How a Summer Theater Makes Sure the Show Goes On, All Year Round

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!


Leave a comment »
  1. I have used CC email post cards during our “off season” We are a residential remodeling company and our slow time is from Dec. through mid April. I started this process about 5 years ago, and we’ve branded ourselves because of it. People always say that we do a good job with our marketing because of the consistency of those emails. Since 2009, of course, the results have changed in terms of how quickly they choose to buy and how much they spend but, it still works – just a little more slowly. We love Constant Contact!!!

  2. Blaise Lucey •

    @remodelgal – We know a lot of businesses do have that downtime, and we really liked how the Cape Playhouse came up with a way to stay connected without getting too intrusive.

    Sounds like you guys have a great model, too. Thanks for reading and thanks for using Constant Contact!

  3. I run a summer into fall art workshop program on Maine’s Mid Coast and have been sending emails thru the year highlighting both the full schedule and also each of the classes in the order they come up on the schedule..

    One of the hallmarks of this program is the personal attention I provide to students, plus the connection I make with anyone who contacts me…the emails have been a great way to add to that! I also get to do follow up corrections 0f any misprints I’ve made!

    Generally I pick up registrations after every email, plus queries which then give me an opportunity to interact…more good marketing opportunities…and the Customer Support at Constant Contact has been fabulous!

    One of my instructors sent me to CC…it’s been a great resource!


Tell us your thoughts