This post is one of a series on our Theatre Facts 2013 package.
The other day I broke the household coffeepot. I priced a replacement on two websites, but, procrastinating, didn’t make a purchase. Later, I was skimming news online—and there was an ad for my replacement coffeepot, dancing on the edge of my screen. The ad knew who I was. The ad knew where I had been.
As news stories and privacy experts often remind us, we are living in the era of Big Data. Technological advances have made it possible for commercial entities, and political campaigns, to make sense of reams of information drawn from corporate databases, smartphones, web activity and other sources. The information can be analyzed, and cobbled together with other records and statistics, so as to draw an eerily detailed picture of individuals and their behaviors.
A silver lining to this cloud: Theatres, too, are increasingly able to use the tools of the Big Data era in marketing and fundraising, resulting in a greater level of efficiency in both areas.
Data mining is “the most valuable thing that we have done in terms of a marketing strategy that actually has revenue associated with it,” says Ian Tresselt, managing director of Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre. The company hired a consultant to assess the patron-related data Everyman already had, and then partnered with a firm that was able to dig deeper into the information and match it to other data. The resultant level of detail, Tresselt says, has allowed the company to make progress in “really understanding our patrons, who they are, where they come from, who else out there is like them, [who else] should we market to.” It’s an advance that has helped the company personalize direct mail and otherwise be more efficient in marketing to single-ticket buyers.
Tresselt notes that going this route requires an investment of dollars and time. “You have to allocate money to it,” he observes. “You have to be willing to put the time into looking at what your data person comes up with.”
Refined data can also aid a development department. Using information from its ticket and donor software, Seattle’s Taproot Theatre Company has been able to draw up a list of “people who have been subscribers for eight years or more and, on the other hand, have demonstrated very low giving capacity,” says producing artistic director Scott Nolte. He believes that outreach to these specific individuals—explaining very clearly what even modest gifts can help accomplish—can “expand their sense of ownership and vision” and turn them into donors. He compares support from such unassuming contributors to “the Hogwarts Express [that] goes to Platform 9 3/4” at King’s Cross Station in the Harry Potter books: It may be unobtrusive, but it can fulfill a vital function.
“What we’ve seen, thanks to technology, is a completely new way to communicate with our audience, to sell tickets, to manage revenue. It’s been about the most exciting thing I have experienced during the course of my career,” says Goodman Theatre executive director Roche Schulfer, who has been with the Chicago company for more than four decades. “It makes me want to keep going for years.”