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Warning! An Election Looms in November…

Rick Lester

When I worked as an arts manager, the election season—-particularly presidential years like 2012—-was a time of fear and loathing. Why?

First and foremost, ticket sales and admissions soften or die immediately before and on Election Day. At TRG, we’ve watched this trend play out across the U.S. over the past two decades in client sales results from markets of all sizes.

An inescapable consequence of major election cycles is campaign advertising—-a driver of America’s economic engine that is bad for arts and entertainment.

The flood of campaign advertising every other October sucks opportunity out of our promotional campaigns. (Just ask anyone in Florida right now where the Republican primaries alone are having a major impact.)

Campaign advertising drives up the price and limits—-in some markets eliminates—-the availability of advertising time on radio and TV. Email inboxes, postal mailboxes, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts are stuffed beyond capacity. The normal roar of media clutter hits overload.

It becomes nearly impossible to create a viable marketing message capable of cutting through. No matter the quality of what goes on stage or in the gallery, patrons are less likely to hear about it.

Even if patrons do hear about attractions, are they listening?

The increasing negativity of campaign ads has become a cancer. I know what I’m about to say makes me sound my age, but younger generations reading this post need to know that the state of discourse has not always been as toxic as it is now. When I interned on Capitol Hill during the Nixon years, politics were not a game for the faint of heart. But the way the game is played today makes the Nixonians look quaintly naïve.

The result is that we—-and most importantly, our audiences—-tune out. Collectively we hunker down in the safety of our ear buds and personal devices, hoping that the plague will pass by.

Our goal in this space has consistently been to provide data-driven solutions. Here is a fact that data and decades of experience make immutable: Patrons buy fewer tickets in the fall of election year cycles compared to non-election years.

Smart managers understand this and adjust their artistic and financial plans in anticipation that ticket sales will soften or die in the weeks immediately before and up through Election Day on November 6, 2012.

During the 2008 presidential year, several TRG clients in hotly contested swing states decided to pass entirely on the opportunity to present anything in October and the first week of November. For many, this is not a practical solution. But if you cannot change programming plans, at least include these considerations in your marketing:

  1. Make your media plans now, before the campaigns buy up all the air time in your market.
  2. Launch marketing campaigns for fall programs VERY early so that you are not dependent on promotion that happens in October amid the maelstrom of campaign advertising.
  3. Recalibrate telesales expectations. Telemarketers are experts at getting through but they face even more barriers during a time when candidates are clogging the phone lines with robocalls.

Also remember that once November 6 has passed, arts and entertainment consumers will be ready to party. Really savvy managers will have programming in place for that celebration.

Do you have an election year story to tell?

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