Measure twice, pay once.

I’ve done it more than once – bought clothing without trying it on.  I hate shopping but need clothes.  The problem is that most times I got it wrong and, idiot that I am, it took me ages to learn my lesson.  Measure and try before you spend cash!  Good grief, how difficult can it be?

Community theatre companies do the same thing all the time.  They spend ridiculous amounts of money on advertising without measuring the return on their investment.  They have no idea if that newspaper advertisement in the local rag is having any impact on their ticket sales but they spend several hundred dollars anyway because ‘that’s what you do’.  Who says?

Look, you don’t have the money to throw away on ineffective marketing and I’ll tell you now that it’s a fallacy that you have to spend massive amounts of money to get a result.  There are so many resources online now that allow you to have a professional looking image with a minimal budget [and I mean almost free].

If you want to make your marketing budget more effective I suggest the first thing you change is this – measure everything.  Consider this question – who is your audience?  And don’t use anecdotal evidence to answer this question because I guarantee you will be wrong.  Here’s why.

A small theatre company manager was very proud of how well he knew his patrons and believed that most of his audiences were retirees.  However, when he measured the audiences, he found that only 40% were retirees.  Needless to say he was surprised.  So how did he come up with his initial perception?  It turns out that the more mature patrons were the ones he had the most contact with on the phone due to their preference for telephone bookings.  The younger audiences, more comfortable with online services, rarely used the phone.  Skewing his view of audience demographics meant that the younger audiences were at risk of drifting away because they were ignored.  There goes the future.

Measure everything.  Having real data allows you to understand things like:

  • A rough age breakdown of your audiences.  Knowing what ages you’re currently attracting can open up opportunities to include more directed marketing to another age group if you want to.
  • Which performances those ages choose.  Do you need to increase the number of matinees in your season because your audiences prefer them.
  • Which performances are the last to sell.  This data allows you to proactively market these harder to sell performances.  You might put together the break even figures and determine if you can do a special deal for those performances.  This is better than reacting 48 hours before curtain up because you only have 48 bums on seats.  Unplanned and last minute sounds desperate and audiences don’t want to be part of something desperate.  Your alternative, of course, is to remove these performances from your season completely.
  • How many programmes do you sell for each production.  If they don’t sell, don’t print them.  All people really want to know is who’s who.  Unless you regularly sell printed programmes by the hundreds, perhaps it’s worth approaching it a new way.  Make them available for free, downloadable from your website.
  • Which paid advertising do people actually see.  Are you spending money on useless advertising platforms?  Set up a simple system to find out if people actually see that expensive advertisement in your local paper and if most of them didn’t, ditch it.

Understanding these things will save you money and help you make effective decisions.  Let’s look at an example:

Company A produced an English farce with 7 performances over 2 weeks.  They performed in a small community hall that has a maximum seating capacity of 120 people.  At each performance, they allocated someone to discreetly count patrons as they entered, recording a rough estimate of age.  This data was recorded for each performance date.  As part of their advertising, the company had spent several hundred dollars on a local newspaper advertisement and only took phone bookings.  When patrons rang to buy tickets, they were asked if they had seen the advertisement, recording this in a simple YES/NO format.  At the end of the season, this data was analysed with surprising results.  The company found that:

  • Only 2 ticket buyers out of the total 250 had seen the newspaper advertisement.
  • Their audience demographic was nearly entirely over the approximate age of 50.

They decided to scrap the shotgun approach of newspaper advertising and focus their marketing directly to organisations and businesses frequented by cashed up baby boomers – retirement villages, cafes, services clubs, etc.  The result was an increase in group bookings and over time they developed a loyal following that regularly attended all their productions.  This would not have happened if the theatre company had not asked the right questions.

Now, may I suggest you pour yourself a glass of red, grab a fresh notebook and plan your first measuring project.  I hope the results are a lovely surprise.