Inspiring Marketing Strategy from a Blank Canvas

If there’s any theme running through the CGO blogs it is that anything is possible if you use your own intuition, gumption, character and style. Be yourself, be open, learn to listen, enjoy debate – and extraordinary things can happen.  I thought I’d share a perfect example – to insire, or at least say thank you.

At the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds we have a Marketing Officer (2 years in the job) a Press Officer (1st job, 1 year in) and me (30years in and most definitely learning !). We have this week been joined by three new members of the TRAIN crew. These are “voluntary workers”(to use the correct legal term) who join us for 6 months, work 3 days a week with us, and the rest of the week in a bar/shop/office to survive. We pay expenses – so they can dedicate 6 months to gaining experience and cv filling skills at no cost, whilst surviving doing the things they don’t want to do the rest of their lives. TRAIN started 2 years ago and it is enormously well regarded by those who have come through it – some of whom now work for us flat out with pay !!

So 6 of us gathered some blank sheet of paper (back of old posters / no waste) and a challenge: How do we check in on what we have done in 2011/12, and create a marketing strategy for 2012/13 which increases audience and revenue for a similar mix of programming.

We are a producing theatre doing 3-4 of our own shows plus panto,  a creative learning hub offering around 1000 classes/projects for young and community companies per year, a research and script development gathering for Georgian and new plays, a business training unit for employers in Suffolk, a National Trust tourist destination, and a receiving theatre for everything from stand-up to new drama, musicals to ballet.  We are a multi-programme organisation befitting a multi-plex building…but we only have one unique Georgian theatre on the edge of town in which to play.

So – how to create an inspiring strategy.  I would claim that we start as equal brains and a blank canvas. You start with some simple questions – what are the tools we use at the moment ? Who do we reach at the moment ?  Who do we know about on our database ?  Then you start playing games… Who do we not reach at the moment ?  Why are we not reaching them – or is it that they are not hearing ?  Who is coming through our doors once and then may/maynot come back ?  Who comes to Panto (say) and then waits for the next Panto info ?  Who are like the people who already come ?  Who are very different from those traditional audiences, and how do we reach them?  Where do the “like” people live ? Why are they not coming ?

Question after question after question – and bit by bit we filled our sheets of paper.  Amazingly there seemed to be a pattern forming.  We had tools, we had communication pathways, we had recipients/audiences for the message, and we had areas we were missing.

We realised some people who came once were not followed up. Some people who contacted the theatre to get on the mailing list missed a whole 6 months of brochure. We wrote to people to remind them of future shows presuming they clearly wanted to return to see the same thing again – when maybe they had eclectic tastes.  And we realised there were many reasons why audiences felt unable to come (price, transport, alone-ness etc) which we had, or could develop, tools to tackle – but how would they know if they didn’t ask ?

By the end of 2hrs of freeform idea storming 6 of us had some very clear ideas for the way forward. We hadn’t yet started using Ansoff or SWOT or mapping matrices or marketing management tools or database analysis. We had started by checking in with what we knew about ourselves, our habits, our friends, our work practice. We know far more than we give ourselves credence for. We just don’t take enough time to share ideas.

Rather than commission a major data or market analysis project to review our business – and wait for revelation, we had settled down and dug into our experience of being theatregoers, selling to theatregoers, missing shows we wanted to see, being put off by price/place, or being just plain lazy. In two hours we had a framework for investigation and challenge. NOW we can start the review and analysis.

It is brilliant having a mix of age and experience at the Theatre Royal. TRAIN crew who are 2 days into being a marketing person, through people who have studied and run their own theatre companies, to old guard like me who keep asking the same questions, starting with the same blank sheet of paper, and being delighted when (out of blankness) comes the start of a rather exciting strategy for 2012/13

We meet again in a week and we will see where we go from here – by which time the TRAIN crew will have been in their jobs 3 times as long !!! and be even wiser and more determined.

Marketing is about knowing ourselves, our tastes, our expectations. Then knowing our friends and their tastes, and expectations, and lives, and resistances. Then speculating about the people we don’t know. Then it is about “doing the maths” – analysing, testing, and writing reports. But start with the simple things first. Talk.

Have fun