(This is part of a series of blogs I’ve mentally entitled “things that might be interesting at a marketing conference” – please retweet if you think this is interesting and comment at the bottom to let me know your thoughts! Thanks, Sam x)

(Click image to zoom)

I’ve recently started writing the new marketing strategy for the next 3 years for the organisation I work for (Theatr Clwyd – this blog though represents my views only and not the views of the organisation). The last strategy, linked in with the business plan had gone quite well, it’d been relatively SMART and going through it after two years I found myself ticking lots of things off. What I wasn’t ticking off however was a sense of achievement, a sense that there had been a fundamental sea change that was really pushing at and questions what we do.

As I started jotting down new ideas I found ideas that I, and I’m sure many people have written a thousand times before, and as I read the list as it was, it isn’t that bad, if I handed my notes in then people would undoubtedly nod. However it felt like something was missing at the core of what I was writing.

We’ve been working recently with TRGArts, an American company, similar to Baker Richards who do pricing consultancy. Like all consultancy it is, in part, about telling you things you know but don’t necessarily want to hear. It is infuriating in some parts (on-the-ground and in-the-sky thinking don’t always match), reassuring in others and also challenging. It’s made me think about how we work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not had chance to put anything into action aside from the TRG mandated ideas, and my own thinking has mostly taken place after a short cry and drive in my car, but overall its been a good thing.

And so as I looked at my list of notes I had a moment of shock when I realised that the thing that was missing,  the staple of theatre marketing, Old Familiar itself, was the humble season brochure.

Season brochures as all marketeers will tell you are three things. They’re a massive pain-in-the-arse to produce, they’re incredibly expensive and, crucially, they drive sales. We know they drive sales because we see it everytime we drop a brochure – sure, they’re supported with e-mails and launches –  but they are the workhorses of our marketing toolkit. They also occupy an odd position – unlike practically all other marketing materials – in that they demand the attention of people who normally would have nothing to do with marketing. Everyone has an opinion on how this, the shop front should look. What noone has an opinion on is how it should work.

It seemed to me, looking at that list that if the brochure is such a key bit of marketing for us (which is it), and if it brings in as much money as it does from our core audiences (which it does) then it should, at the very least have a bullet point in my marketing strategy. I’m a visual person so I started to sketch out how it currently works for us and how I’d like it to work in future – this is the image at the top of the page – the following bullet points explain how it works.

  • In the centre of the diagram are 12 circles – each representing a month – the orange circles are when we tend to programme heavily, the blue circles is the winter period where Panto and Christmas dominates (which feels like a slightly different time of year) and the pink circle is for August when we currently go dark.
  • There are two boxes surrounding some of the circles, these show when we tend to produce work that has the highest impact on the organisation – the most important for us to get audiences to. There’s a period in autumn and also spring. There isn’t one in the summer generally as it’s too hot. These boxes represent the times we need our brochure to work hardest for us. The other time is Christmas however the advance sales on this begins in March so it’s a year-round preoccupation.
  • The dotted line splits the ideas. Everything above the line is what we currently do. Everything below the line is what we could do if we wanted to work differently.
  • The small arrows are individual solus direct mails.
  • The small arrows with 3 multi coloured dots are grouped mailings which might contain genre-specific mailings.
  • The big arrows are season brochures with, in brackets, the number of pages they contain.
  • The green fading lines that emanate from the season brochure arrows represent where the brochure is most effective – so the closer to the drop date the more impact a brochure has.
  • Finally the line at the top and the bottom indicate which parts of the year are most and least supported by our brochure.

Please of course bare in mind that this is a small part of a much bigger picture – nothing works in isolation and this idea includes this – also that this is largely conceptual.

Top Half: Before

The top half of the diagram shows what we currently do. We send 3 brochures a year which are all 64 pages. They’re incredibly big because we work bilingually (if you think creating you brochure is tough and expensive then chat to us…) and we land them at the following times:

  • April – to get the summer season in, support the family arts festival, begin panto and autumn pre-sales.
  • July – for the autumn season and panto – if it goes in August we worry it gets ignored as it’s holiday o’clock, and September is too late to make an impact on shows in September and October.
  • November – for last minute panto sales (occasionally late programmed ice rinks) and to sell the spring subscription, again it’s battling against Christmas if it’s too late.

This strategy has a few issues. Firstly we leave ourselves with dead zone, where the brochures impact is reduced, it’s been out for a long time and sales off the back of it are at a minimum. These are annoyingly aligned with some of our best producing periods but moving the dates doesn’t help us as then we don’t have a sufficient lead time to get advance sales. As a result we balance out the brochure dead periods with increased solus mailings. It also means that the most supported time of year in brochure terms in July, which is also largely a time of little financial gain organisationally.

Bottom Half: After

This strategy looks at a hypothetic 6 brochure year, where we reduce the size of our brochures (we still trail things but not in as much depth – but more frequently), we make them specifically for mailing to already engaged audiences (after all they’re expensive, why throw them out into the abyss, we can also tailor the supporting messaging) and we try to reduce the number of solus mailings which have a lower ROI. The key here is that they’re for already engaged audiences and no longer a one-size fits all piece of print to cover multiple bases – we’d also look at what supports this in terms of distribution (that’s cheap and cheerful), and also digital.

The 6 brochure strategy has the potential to ensure we’ve no dead zones of brochure engagement throughout the year, that our key parts of the year are covered by multiple brochures and we serve shows in March and November better.

The print cost is comparable (64pg x 3 a year vs 32 pg x 6 a year), but design costs are more. The postage charges are more but then, hopefully so is ROI (and you’d redirect some of the postage costs into the brochures).

We’d be moving from a 3 season cycle to a more perpetual on-sale technique which means that some of the pain of producing brochures can be spread out, as and when a show is booked. There’s still an issue with how to make it less of a pain in the arse (arguably when it becomes such a frequently produced piece of print there’s a reduced focus on it to the same extent) although you’d hope that shows would appear in multiple brochures so you’d aim to move away from a “sign off” culture to a “I trust you to sell my show” culture. Interestingly we produce 12 film brochures a year which are turned around in 3 days to little or no ill effect. We’d also have the increased flexibility to be reactive: Artwork doesn’t work? Change it in the next brochure! Famous cast member added? Add it in the next brochure?

Major shows would appear 3 times, while smaller events, gigs where late booking is more common, would get exposure in a timely way (few people book for comedy club gigs 7 months in advance). You could also theme each brochure so they’d have a specific focus – not every brochure would contain info on everything the organisation does – it varies to give space and accepts that we don’t need to tell people that we do good community work 6 times a year.

So that idea. What do you think?

I’ve a few more images I’ve been designing up – interested?