Old School Performing Arts Marketing That Works

This post is on Eugene Symphony‘s Marketing Director Raychel Kolen’s excellent workshop at Nonprofit Nirvana 2008 on the symphony’s successful marketing campaigns. An aspect of her presentation that shocked me is that Eugene Symphony has successfully kept the subscription model, which I’ve learned in my arts administration classes is dead. I’ll try to highlight the aspects of Eugene Symphony’s massive campaign that I haven’t heard used by other organizations. One of the important aspects of its marketing is outsourcing to TRG Resource Group, especially for database management.

Raychel emphasized that when branding, an organization should ask, “Who are we?” and “Who do we want to be?” Eugene Symphony likes to create the appearance of success, such as by pricing the seats so that the concert hall looks sold out even if it isn’t. The rows fill from front-to-back, and patrons can’t see the empty seats in front of them. This helps with development goals by showing sponsors they get the most bang for their bucks.

The symphony organizes its patron database by Recency, Frequency, and Monetary (RFM), with the patrons with the highest RFM at the top. Long-term subscribers receive recognition, but nowhere near as much marketing as non-subscribers with the highest RFM. Eugene Symphony occasionally partners with other local arts organizations and use their RFM interchangeably with partners. All the Hult Center for the Performing Arts resident companies, including Eugene Symphony, already have access to each others’ databases.

Lastly, Eugene Symphony switched from starting its subscription campaign in July to the February before.

These are some of the strategies that over a three-season period, increased revenue by 79 percent, subscriptions by 65 percent, and corporate giving by 53 percent.  

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2 Comments on “Old School Performing Arts Marketing That Works”


  1. Beth, why did your classes say that the subscription model doesn’t work?

  2. Beth Evans Says:

    We’ve learned that increased competition for leisure time is adding to last-minute buying everywhere, especially among young audiences and especially in Eugene. Many patrons don’t like having to plan what they’re doing for fun one night months in advance. There’s a lot of data that backs this up, and most of the most successful arts organizations, including the Eugene Symphony, have adopted partial season subscriptions. Raychel has proved that it could just be a problem with the marketing of subscription.


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