E-marketing E-ssentials: E-Harmony- Developing, Nurturing, and Expanding Your Connection with Patrons

Christina Blodgett with McB Smith
March 2008

Maria Callas once described opera as beginning “long before the curtain goes up and end[ing] long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.” For McB Smith, the Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO), Callas’s words have become part of her philosophy to develop meaningful connections with patrons through e-mail and nurture and expand these connections from season to season.

Since the DMMO’s e-marketing program began three years ago, McB has used e-newsletters to capture the essence and the magic of opera, personalizing the performance long before patrons even enter the theatre. By asking for e-mails each time patrons order tickets or attend events, the DMMO’s e-mail list has nearly doubled. This enthusiasm and loyalty from patrons also translates to sales; in 2007, the subscriber renewal rate was 75.3 percent, and 95-100 percent of all available tickets for each performance were sold.

The four essential elements of successful e-marketing

In developing her e-marketing program, McB faced the same challenges of any arts marketer: how to build your list, and how to keep patrons interested and intrigued with every newsletter you send. When she started sending e-newsletters, McB recognized the power of e-mail: it’s her portal into her patrons’ world, and in turn, their window into her organization’s world. Because of its convenience, relevance, and readability, e-mail has the power to build, nurture, and expand your relationship with patrons.

But just sending e-mails on a whim won’t automatically produce fantastic results. If you’re looking to transform e-mail readers into ticket buyers, subscribers, and donors, McB recommends developing an e-marketing program that has four essential elements: planning, execution, evaluation, and consistency. Each represents a vital element in the circle of e-marketing. If any single element is not given the proper attention, the final product suffers as a result.

Before she begins designing an e-mail newsletter, McB has already developed an editorial plan that spans the entire season.

“My editorial plan starts at the end of each fiscal year, as we are setting the calendar of events for the next year. I work in a really simple spreadsheet so that I can list my send dates, article titles, and the people from whom I will need to get content. Then, throughout the year, I edit the plan as needed. I always keep my plan posted where I can see it every day so that I can schedule e-postcards and other messages at a glance. The editorial plan has removed much of the stress associated with the e-newsletter. I never have to think ‘what will I write about this month?’ My e-newsletter always goes out on time and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”

Creating personal relationships

Responding promptly to patrons who e-mail her directly with questions or comments about OPERAzzi, the DMMO’s monthly e-newsletter, is another example of McB’s mission to constantly nurture her relationship with subscribers.

“If someone took the time to read my newsletter, the least I can do is take the time to respond. E-mail gives me a direct line to the subscriber, and the subscriber in turn has a direct line to me. If I honor that connection, the investment of time and care is well-returned. Inviting this feedback also helps me know that there are real people out there who read what I write, and thatI am not just sending e-mails out for exercise. We perform in a very small theater, and that has created a very family-like feel for our patrons. I want to replicate that experience to the best of my ability in our e-mail campaigns. When people get to know us, it strengthens the relationship that we are trying to build with them, and helps to make the case for why they should buy tickets, make donations, and get involved in other ways. And because I am at each performance, it gives our patrons a chance to connect my face to the name they see every month in their inbox. We all know that people tend to read e-mails from people they know. If they know me, they’ll read my e-mail (I hope!).”

For a seasonal company like the DMMO, creating those personal relationships is a fundamental key to success, and an e-newsletter is paramount to fostering and developing these connections.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have had people ask me, ‘What do you do the rest of the year?’ One of my biggest challenges is achieving top-of-mind status throughout the year, when the vast majority of our events and performances take place between February and July. Of course, the other side of that coin is trying not to overwhelm our readers leading up to and during our season! E-mail gives me the tools to stay in regular contact with our patrons throughout the year, keeping them up to date on all the things going on with the Company, even though the theater is dark.”

As more and more arts organizations transition from print to e-mail as their main method of communication with patrons, McB cautions not to take this transition lightly.

E-mail is cheaper, but it shouldn’t look cheap

“Just because e-mail is less expensive and easier than print doesn’t mean it should look cheap or like an after-thought. Do it in a very intentional way. You want your readers to value the messages you send, or it won’t be worth your time to send them. Make sure your information is timely, interesting, and valuable to the recipients. Try to make the messages you send a benefit to the readers, rather than a burden. I would also recommend subscribing to other e-newsletters. If other organizations in your city or in your industry offer e-newsletters, sign up for them and read them. They are a really valuable source of ideas and inspirations and occasionally they even offer a hint at what not to do.”

Even though the DMMO’s 36th Summer Festival Season has not yet officially started, McB is already thinking about her e-marketing goals for next year: providing more targeted content to her readers and offering a broader range of content so that subscribers can not only stay informed about the DMMO, but also learn more about opera. By incorporating these goals into the solid e-marketing foundation she has already developed, McB will undoubtedly continue to successfully use e-mail, inspiring her patrons to love opera for years to come.

McB Smith is the Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Des Moines Opera. Christina Blodgett is the Director of Client Services & Consulting at Patron Technology. Join them for Patron Technology’s March Arts Marketer Town Hallwebinar on March 27th at 2:00 pm EST – click here to register.

Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.