Remember the good old days of marketing? When a catchy phrase and a few colors were all you needed? When dancing popcorn and soda would convince you that you did, in fact, need a treat from the lobby? Those days are long gone. Modern marketing is a battlefield, a war for attention. Rest, even for a moment, and you’re lost in a sea of digital combatants. Sure, there is room for error because enough information is being pushed out all of the time that your mistakes will most likely be forgotten. Or will they? Maybe your mistakes will be so great that you won’t get your message out. Still, you have to try, you have to try, try, try every ridiculous idea you have because the alternative is to do nothing — and to do nothing is to remain silent. And silence is the cardinal sin in the modern marketing maze.
For classical ballet companies, all this trying is an even greater challenge. How can an art form with a reputation for playing to a demographic that still reads newspapers even hope to compete in that modern marketing maze? Well, I am glad you asked. I believe, when done correctly, that ballet itself is perfectly poised to be the creative force of a ballet company’s marketing campaign. We need to understand our limitations, our benefits, and most of all, what audience we are trying to attract. But with knowledge of these things, and armed with a willingness to try anything, all companies can figure out a formula that works for them.
Ballet companies first need to understand that there are two forms of marketing. One is widely known and accepted while the other is often overlooked. The first form, which everyone knows but not everyone does well, is performance marketing. This is marketing the shows you have on sale for individual tickets, or marketing a season of shows for subscriptions. This would seem like a staple for all ballet companies, something all ballet companies do well. Not true.
What comes to mind when you think of ballet commercials? Most of the time, it’s live-performance footage with voiceover and text. This is possibly a company’s biggest waste of time and money. The only people who would enjoy this type of commercial are those who are already fans of ballet, and more than likely they do not need a commercial to alert them of upcoming performances — if the company is doing its job, these people are known to them already. The goal of performance marketing is to attract new audiences. At Oklahoma City Ballet, we recently performed Cinderella. The idea of our trailer — note that I wrote trailer, not commercial — was to make it as beautiful and as captivating as possible. You can see it here. Obviously a production of this scale came at greater cost, but the return was a 15 percent increase in single ticket sales, which more than covered increased production expenses. This commercial won gold at the Oklahoma City ADDY Awards and will now compete regionally.
The second form is institutional marketing. It is most often forgotten yet incredibly important. Institutional marketing sells who you are as an organization. Just think about that.
Now, marketing is always at risk of being cut because it is intangible: it is not sets, not costumes, not salaries. If a form of marketing is not selling tickets, why spend the money on it? But I would argue that institutional marketing can, if done correctly, generate more revenue that any performance, save possibly The Nutcracker. Institutional marketing is all about how your public perceives you; that perception directly correlates to their willingness to donate to your organization. In other words, if performance marketing is for ticket buyers, institutional marketing is for donors — and both are vital. Ballet companies cannot exist without both sources of income, so why not invest in marketing to both constituencies?
Consider how often performance marketing commercials run. Let’s say you do six major productions a year, and, generally speaking, a video runs a month or so before a performance. That means for half of every year you have absolutely nothing to show the public. You are silent (remember that cardinal sin?). With institutional marketing, you have a voice year-round, a way to connect with your audience on a personal level.
We recently created a video for this very purpose. Oklahoma is a sports state so we played to the athleticism of our dancers and you don’t even realize you are watching a ballet commercial when it begins. You can see that video here. This video also won a local ADDY Award will compete regionally.
I truly believe that ballet is going through a renaissance and if ballet companies are to capitalize on that, they have to do it with the best possible marketing they can afford to create.
My last bit of advice: know your audience. And have your men take their shirts off.