Christopher Stager  

Marketing the Orchestra
Installment Two

Christopher Stager
May 6, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

When should an orchestra use radio advertising vs. direct mail? What about telemarketing, print advertising, email, group sales, or special promotions?

In his 2nd column, Christopher Stager explains how an orchestra develops a marketing plan to achieve a sales goal. He describes how to define the primary media option for a concert and then select those options that can best support it. Chris identifies the many components of a marketing plan, and then presents a brief case study from the Seattle Symphony.

- Ann Drinan

What is a marketing plan, and what goes into it?

Whether planning an elaborate subscription campaign or a straightforward single-ticket sales effort, a detailed marketing plan is the roadmap towards a likely sales outcome. The process begins by stating the desired outcome (number of single tickets sold, revenue goal, capacity target), and then identifying the target group, activities, and timeline.

Timing is critical – just as critical as the tactics that will be employed. Missed deadlines and late delivery diminishes effectiveness. The monetary cost is the same for a late activity as a timely one. A late effort has less time to work before the event, so fewer tickets are sold, thereby increasing the “cost of sale” (the marketing expense divided by revenue).

Direct-mail advertising for single tickets tends to deliver the best results when mailed three to four weeks before the event. Radio advertising, on the other hand, tends to work best in the week or two leading up to the performance. Other media in the marketing plan would include print advertising, Internet (both outbound email to patrons and inbound website offers), telemarketing (if appropriate), potential group sales, special promotions, and a brief press strategy. All the components need to complement each other, with their timelines synchronized to maintain the “buzz” of the series or event being marketed

With various media options, it is important to identify the one that is primary and those that will support it. A young, emerging artist playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto makes for a compelling radio commercial. Conversely, the photogenic Sarah Chang performing the little-known Richard Strauss Violin Concerto is best communicated in direct mail and print advertising.

The program’s artistic strengths (Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony) should be articulated in the plan, as should any resistance that must be overcome (Berg’s Lulu Suite). This all illustrates that every concert or event needs its own individualized marketing plan that addresses strengths and weaknesses, and responds to the likely sales outcome with a cost-efficient, event-specific media schedule.

It follows then that the allocation of marketing dollars should correspond to the likely revenue return. Because of its high single-ticket potential, an all-Tchaikovsky concert on Valentine’s weekend should have far more resources devoted to it than an Elgar and Vaughan-Williams program in May. The latter would presumably have a lower revenue budget and, by extension, a marketing budget appropriate for a cost-effective return.

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