Pull Audiences like the Duck March…. or “Market like a Cockroach”

By Darlene Hamilton, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications, Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University

The Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State University attended the 2017 National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee last November, thanks to the scholarship award we received from The Arthur Blank Family Foundation Audience Building Roundtable. We were looking forward to attending this conference and gaining a deeper understanding of how we would engage audiences to build a more creative and profitable future.

I had been to Memphis several times and I was well aware of its rich history and legacy in music and the civil rights movement, but what I wasn’t aware of was the splendor of the Peabody Hotel! It was impressive on so many levels—the opulence of the gilded-age architecture and furnishings, the southern hospitality and the meticulous attention to detail. Undoubtedly, the most extraordinary thing about the Peabody was the way audiences lined up well in advance to get the best vantage point to watch the famous Peabody Duck March! Even I was caught up in the anticipation of the ducks parading on a red carpet to and from the lobby fountain each day. Even after I had seen it once, I couldn’t wait to see it again…and again—I think the Peabody knows a thing or two about audience building. Which served as a perfect backdrop to why I was there: to learn all I could about engaging and building audiences. I was confident that the NAMP conference sessions would arm me with the knowledge I needed to pull in audiences like the Duck March does!

The sessions were plentiful and diverse. I gained valuable information that should help us to accomplish our goal at the Rialto. The two sessions I found most helpful were Maximizing This Year’s Social Media Streams with the Right Content and Boomers to Millennials: Capturing the Attention of Your Entire Possible Audience.

My Main Takeaways From NAMPC Were:

  • Social media is a cocktail party. You get back what you put in: engagement is a product of exchanges. Interested people are interesting people. Tag people and check in at locations.
  • Social media is like a casino. The longer you stay, the more fun you’ll have. Therefore, the longer we keep people on the platform the more we’ll get back.
  • Target famous Twitter handles in posts and ads.
  • Be very responsive on social media platforms to posts, messages and inquiries.
  • YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. Consider creating content specifically for YouTube.
  • Facebook Tip: Create custom audiences to send ads to and upload your email list.
  • Blogs tell stories and provide valuable information. Consider devoting a week to deep-dive into a subject.
  • Never close a sale on social media. Instead, do more brand campaign posts than tickets-on-sale posts.
  • The key indicator for a successful campaign is sales. If it’s an awareness campaign, the key indicator would be reach and clicks.
  • When targeting African Americans, Boomers, Gen Xers and mainstream audiences, as Rebecca Edwards, founder of Cultural Arts for Everyone recommends, “market like a cockroach”. When you see one cockroach, you know it’s not the only one, they are everywhere. So, advertise and promote EVERYWHERE!
    • Facebook is the new broadcast hub. The average person spends 51 minutes per day on Facebook, across all age groups. If you can only focus on one social platform, it should be Facebook because it drives ticket sales.
    • Prioritize media planning and “buy behaviorally” when buying digital ads
    • While 18-24 year olds do use Facebook, they also spread their time across YouTube, Instagram and Snap Chat (note that Snap Chat is not viable if you have limited content resources.)
    • Most people use their mobile devices to research shows, then purchase tickets on a desktop. Invest in infrastructure: website, mobile site and video content. Capture visitor contact information to use for marketing later.
    • Radio is used equally by all age groups
    • Email is the #1 source of information on upcoming shows, 82-88% across all ages.
    • Marketing dollars should be used to get more people to sign up for email and social media.
    • Outdoor and marquees skew higher for younger people
    • Direct mail is higher for audiences over 65
    • Print media varies by age with 65% being older. 50% of people under age 34 never touch a newspaper. Use print strategically.

Since I attend the NAMP conference, we have:

  •  Increased social media activity across the board with more organic and paid posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We developed more engaging content to inform audiences, including more video and live posts. We made it a practice to tag as many people and pages as possible in our posts. We tagged famous Twitter handles and Facebook pages. 

    In addition, we recently attended several free Google workshops and we are now doing more to expand our engagement with Google.
  • Invested more of our advertising budget in digital advertising, running robust programmatic, behavioral and geo-targeted campaigns and using pixels for tracking impressions. Many of the internationally-renowned artists we present have never been seen in our market, so we rely on digital/electronic media to introduce audiences to them. While we continue to use print ads strategically, we do more radio, TV and social media ads.

The Audience Building concepts we’ve tried from the 2016 and 2017 NAMP conferences are summarized here:

The Rialto Center is currently in the Seek phase and transitioning to the Spotlight phase of the Essential Journey of Audience Building. We are simultaneously interacting with our audiences to understand their needs and desires, while exploring ways to foster loyalty among our audience members. We used the design thinking approach to determine which concepts we would try:

EMPATHY—We reviewed the ratings, comments and posts by our followers/patrons on our social media platforms, as well as post-show surveys, to learn more about their experiences with us.

DEFINITION—We found that most of our patrons rated their experience at our performances 4.6 stars on both Facebook and Google. People were engaging (liking, commenting and sharing) with our posts and in turn engaging others. Surveys show our audiences prefer to learn about our programs via email. Our plan is to increase our reach and engagement of new followers while continuing to engage our loyal supporters, ultimately increasing our audiences for our Rialto Series programs.

IDEATION—We decided to beef up our visibility on social media, and the web in general, by increasing organic and paid posts, as well as digital behavioral advertising.

PROTOTYPE—Using the 70-30% rule, we developed a series of organic posts that were 70% sharing information about artists, programs, etc. with 30% asking/selling tickets.  

TEST—In addition to behavioral and geo-targeted digital ad campaigns with AJC and Creative Loafing, we ran a series of paid/sponsored Facebook and Instagram posts about upcoming shows.

The Results:

  • We have had significant increases in attendance and engagement as a result of the activities we implemented. The increased social media and digital advertising is a winning formula for us.
  • Ticket buyers/attendees have increased by 1,192 (14%) over last season
  • We gained 26 new subscribers, an increase of 24% over last season.
  • Social media page likes and engagement are up across all platforms. Facebook Page Likes increased by 253 (4%) and Twitter impressions increased 24.5% since the NAMP conference.
  • Our social media and digital ad campaigns produced over 2 million total impressions, with 1.7 million attributed to the programmatic ads served on high traffic sites such as Rolling Stone, Reuters, The Weather Channel, etc. We also found that 53% of our impressions came from mobile devices, prompting us to improve our website optimization for mobile.
  • How It Changed Our Organization: The concepts we tried have definitely had a positive impact. We are considerably more visible on the web due to our digital programmatic ads being seen regularly on high-traffic sites. We are more focused on developing content and messaging that will engage our audiences on social media, in addition to our strategic email communications and one-on-one interactions with patrons at our shows.

Our Challenges: We want to increase our social media page likes on Facebook, eventually attracting new audiences to our performances. We have made some progress since last season, our “Page Likes” have increased by 12%, but there is still room for growth. We plan to maintain our focus on engaging our followers to continue the growth trend.

Recommendations: There isn’t anything we have tried that we would not recommend to our peers. We wholeheartedly recommend trying programmatic behavioral ads. They cast a wide net to help you “market like a cockroach” so you too can pull audiences like the Duck March!

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