Make New Friends: Arts Marketing Innovations

By Caitlin Thomas White, Marketing Director, Synchronicity Theatre 

Make new friends, but keep the old.

To me, this sentiment from a familiar children's folk song succinctly captures the central goal of audience building. It certainly speaks to Synchronicity Theatre's current focus, as we work to attract new audiences to our three-year-old performance space and build innovative programs without losing sight of our core mission and audience.  

I attended the November 2016 National Arts Marketing Project Conference on a scholarship provided by the Audience Building Roundtable of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; scholarships were provided by the Foundation and the Georgia Repertory Theatre. This blog summarizes what I learned and heard at the conference and discusses how Synchronicity Theatre is applying that information.

Much of what I learned at the conference tied to this overarching theme: branch out, take risks, try new things, but don't abandon the tried and true. This sage advice echoed in sessions on integrating new media, navigating risk, and innovating audience building practices on a practical nonprofit arts budget.

I left the conference with several clear, manageable and affordable steps I could take to advance Synchronicity's audience building goals, making friends with new industry standards while building on the good practices already in place.  

Prioritize photo and video.

Budgetary restrictions have often impacted the quality of Synchronicity's show photography in the past, but as I learned at NAMPC, visual storytelling is paramount in today's audience building. As people sift through the information overload that is a social media newsfeed or email inbox, an eye-catching visual is essential to making your message stand out. After returning from the conference, I went straight into the Excel document where I track marketing expenses and shifted additional funds into the photography line. Investing in excellent promotional photography has allowed Synchronicity to create more compelling visual content for social media and digital advertising.  

While high quality photos and videos are worth investing in, a little goes a long way considering the numerous free and inexpensive tools at our fingertips for capturing and sharing visual media. An actor with an iPhone can capture compelling rehearsal footage for social media - in many cases more readily than a professional videographer. Our art relies on strong visual elements anyway. Why not showcase elegant set designs, colorful costumes and bold choreography? Equipping our artists and production teams to capture and share the production process with handheld technologies has led to an uptick in social media interaction. 

Have a conversation.

Conference presenters stressed again and again that we should think of social media and email campaigns as a series of one-on-one conversations, rather than impersonal newsletters or marketing pitches. These conversations need to be clear, targeted and persistent. One of the most immediately applicable sessions I attended at the conference was the Email Marketing Extreme Makeover. During the workshop, I got specific tips for making our email contact with patrons more effective:

  • Subject lines should be fifty words or less (try writing a tweet about your email content and then shorten it as necessary!). 
  • Each email should include one clear call to action, one column, and one image (and make it a strong one: see above). 

These tips improve the email's mobile friendliness and make it more likely that recipients will read the email. The fewer words used to get the message across, the better. Think of how crammed full your own inbox is! None of us has time to read a manifesto in every email. The form the words take matters, too. I learned that most of us skim emails in an "F" pattern, looking at headers first and glancing along the left margin. These helpful hints guided me in creating a simple standard email template for Synchronicity, which gets each message across with one bold image and a few choice words.

If you're feeling anxious about losing all of that copy space, you're not alone. I was hesitant to try an email template with fewer words and only one graphic. But what's lost in the bulk of each individual email is quickly made up for in the number of emails sent to each person. Patrons usually buy tickets after the 5th-12th contact, so sending shorter, more frequent emails can be more effective.  

That's especially true if your emails are targeted and segmented, which they absolutely should be. At the conference, I was told to ban the dirty word "e-blast" from my vocabulary. We are having a one-on-one conversation, remember? With Synchronicity's integrated email platform, Dotmailer, I have the ability to segment email lists by patron zip code, how many events they've attended, which events they've attended, whether or not they've opened any of my emails, and more! In addition to selecting who I send each message to, and how often, I've also begun utilizing A/B testing.This allows me to test different subject lines with different groups of patrons to see which ones make more of an impact. In Dotmailer, I can set emails to resend in 48 hours with a new subject line if the first one didn't take. This has facilitated an increase in opens and clicks with very little additional effort.

To recap.

Investing in high quality photo and video is essential for compelling social media and email communications.Quality also counts more than quantity when it comes to email content. Keep email messages short, sweet and segmented. And remember, you don't have to make all of these changes at once. It's good to make new friends, but don't abandon the practices that are working well for you in your quest to innovate your audience building. A few small, strategic steps can go a long way towards reaching the audiences you want and keeping the loyal patrons you already have.

Happy Audience Building!


Keywords: NAMPC, new performance space, storytelling, email strategies, email templates, email targeting, segmentation, quality over quantity


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