First of all, a disclaimer. I am not a “marketing professional”! I’m a Chief Executive (with experience on both sides of the Atlantic) who has a keen interest in marketing, development and public engagement.
Chris’s article had many interesting points, but for now I’ll respond to just one of them, which is Family Pricing. We noticed at the RSNO a couple of years ago that the revenue generated by under-16 tickets was absolutely minimal and that on the majority of concerts we had available ticket inventory - so the desire to open up concerts to young people led us to the inevitable conclusion that we should be letting them in free. Our programme ( www.passport2music.org.uk if you’re interested) is very nicely sponsored by Standard Life, a major financial services company based here in Scotland. The deal is that with every adult ticket purchase, you can get 2 free under-16 tickets. On the micro-site there are dedicated child-friendly programme notes for every concert in the season, and there are competitions to enter, prizes to be won and the chance to sign up online. We are currently getting an average of around 40+ under 16s per concert, and we expect this to increase exponentially with a new phase of promotion in schools together with workshops next season.
The other critical thing about this programme is that it is all about marketing to the adults too. Many people are ambitious for their kids to do music and learn an instrument, but may not have ever been to a symphony concert. We want those people in our halls! Our hope is to use school orchestras, choirs and music teachers across Scotland to get to them and start to engage families, and the cross promotion possibilities with our schools concert programmes and family concerts are enormous.
Of course there’s always the risk that we become the victim of our own success - we don’t want to turn our regular evening concerts into young people’s concerts! But we’re finding generally that our regular audiences are not only noticing, but also enjoying the influx of young teenagers. Put alongside a pretty successful under-26 program, the change in the audience demographic is surprisingly noticeable…and quite invigorating to see this happening in difficult times.
On a more general note, I think the recession poses some real challenges to those involved in marketing - but not the ones that may appear obvious. The biggest challenge is the temptation to dumb down and retrench into bland conservatism - both in programming and promotion. We all need to hold our nerve through difficult years and go on doing an interesting mix of events that speaks to the broadest possible audience. Otherwise we’ll come out the other end as plain vanilla organisations with an even more limited audience demographic. Easy to say, difficult to do…
I’ll echo Margery’s comment about a possible positive impact on sales. I’m not sure what the trends are in the US, but in the UK audiences seem to be holding up surprisingly well at the moment. All our anecdotal evidence says that people are still hungry to be uplifted and inspired, and are willing to fund it through spending some of the money they would have used to buy a new car, move house, go on vacation and so on. So whilst we can tweak around the margins with our marketing strategies, the big picture may be that there’s an increasing opportunity to promote the emotional power of the experience as a balm in troubled times.
But there’s also a risk of complacency: I was at the Association of British Orchestras Conference last week, and heard a gripping (and depressing) presentation by the Chief Economist of the Financial Times. The story is basically this: so far, this has largely not been a consumer recession - it is mainly in the financial markets and real estate. In 2009 all that will change and the impact of unemployment and fears for personal financial stability will mean that personal spending will dramatically decrease. So we’ll all be holding our breath to see whether the trends hold or whether a real impact on sales will emerge…