Friday, September 29, 2006

So you want to be innovative?

In today's world, it is tough to stay on the leading edge of marketing technology. Things are constantly changing. I am asked on a somewhat regular basis what is the most innovative thing that you do? How do you stand out from your competition? My answer...thank you notes. Kind of strange, I know. However, think of how many marketing messages you are hit with a day? how many e-newsletters? how many telemarketing calls? now think about how many hand written note cards you get in a day.

When someone receives a hand written notecard in the mail, they know that you have invested the time and energy into sitting down to write one. On average, I write probably five notecards a day. It takes me maybe five minutes each, but the returns on each notecard are amazing. Send them out for the little things--an editor gives you great placement on a story, a salesperson gives you a free ad, a subscriber buys ten extra tickets for their friends, etc. I guarantee you that you will be remembered, and your message will come across as thoughtful.

I learned this lesson while working in a development department. Development professionals are great when it comes to stewardship. As marketing professionals, we can learn something from them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

You'll Love It or We'll Eat It!

I love Taco Bell's new guarantee (I know you are probably thinking that I eat out too often now). As you walk into their restaurants, there are big signs on the walls that state, "if you don't like it, we'll make it right or we'll eat it." As a customer, I know that although it only cost me 79 cents, if there is something wrong with my taco, they stand behind their product. I wonder how many people actually ask for a full refund? I bet there are very few...

At the LORT conference, many of my colleagues were talking about offering a money back guarantee. Some theaters had a guarantee already in place, and they noticed that postcards that mentioned the guarantee sold had a much higher ROI than those sent out without the guarantee. But even more interesting was that most theaters reported having ZERO requests for a refund. There are very few people in the world who are argumentative enough to walk straight up to the box office and ask for a full refund even if they had the worst experience ever. So if you provide a good experience to your customers, I would imagine that you have nothing to worry about. Increased sales with little risk...seems like an easy call to make.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Faith Night" at the Ball Stadium?

We all try inventive ways of bringing in new target demographics into our venues. Some large mainstream attractions have even gotten a lot of press by having particular days dedicated to a target demographic (i.e. Disneyland and gay day). However, this one caught me off guard this morning when I heard about it on CNN Headline News. Now before I go another step, I should say that I myself am a practicing Christian, but is this taking it a step too far?

The Atlanta Braves announced that they will be holding three "faith nights" at the ball park. In an interview with the Vice President of Marketing from the Atlanta Braves this morning on CNN Headline News, he admitted that the primary reason for holding the event is to target the populations of over 5,700 churches in a 70 mile radius of the stadium. That in itself doesn't necessarily bother me. But handing out bibles to everyone that goes through the gate? or better yet, Moses bobbleheads? or how about holding a concert with a Christian Rock band before the game? With a seating capacity of over 50,000, surely they understand that there will be many people attending the game who are not Christian. Will they take kindly when they are handed a bible at the gate? or when forced to listen to Christian worship music? is it an appropriate step to have a major league ball team endorse one religion over the other, going so far as to have a ballplayer as the official spokesman for the event?

On the flip side, I don't know how I would feel if I were a season ticket holder, and when I came to the ball game, I was handed a koran and a free prayer mat with the Atlanta Braves logo on it.

Check out an article on "faith night" here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Initiators' Night (the experiment)

Sorry I haven't posted in awhile. We are getting ready to open CROWNS at Virginia Stage Company and things have been a little hectic around here. Today's post is about a program that Virginia Stage Company just launched. We all know that about 80% of your business can be directly traced back to about 20% of your customer base (these individuals being the most influential and enthusiastic customers you have). There have been many names given to these types of customers. At Virginia Stage Company, I refer to them as Initiators. Initiators are the types of people who like to discover new things, and then tell all of their friends about it. They have influence with a large number of people. In short, they are the trendsetters. The key is to get these individuals to adopt your product as the new trend.

At VSC, we have just launched an Initiators' Night at the Wells. We try to locate those Initiators in our community, and then bring them in to sample our product. For example: With Crowns, I researched who I considered to be the most influential people within the African American community of Hampton Roads. These people included pastors of historically black churches, directors of political organizations such as the NAACP, administrators at our two historically black universities, leaders of African American social groups such as LINK, African American media personalities and African American government officials. We even added in owners of African American salons (the thought being they talk to a lot of African American women and could pitch our product for us). We invited over 120 Initiators to the first public performance of CROWNS. We provided them with free tickets, a complimentary catered dinner and an open bar. We made a little pitch to them about the show, asked for their support in getting the word out and then gave them a lot of marketing materials (including flyers for discounted admission). All of them left the performance last night pledging their support. Hopefully we will have 120 advocates in the community to help start a word of mouth campaign.

As they say, the proof will be in the pudding and time will tell. I will let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bring your audience "behind-the-scenes"...

Virginia Stage Company's primary reason for launching a blog was to give its patrons a behind-the-scenes view of the Company's operations. The idea being the more the patron is involved in the process, the more interested they will be in attending the production. At first, I spent a lot of time trying to convince the artists to blog about their experiences. Some artists were very willing, while others had no clue to what a blog was. Across the board I found that the closer we got to opening, the less likely they were to blog. I had to find another way to bring our readers behind-the-scenes. I figured the next best thing to hearing directly from the artists would be to watch the artists in rehearsal. I consulted the AEA rules, and found that we were able to use rehearsal video to help promote a production as long as we stayed within some limitations (check your rule book). So we started to post a video clip from rehearsl each week, and we had a fantastic response. Our audience loved it! So now, with every production, we post weekly rehearsal video clips on our blog.

Below is an example from VSC's production of Crowns:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's just around the corner...

Yesterday I was invited by a national communications company to take part in a focus group concerning new advertising opportunities. The invitation was extended to me by the Publisher of a large newspaper, and since it piqued my interest, I decided to attend. The session lasted about two hours, and I was teamed with five other people, who primarily owned large for-profit businesses. The concept: if it was made available, would we take advantage of people's cell phones for advertising? The technology is now in place that makes it possible to send individuals coupons via text messaging. Encoded in the coupon would be a bar code, and the individual would take their cell phone to the box office to receive a discount. Other ideas were passed around during the session, including sending video previews of a performance to media-enabled cell phones. It seems like whether you like it or not, you better get ready to be marketed to via your cell phone.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ideas from my friend at Seattle Repertory Theatre...

Seattle Repertory Theatre has been busy building their own MySpace page. You can check it out at However, Cynthia Fuhrman, SRT's Director of Marketing and Communications, has taken it one step further. Seattle Rep is presenting Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) from October 5 - November 5, 2006. To help get the word out and generate interest, Seattle Rep has created a MySpace page through the eyes of its title character, Thom Pain. This is just another innovative and interesting way that theatres have found to use MySpace. Check out Seattle Repertory Theatre's Thom Pain MySpace page at

Friday, September 08, 2006

Welcome to "Thank God that wasn't me!" Fridays...

Some people say that the type of car you drive is directly proportional to the amount of action you get. The folks over at Honda Motor Company took that a little too literally when they printed up manuals for 18,000 Honda Fits and 8,000 units of the company's 2007 motorcycles. In an attempt to provide customers the number for a government hotline, the manual actually quotes the digits of an even "hotter" line at which a woman -- not the kind of girl you'd bring home to Mom, by the way -- lets callers know that they're welcome to talk at a rate of just 99 cents per minute. Jokes aside, the misprint has irritated enough customers to get the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and affected customers should be receiving a correction in the form of a postcard in the mail somewhat soon.

[Source: Associated Press via Winding Road]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Put those sponsors to work for you...

If you have large corporate sponsors, why not let them work for the marketing department as well as the development department? Tell each of your large corporate sponsors that as a benefit of their sponsorship, you will offer their employees a special discount to specific employees. Ask for their assistance in communicating the discount to their employees and see the dollars roll in. For example: Old Dominion University and Norfolk Southern are large sponsors of Virginia Stage Company. Both have over 1,000 employees and an intranet on which they communicate with them. The President of Old Dominion University and a Vice President of Norfolk Southern sit on our Board of Trustees. I design an attractive email which offers employees of both organizations a 20% discount on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (which are our most difficult performances to sell). I them email it to our Board members, who in turn forward the email onto their employees. Each sponsor organization that is offered a special discount receives an individual password which they use to get the discount. This will allow you to track the success of each campaign. It is a win-win situation. The sponsor feels like they are getting added value to their sponsorship, and the arts organization is getting a lot of free exposure.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Won't you be my friend? and you

I get phone calls from marketing directors every week asking me whether or not they should use to market their arts organizations, and they always get the same response from me: OF COURSE! is a social networking website offering an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music, and videos. MySpace currently reports just over 107 million accounts, with the 100 millionth account being created on August 9, 2006. According to recent reports, MySpace attracts new registrations at the rate of 230,000 per day. So what does this all mean to you?

Your audience is using MySpace and probably much more than you think. Virginia Stage Company created its MySpace page in January 2006. Currently, Virginia Stage Company's MySpace page accounts for the most referrals to our website, beating large search engines such as Google and Yahoo. And not only does it beat Google, it has doubled it!

MySpace allows you to interact with a group of "friends" on a regular basis, and it is FREE! There is no better investment out there. Later posts will discuss how to create a MySpace page, how to recruit friends, post pictures, send bulletins and even Instant Message with your customers! In the meantime, if you haven't already, check out MySpace at If you would like to see how an arts organization uses MySpace, check out Virginia Stage Company's MySpace page at

Monday, September 04, 2006

Why not put your email signature to use?

Think about the number of people a day that you email? or even better, how many emails do you think your organization sends out everyday? Why not use your email signature as a guerilla marketing tool to promote your season? It is very simple to do. Just create a graphic and import it into your signature in Microsoft Outlook. If you do not know how to create a signature in Microsoft Outlook, under the help tab click on the Microsoft Office Assistant. Type "insert signature" into the search field. It will give you step by step instructions. Now that you have taken care of your email, encourage others in your organization to do the same thing. That way, every time an email is sent, your marketing message is sent as well.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blogging...when to use it to raise your organization's visibility.

Ever since my return from the National Arts Marketing Conference in Los Angeles where I presented several sessions on technology and the arts, I have gotten a phone call at least once a week from organizations across the United States asking me why they should have a blog. I have found that blogging is one of the best ways to communicate to audiences, stakeholders and funders in an informal and inviting context. Most direct marketing is carefully crafted to elicit an anticipated response, and hence messaging in such contexts can seem contrived. A blog is an informal exchange between an organization and those interested in an organization. When writing the blog for Virginia Stage Company, I try to keep our posts light and entertaining. We try to offer our readers something that they would never be able to get from any other source. Mostly we try to give them a look into what is going on behind the scenes--from building the sets, casting the actors, rehearsing a play, etc. We provide audio and video from day one of the process until the time the show opens. We invite our creative staff to blog. It gives a director a forum to talk to his audience prior to them coming. It gives an actor the opportunity to discuss the rehearsal process. There is no better way to bring your audiences behind the scenes, and give them access to people they would normally never be able to touch.

Not to mention, setting up a blog is relatively easy and very inexpensive. I suggest going to and signing up for a new blog (which is free). It will take all of fifteen minutes to design a basic blog and you do not have to have any html knowledge. Once it is created, place a prominent link to it on your website. Encourage staff members, including artists, to post. Once that is done, tell everyone about it. Don't be shy. If you keep it interesting as well as valuable, people will love it.