4 marketing lessons from death on stage


Live theater is dying. The sweet blue-haired ladies who once filled theater seats are moving on to the big stage in the sky, and as younger generations fill basements with big-screen TVs, the arts community is reeling. Pay attention, because shifts in demos and consumption are rocking industries from automotive to zoo attendance, and you too will need to respond.

Eric Smith, marketing director at Westport Country Playhouse, has launched a new blog that pinpoints the challenges of the entertainment industry as audiences shift and change.

“For many theatres the answer seems to fall on ‘we need to bring in younger audiences’, writes Eric. “… but here is the thing: younger audiences are merely a demographic that we have identified who are currently not attending theatre in large numbers. It would be like saying, ‘there are a billion people in China who don’t come to our theatre, how do we get them here?’ “

Eric suggests a deeper look at the marketing process is required, beyond just shifting the demo target. To build upon his post,

1. Reframe the goal.
First, your business target has to reflect the new reality. Has the recession or oil prices changed your customers’ behavior? Does your basic business goal reflect what new level of success is required? How would GM do next year if it maintained a goal to sell X number of trucks as the metric of success?

Theater marketers can do this by refocusing from subscription sales, the past ideal goal, to “multi-ticket buyers” — a nod that consumer behavior has changed, and that people now need more flexibility.

2. Map common pathways to sales.
This means analysis: reviewing customer account histories, looking for patterns among the best customers, and then defining the touchpoints and needs that can increase such behavior among future prospects.

3. Target diversity, not demos. It’s not enough to shift advertising to working female professionals age 35-44. Advertising media plans can target multiple audiences, say, professionals who commute, stay-at-home moms, long-time loyalists, and new movers into the market.

4. Test, refine, redeploy. Advertising plans almost always have unexpected results. Tracking performance by media channel is critical (say, the cost per inquiry from Newspaper A vs. Insert B). As lower-cost lead generators emerge, shifting funds can yield 30% to 40% more customers from the same advertising budget.

Footnote: Eric is a client of Mediassociates. We usually avoid promoting our clients on this news blog, but the thought process he presents is worth watching.

2 thoughts on “4 marketing lessons from death on stage

  1. If only I could find a date that didn’t wince at the mere mention of the words play, musical, theatre, show, ballet, recital and broadway!

    A “girls night” at the theatre would be fun to promote, wouldn’t it? Kinda like how hotels all seem to be promoting “girlfriend getaways.” Reminds me of your #3. Great point!

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