March 23, 2020Jamie Alexander
“Can’t we just skip ahead to the time when this is all fixed?”
This sentiment, expressed recently by a theatre executive about the interruption caused to her business by COVID-19, is perhaps as widespread as the pandemic itself.
For now, cultural organizations are, rightly and by necessity, focused on the short-term. Quick action is required with imperfect information in the face of a substantial negative tilting of the balance sheet and many unknowns. Some will be able to find opportunities to engage with their communities in new ways, but for many it’s a fight to survive.
We cannot know how long the Coronavirus pandemic will last in the affected countries or whether the current shutdown of cultural organizations will be short or long lasting—it is therefore prudent to prepare for both eventualities.
In the coming weeks we will share tools and advice for the next phase, in which you prepare to reboot your organization and generate earned income again. For now, it’s worth quickly recapping the best advice for handling the immediate emergency.
Here are 5 key things to think about right now:
Many organizations are giving three options to those who hold tickets for cancelled performances:
We feel that it’s important to offer all three of these options both for the benefit of your organization and the benefit of your audience members, many of whom are now also financially compromised. However, here are some tips to encourage patrons to pick the option(s) that most benefit your organization:
Rewarding what may have been an exceptional, one-off act of philanthropy with a membership that includes priority booking…will create goodwill, potentially increase frequency and overall spend, and encourage more people to buy tickets earlier—one of your main objectives when you reopen. This also gives your customers something to look forward to when you are back up and running!
Consider this when you send appeals or asks for support. Of course, patron support is necessary at this point in time. But hallow asks for support may fall on deaf ears. Consider what you are offering in return for this support. What are you offering to the community while your theatres or halls are dark? What will you offer to the community when you re-open? How are you supporting artists and workers who are now not working?
You also may need to articulate some sense of your margins. Customers may see a large, successful organization and assume substantial wealth—particularly if they are used to being charged premium food and beverage prices or have seen VIP benefits advertised to high-spending customers. It’s worth emphasizing that your margins do not leave you with large surpluses/profits each year.
Just because your doors are closed doesn’t mean that you aren’t relevant. To be successful through this dark period, you’ll need to maintain connection with your audience so that you gain support and audiences fly through your doors once they reopen.
Several organizations have found unique and innovative ways to engage their audience and fulfill their missions while their theatres and halls are dark, including:
In these extraordinary times, when emotions are running high, it’s more important than ever to connect with your audience and grow your loyalty base.
Preserve and channel your team’s energies by effective remote working. Reference our blog post about 7 Tips for a Successful Virtual Workforce.
There is, of course, a great deal of uncertainty. As we’re dealing with the short-term, immediate effects of the pandemic, we’ll also need to start medium- and long-term planning as we prepare to reboot. Where possible, assign a leader, empowered to work across the organization, to break away from short-term firefighting and lead on medium- and long-term preparation.
There are many, many challenges ahead, but there may also be more new opportunities for art and ulture that people haven’t thought of yet. Art has existed for a long time. Organizations may have to re-invent themselves, but art will survive.
Stay safe and sane, friends. We are here to support you should you need any advice (or even just someone to bounce ideas off, or vent with!) on how to get through this difficult time. Feel free to email us at any time at email@example.com.
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