First, let me start by saying selling performing arts program book advertising is not easy. Let me say this one more time. Selling performing arts program book advertising is not easy!

Saying this, I had to chuckle to myself the other day. We are in negotiation with a mid-size performing arts organization for their program books. This is a renewal contract and the current situation is they pay a publishing fee, but a much lower cost than they would be paying if they did it themselves. The reason for this is when we first took over their program books, they had very little current program book advertising to offset their costs, it’s an expensive print job because of the number of performances they have, and finally, the market they’re in, albeit a large metropolitan area, is and has always been a difficult market to sell in.

We typically find this in large metropolitan areas. Contrary to popular thought, especially on the performing arts organization’s end, very large metropolitan areas are difficult to sell program book advertising in.

The reason being, anytime someone has some sort of advertising to sell, they concentrate on the largest cities first. And therefore, the business owner is bombarded by “a new shiny advertising offer” every single day. Also, the number of periodicals and publications in these markets are much, much more than you would find in your typical smaller town. So the advertising options for a business owner in these large metropolitan areas are endless, and they only have so much in their advertising budgets. So, right out of the gate, your back is up against the wall. A performing arts program book with a distribution of 50,000 is not going to get the attention of a business owner when they can get a distribution of 500,000 in another publication. This is not saying it is impossible to sell program book advertising in these types of areas, but one has to realize, the pool of businesses this appeals to is severely shrunk.

The reason I chuckled was because one of the thoughts this particular client had was that if we simply added more pages, we would be able to sell more advertising, and in return reduce their publishing fee, which is the sticking point in our negotiations, and understandably so.

But it’s not only this particular performing arts organization that thinks this. You’d be amazed how many times I hear this from other organizations. “Well, just add more pages and you’ll sell a ton of advertising” they say to me.

Here’s what runs through my mind when I hear this. This is coming from the performing arts organization’s view:

Advertiser Prospect: (Actually calls into the organization unsolicited) Hi, I see you have lots of pages in your program books. How do I advertise my business in your publication?

PA Org: Absolutely, let me write that advertising contract up for you. (Thinking to themselves, this is so easy, we should have added twice the number of pages!)

But here’s what actually happens:

Onstage Account Exec: (Actually picking up the phone and making 50 calls before getting “a live” one) Pitches to business owner the benefits of performing arts program book advertising and why it would be a good fit for their business.

Advertiser Prospect: Sounds interesting, but call me back in a couple days, we’re doing inventory and I’m up to my eyeballs in work.

Onstage Account Exec: Hi, I’m calling “Advertiser Prospect” he asked that I call back today.

Receptionist: Oh, he’s out of the office today. He will be back in next week, you can try him then.

Onstage Account Exec: Hi I’m following up with “Advertiser Prospect”, you mentioned he would be back in the office today.

Receptionist: Yes, he is, but he’s in a meeting. I did let him know you called the other day, and he said to send him some information.

And this goes on for several more days until a program book ad is sold to this particular business.

And this is for one advertiser! They didn’t call in, they weren’t waiting patiently by the phone for our call, and program book advertising was the furthest thing from their mind when we did call them.

With paper being half of the print cost, the only sure thing that adding more pages will do is add to your print costs.

This is not to single out these organizations, I understand why they think this. Selling program book advertising is not their main core. The analogy would be like me telling a performing arts organization that might have poor ticket sales to hire more actors or musicians so they can sell more tickets. They know this is ludicrous, but in my mind it might make sense, because I have no idea about selling tickets.

Putting together a program book is a science and not an art. There are many, many moving parts to it. And sometimes in the mind of an outsider looking in, the answer may be to add more pages, when in fact, all the other data analysis points to the exact opposite. Good selling!

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