I like sports, but I love sporting events. Few experiences rival the theatricality and pageantry of, say, a pro football game, from fanatical fans to enthralling entrances – all with constant emotional engagement.
Wait a second – isn’t that what live performance is supposed to do?
The most popular sports go well beyond entertainment: they captivate the community, inspire across generations, and build unrivaled anticipation. So in team spirit, what if creatives borrowed from our better-funded brother industry? Because let’s face it: in arts parlance, a pro sports team is really a repertory company of skilled improvisers (albeit, very well-paid ones).
Am I telling you to literally copy a game? NO. Do not, do NOT call your pre-show cocktail reception a tailgate or stage Hamlet in a locker room. But why not adopt tactics from an industry based on talent that’s continually inventing and reinventing ways to be – gasp! – profitable?
Instead of creating money out of thin air, why not go where the money is? I believe the future of profitable arts endeavors lies in corporate sponsorship, but not in the previous century’s strategy of simply giving a foundation “angel” status. Yawn. What corporations and their corresponding brands are hungry for is creative integrations in the entertainment world. If done correctly and innovatively, your audience will perceive it as a value-add, not a sell-out.
Brand, Brand, Brand
We all know by now that you need a logo. But what are your organization’s colors? Key fonts? If I were to ask your top 50 patrons which animal would be most emblematic of your company, would I get 50 different answers? If so, you’ve got a brand crisis on your hands. Branding is beautiful because unlike PR, you control the message entirely. But it’s an art in itself, so just like crafting a character – don’t make arbitrary choices. Put the crafting of a community-inspiring image in the hands of someone who understands the nuances of communicating with your audience. Then stick to it.
If you’re one of the lucky few arts organizations in the planning phase of a new venue or significant remodel, are you thinking outside the blackbox? Like the Mets’ new Citi Field or Yankee Stadium, why not partner with an established restaurant brand that will be a draw for those who care more about cuisine than classical? Or your space could be earning revenue during the daylight hours (as well as community affinity) as a coffee shop, like Classic Stage Company’s New York lobby which by day is a charming espresso bar. While I wait for my cappuccino I’m forced to digest the CSC show calendar – how’s that for a captive (and caffeinated) audience?
While I understand the trend of intermission-less shows (movies do it, after all), there’s much to be said for the mid-show break. Because unlike film, but much like a sports game, a live show is… live! If you’ve given us a chance to laugh together, gasp together – give us a chance to talk about it together too. Intermission should be viewed as more than a chance to sell at the bar – it’s a marketing opportunity for audience to read the program with your fundraising appeal or peruse the strategically-placed marketing materials in your lobby. Especially if you’re working to attract a younger audience, you’d best give them a chance to socialize. And if you’re worried about your audience abandoning the production after the first act, you’ve got bigger problems on your hands than a bathroom break.
What are you doing to create a 360-degree experience for your patrons? The show is not enough. You must create ways to engage your audience before and after your event, and they don’t have to cost you a dime. It could be as simple as snapping photos during intermission (see above) and featuring Audience Member of the Week on your Facebook page, of course with the added benefit of encouraging everyone who wants to view the photos to become your Facebook fan. Ticket contests, VIP receptions, kids’ events, philanthropic tie-ins – all devices that leagues use to generate added attention and engagement.
I’ve never encountered an industry that’s more terrified of competition than the arts. Aside from harnessing the power of corporate dollars, this could be the single most missed opportunity. Well-planned rivalries are in fact marketing partnerships, bringing attention to all companies involved and creating a brilliant PR story. Why not couple with your more modern counterpart for a Classic/Contemporary show pairing, giving you access to a much wider audience? And what’s an award show but marketing disguised as competition? Create more competitive buzz and engage your audience to root for you.
Artists’ Stories as Narrative
Suspend the personal drama for a moment and recall that we never rooted for Tiger only because of his talent. We were inspired by the fact that he was not the middle-aged white man we were used to seeing on the links – talent was almost secondary. When generating pre-production attention for your show, consider that the average potential patron is more likely to be prodded off the fence by Anna Netrebko’s sexy, sassy persona, not which role she sang last. Real risk-takers will do away with the bio section of the playbill altogether as a strategy to either sell more ad space or save on printing, while driving traffic to their website, where, say it with me now, they’ll create yet another valuable opportunity for interaction.
Instead of staying stuck in the arts-world style of marketing, if it’s broke, fix it. Borrow from an industry that’s meeting your goals to infuse your initiatives with energy, strategy, and hometeam appeal.