COVID-19 brought the performing arts sector to its collective knees. Rather than experiencing a highly anticipated 20/21 season we all planned, we felt the impact of a virus that shuttered our theaters, isolated our audiences and strangled the talents of millions of performers worldwide.

Next to the tourism sector, the cultural and creative sectors were the most damaged by the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s been a long road for so many artists, organizations, and the audiences who support them. 

Finally, as 2020 drew to a close, the advent and distribution of new vaccines gave us a light at the end of the tunnel. A light so bright that many international superstars like England’s Sir Elton John, Canada’s pop king Justin Bieber and South Africa’s sensational rap-rave fusion performers Die Antwoord are booking live shows to start mid-year stateside. 

This is terrific news for the performers, stage crews and administrative experts that make the performing arts happen. And it’s great news for audiences, too. Everyone is eager to socialize and enjoy performing arts in 21/22!

The pandemic has taught us some new habits, though, and audiences will be reluctant to break them.

Audiences & The Arts: Behaviors We’ll See in 21/22

Even come a time of widespread vaccinations and potential herd immunity, your patrons will have COVID-19 safety habits well-ingrained.

Plainly put, social habits have changed. A casual handshake or hug in the lobby during a matinée in 2019 will be awkwardly avoided by reluctant parties in 21/22. And the formal baise-main — the kissing of a lady’s hand at a formal gathering, a tradition nearly lost in the US anyhow — is likely gone forever.

Come the 21/22 season, attendees are likely to be hyper-aware of health issues and closely aware of hand hygiene. 

What are savvy organizations doing to prepare for this unusual season, you ask?

Changes Coming to Performing Arts Marketing for 21/22

Digital marketing and digital program books will be hotter than ever this season, but some long-time arts patrons will always prefer a hard copy they can cherish as a memento. As the season plays out and things normalize further, a tangible program book will again become a big part of the overall audience experience.

This puts marketers in a tight spot. Budgets are FAR tighter than usual post-pandemic. How can they afford both digital media and print program books on a bare-bones budget? Especially when smaller runs can equal higher cost-per-copy.

How Arts Marketers can Plan for the 21/22 Season

Every performing arts organization — and every venue they call home — will have a different approach this year. Most arts marketers will face a balancing act between budget, reach, and the benefits of targeted advertising that comes from association with the arts.

While this piece isn’t meant to be a sales pitch, Onstage’s Arts Marketer’s 21-22 Season Restart Program could be part of the answer. We are combining both limited-run prints with digital for a low monthly rate of $295.00/mo. We hope you’ll consider this as an affordable opportunity to find both the digital and print products you need during the comeback. 

Ultimately, it’s going to be a time of creativity and invention in our sector, and the team at Onstage looks forward to hearing about all the creative solutions you implement this year. Please keep us informed of your creative ideas for social distanced seating, online broadcasts, and any other new concepts that crop up thanks to the pandemic.

Our Role

Our goal is to free-up performing arts organizations and marketers from the hassle of selling advertising and publishing program books. So we brought economies of scale to the program book publication process. Our coordinators, production artists, and professional sales staff can publish high-end program books for performing arts organizations cheaper and more efficiently than any organization across the country.

But the best part for arts marketers is that we pay our clients to let us do the work! How about that ray of hope in a post-pandemic year!

Over the decades, we’ve refined our process and grown with technology. Today, we offer a custom web portal for our clients. And we’ve learned a thing or two about audience engagement (check out more of our blogs to see what we know). We’ve added digital resources like online program books, free digital signage in your performance space and unique new audience interaction features.

In closing, we leave you with these words penned by Shakespeare, Act 4, Scene 1, of Much Ado About Nothing. While taken a bit out of context here (Leonato was speaking about revenge), we find them entirely appropriate for this day. 

Time hath not yet so dried this blood of mine,

Nor age so eat up my invention,

Nor fortune made such havoc of my means,

Nor my bad life reft me so much of friends,

But they shall find awaked in such a kind

Both strength of limb and policy of mind

Remember, although our industry was hit hard by the pandemic, we are not without friends, leaders, and legions of patrons who are ready to take part in the 21/22 season. We’re in this together!

One of the more powerful pieces of Audience Access is the ability to do mass text messaging.

Mass text messaging allows you to send a message to a set of folks in your system. Now notice how I said SET of folks. Most messages do not pertain to everyone, but how do you correctly put folks in the right buckets to know that you are sending the right message at the right time?

You do that through a set of keywords so that when these patrons first engage with your system, they are able to put themselves into the buckets, segments, or categories they are interested in.

For example, over the last few seasons, some of the good ones I’ve seen are keywords that you can use, so maybe if you use the word “Backstage,” these folks would be interested in having a Q&A with a conductor, or perhaps a meet the cast session, or maybe attend an audition or two. So when you have these opportunities come up, you know that you can text these folks that are interested in these types of things.

Another one would be to “support the arts” so the folks who use this keyword are interested in donating or taking part in volunteer opportunities. Or maybe they would love to have input on an upcoming season or some ideas about that or take part in surveys for grant applications.

And then finally, more of a catch-all would be like “preview” where these folks are interested in when you do announce the new season to let them know or if you have a deal, or maybe some discount tickets, or perhaps for your season ticket buyers. So in this way, you allow the patrons to put themselves into the segments or the buckets so that when you send that message to that 747 people announcing your new season, you know that those folks are interested in that message. I hope this helps and good luck!



You know one of the things that you’ve already mentioned is that Audience Access is much more than just a digital program. It is built on a chatbot platform that allows you to communicate and collect data so every time anybody accesses that program, bingo!—you collect their cell phone number.

Saying this, what have been the results of this data collection? Has it been successful? Any numbers to share, or anything that’s exciting?

You’re both shaking your head, so okay go ahead tell me what the results have been so far?

So there are two things that Audience Access enables us to do that we weren’t able to do previously. In our ticketing system, there’s one buyer per household and so we really only collect that one buyer’s information, so if Mr. and Mrs. Smith are going to the theater we just have the contact information for Mr. Smith which means that in our efforts to do digital advertising and retargeting we only have Mr. Smith to target. But once we are able to solicit contact information from everybody in the party then we broaden our ability to dynamically target everybody who’s there instead of just the buyer!

In addition, what’s really nice, is we’re able to install our tracking pixels onto the Audience Access platform so that will also help us in optimizing ads that we already have running. Again, because instead of showing the Facebook ad to Mr. Smith, now Mrs. Smith AND Jenny Smith see the ads. So instead of only getting the results for Mr. Smith, Facebook can actually see oh this Facebook ad is attributed to three purchases instead of just one! Oh my God, yeah that’s great! Yeah, so your data leakage is resolved because you now know the people that are sitting in those seats.  And you never were able to collect any information on them, and that can happen with group sales also lots of times. An employer might buy a group of tickets and you only get one email. But now you can get everybody’s when you go back to live performance and so that’s great!

How about you, what’s going on what kind of information? One of the most useful things for us has been we have you buy for this show that we have up. If you buy one ticket you get access to all three episodes of the summer musical so when they watched episode one, and they texted in to get the program, then once episode two drops we can just send them a push notification that reminds them. It says “hey you’re gonna watch tonight we’re about to send you a new link for the new for the new episode.” Also, we have a lot of online events, and we have talkbacks— “ask us anything cocktail parties” things like that and once we’ve got their phone number affiliated with a certain show then we can text them a push notification that says “hey don’t forget we’ve got a cocktail party tonight” or whatever and it really has people responding well to it. And they have the option to stop the text messaging if they want to and that was important to us too and I guess you know that’s law so it works out well but most people have not opted out!

So we had a venue looking to apply for a grant, and one of the questions on that grant application was how many folks had visited one of the local restaurants near the venue? So to do that, they had collected about 2100 text messages or phone numbers, or to be more precise from patrons that had gone to a few shows in the time frame that they were looking for. They then were able to send a specific text message to those patrons 2100 patrons to ask them one simple question which was this

“Please help us by replying with your answer to this one question survey. Did you patronize a local restaurant as part of your visit to the Barter Theatre – Yes or No? Thank you!”

So far, this has gathered over 790 responses. They will then use those responses to finish up that last question on that grant application. But it’s just another cool way that the audience access and those phone numbers can help an organization not just sell more tickets and provide patrons with the experiences that they expect, but to also help the organization receive grant applications by getting surveys completed more quickly!

Now they could have sent more questions, but in this case, they only needed the one question answered. But you could make a survey monkey questionnaire if there are more questions that need to get answered, but it just shows that the patrons are excited about the arts and that they’re willing to take a little time to help the arts out when they know that the arts need help.

So texting is a great way to get that done. I hope this helps you.

From my perspective the other wonderful thing about digital is that it’s digital and you can change it, you can add advertisers halfway through the run, if you notice a typo you can go in and change it. I’ve heard horror stories of past years printing programs and then noticing an error and having to do like a thirty thousand dollar reprint of programs. It makes my job a lot less stressful to know that it’s not written in stone and can make changes up to the last second or beyond!

A few of our satisfied clients.

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