Thursday, March 27, 2008

Still wandering down the digital highway

In September, I will have been employed by TBPAC for 9 years. It's an amazingly long time to me. It's easily the longest job I've ever held. I mean, I suppose in many ways outside of teaching and makin' art it's the first 'real job' I've had. I say 'real job' in the sense of the first real job I actually needed. Summer jobs, jobs while in school - be honest, most people I know treat those likely disposable employment. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify how many I went through ...

When I started working here, there really wasn't a website at all. It was more of a place marker. A page with a picture of the building, an address, a phone number and an email contact.

It was replaced by something that was almost worse - what I felt to be a pretty ugly and unmanageable website. We've certainly come a long way since then.

But now we're all into an online presence - it's a major part of what our marketing department explores. It may not be where we put all of our money or all our time, but I'd say it's easily the one form of media that we spend the most time researching and exploring. Because, well, we know it works.

The first big step we took was a decent email service and a philosophy on how to make it not just junk mail. We're on Facebook and MySpace, we do podcasts. We have a text-messaging service. My boss sticks several stories in my box weekly about digital marketing, and I get several more forwarded to me multiple times a week.

Is it all working? It's hard to say. Some of it is easier to track than others. The more refined we make our emails (targeting only the info people want instead of sending everyone to everything) and the less frequently we send them, the better our open rates and the less unsubscribe requests we get. We have a respectable presence on MySpace and a growing presence on Facebook (which, admittedly, I much prefer). The text-messaging initiative are going slow, but I'm still hopeful this experiment may pan out.

The bottom line to all of it is we want to make sure we're getting the information people want sent to them the way they want it. I don't really do the text-messaging thing, but I'm happy to read and email and active on blogs and social networking sites. I don't really respond to direct mail, read hard papers or listen to the radio - but I watch cable TV and listen to streams.

And the hard truth is, there is a divide (even if it is shrinking) between the young and old - not only in regards to the internet, but in regards to the arts. Statistically, more young folks are digitally inclined and more older folks have a wider appreciation for attending arts events. That could change though as we bring in shows like Avenue Q and Spring Awakening, that was true for Wicked. I'm always excited to see younger appealing comedians like Daniel Tosh or Nick Swardson on our schedule and my company, Jobsite Theater, has attracted a pretty loyal younger audience since day one. At the same time, we're seeing more and more older patrons get into the online world. Just yesterday I was speaking to the regional queen of the Red Hat Society and she actually told me that her ladies actually respond best and fastest to email, but they won't use message boards or check the website that often.

As arts marketers, it's a challenge to keep up. We already had small budgets, even when it was just all TV (on 3 networks, no less), print and radio. Now there are hundreds of small publications, numerous online media outlets and it just keeps on and on ...

It's hard to get explosive, immediate results from any of these things. I think it really takes at least a year to be able to really assess what's going to work and what's not. If we can at least raise awareness, increase people's knowledge that we're here, 365 days a year (almost), with an incredible variety of shows I'll consider it a success.

One of the most disheartening things I ever here is when people say they didn't even know we were here, or had no idea that this show or that was coming. The worst is when people ask why don't we advertise. Ouch. But like I said - there are so many more ways to reach people now, it all costs more for less than it used to be and now people have scads more things to distract them. Our jobs certainly aren't getting any easier.

A week or so ago, a friend was asking me what I actually did during the day and I explained it. They listened thoughtfully and at the end asked me if I liked what I did. Without hesitation I said yes, even if I don't always like who I have to deal with and some of the the rigors of the world we live in. I could certainly be doing worse. At least I believe in what I do, and even if I am selling from time to time I believe in what I sell and feel like I'm doing good.

That makes it all the more exciting to think that some of this stuff I do, or any of it, could become a new mainstay of how we get and keep information in front of people.

1 comment:

Angela L. said...

Well put! I can't believe I've been her almost 7 year (in May). And yes, I remember our old website... it was black, fushia and teal! A lovely color combination.