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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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 YouTubes 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.
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! 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.
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:
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 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.
I usually write from the perspective of helping arts organizations in a promotional aspect, and I wanted to change lanes for a moment and talk about Twitter use by arts administrators as individuals who may be struggling with “why.”
“Why do I want to use Twitter?”
“What’s the point of knowing what somebody had for lunch? I really don’t care.”
“I followed everybody and now I can’t handle all the tweets.” (Or “twits,” perhaps if you’re referring the the people who tweet stupid things.)
To help answer these questions and more, I’m going to tell you a bit about how I use Twitter. Now, I’m coming from the perspective of using Twitter as a professional and artistic resource, not just another place to gab. More on that below.
Many of you are I’m sure aware of Google Alerts, which is a service by Google that will deliver content via email to you, based on the keywords you select. I use Google Alerts to bring me all sorts of information. As an example, Google sends me alerts based on the keyword “Arts Marketing.” Most of the time, what is sent to me as something to do with the arts. But sometimes, Google does its best and sends me webpages about “Martial Arts
By now, you know about Twitter. You can’t avoid it — the mainstream media has picked up the love affair and is spreading the Twitter love far and wide. I recently did a bit of analysis on the Twitter account saturation in the email subscribers a few of our clients, and the results were intriguing.
I scanned the email address databases of five of my arts clients, looking for people who were in their email database, who also had a Twitter account. The five arts organizations were a variety of genres and budget sizes from small to large, so it was interesting to see the same statistics across the board.
I interpret the latter to mean that those people who have not uploaded a picture are still in the “sampling Twitter” phase — just logging in and “lurking” around trying to figure it all out. That’s actually good — we want our audiences to be playing with the new tools. But I don’t count these folks as being “power players” yet, as they probably won’t be following a lot of people or participating to any great degree until they decide if they want
When Facebook first launched, many people were confused about the two options available for featuring arts organizations: Facebook Groups vs. Facebook Pages. (I need to stop for a moment and mention that Facebook needs to work out a different name for “Facebook Pages” — isn’t every page on Facebook a Facebook page? Most people commonly refer to Facebook Pages as “fan pages” now, but Facebook has yet to officially update their documentation to reflect this. But I digress.)
In the beginning, there were Facebook Groups and Facebook Pages. Groups offered the very special ability for the arts organization to directly connect with members of the group via a sort of intra-Facebook email system. So you could (and still can) use this tool to send a message that will arrive in the person’s “Facebook email” inbox. Fan pages offered a messaging system called an “update” that would allow you to send a message to all of your fans, but sadly the message would go to place in the user’s profile that most people never check. I’ve known folks to say “Yes, I became a fan, but I never hear from them” only to discover that their fan update inbox was filled with notes they had never seen. Given the checks and balances between the two options, Facebook Groups used to be the better way to go.
About three months ago, Facebook made a very significant change to the way fan pages function, making them much more powerful…
The French are known for many things… their appreciation of great food and wine, their love of art and culture, and now, by me, for their valiant belief that concert halls, movie theaters, and other public performance spaces should be free of that person next to you jabbering into his/her cell phone. Thanks to mobile phone jamming devices, you can actually hear the music without patron accompaniment.
We’ve all be sitting in the audience in the middle of a brilliant monologue, deeply in the moment, when someone’s ring tone starts chirping. It gets louder as the person digs it out of their pocket/bag, and hopefully shuts off. (Even worse, I saw an audience person answer it and carry on a conversation until the people in front of him got up, turned around, and shhhhhed him). Enter the cell-phone jammer. A cell phone jammer is a (usually) small, hand-held device that transmits white noise on the same radio frequencies that cell phones use, thus scrambling their signal to the cell tower and rendering them useless. Usually they have a range of about 30 feet, and all cellular communications are interrupted within that radius with a simple flip of a switch. It sounds like the perfect form of revenge. Somebody being annoying on their phone? Hit the switch in your pocket and their line is dead. A larger version could blanket a concert hall with blissful silence during performances. Which is why the French jumped on the idea and in December of 2004, legalized cell-phone jammers in movie theaters, concert halls, and other