Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Hitting the target – Brochures

I hadn’t written any particularly niche marketing-centric posts for a while so I thought it was high time to inflict a glazed expression on all your faces, make you wonder where it all went wrong and how life had led you to read this, look around the office and consider whether you can end it all with a toner cartridge, full pack of paper clips and the 2002 edition of the Yellow Pages (why is it always 2002?).

I wanted to talk about some of the work we’ve been doing lately with our brochure and mailings at unitytheatre. It’s not a vanity post, I’m well aware that everything we have done is well inside the conventional and is pretty simplistic. However it’s a useful bit of information for small-scale theatres, for comparison purposes, but also for me to jot down what I’ve been upto and to hopefully get some feedback from those wiser than I.

The transition we find ourselves in at the moment is one from moving from a broad un-targetted resource sapping method of launching a season of work, to one highly focused, individual and with a high ROI.

What we used to do:

The past method of mailing was to take everyone who’d booked in the past year, then two years, then three years, enough so that we got a mailing list of 5,000 people and then we’d mail all these people on bulk. They’d receive the brochures (text heavy, lots of company information and jargon) and that’s it. In addition we’d distribute (of the 15k printed brochures), 5k around the city, 2.5k in arts-specific locations with the remaining 2.5k used for the building.

So what needed to change?

Well, firstly, brochures are very expensive to get designed and print, postage is increasingly expensive, distribution is good to an extent but unreliable (it can tend to be buried), and brochures become outdated the moment the first show has finished. The brochures were text heavy, with lots of jargon and information about the companies. All this in combination meant that nearly 60% – 70% of the annual budget was being spent on brochures that were ideal for people already theatre-savvie – not good.

So what did we do?

The first thing we did was simplify our brochures, work on the simplicity of presenting information but also questioning content. This requires you to step away from ‘working in theatre’ and imagine that you are Joe Bloggs and ask the brochure questions:

Do people care who did the original lighting design?
Is the company name going to sell it to people?
Do many people associate the show with the obscure period of 19th century history?
Does it sound exciting?
Does it tell me why I should want to see it?
Does it tell me why other people are clamoring to see it?
Does anyone care it’s a co-production funded by 9 different groups?

To an extent all of these can be answered yes and no, the question is about giving the theatre-savvie groups enough information to get excited while maintaining accessibility for people who might be visiting for the first time. Let’s think about the top of the page for example:

Company X present
Written by a new writer

What would happen if the headline information became:

Written by a new writer

It’s a simple change, perhaps too simplistic, but it presents a level of information not previous obviously had, it’s more consumable, in-yer-face, accessible.

We applied lessons like this across our work, simplifying copy as far as possible (it’s still far from perfect coincidentally), we cut the jargon that turns none engaged audiences off, losing complex sentences, trying to cut the length of copy length (halfed in most cases) as well as reprioritising the information available.

Reviews = Important
Movement Director = Cut
Director = Stays but small credit unless they’re well know (e.g. Peter Hall)

It’s harsh and unlike subsidised theatre in general.

And then what?

We cut the numbers of brochures printed in half, replacing the lost half with a much more cost effective folded mini-brochure (with half the copy of the full version). This would mean we’d have full-brochures for mailing our ‘keen-o’ audience members, for the building and for arts-specific distribution points and mini-brochures for the more broad, less effective distribution.

We also created bi-monthly flyers of what’s on (very cheap) for general distribution focusing on programme, cheapness of tickets, and, importantly social media and online links – just a top-up so we can keep fresh, bright, eye catching information around the city.

We mailed 2.5k people our brochure, of which 500 went to people who visited in the last year, 2+ times and (KEY) had booked online, they were sent just a brochure on its own (after all they’re visiting lots and in the right way, no need to try and change their behaviour yet). The other 2k went to people who’d been in the last year but hadn’t booked more than once or online, but we included a flyer with info about how easy it is to book online (as we want to e-mail them in future!).

Then we mailed 2 types of postcards to different groups. To our slightly lapsed attenders we sent a postcard about how exciting our new season is with lots of big links to online and social media. To our more lapsed (or bad) attenders we sent a “We’re missing you” postcard, reminding them of our great value, fun, excitement and the ease of finding us. Massive savings to an audience who we’ve struggled to reengage in the past.

(P.S Without the massive mailing we could bring it inhouse, try seeing how long it takes to label a postcard opposed to stuff a brochure)

But Sam, there’s a massive saving there, what about the other money you have left?

Good question: Out of the balance difference (around £2k) we’ve used a sum for Solus E-mails to two different lists (cost £500 total  to 40k people), we’ll be doing some extra bits of targeted distribution, we’ll be trying some google ads and facebook advertising to drive more traffic to our site, and with the remaining £1k we’ll be going on holiday. Only joking, it’s now money we can use on specific audience development campaigns in the future, so, we’ve hopefully addressed our current audience, been noticed by a new audience and have money to spend on getting people who’ve missed us so far.

And in the future?

Well evaluation first, we can test the ROI of the mailings and the distribution to an extent. But we need to make the print more personal, personalisation is key, wouldn’t it be great if every brochure opened with “Dear [Name], you’ll love this season” for the people we posted to, cut down the paper weight and the cost further, perhaps cut down on the time spent creating brochures, if leaflets are effective as directions to the website, make the segments even more specific, genre specific for lapsed attenders, or maybe incentive driven.

That’s all folks…

Sorry a bit of a head splurge there… Tell me what you think – it’s early stages but I’d be happy to talk to anyone interested!





One response to “Hitting the target – Brochures”

  1. Inga Petri Avatar

    Hi Sam: Thanks for sharing the new way you are marketing. I like that flow chart a lot. (No, really, I do!) It’s clear and executable. Getting away from blanketing and being more specific and oriented toward getting mail recipients to say “yes” more easily is right on. I particularly like you getting away from the “conventions” on copy. Most of these conventions are irrelevant to most readers anyways.

    I’ve been interviewing Canadian presenters via twitter recently on how and why they use social media. In part doing it publicly and then posting the transcripts is to help foster an understanding that social media are important for relationships, brand building and conversation – not so much for direct ticket sales (they do follow)

    You might find the summary interesting:
    The twitter interviews are here: under “Updates”

    Looking forward to hearing about how the new methods play in your market.