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To spread knowledge and expertise in remote country towns, Regional Arts Victoria paired experienced arts marketers with small regional presenters.

Across Victoria, small town venues and presenters have opened their doors to touring shows, eager to bring arts experiences to their community. But once the tour is locked in, how do you get people to buy tickets? With few resources and small budgets, small town presenters have to be particularly resourceful in marketing their programs, and shared knowledge is the key.

Regional Arts Victoria recognised a gap in marketing skills amongst Victoria’s small regional presenters, and a great opportunity for skills and experience to be shared across different towns and regions. With support from the Marketing Innovation Fund, Regional Arts Victoria developed a targeted mentoring program in the regions, pairing presenters with a track record of successful marketing and promotion with presenters who were keen to develop their skills. Taking a community-focused approach, the three mentees learned how to reach and build their audiences over the long term. The project was run over six months and facilitated by the project coordinator Ella Bucovaz, Touring and Communications Administrator at Regional Arts Victoria.

Building from the ground up in Yarck

Libby Webster of the Tallarook Mechanics Institute was paired with the committee responsible for hosting shows at the Yarck Hall. At the beginning of the project, Yarck was due to host a performance by comedian Rod Quantock in Boredom Protection Policy and later a musical theatre work by The Suitcase Royale called The Ballad of Backbone Joe.

The Suitcase Royale, The Ballad of Backbone Joe (2016)

The Suitcase Royal, The Ballad of Backbone Joe (2016).

Though enthusiastic and dedicated, the small team in Yarck had little experience in presenting events, so Libby worked with them to implement some basic venue management and operational structure. She assisted the committee in setting up Trybooking ticketing for each event to facilitate ticket sales, which in turn allowed them to begin building an email database that would help them to promote future shows. Within the project and with assistance from Regional Arts Victoria Touring department, the team at Yarck developed professional flyers for the events and distributed them to local community groups and businesses, sharing their events to active local Facebook pages and advertising in the local gazette. They also successfully activated local businesses, the Giddy Goat Café and the Yarck Bookshop, as a ticket sales points for all shows.

The shows in Yarck were a great success, with a sold out audience for Rod Quantock and a near sell-out for The Ballad of Backbone Joe, with some audience members travelling from surrounding towns of Flowerdale, Merton and Yea. In the final stage of the mentorship, with the support of Regional Arts Victoria  the team submitted to the Creative Victoria Small Regional Presenters Fund to support a 2017 season.

Robyn Walsh of Yarck Hall says the mentorship program was a genuine eye-opener. ‘There are five of us in the committee, a couple of teachers, a nurse and a cleaning lady, and none of us have ever had any kind of art marketing experience. We were all pretty green, so the help we were able to get from Libby was really terrific. I hadn’t thought of enticing the local media to come along, but Libby we suggested that we offer them free tickets, and we ended up with a full page spread in the local paper, with beautiful pictures of our final show!’

Sharpening the tools in Ararat

Under the management of Dianne Toulson, the Ararat Performing Arts Centre hosts a year-round calendar of events for the local community, with a loyal base of approximately 60 patrons regularly attending shows. Various community groups bring performances to the Centre, including the local school Eisteddfod, Ararat Community College and the Ararat Theatre Company, bringing a large, untapped network for marketing activities.

Ararat Performing Arts Centre

Ararat Performing Arts Centre

Dianne was paired with Marisa Cesario, Program Coordinator for Melbourne’s Gasworks Arts Park, to look at how marketing and promotion could be strengthened at the Centre, utilising the local council staff and community networks more frequently and effectively. Much of the mentorship was focused on using existing channels in a more strategic and professional way, including a full social media audit that explored scheduling, targeted and boosted posts.

Using existing network information, Dianne was able to create a schools newsletter database to target the Centre’s youth programming more effectively. Marisa also helped Dianne to develop e-news templates to regulate communications, including event reminders and post show communications. The patron database was also organised and tagged to enable targeted campaigns to previous patrons of drama, music and family events, while the effectiveness of past newsletter campaigns was analysed to discover when patrons were opening emails, at what time, and what links were clicked, etcetera.

To assist with continuity of communications, the box office staff member at the Centre was engaged and trained in the email communications and the enews, greatly increasing their marketing capacity. Marisa consulted with Dianne on the layout and design for the new website for the Centre and created a pre-show dining guide, and made suggestion for the launch of the 2017 Ararat Performing Arts Centre program.

‘The mentoring program was invaluable,’ says Dianne Toulson, Venue and Programming Coordinator at the Centre. ‘We have such limited support and budget for marketing, so trying to get the most with what we have has been difficult. Having an experienced person from outside come in and look at things from a different perspective and a different angle had really helped. I gained a lot of knowledge and experience, and have come out with marketing templates and information that I never had before. That will be an ongoing legacy.’

Taking Stratford to the next level

Marisa Cesario also worked with Gavin Roberts at the Stratford Courthouse Theatre, a successful regional venue with a loyal patronage. Dubbed ‘The Home of the Gippsland Creative Community’, the Theatre is a beautifully restored 1885 red brick building that plays host to a variety of performing arts, visual arts and film events, including the annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Courthouse Film Society.

Stratford Courthouse

Stratford Courthouse Theatre

A dedicated owner-operator, Gavin is responsible for all programming and operations at the Theatre, which has left him under-resourced for marketing, however the mentorship with Marisa allowed him to refine and focus his efforts to get more bang for his buck. Together, Gavin and Marisa developed a new strategy for programming in 2017 with an increased focus on youth audiences, which had not been a strength. The presentation of the program was simplified, with clear categories for ‘Courthouse Presents’ shows, community events and Courthouse film society events, and briefed a local designer so that new promotional collateral could be printed. The new program aesthetic was extremely successful, in creating a new brand identity and image for the theatre, this resulted in significant coverage in the Gippsland Times.

‘The most valuable outcome has been around simplifying the way I advertise shows differentiating between community and Courthouse presented shows…We have certainly had better media and editorial coverage due to a clearer program,’ says Gavin. ‘Our profile in the region as a quality presenter is changing by defining our presented shows and spending most marketing hours on them.’

Gavin was given a template for future print collateral and basic training with Adobe In-Design to improve the quality of future output, and recommendations were made for online communications tools that could be employed in future. Gavin was also encouraged to set up an internship program for high school students, and received three applications in the initial round.

‘It was a very customised program and was flexible to my needs,’ Gavin enthuses. ‘Ten out of ten on that one!’

Read more about the Marketing Innovation Fund