Engage, Analyze, Adapt (Repeat)

by Austin Auclair and Michael Porto

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Theatre | Technology} blog salon, curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton.)

The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s use of technology typically falls within two arenas: engagement and analytics, with the two often intersecting and working to inform the other.

Engagement covers a wide range of tactics, including but not limited to tools to enhance our audience’s experience, advertising, and patron feedback mechanisms. In recent past STC has used numerous web tools and specialized software to create fun and engaging promotions and focusing on distinctive, interactive content.

A few examples include:

  • For a week leading up to the start of the season as part of a final subscriptions acquisitions push we sent a thematic email a day containing fun and anecdotal facts about each play in the season.
  • We created a video game for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum where players solved puzzles, receiving a ticket discount upon completion.
  • During the holidays we ran a 12 Days of Forum email campaign, sending a very visual email each day with characters popping out of a picture of the set. Those clickable characters each led to a different piece of show-themed content.
  • For The Importance of Being Earnest, which we produced in February, we created a system where users could send “Valentines” to friends with fun photos from the show overlaid with snarky quotes about love. The emails received by the Valentine-recipients also contained a small ticket discount and more information about the production.
  • Riding the wave of “what character are you?” memes that populate social media like Facebook we created one for The Importance of Being Earnest where users answered goofy questions leading to a determination of what character from the play they’re most like. The final page was set up to be easily shared to social media.
  • All such efforts contain links to dig deeper with reviews, preview articles and video interviews and a call-to-action to purchase tickets.

We engage heavily in digital marketing, some of which include retargeting campaigns that display web ads geared to how our patrons have interacted with our website, targeted social media advertising, video pre-roll, and location-based mobile marketing via applications like Foursquare and Maphook. A retargeting campaign we ran recently, for instance, displayed web ads to people who bought tickets to Henry IV, Part 1, visited the page for Henry IV, Part 2, but didn’t buy tickets to Part 2. We ran ads for Part 2 just for them.

We regularly solicit patron feedback via online surveys and triggered “thank you” emails that are sent as soon as a patron finishes watching a performance. We send “abandoned cart” emails for incomplete shopping cart sessions on our website, asking if we can assist customers to complete their ticket order via email or set up a phone call. We immediately send “welcome” emails to any patron who creates an account in our database, giving them the various ways they may reach our customer service department with any questions.

We use a host of software-based technologies to collect data, analyze that data, and to help us extrapolate that information into practical processes for change and refinement. In our most basic capacity we lean heavily on our ticketing database to export its data via pivot tables to suit the needs of many daily-run reports. We meticulously segment our database to understand patron geography and behavior. We utilize Google Analytics to study our web traffic, patron behavior, and the results of marketing and communications campaigns. We’ve created systems to leverage Google Analytics to be useful even for channels like print advertising by employing vanity URLs and specialized landing pages.

Using the information we’ve gleaned from thorough study of our data we’ve been able to streamline processes, make efficient cuts and better support well-performing campaigns. It has meant that we’re no longer advertising with ineffective outlets simply because “we always have.” We tailor our communications to specific audience segments to speak with them directly and most-effectively, we geo-target our advertising and communications when budgets are limited and focus on efforts that create an engaging and rich experience for patrons. We’re revamping our website with a clear understanding of changes in patron buying behavior and rising technologies like mobile and tablet devices.

Technology has become an integral part of how the Shakespeare Theatre Company listens to its audience, communicates its values to the world, and in how it seeks to understand and refine its own infrastructure and systems. We’ve found that technology has allowed us and our audience to come together and engage with our art better than ever before.

Austin_imageAustin Auclair is the Associate Director of Marketing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. and has worked at STC for twelve years. He’s lectured extensively on digital marketing, database and segmentation analysis, ticketing and customer service practices, and probably spends too much time in Google Analytics and Adwords. When he’s not terrifying STC’s web developer with his next audience engagement idea he’s planning and implementing campaigns, studying social trends and user behavior, developing engaging and wry content for social media, and wringing every byte of information from STC’s database.


portoMichael Porto serves as Chief Marketing Officer for Shakespeare Theatre Company, leading all marketing, interactive, PR, branding, Audiences Services and box office operations.  Prior to that, he owned a theatrical consulting firm, leading marketing efforts for Arizona Theatre Company and NYC-based dance companies. He served as Executive Vice President of Type A Marketing, representing several Broadway and touring productions.  He was previously Director of Marketing & Communications for ASU Gammage, one of the leading presenting organizations in North America. Prior to joining ASU, he was the president of M.A.P. Marketing Group, a marketing communications firm specializing in performing arts, festivals and events. His work was recognized with 24 Pinnacle Awards from the International Festival and Events Association for excellence in marketing and media. He served on several committees of The Broadway League and has been a panelist at League Conferences.