Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mass Transit

By Paul Gordon Emerson

So, buses.

Scarce marketing dollars. Getting the word out. Market differentiation. Visibility.

The conventional marketing wisdom is that, for dance and dance concerts you advertise in the Washington Post on the weekends or, if you really muster the monetary muscle, on an extended four or five day run.

The premise is simple: buy ads in a place where people are already predisposed to buying in the general area (or market segment) of what you are selling. Makes sense. Except that ads in the Post are madly expensive, and dance, even when you are as successful as CityDance is, has a very limited concert run, and that means limited ticket revenue to compensate for the costs of those ads. By definition, you lose money on major advertising. But you have to do something, right?

Yes, but what?

That depends on your outcomes. Yes, if you want to hold concerts you want an audience at those concerts. To get that audience you have to make sure people, you know, know, you're having a concert. But they also have to care that you're having a concert. Teeny tiny ads in the Washington Post don't do that just 'cause they're there in print. People have to know who you are, think what you are doing is cool, or interesting, or at least worth a look. And in dance the core beginning to that level of interest lies in visuals. That's what the art form is: visual. An ad in the Washington Post that's large enough to have a real photograph at a significant size in it can cost as much as the concert does to produce. That's not simply impractical, it's impossible.

One of the great problems with dance in DC is it's inability to think outside the norm, the box. We try too hard to fit inside the conventions of what we think works. We don't get on television because we don't think we can. We don't do radio because we don't think we can. But those reasons are exactly why we have to. Find the unexpected way to get noticed, because that, in and of itself, can generate interest.

So, buses.

If you want a very large place to put photographs -- really large photographs -- you need something equally large. Those are hard to come by. And if you want something that people are looking for, well, buses are something a lot of people look for -- or look out for.

In and of itself that's not enough unless you can buy a whole lot of buses. We couldn't. But thanks to a donor we could buy some. Five to be exact. You need to build the buzz around those buses if they're going to have more value than a random drive-by.

So today we're launching our collateral campaign. "Have you seen the bus?" We're all camera phone obsessed these days. We can take a picture anywhere at a moments notice. So anyone who sees the bus, and gets a photo of it, gets that shot on the CityDance website and gets a chance to win two tickets to our January show, Entangled. It's about building buzz overall, buzz for the upcoming show at The Kennedy Center but, more important, building brand that carries over. Everyone is out in September and October when the weather is warm. No one is out in January when it's cold. So the decision to put the buses on the street in September and October had to carry-over to the key concert to promote -- January.

So, between now and the end of October keep an eye out on Wisconsin Avenue for the CityDance bus. Grab a shot, or send in a sighting to, and get a shot at tickets to a show.

No comments: