The survival of live theatre lies in the hands of the youth. While education departments and “Kid’s Versions” of hit musicals keep the under-10 age group engaged, it is much harder to reach the 18 – 35 demographics. However, this pocket of younger theatre-goers is vital because these are the people who can spend their own money (we all know those eager 8 year-old’s are just spending their parents’ money) and determine what theatre succeeds in the coming decades. This is immense power! The best thing you can do for your organization is dedicate a portion of your marketing plan to keep this “Millennial” sector involved. We have a few ideas to make this a successful venture.
In a political and cultural climate as tense as ours is currently, your theatre has a difficult task ahead. You must make a strong case for your production: why is this story worth telling right now? There isn’t a wrong answer – just make sure you have an answer to contribute. Why do you need to do a production of My Fair Lady this winter? Are you modernizing a piece of the story? What drew your artistic team to the coming production of Putnam County Spelling Bee? Are you trying to provide a safe, momentary escape from the intensity of daily life? Golden Age musicals are considered goldmines for companies that rely heavily on older audiences, but these shows often ostracize (or simply bore) the younger audiences you must attract. If your season features an older musical, check in with your community. What else would they like to see? Can you offer a reading of a new play? Or workshop a company member’s new musical? Asking your younger audience members what they want to see is imperative as you move forward. Know your audience (seriously, get to know them. Here’s how we suggest advertising to millennials).
At this point, you probably know the importance of jumping on the social media wagon. Spread the word about your theatre frequently and casually. Stay present in your audiences’ news feeds. Post reminders about when, where, and how people can come see your performance. Reach your current audience through social media platforms so it’s easy for them to share your content and bring new audience members to the shows. This is where free marketing comes in – as your posts get shared by people who HAVE seen your show, the chance of engaging someone new strengthens. No Millennial-targeting marketing plan can operate without social media. Build an engaging online presence so people want to share your message (here’s a starting guide to use social media for personal connections AND marketing).
The theatre scene in London is notorious for actively including young adults in their audience reach. They do this by offering heavily discounted tickets for people under the age of 30. NOTE: London’s theatres are able to offer this kind of financial grace because the arts are so fervently subsidized by the government. While we may not be so fortunate in America, there are some lessons to learn from the British model. New York City’s Signature Theatre is featured in Theatre Management textbooks as a case study because of a subsidy partnership led by Time Warner (read more about the Signature Theatre Ticket Initiative). In the 2005 season, Time Warner, and other donors, underwrote the ticket cost for approx. 60,000 visitors to ensure people from multiple socioeconomic situations had access to the art happening at the Signature. The initiative expanded and is now projected to continue through 2031. This has resulted in a huge diversification of their audiences, including a much younger population’s attendance. While smaller theatres don’t have the same opportunities to partner with mogul corporations, we CAN see the direct correlation between discounted tickets and a diversified audience. Can you offer day-of student tickets? Deals for first time attendees? Buy one get one 50% off for people under 30? Brainstorm ways your organization can offer introductory discounts to engage new audience members from younger groups. (Look, we’ve even started a strategy session for you right here!) Whatever plan of action works best for your organization, make sure you are actively involving the younger population in your audience cultivation. Think holistically about the community. While donors and subscribers are imperative, they are often older. Invest in the younger age group interested in your theatre so they can grow up to become your future donors and subscribers, keeping your company engaging and active for decades to come.