TRG blog: Four reasons to start marketing holiday blockbusters now

Four reasons to start marketing holiday blockbusters now

Photo by Gabriel Saldana
For most non-profit arts organizations, a surge of revenue comes reliably twice a year:
  • during subscription campaigns,
  • and again during annual holiday blockbuster events like A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, and yuletide concerts.
Blockbusters boost annual revenue from time to time, but holiday events consistently and reliably provide sustaining revenue for the rest of the year.

Therefore, an organization’s annual holiday productionand the marketing campaign and box office operations surrounding itis one of the most important things to get right. In TRG’s consulting experience, starting early is a key factor in a successful holiday (or any) blockbuster. For holiday shows, the time to start is NOW.

Yes, it’s July. And TRG is telling you: now is the time to start selling holiday productions to groups and subscribers, implementing pricing plans, and planning other elements of your campaign.

Year after year, the same pattern plays out. Arts marketers who start early for their hottest shows (and continue to push until the curtain goes up at the last performance) meet or exceed revenue goals.

Why? Organizations that start early get the most out of this once-a-year opportunity for the following reasons:

Combat late-buying patron behavior

Rick has addressed the myth of late-buying patrons before on this blog. The assumption that all patrons like to buy late perpetuates a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy where marketers start later and patrons respond in kind. This can be a tragic miscalculation when it comes to blockbuster programming.

TRG client Arts Club Theatre Company (ACTC) had operated under this common late-buyers fallacy. Once they began accelerating their marketing and sales activities earlier, they became less dependent upon last-minute discounting or circumstances beyond their control like good reviews or even good weather. For ACTC’s production of White Christmas, advance ticket sales and selling earlier resulted in a sell out by the first performance and ticket revenue of 51% over goal. Read more about this story here.

Cut through the competition 

Nationally… It will be especially important to have a marketing plan and make it early in 2012. As Rick has written about before on this blog, an election year means media buying is going to be very intense. Those who think ahead will get the media spots and arts patrons’ share-of-mind before election fever takes hold.

…And locally. If you are in a market with a large selection of holiday productions, or have a large one-time event like a travelling holiday production, starting early helps immensely. When the Rockettes came through Houston in 2006 with a holiday production, TRG client Houston Ballet acted on the recommendation to spend more and start earlier. The results? By increasing their advertising budget by $300,000 and starting earlier, the Ballet grew Nutcracker revenue by $500,000 to $2.7 million, even with the Rockettes in town. Houston Ballet followed suit with investments and early start the following year to achieve an increase of $640,000 to $3.4 million in Nutcracker revenue, a 49% two-year revenue gain.

Adjust scaling and pricing while you still can

Pricing and scale-of-house has a huge impact on revenue —for holiday blockbusters or regular season shows. Timing is crucial when revising pricing strategy.

New York City Ballet (NYCB) had been selling out most of its performances of The Nutcracker. Director of Marketing Karen Girty wanted to increase ticket revenue, but the company could not add more performances. Growth had to come from the schedule already in place. Plus, Girty had already built a solid, successful marketing program. The only place to increase revenue was maximizing revenue for every available seat.

 Last summer, NYCB and TRG partnered to adjust the scale-of-house plan, making each house look full (even when it wasn’t), increasing per capita revenue as more seats were sold for each performance, and making more of the highly sought-after “Sweet Seats”. 2011’s production of The Nutcracker generated an additional $1.1 million. Read more about partnership here, or watch the webinar we did on July 17 featuring Karen Girty.

Commit now to investing appropriately

“The holiday shows will sell no matter what; we should invest more time and money in mission-driven programming.” TRG consultants hear this misconception all the time and advise: put the largest share of your resources (time and money) behind the programs most likely to sell.

Of course, this often feels counter-intuitive to folks. It’s natural but ineffective to spend money to “save” a show (or feel pressure to do so from leadership). Organizations that regularly do so often spend more than they can bring in to promote low-selling productions—and take resources away from productions more likely to bring in sustaining revenue.

Smart managers make the decision now to invest in productions in direct proportion to anticipated sales and stick with it.

To hear more from New York City Ballet about what you can do to prepare your organization for a record-breaking holiday season, watch this webinar.

Posted July 3, 2012

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07.17.2012 TRG Webinar: Christmas in July
Case Study: New York City Ballet
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