Mailers Give Dance Troupe a Lift

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is kicking up its heels over a direct mail campaign that reversed two years of declining ticket sales.


"We beat last year by almost $40,000, representing about a 10 percent increase in revenue generated via ticket sales," said Lori Kleinerman, director of marketing and communications at Hubbard Street. "This despite the fact that there were three fewer performances, 14 instead of the 17 that took place in the spring of 2001. And the run this year was over 17 days as opposed to 22 days last year."


Average paid attendance last spring was 703 per performance. This spring it was 826.


"We did well in spite of the fact that our competition during the same period, which didn't exist last year, included the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company out of New York and Contact, which is a Broadway music and dance performance, among myriad other entertainment options," Kleinerman said.


Hubbard Street selected Chicago design studio Otherwise Inc. to develop the campaign.


"They have faced declining ticket sales over the prior two years due in large measure to the fact that there is intense competition for the entertainment dollar in Chicago," said Nancy Lerner, president and chief strategist of Otherwise. "The traditional dance-going audience has a lot of other things to choose from. We wanted sophisticated consumers of popular culture to know that Hubbard Street is cool, hip and engaging. Our accountability was not just in doing something beautiful and engaging, but to demonstrate an impact on the bottom line."


Consistency was achieved through the use of orange and green as the dominant colors across all direct marketing elements, which also featured images of dancers.


"A consistent theme was lacking in prior years," Lerner said. "We had to make sure all of the pieces were integrated thematically and visually so that if you were riding down Michigan Avenue and saw an ad on a bus, or received a direct mail piece, it let you know there was something driving this campaign."


An 11-by-5-inch group sales postcard went in February and March to 2,000 organizations interested in cultural events as well as to corporations looking to expose employees to art and museums.


"We originally printed 1,000 and then printed another 1,000 due to a positive response," Lerner said.


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago got names from lists from Broadway in Chicago, which represents Chicago's major theaters.


A three-panel mailer went out the second week of March to 75,000 people on Hubbard Street's database of previous attendees as well as names obtained from Broadway in Chicago. The piece gave a performance schedule and ticket prices, mentioned a 20 percent savings when buying tickets to two or more performances and included an order form and seating chart.


"Hubbard was ambivalent about seating charts in the past, but we felt it was helpful to understand pricing options," Lerner said. "They created seating charts in the past that were busy and complicated looking." The order form also included a phone number and Web site (hubbardstreetdance.com) to obtain tickets.


Hubbard Street followed the mailing with 4,000 faxes a week later targeting people who received direct mail pieces.


In addition, 4,000 opening night gala invitations were distributed: 2,500 to names on the dance troupe's mailing list and 1,500 to board members. And 20,000 inserts were included in TicketMaster mailings to buyers of tickets for performing arts events.


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