Marketing a business that shuts its doors for a few months of the year can be a difficult feat.
If it’s the job of an advertisement to offer customers an incentive to support the organization, how can you provide an incentive if no one can step foot in the actual venue?
As Kathleen Fahle, executive managing director of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Mass., points out, that’s a problem that faces almost every business on Cape Cod. The place may be a popular tourist destination during the warmer months, but few people venture to the Cape when the weather is less than inviting.
The Cape Playhouse, founded in 1927, is open just three months a year, giving it a very narrow window to attract notice. It also happens to be the oldest professional summer theater in the country.
“We weren’t always the oldest. We’re just the oldest one left,” she says. “And so that’s saying something. We learned that we have to stay true to ourselves, but admit the world is changing, too.”
Showing people what’s behind the curtain
Fifteen years ago, the Cape Playhouse had one computer and relied on greenbar ledger paper for finances. “When we started emailing attendees in 2007, we had just about 200 email addresses,” Kathleen says.
Now, the playhouse’s contact list includes more than 5,000 email addresses. During the season, Kathleen uses email marketing to discuss upcoming shows, the actors who will be in them, and other special events. It’s during the other months of the year that Kathleen struggled to stay top of mind with patrons.
Staying in the spotlight
“What we really needed was a way for us to raise our hand and say, ‘Look at us, we’re still here!’” Kathleen says. “But we also didn’t want to be telling people about the burger we had for lunch, like people do on social media.”
Her solution was to keep sending emails, but not do so as frequently. Mostly, Kathleen sends out holiday cards and reminders about gift certificates that people can buy for the upcoming season, plus previews of shows that will be performed during the summer.
This proves to be a great way to keep business flowing —Kathleen reports that every time she sends out a newsletter with ticket or gift certificate information, the Cape Playhouse gets orders “within a half-hour.”
The oldest and wisest summer theater
This year will be the playhouse’s 86th summer season. This is a particularly impressive achievement, considering how many other venues it outlasted. “Twenty-five years ago, we had a circuit of professional summer theaters that we shared our shows with,” Kathleen says. “But nowadays, we produce all the shows ourselves.”
“It’s harder to get noticed, because technology gives people more options and people keep getting busier,” she adds.
But the Cape Playhouse is still putting on a full summer schedule of shows, and email marketing has helped spread the word — to both long-time fans and newcomers alike.
How do you reach customers during the off-season? Let us know in the comments section below!