of your theatre. The shows you produce may be important to you and your organization, but are they important to your audience?
In business, this is just like product. For someone to give you money and to come see your show you are going to want to make sure that your product is the best it can be. Some questions to ask are:
- Are other theatres doing the same show before or after yours?
- Have you really listened to your audience to see what shows you should produce?
- Are the shows you currently produce in-line with your Theatre’s brand?
In some years, I’ve seen multiple theatres produce the exact same show at different times of the year. Everyone decides to do Big Fish one year. The next is Mamma Mia! It’s my wish that companies would talk to each other and decide to do other shows rather than just doing the same production.
While you might have a board that selects the shows, are you using audience surveys and listening to your loyal fans to determine your season? If so, great job. If not, I recommend you start. Looking to your existing audience, and even finding out who your larger audience/donors are and asking them is a great way to start.
One big issue you might be facing is the fact that your shows do not fit into the brand of your theatre company. Let’s face it, if you are known for edgy theatre, but decide to do 42nd Street, then you might see a dip in audience size.
Great season, terrible execution
Even though you selected the right shows to perform, you might see a slump in attendance because your shows were performed poorly. Details of this might be:
- Technical aspects of the show lacked the requisite story telling enhancing features demanded of the show
- Musical direction was poor
- Cast was horrible
- Poor customer service at the box office
At the very core, if your shows are not up to par or executed correctly, it’s just like the restaurant that serves sub-par, low quality dishes, with mediocre service. The end result is that the people that were at your show will tell others about their experience. Most likely, the negative word of mouth that you’ve gotten will serve as negative publicity and squelch any other new people coming to see your show.
Your Marketing Efforts are Misplaced
Let’s say that your theatre has put together the perfect season and your operations (front of house, ticketing, bar/restaurant, etc.) are right where they should be. The only other option to explore is that your marketing efforts are misplaced. You may be used to using big billboards on interstates. You might think direct mail will work perfectly. Still, you might think you’re doing digital marketing correctly.
Perhaps the reason your theatre isn’t filling the seats is that you’re neglecting to look at how your marketing is performing. Maybe you’re spending the money, but can’t nail down where your leads and sales come from. Can you track all your marketing efforts? Are you tracking and optimizing your email campaigns?
From where I sit, those who use direct mail, television, and radio are ineffective ways of marketing. Maybe not wholly ineffective, but I immediately trash direct mail pieces and don’t read them. I rarely watch television, because all I watch is The Office on Netflix and the occasional Jeopardy! episodes via my antenna. I don’t listen to the radio.
My point is that your organization needs to be intentional about your marketing and ensure that you track your work, optimize where necessary, and use the right channels to reach your people.
If you find your theatre to be lacking in audience attendance and thriving participation, try to look at your season, look at your operations, and look at your marketing last!