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Siri, what’s playing at the San Francisco Symphony tonight?

December 5, 2011 |

Siri, what’s playing at the San Francisco Symphony tonight?

You’ve come to the right place, Siri user!

Tonight at the Symphony:

Katharine Hanrahan Open Rehearsal: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz

Thu, Dec 8, 2011 10:00am Davies Symphony Hall $22 to $39 … Read More

How to hold a (successful) “tweet seats” event in the theater

August 26, 2011 |

Whether you are a firm believer, casually interested, or crazy-never-in-my-theater against, “Tweet Seats,” are being experimented with at venues across the world. The segmentation of specific seats in a venue to be used by people with their smartphones *during* performance … Read More

My picks for the top 50 tweets of the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) 2011 Conference

June 24, 2011 |

I wasn’t able to attend the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) conference this year, but I did get to participate in the next best thing: following the conversation on Twitter. Lots of great discussion and opinions. But unless you were … Read More

Arts discount-ticketing strategies: what to avoid and why — part 2

May 7, 2011 |
[ Image: Discount arts ticketing ]

This isn't really a live ad, just a screenshot for decoration. Had you going there for a second!

In my last post, I spent some time talking about advance sales and discount ticketing strategies, as well as how it’s too easy to train the patron to wait for a better deal if you offer large discounts late in the game. I mentioned that “the right thing to do here is create a marketing strategy that offers the most discount to people who give up the most convenience.” It’s enticing and effective to trade one thing for another (in this case, giving up convenience to get a discount back). I think we’ll see this idea of “trading something for something else” pop up again later on.

I also began to talk about discount ticketing, below, we’ll cover group-based buying programs (the half-price ticket program being an old favorite, and new group-purchase sites such as and LivingSocial that have recently come on the scene).

Half-price theatre tickets: deep discount or exposure to new opportunities?

Half-price tickets are hot. From the TKTS booth in New York City, to your local arts service organization with a half-price ticket list, the idea of “half-price tickets” activates the brain in an exciting way. First, there is the idea of the huge discount — similar to what you might feel when you say a $200 awesome leather jacket marked down to $100. A steal, right? Then there is the idea that they are limited (and we recommend limiting them) — get them while they’re hot, as they won’t be around long. Two powerful incentives to buy those tickets right now!

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Arts discount-ticketing strategies: what to avoid and why — part 1

February 21, 2011 |

Pricing and marketing arts event tickets isn’t easy. When faced with the need to “put butts in seats” it can be tempting to do whatever it takes. In this article, I hope to give you some explanations on why some discounting strategies would be a better choice than others, and help you avoid some short-term successes that could lead to long-term problems. Picture this. You’re a big supporter of a large cultural music venue, so when you receive an email from the institution that tickets have gone on sale for an upcoming concert, you pick up the phone and buy your tickets (or better yet, buy online). You get your confirmation that you paid the listed price, and since the concert isn’t until a month from now, you go about your business. Three weeks later, you get an email from the same organization, offering two-for-one tickets for everyone who buys a ticket going forward. But only for people who haven’t bought yet. Wait a minute. You bought your tickets early, and now you can’t get the deal. You call the organization, and they tell you this offer is only for people who haven’t bought tickets yet. You’re angry, and understandably so. You think to yourself, “I could really make a scene here and demand that I be given the same offer,” but you probably don’t act on that idea. Instead, you smolder about it and swear to yourself that you’ll never be caught in THAT situation again. Next time, you’ll wait until you get the offer before buying anything. Read More

Proof: How social media sold a theatre ticket on Facebook

September 16, 2010 |

Social media and the arts: tracking the elusive social media ROI

I hear a lot of opinions about social media these days. A lot of them are positive, from people who have the time to experiment and build real relationships. And a lot of them are negative, from people who “tried it, but it didn’t work us” or from those who say they can’t see any return on investment (ROI). The latter can be due to a variety of issues, but often is due the difficult job of tracking social media movement. Think about wildlife trackers. They are skilled at seeing small signs and interpreting large results — a bent twig here, a small footprint there… the animal went that way. They see things others do not, because they have taken time to be trained to notice the small details. Tracking ROI on Facebook is similar, and subtle. If you get into the tracking mindset, you can discover a great many things, but even then you have to be ok with animals seemingly showing up out of nowhere at your box office. And the path they took to get there can jump many channels and be all over the place!

Jumping to different arts marketing channels

As an example, recently I decided to see a production of the “musical play” Opus at TheatreWorks in Mountain View, CA. It was excellent — the kind of theatre that changes you. My companion and I left the theater talking about the show from a bunch of different angles (mostly trying to decide if the last scene should have been kept in the show or cut — I favored keeping it). I went home, and jumped on Facebook. I wrote the following: Read More

The perils of using volunteers for vital arts business tasks

July 19, 2010 |

When it comes to picking the people who are going to run your audience development initiatives (be it the producer of the show, the person writing your email newsletters, or the person sending out your press releases, etc.) organizations generally have two choices: barter for cheap or free using an existing relationship with a volunteer who knows how to do the stuff, or hire someone to do the work (either staff or freelancer). Many organizations go for the former, thinking that a volunteer or “social relationship” is excited and capable to do the job, maybe even at no cost. And many an organization suffers a lack of fuel in their engines because of that choice.

The free arts website scenario

It’s attractive, I totally agree to that. Let’s say you’re the artistic director at a small theatre company, and you need a new website. You lament about this with your theatre friends (as you should, because it’s fun) and one of them says “Oh, I set up websites, I’d be happy to knock something out for you, free of charge.” And you think to yourself “Yes! New website for no money!” And indeed, a few weeks or months later (probably longer that you had hoped) he/she launches a pretty good looking site for you. You’re thrilled to announce it. People tell you it looks great. And for awhile, everything goes smashingly, until one day you send an email to your friend, asking he/she to update a section of the site for you, and you don’t get a response. A few days go by. You need to get this updated. You call, and finally get them and they say they have “just being swamped.” But they do the update for you, and things are good again… for a little while. Read More

Online video: is YouTube hurting your brand?

May 18, 2010 |
YouTube, LLC
Image via Wikipedia

Online video is one of the most effective and personal ways you can communicate your arts and cultural messages. And YouTube continues it’s reign as the most popular online video sharing site. After five+ years in business the company recently announced that YouTube’s viewership now exceeds that of all three networks combined during their “primetime” evening time slot, with more than 2 billion views per day. That is a lot of “backyard wrestling” and “check out the world’s fattest cat” videos.

But it’s not all videos on YouTube are sill time wasters. Many arts organizations use YouTube as their video hosting service of choice, listing clips from shows, interviews with staff and artists, audience reactions, informational pieces, and much more. But I’ve had several organizations ask me if they should move to other video hosting services, with a variety of explanations for why this should be considered — some strong arguments, others not so much.

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Your arts message: Some examples of great marketing messages by for-profit companies

November 27, 2009 |

Thanking their patrons

I’ve been keeping my eye out to the way some of my favorite brands have been changing their messaging recently. Things of course are getting more filtered and specific to me, which is great, but a few companies are really standing out with messaging that is designed to make me feel good or take action. Take this screenshot from a recent email I received after flying with Southwest Airlines:

Nice Southwest! You didn't ask me for $!

Nice Southwest! You didn’t ask me for $!

Nice! They didn’t try to sell me another ticket right away. They are inviting me to write about my experience, but that doesn’t cost me anything but my time, and at the moment, I’m feeling pretty good about Southwest Airlines (and they just thanked me, so that might add to my decision to write something good about them). Even though I may not choose to write anything in their travel guide, the thank you is nice and stands on its own.

Can the arts learn messaging tactics from Ebay?

Next up: Ebay. I recently purchased a piece of artwork on Ebay, and Ebay sent me this email message in an effort to get me to leave feedback for the seller of the item:

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Thursday, September 24 is “National Know Your Arts Marketing Logins Day!”

September 22, 2009 |
Get your logins. Store them safely. Celebrate!

Get your logins. Store them safely. Celebrate!

Reading time: 10 minutes

Every day is a holiday to somebody. What’s one more to add to the list? Let me give you a little background.

Often, I work with clients who have previously had a volunteer run some important part of their arts marketing arsenal — usually their website, or their email marketing. In many cases, the volunteer is a friend or family member connected to a board member, and the organization is drawn to the promise of free technical help. “My brother is a web developer; let me see if I can talk him into running our website for us!”

The concept of free service

The concept of free service because of a good connection is incredibly attractive to some arts groups where money is especially tight. And sometimes it works out really well for a long time. But it can also easily lead to disaster.

When the board member leaves the board, often the strength of the volunteer connection leaves too. Oh, that free web developer can stick around for awhile, but in many cases the response time to get something updated gets longer and longer. Finally it starts to damage the organization’s ability to manipulate their own marketing information, such as being able to update the website, send out the email, etc. And in the worst cases, your volunteer website updater just disappears into thin air, taking your logins and passwords with them. That’s bad. But it is not as rare as you might think — I’ve now worked with four clients who have had it happen to them. The most recent two needed to register totally new domain names and set up brand new websites at considerable expense, because they couldn’t get access from their previous web developer. Read More