Why Didn’t You Advertise This?

As I continue to ponder and decipher what people are really telling me on their audience surveys, I came across this entry on Neill Archer Roan’s blog, How Audiences Use Information to Reduce Risk.

In his entry, Neill says:

An effective info-mediary must anticipate the informational needs their customers require, then provide it: on-demand. Effectiveness in this role requires not only substantive and informational expertise, but also a clear understanding of the form in which consumers want the information delivered and the channels through which the information feels most accessible and credible.

(He also makes a lot of other valuable observations so go read it. I am just focussing on this idea though.)

Neill’s point here cuts right to the heart of a comment I am trying to figure the answer to-“Why Didn’t You Advertise This?” Now given I get this comment most from people who have attended the event for which they are bemoaning the lack of advertising, obviously something worked to get them in the door.

Often they did see/hear an ad or a story or heard about the show from a friend. The problem they have is that they learned about the show close to performance time and had such a great experience, they are concerned that having almost missed it, they will lose out on something equally great in the future.

I usually try to find out what communication channels are best for reaching them. I ask it on the survey and of course also interview the commenter in my lobby. Many times I discover they read the newspaper/listen to the radio station where the ad ran but they missed it amidst all the other ads and stories in the paper or because they were concentrating on driving or talking on their cellphone when the radio spots ran.

What the patron wants is to have known about the show earlier. The problem is, most of my audience doesn’t make a decision until the last minute so it doesn’t make sense to spend money to promote it earlier. (I often suspect that is the method the worried patron uses as well, but if giving the benefit of the doubt will sell tickets earlier, I am all for it!)

The free publicity opportunities, like calendar websites, I take advantage of in July and list my whole season. The information has been available there and in my brochure since then. The newspapers have also had my calendar listings since around then too, but they don’t list the events until closer to the date when it is actually news. Because the information is categorized so well, people often get information there first even if they missed the ad on the page before.

So how do I communicate effectively with the highly interested person who is not on my mailing list? I have no definitive answers.

It appears my efforts at using opinion leaders in the community as word of mouth advertising has been slightly effective since attendance has been nudging up slightly. But I admit, it is a precarious situation. It is the method I can exert the least control over (which means it probably has the highest level of credibility with the public) so I can’t direct who is reached.

My marketing campaign for my last show was almost entirely word of mouth supported by ticket giveaways on radio shows that played the genre of music of the group I was presenting. I figured I would sell it out so I didn’t plan any print advertising.

We were doing a pretty steady business based on the brochure and word of mouth from August to January. Nothing big, but a steady trickle. Things got better in mid-January when the radio giveaways started. Based on this surge, I expected the show to sell out a week or so before the show. A week out we were only half sold and there were days where almost no one was buying.

Now what I think happened was all the folks who planned ahead had gotten their tickets and the procrastinators were holding true to form. I panicked a little and took out a print ad in the free alternative weekly.

As you might imagine, I need not have bothered. In the last couple days we were deluged and then had people turn up early the night of the performance in hopes some seats would open up.

Just as the word of mouth method was precarious, but ultimately rewarding for me, it probably seems even more so for the person who hears about it at the last minute and fears missing out in the future.

It is upon such fears large mailing lists are built. I still don’t have a dependable channel to reach the other heretofore unreached people to let them know what they might be missing. I am pretty sure no one does or they would be trying to sell it to me. I suspect each community is different so the best solution is cobbled together from existing technologies and methods.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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