Segmenting Mass Appeal

More and more often these days at work are segmenting our message to audiences and I have to say, it is a pretty labor intensive undertaking.

In the last week I have:

Contacted Newspapers
Sent out press releases and images for our upcoming shows and discovered the newspaper arts editor who was there in November took the buy out package and is no longer there. The features editor who oversees the weekend arts section has stated she is taking things in a new direction. Considering that the last direction was more pop culture oriented and away from the arts, I am reluctant to learn what this new focus might be. In any case, this means shifting the language of my releases yet again to make our performances seem to resonate with this new theme without misrepresenting the shows.

It would be great if the rival papers, seeing the shift in focus figured the main daily was on to something and copied them. The problem is that the alternative weekly defines themselves as an alternative to the main daily. We get a healthy portion of our audience from the alt-weekly. Where the main daily wants to write stories on shows with the widest appeal, the alt-weekly wants to tell people why a select niche go to these shows. Their readership is pretty savvy so a lot of explanation isn’t necessary. However, I did make a note to the editor observing why people might, on the face of things, underestimate a couple events.

The main daily paper has also started to emphasize user generated content which makes me think the days of the editors that remain may be numbered, too. We already lost the editors who did stories for the neighborhood inserts a couple months earlier. For the moment, it gives me another avenue of communication with the public. Although this means essentially writing a press release that appeals directly to the general public rather than one that tries to convince an editor the performance is worth tasking someone to write a story about.

Contacted Schools
Because it is the start of a new semester, we emailed information to many of the area colleges suggesting professors add us to their syllabus as supplementary material or extra credit assignment at the very least. I email the theatre, dance and music people, of course. However, thanks to online course listings, I am able to contact history, education, religion, anthropology, literature and philosophy professors when the subject matter of a performance aligns with course topics. Some shows are more suitable than others. Although it is fairly labor intensive to cross reference course titles with the descriptions on other web pages, we get enough professors giving positive responses to make it worthwhile. At the very least, many of the professors attend even if their students don’t. Since these academics are from other campuses, this helps spread the word about our venue to a desirable demographic.

Contacted Our Email List
Every month I send out emails about the performances for that month. Because this group is so large, we know the least about how to effectively pitch to this group. Our approach can be similar to the material we use on the newspaper’s user generated content. Except these people know us and have a relationship with us and we can’t talk to them as if they are entirely anonymous entities. We also have the benefit of controlling the timing and content of what we release. This is the group I am most anxious about contacting because I don’t want our communications to come across as spam.

Back in November, Adam Thurman at The Mission Paradox touched on this subject. I am indeed the Joe who made the comment on the entry. I am concerned about find a balance between telling a compelling story about our organization and saying so much people consider it spam and don’t read it. Every month we have a few people who unsubscribe from our list. I keep a list to make sure we honor their wishes and don’t resubscribe them at some point. I rarely know why people leave our list. Why did they chose this month to leave and not last month?

Today I actually received one answer to this silent question. A woman emailed us to tell us she was leaving the list because she lived on the other side of the county and no longer drove at night. She urged us to keep up our good work offering people great performances. It is encouraging to get emails like this. I don’t have the capacity to ask people and allow people to explain why they are unsubscribing when they do so. I am looking into a technology which I believe might actually facilitate this.

Adam Thurman’s answer to the questions I had about balancing selling with creating relationships was a suggestion to add a couple interesting tidbits into the email. He noted that if an item needed more than a tidbit in length to explain it, a link to a page expounding on the item should be provided for those interested in more information.

The performance schedule for the next six weeks really lent itself to this practice. One event, the performers encourage people to bring hand held percussion instruments for audience participation. . Another event we are able to offer an opportunity to attend a master class so suggested people mark the date. We will follow up with another reminder next month.

We Also Did Everything Else
We were also working on PSAs and print and radio ads making changes appropriate for each audience as we went. You pretty much have the idea of how we were working so I won’t belabor the point with each of these.

The thing that is intimidating is that as much as we have crafted our message for each of these audiences, we could be doing more. Technology allows us to collect and process information more readily than in the past. We only have a small portion of our total audience’s email addresses and attendance histories because so many people are buying tickets at the door where it is difficult to both capture contact information and serve everyone on line in a timely manner.

Still, I have quite a bit of information with which to work. I can target all people who attended dance performances with a custom message about an upcoming dance performance. I could subdivide them and target people who attended sub-genres of dance similar to that of an upcoming event and further customize my message to make note of that similarity. I can toss in other criteria like frequency over a set period of time if I wanted.

Just as there can be a Tyranny of Choice with consumer goods, so too can the plethora of options paralyze your marketing and promotional plans in an attempt to find the perfect permutation of elements to generate the most effective appeal.

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 ( 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. (

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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