Tiny Tim sitting on Scrooge's right shoulder from the play, "A Christmas Carol"

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

Raising the On-Sale Stakes with a 100% Digital Strategy

A single ticket on-sale date is one of the critical moments in a season. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park decided to raise the stakes and try an all-digital strategy for their 2018-19 season on-sale. Moving to an all-digital strategy allowed the Playhouse to push their on-sale date three weeks earlier than it has been historically. Their media budget could sustain advertising for a longer period because of digital’s cost-effectiveness. The result? The most successful single ticket on-sale the organization has seen yet.

We worked with the Playhouse to devise a comprehensive strategy that would saturate the full marketing funnel. Having a larger media budget than in past years gave us the ability to take advantage of digital tools that we otherwise might not have, such as Facebook’s lead generation objective. We split the campaign into three phases: lead generation, pre-sale, and on-sale. The first phase took place only on Facebook, and then for the pre-sale and on-sale, we added in Instagram and Google display ads. The Playhouse also used an adapted email strategy that took its cues from the audience segments and timing of the social campaign.

Phase One: Lead Generation
The Playhouse promotes a pre-sale one week before the on-sale date where anyone on their email list gets early access to single tickets. We leveraged this early access benefit in a Facebook lead generation campaign, where we targeted Lookalikes of their email list, all site visitors, and select past ticket buyers who hadn’t opted into the e-list.

Lead generation campaigns tend to be most effective when users are getting something they want in exchange for their email addresses. In this case, the “gift” was the ability to reserve the best seats before they go on sale to the general public—an offering that was already in place and didn’t result in any sacrifice on the Playhouse’s part. This offer was clearly appealing, as the lead gen portion of the campaign brought in over 1,000 new email addresses at an incredibly low cost of $4.85 per lead.

^Lead generation post

^ Lead generation form

Phase Two: Pre-Sale and Teaser
We took those new email list members and added them into the next phase of the campaign, which focused on the week before the on-sale. We uploaded the full email list to Facebook using Custom Audiences and targeted the matched users with dark posts highlighting the pre-sale access information, while we introduced audience segments spanning the rest of the funnel that started seeing ads teasing the public on-sale date.

The pre-sale is also when we began specifically targeting potential purchasers of A Christmas Carol. The annual production is one of the theatre’s big draws, and unsurprisingly, makes up a good part of sales. This year, 26% of overall on-sale revenue was attributed to A Christmas Carol renewals. The majority of that revenue was attributed to ads that ran during the pre-sale week, indicating just how powerful the draw of early access to the best seats can be.

^ Pre-sale dark post for email list members

^ Pre-sale Timeline post

Phase Three: Public On-Sale
On the big day, we opened the floodgates. We wanted to make sure that we were hitting as many people as possible with the messaging, so these audiences ran the gamut, from retargeting to Facebook video viewers to Lookalikes modeled off an email list of single ticket buyers.

^ On-sale Timeline post: 2018-19 season preview

^ On-sale Timeline post: Newcomers Guide

The Playhouse had experimented with replacing traditional media with digital before, as well as starting campaigns earlier, most notably on Million Dollar Quartet in the 2017-18 season. While the show surpassed its single ticket goal, there was no way to tell if that success was the result of the strategy shift or not. As Director of Marketing and Communication Kathy Neus put it, the most that could be concluded was that it either helped or didn’t hurt revenue.

Using a similar strategy change for single ticket on-sale provided a better direct comparison (although still imperfect, as season programming shifts from year to year). Total revenue during the on-sale period had remained roughly static from the 2015-16 season through to 2017-18. The 2018-19 on-sale saw a 14% increase in overall single ticket revenue from 2017-18.

Additionally, 88% of sales during the pre-sale week were sold online. On Facebook and Instagram, we saw a 519% ROI, while display had a 229% ROI. The Playhouse is also currently ahead of last season’s subscription sales to date.

It, of course, remains to be seen how single tickets will fare throughout the season, but the Playhouse has a great head start after their all-digital experiment.

Photo by Mikki Schaffner featuring the cast of A Christmas Carol.

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