By Darlene Hamilton, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications, Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University
Thanks to the scholarship award from the Georgia Repertory Theatre and The Arthur Blank Family Foundation, I was fortunate enough to represent the Rialto Center for the Arts at the 2016 National Arts Marketing Conference (NAMPC) in Austin, Texas, in November 2016. Having visited Dallas a couple of times, I knew first-hand that “everything is bigger and better” in Texas—the food, the public transportation, the clothing (with generous offerings above size 10!) and of course, the art and culture! I expected Austin, the home of “Austin City Limits”, would be no different.
During my three days in Austin, I was not disappointed. I was smitten upon my arrival by a fast-food barbeque spot in the airport. Then when Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler brought remarks to open the conference and shared the city’s motto, “Keep Austin Weird”, I was convinced it was my kind of place! Austin’s funky, offbeat and rich cultural scene was the perfect setting for the conference. This was my second NAMPC after attending the 2015 conference in Atlanta. While 2015 was great, the 2016 NAMPC was “bigger and better” for me. I was like a kid in a candy store with the overabundance of relevant conference sessions and information available during the day, and the fun evening outings where we could interact with fellow arts marketers at some of Austin’s best venues and eateries. [I guess by now, you can tell I’m a total “foodie” —and I won’t even mention the fact that Austin’s bigger and better Margarita should be the state drink of Texas!]
One Goal: To Learn More About Shifting Trends in Consumer Behavior
Aside from enjoying all that Austin had to offer as the host city for the conference, I was there with one goal in mind—to learn more about the shifting trends in consumer behavior and to gain strategies and tactics for adapting to meet this demand in my role as Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications for the Rialto. The plan was to marry the conference learnings with those gained from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable’s design thinking approach to help us develop strategies to attract younger audiences and first-time attendees during the 2016-17 Rialto Series season—essentially, to make our audiences “bigger and better”. So, I carefully selected the conference sessions that would most likely provide the information, resources and tools needed to accomplish the goal.
What I learned:
- The top mediums in order of use: 1) Computer/device screen, 2) TV, 3) Radio and 4) Print. The average person checks their phone 50 times per day. Advertising dollars should be spent in direct digital mediums: 1) Social Media 2) Banner ads 3) Video content, and targeted using behavioral data. The recommendation: Cut a print ad from the budget and create a video instead.
- Facebook is the #1 digital medium, surpassing Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest; and is the #1 site for video on the web. Content should be produced by the 70/30 rule: 70% about getting attention and 30% sales ask. Posts should have a compelling photo, be about the user and not the organization, and minimize the use of headshots. The sweet spot is where “what’s going on in the world meets what’s going on in our organization.” $3000 invested in Facebook can yield a 737% ROI. Use Facebook pixels for tracking.
- Email is the #1 communication tool with the highest ROI of all marketing channels. Frequency should be a minimum of once per week and lists should be segmented/strategically targeted based on behavior for higher open rates. Incorporate different copy and layouts to see which work best. Emails should be anticipated, relevant and personal.
What the Rialto Center has tried so far:
- Live Facebook posts—We now do live posts during most of our performances and have clearly seen a pronounced spike in engagement with our live posts. We have also begun posting live on Twitter as well.
- More digital advertising—We have allocated slightly more of our advertising budget to digital advertising than last year to determine if the ROI is significantly increased. While we are still doing print ads, we have decreased the number of print ads and signed on for a major programmatic digital and Facebook ad campaign with the AJC, and increased digital campaigns with Creative Loafing as well.
The Audience Building Activities/Concepts we’ve tried:
We have also transitioned from using two email services: Mail Chimp and the Audience View ticketing system databases for emails pertaining to Rialto events to only one: Audience View. We sent an opt-in email to ensure that our existing patrons signed up in the new system. We hope to see increased ticket sales/audience numbers at the end of our 2017-18 series because of the ability to use CRM practices more effectively and by streamlining our email communications with our patrons through a single database.
How What We Did Changed our Organization
While we are still early in our change process, we believe the change will be improved, targeted and strategic communications with our patrons, which will result in gaining new audiences while better retaining existing patrons. We are already noticing an increase in subscription sales vs. single-ticket sales for our 2017-18 season which begins in October 2017.
The main challenges we’ve encountered, thus far, pertain to the change in email service providers. Determining the most effective means and timing to communicate with patrons using the Audience View database is something that we are still working out. Likewise, Audience View is a bit more cumbersome to use from a design perspective, which presents a bit of a challenge in creating the most attractive and eye-catching campaigns.
We recommend incremental steps versus taking the big plunge with digital content production and advertising spend. We chose the “baby steps” approach, so that we can best measure the effectiveness incrementally and determine whether and when we go “bigger and better”!
The learnings from this conference have proven to be practical and invaluable to our organization and we are grateful that we were granted the opportunity to participate in the 2016 NAMPC and gain the many of the tools we need to continue moving forward and evolving in our design thinking approach and audience building journey.
Lightening has struck twice for us, as the Rialto Center was again awarded a scholarship by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable to go to the 2017 NAMPC! Stay tuned as we head to Memphis—Home of the Blues and the Peabody Duck March in November 2017. We’ll let you know what we learn—and do as a result—this time.