DIRECT MARKETING: Captive audiences - Arts events attract loyal followers, but despite advances in data technology, the problem is how to lure less dedicated art-goers. Claire Murphy reports

Consumers will rarely admit to being excited about opening a piece of direct mail. But one sector which can claim more interest in its mailings than most is the arts.

Consumers will rarely admit to being excited about opening a piece

of direct mail. But one sector which can claim more interest in its

mailings than most is the arts.

Luckily for arts marketers, research has shown that consumers actually

welcome being sent mailers inviting them to shows, as long as they have

been properly targeted. ’You have to work hard to get the tone right,

but it can be almost like a friend writing to remind you to go and see

something they know you will like,’ says Jamie Cason, marketing and new

media officer at live entertainment promoter McCabes.

Direct marketing was first ’discovered’ by most arts organisations at

the beginning of the 90s. Much of the 80s had been spent realising that

government subsidies were never again going to make ends meet.

Competition from cinemas and video was becoming strong, and marketing

suddenly took on more importance as venues and touring companies tried

to work out ways of bringing in new audiences. Improving technology was

identified as a priority.

With the advent of computerised box offices, arts marketers were

suddenly faced with more data than they knew what to do with. Almost

overnight, theatres went from card indexes to complex software

programmes that could tell them exactly how often certain people visited

the venue or saw a company on tour, which seats they preferred and how

old they were.

Fan mail

A few venues then went on to bring in profiling data from organisations

such as Mosaic to research the typical ballet or classical music lover

and how to reach him or her. But for most in the cash-strapped arts

world, the problem was - and still is - how to use the data in the most

cost-effective way.

Many still use DM to fulfil the classic objective - increasing the

loyalty of current customers by mailing previous visitors with details

of upcoming shows. But some, generally funded by the Arts Council’s ’New

Audiences’ programme, are actively seeking out first-timers via direct


The Cambridge Corn Exchange uses direct mail for all its marketing


The theatre started its ’Fast Forward’ initiative in 1996 to encourage

first-time attenders to ’New Music’ performances (see box).

Some groups use direct marketing to alter the type of visitors they


McCabes starts a campaign for the West End musical Rent this week, which

aims to increase its advance bookings and bring in a more middle-aged

’Lloyd-Webber’ style audience. ’This show has sold well to first time

theatre-goers and young people who walk straight in without booking,’

says Cason.

’But we need to attract the regular theatre visitors, those who are more

likely to book in advance.’

The agency is mailing fliers to a list of people who have already bought

theatre tickets to other West End shows from ticket agents Ticketmaster

and First Call. This will be backed in February by the first TV ad for

the show.

Other organisations are breaking new ground in testing the style and

content of direct mail. London dance theatre Sadler’s Wells is

organising the UK tour of Dutch modern dance company Nederlands Dans

Theater 2 this summer. Ivan Wadeson, head of marketing, plans to use

databases from each of the six theatres the group will play at, but will

use different images and copy, depending on whether the person is a

hardcore dance fan or a first-timer. ’We need to discover what attracts

various sub-groups to attend dance performances,’ he explains.

Calling cards

A few arts groups have also tried out telemarketing, although the

technique is still in its infancy in this sector. Marketing agency Arts

About Manchester has been using it to bring first-time arts-goers into

venues. Its pilot campaign was for the Rambert dance company’s season at

Manchester’s Palace Theatre last September. Telephone operators phoned

people on the theatre’s database to ask them whether they had ever

attended a dance performance.

Those that hadn’t were offered free tickets.

But the increase in the sophistication of arts direct marketing has

sparked off a debate within the industry. Some marketers feel that the

obsession with data analysis means that the arts world is losing its

creative element.

’What’s happened to our sense of showmanship?’ asks Richard Shaw, deputy

executive director of the English National Ballet. ’We’ve become so good

at frequency analysis, but now there’s something missing from our

marketing mixes; that sense of the circus coming to town.’

’We’ve done the scientific thing and most of us are still only playing

to 80% capacity. Direct marketing talks well to your current audience,

but I believe we need to be swinging the balance back toward using the

broadcast medium.’

For many, the cost difficulty governs most decisions. The Festival Hall,

within London’s South Bank Centre, handles the marketing for promoters

which put on performances at the venue. Promotions services manager

Kenelm Roberts says that most promoters feel that mailing a selected

group from the Festival Hall’s 800,000 database is the best way of

producing the largest audience at the lowest cost.

’It’s almost always more cost-effective than booking an ad in The Sunday

Times’ Culture section.’



The theatre wanted to build audiences for its ’New Music’


The first two phases of the campaign had concentrated on building up a

database of 4408 interested people by mailing brochures to the databases

of local arts venues. The third phase took place in spring 1998 and

focused on a series of five different music events.

The Campaign:

To give people a taster of the music that would be performed, a CD was

mailed out. These were sent three weeks before the start of the

concerts. The mailings were coded so that responses could be


The Budget:                 pounds

Production of 6000 CDs     5655.00

Royalties                   270.00

Copywriting                 770.00

CD design                  1150.00

Mailing costs              3889.55

Evaluation                 1700.00

Total                    13,434.55

The Result:

The average percentage of people who received the CD and booked tickets

was 5%. Put another way, 829 tickets were sold to people who had received

the CD, representing 28% of total ticket sales. One of the five events,

Ensemble Modern, drew 50% of its audience from people who had received

the CD.


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