When I’m talking with performing arts organizations across the country about their program books, I am often asked the question “how can we do that?” With “that” referring to the ability of cutting their current program book costs, saving their staff a ton of time, all while improving the quality of their program books.

It really is not rocket science and any performing arts organization can do it, as long as you follow certain steps. Below are some things you can implement right now to make your program books a success.

Collapsing Advertising Revenue. It’s impossible for one person to contact every business within your community, so relying on the same advertisers year after year will ultimately lead to collapsing revenues. Even in a good economy, the national decrease and loss in program book advertising revenue runs 25%-30%. That means that the person handling your advertising not only has to sell 25%-30% more to overcome the yearly national average of advertisers coming out, but they have to sell additional new advertising to meet your new year’s program book advertising objective. This means they have to sell at least 45% more every year.

Secret #1: Make sure you set your advertising sales objectives accordingly, taking into account your typical yearly decrease and loss.

Ineffective Sales Campaigns. A good sales process is the path to your program book advertising sales success. A business owner does not want to buy an ad—they have to be sold on the features and benefits, the cost per thousand, etc.

Secret #2: If you don’t have a sales process, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

Too Poor or Too Extravagant Printing. Have you ever heard the term “perception is reality”? If you have a low quality program book (cheap paper, amateur design, and disorganized layout) you will never attract your dream advertisers. The luxury car dealer won’t advertise in something that has the perception of poor quality. They are looking for a professional, high-end marketing piece that compliments the tastes of their affluent and discerning customer base. On the flip side, program books don’t have to be “Taj Mahal’s” to achieve this look.

Secret #3: There are printing efficiencies and inefficiencies—make sure you are capturing these.

Inconsistent Billing & Collection Efforts. Do you offer billing options or do you expect payment in full? Even as the economy still recovers, or in any type of economy for that matter, advertisers expect payment options. Do you use a professional invoice and accounting system or are you relying on your advertising agreement as your invoice? Many organizations use their advertising agreement as their invoice, and then are left wondering why they don’t get timely payment. What about tear pages? Do you have a process to make this quick and easy? Has your accounts receivable manager ever misapplied an advertiser payment for a donation?

Secret #4: A professional billing department is crucial to quick collections and better, qualified advertisers.

Overextended Staff. Did you know that on average just to renew a past advertiser it takes 4 man-hours, and 6 man-hours for a new advertiser? Then add in another 1.5 man-hours for each sold advertiser for contract support (account prep, collateral prep, contract prep, logging into your tracking system, billing and collections, and ad gathering.) For a program book with around $18,000 (approximately 20 paid advertisers) your staff could be spending up to 207.5 man-hours to make sure your program books get produced.

Secret #5: Make sure you have planned for the proper staffing so you don’t get left short-handed.

Good selling!

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