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Prepped and Ready: Using E-Mail to Prepare Audiences for Their Arts Experience

"Pack your shorts!"
Picture this: you are sitting outside having a pleasant mid-festival meeting with your boss when she says, "Pack your shorts, because you're going to San Jose!" If you'd cry tears of joy, it's OK because that's exactly what I did. (Don't laugh, I was excited.)

A few weeks later I was sitting in a conference room in California listening to arts marketing masters school us in the "new to the field" preconference clinic, then experienced a whirlwind #NAMPC during which I attempted to find new nooks and crannies of my brain in which to store information. Here's an example of one thing I learned at NAMP Conference 2010 that we put into practice with great success.

NAMPC 2010: Get ‘Em Ready
The refrain I heard at NAMPC 2010 was "prepare your audiences for their arts experience and they will have a better time." True story: No one wants to venture into the Berkshire woods to see a dance performance and worry about how to get there, where the bathrooms are, where to park, or if they're going to come face-to-face with nature in the parking lot.

Ilustration of envelopesTo execute on this strategy, we created personalized weekly e-mails that we refer to as "pre-visit e-mails."  Pre-visit e-mails came from "Jacob's Pillow Box Office" and were sent to ticket buyers the Monday before their performance. The e-mails included confirmation of the performance day, date, time, and theater, information about parking, on-site dining, and free events related to their performance. We also included our late seating policy, intermission information, and travel tips (e.g., "There are many events going on in the Berkshires this week, and so traffic may be heavier than normal.")

To create the e-mails, I coordinated messaging with our director of marketing, received the list of ticket buyers from our ticket services manager, and added messaging from our development team when appropriate. We have two theaters at the Pillow, and some patrons purchase both shows in one week. We created an e-mail for each theater and were able to customize the information for each performance experience.

"They really like me!"
Not only were our pre-visit e-mails a success based on our subsequent communications and interactions with patrons, but also by the data.

Pre-visit e-mails allowed us to achieve three communications goals in a succinct, targeted way:

  • Confirm performance day, date, and time. More than a few patrons received their pre-visit e-mails and realized they had tickets for the wrong day or performance. Because they were made aware of this in advance, we were able to correct the situation before the patron was standing in the theater on the wrong night.
  • Open a direct line of communication between our patrons and the Box Office staff. Many patrons replied to the pre-visit e-mails with additional questions, and our staff was able to provide excellent customer service by responding directly.
  • Educate patrons about ancillary free performances, events, talks, and tours available to curate a rich Pillow experience.

And, the best part for data-junkies, our pre-visit e-mails had an average open rate of 59.7 percent, proving these targeted, personalized e-mails were getting opened week after week. This average was fairly constant throughout the season; the first week of e-mails had an open rate of 61.8 percent, week five was 63.2 percent, and week 10 was 56.4 percent (we see drop-off in open rates at the end of our season for all types of e-mails we send; after 10 weeks of hearing from the Pillow, it's understandable).

Imagine my delight when patrons would PRINT OUT their customized pre-visit emails and BRING them on the night of their performance! (Be still, my e-mail marketing manager heart.) Throughout the summer at our Will Call tent (yes, we have a tent), I would see people pull out a printed version of their e-mail to reference. Total. Win.

There is no doubt in my mind, because of anecdotes and data, that these e-mails allowed people to feel appreciated by our organization, more comfortable with their upcoming arts experience, and that they could quickly get information from us if they reached out. We will definitely re-create the pre-visit e-mail strategy for Festival 2012 and continue to tweak and improve the information we send to our ticket buyers to prep them for their Pillow experience.

NAMPC 2011: Let 'Em Talk
The next chapter in our e-mail journey comes from what we heard at NAMPC 2011: "ask for your audiences' input." We're excited by the idea of taking the next step and asking our patrons for their opinions outright and following Scott Stratten's advice about "stop/start/continue." It remains to be seen what this will mean in practice for our organization, but I'm excited about further enhancing our e-mail communications to bring our audiences closer to the Pillow and our artistic experiences.

Photo Credit: Ramberg Media Images

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