Thursday, May 07, 2009

Theatre Marketing - The Good & The Bad

This is essentially a combination of two related topics that have been on our mind for a while - taking a look at the benefits of theatre "Friends" schemes and highlighting some of the more frustrating marketing methods currently in use. Last year I wrote what amounted to a fairly substantial rant entitled "Theatre is Killing The Planet" - but Waldorf wouldn't let me post it. However, after the excellent initiative taken by the Tron this week to reward regular theatregoers I think it's a good time to have a look at the best and worst practice we encounter in Theatre marketing and promotion...

On Wednesday night we attended a performance of "Bliss + Mud" at the invitation of the Tron theatre who provided us with complimentary tickets for the evening. At View From The Stalls we have a general policy of declining the press tickets we are often offered and prefer to support the artists and theatres that give us so much pleasure. We'd never trade on the fact we run this site to get free tickets. But this was different. We weren't offered tickets as 'View From The Stalls' but as individuals who (along with a large group of others) had been identified as regular attendees at the Tron in recent months. Yes, along with the drinks and canapes there was a gentle promotion of the benefits of signing up their new Patrons Scheme, but it was an absolutley inspired initiative by the Tron, and even for natural cynics like us it created a genuine feeling of warmth that our support is appreciated. So how do the "Friends" schemes and marketing methods used elsewhere measure up?

Even prior to the invite to "Bliss + Mud" we had already determined we would sign up for the Tron's new scheme. As soon as the leaflet came through the post it was a done deal. In fact, I had to read it several times before I was convinced there wasn't a catch somewhere that I was missing. From £100 annually, benefits include a pair of tickets to the opening night of Tron Theatre Company productions (with complimentary interval drinks and an invitation for two to the post-show drinks reception), an opportunity to attend supporter events and new Patrons will receive a bottle of whisky from Tron sponsor AnCnoc. So, needless to say we'll be signing up in the next few days.

We've been "Friends" of the Citizens for a couple of years now and spent a very enjoyable Saturday morning back in March at a Friends event with Q&A's with senior members of the Citz team. At £40 for annual joint membership we viewed this largely as a donation to the Citz and never took advantage of their "Friends Wednesdays" discounts as the Tuesday night £7 offer available to anyone was better. But there were occasions such as the Audience with Sir Alex Ferguson when the short period of priority booking was very handy. The Citz are conscious that they haven't quite made the most of the opportunity to build a wider community of supporters and the scheme is currently in the process of being revamped.

As regular readers may be aware, we aren't really fans of the Kings & Theatre Royal in Glasgow. Previous experience has made us wary of their touring productions and the comfort factor isn't great. Yet, you may be surprised to know that we are in fact currently members of their joint Friends of Glasgow Theatres scheme. It was certainly more by accident than design - when we booked tickets over the phone for "The Love of Three Oranges" we were asked to join the scheme - and by doing so we instantly saved more on the ticket price than the membership fee cost us. We haven't looked at the other benefits of the scheme but if you are planning a visit it's definitely worth looking at just how the finances work out.

Now given our somewhat ambivalent attitude to Opera we won't be signing up for the current supporters scheme from Scottish Opera, but the mailshot we received was so fantastically creative that we'd like to bring it to your attention as a model of making an impact (although disappointingly their website isn't half as pretty as the paper version).

But while some schemes are well organised others seem a little more haphazard. Cumbernauld Theatre's "Love the Arts" scheme is excellent in that it's free to join and gives considerable discounts on tickets, but its execution is rather cumbersome. When phoning to book tickets you have to be able to provide details for every member of the party who is a member of the scheme in order to get the reduced ticket price. It can easily turn what should be a two minute call into a five minute one. When it launched they also made a big deal about it reducing the amount of paper flyers etc they would send out as they would be focusing on using e-mail as a main method of contact. Sounds great - but it hasn't happened. And while many other organisations make excellent use of their websites/blogs and sending e-mail updates, it really doesn't seem to have reduced their paper output to any extent. Which brings me to the second part of this post...

As I'm still getting the hang of the whole 'blue bin' thing I can't exactly claim to be the most environmentally aware person on the planet but even I get upset at the amount of promotional material we get through the post from theatres and production companies. Of course we're happy to be informed about things we may like to see but not so much when (A) we get flyers from the production company and each of the several theatres the production is touring to (B) we've already had two letters from the theatre about other shows that week and C) WE BOOKED TICKETS WEEKS AGO. Not to mention the frequent duplication of letters that we get due to receiving a copy each, and at times getting multiple copies each addressed to variations of names (full name or initial) despite all being listed at the one address. I'm not going to name and shame as to be honest they are all at it - it would be unfair to damn the one that just happened to land on my hall floor this week.

I appreciate there are no doubt valid reasons that contribute to these problems - data protection preventing sharing of data etc but surely given the waste of resources (financial and otherwise) something can be done. More and more frequently theatres and companies are co-operating, so is it too much to ask for a centralised database where theatregoers can register to receive marketing that may be of interest to them.

Am I wrong in my thinking that theatres aren't really in competition with each other? We don't decide we're going out on a Friday and then decide what to see, if a theatre has a show on that is of sufficient interest to us we'll go and see it. I can't remember the last time we had to choose which to see on a particular evening/week (Edinburgh Fringe excluded). The more theatres can co-operate the better. Theatregoing is a habit and the more you can get people to attend one theatre the more likely they are to give another one a chance too. Theatres seem happy enough to carry each other's brochures in foyers - so is it really that big a leap to have combined mailshots sent out? The only time theatres are genuinely in competition in our mind is when we have a touring show visiting several local theatres where we have to choose which to attend - but more often than not our decision will be determined by external factors such as working patterns etc rather than being influenced by the theatre. So where is the harm in co-ordinating communications a bit better?

So what theatres have you found make good "Friends" and which organisations are pouring their funding through your letterbox on a weekly basis?

4 Heckles

Anonymous said...

We wish they wouldn't call it friendship. It's not friendship, is it? Well, perhaps it is. Perhaps it's the closest we'll ever get to friendship.

Statler said...

I'd have thought you two would approve of such schemes - particularly the ones that offer discounts at the bar!

Of course you could always turn the tables and send mailshots to all the theatres asking them for £50 to become an official 'Friend of the West End Whingers' for which sum you will guarantee to contribute to their bar takings at least twice a year*

* attendance at performance not guaranteed (particularly after the interval)

Anonymous said...
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Waldorf said...

Due to this post being targetted by comment spammers I'm temporarily disabling comments.

Apologies for any inconvenience. I guess the word marketing is attracting them.