December 8, 2015 AudienceView Marketing

When it comes to season brochures, everyone in your organization has a stake.

For the artistic department, it is a record of everything they are putting on stage, documenting what historians will refer to in the near and distant future. So, those photos better be good!

From the perspective of the development team, it’s a chance to re-engage lapsed donors and to move many others through the pipeline.

In the box office, this is the guide to the season, used when recommending shows to customers.

For the Board of Directors, it’s the conversation starter to brag about upcoming events for the great organization to which they dedicate so much energy.

Over in marketing, the season brochure showcases creativity and their team’s skills in building excitement for dedicated fans and more passive ticket buyers.

And for all of these teams, it usually swallows up a considerable amount of time.

With the high turnover in our industry, this might be your first season brochure with your organization. Or, perhaps you are a 20-year veteran looking to change the concept this year.

Regardless of your tenure, before re-inventing the wheel, here are six recommendations to consider:

  1. Keep the main purpose in mind. Almost every department feels the need to go full-on Devil Wears Prada with the season brochure. At the kick off meeting, team members come with examples – from coffee table books to souvenir publications from arts organizations on the other side of the world. Of course the season brochure is a clean slate without a lot of technical restrictions, but that isn’t a license to go nuts with creativity. Keep in mind most of your readers will be single ticket buyers you want to encourage to subscribe for the first time. Many art forms are intimidating to the general public, and turning a special date night into a subscription is an uphill battle. Creating a brochure that is too exclusive, artistic, or cutting-edge may alienate those you are trying to move through your pipeline.
  2. Tell a great story. Using a narrative is an excellent way to make your season brochure resonate with your target audience. Although the artistic department wants to make sure the aura of the season is properly communicated, a captivating tale is a powerful way to engage a community. Creating your season’s brand story is a lengthy process, but can yield fantastic results. Check out the examples listed at the end of this post for more info.
  3. Keep it simple when needed. Many arts organizations will design a stunning brochure from pages one through nine, only to be faced with the dilemma of a purely functional layout for pages 10 and 11. As you go through your final revisions, try not to be bothered by the look of the pricing chart and seat map in comparison to a beautiful photo of If/Then or the athleticism of the Ailey dancers. If you start thinking about making the pricing chart or the seat map a work of art, or eliminating either completely, don’t! There is no reason to compare these two elements as one is for beauty and one is for function. Curating photos can entice someone to buy a subscription or move their subscription into a membership or donation. They still need the seat map to know where they are sitting and what their experience will be like. This and your pricing scheme are critical components to selling subscriptions. Make them as gorgeous as you can, but keep the reader in mind!
  4. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Speaking from experience, you can never proofread a document too many times. After working on the season brochure for months and months, you are sure you’ve caught every mistake and can go to print. Taking an extra 20 minutes to go to a coffee shop with the final proof, getting out a red sharpie and cross-referencing absolutely every photo credit, descriptive sentence, show time and price can save you a lot of grief and a lot of money if an accent is missing from someone’s name or a sponsor is not recognized with the proper title.
  5. Design is only one element. If you are the project leader of the season brochure, designing the document usually takes priority, but equal effort should be given to printing, distribution, recording, and re-printing the brochure. Remember to keep the 7Ps of marketing in mind, as you would with any other campaign. Think of the full experience of enjoying a season brochure as a patron. What paper stock are you using? How is it being delivered? Does anything need to be considered with the envelope? When should it arrive? Is it one distribution, or do you do two distributions? I subscribed to a theatre company in Victoria, B.C. early on in my career. Instead of mailing their season brochure, they asked me to come to the front of house to pick it up. I was given a personal card with a note thanking me for subscribing and asking me to check their website for what was coming next year. How cool is that? And how much money did they save on printing and mailing costs? You can do a lot outside of the brochure itself that can make the season brochure much more powerful.
  6. Launching without all the info is perfectly fine. As I speak to more and more colleagues in our industry, I am learning that more organizations are launching their season with unconfirmed programming. While I would think to shy away from this idea, it is quite apparent that the majority of loyal subscribers care most about their seats and keeping them year after year, no matter what you’re putting on stage. Patrons are committed and understand what goes into programming your season. Those who are returning (who are your most profitable customers) are not going to hold off until your programs are fully announced.One hesitation we all have with this idea is that the season brochure feels so permanent. But how permanent is the season brochure?Let’s be honest – nobody refers to this document once the first or second show of your season has closed. You have better images for future shows by the time November rolls around and your efforts have turned to single ticket buyers. The shelf life of the season brochure is shorter than we think. Yes, it is a nice record to keep for years to come, but it’s certainly not the only piece of compelling collateral your team will produce.

As you begin creating your season brochure, here are some stellar examples from our clients over the last few seasons:

  1. Aberdeen Performing Arts: A great showcase of mixing show brands into a master scheme.
  2. Canadian Stage: Transferring the online brand into a print document.
  3. Chan Centre for the Performing Arts: This one has the key patron info in the middle, so you can easily keep the document throughout the year after sending in a subscription form.
  4. Curve, Leicester: An excellent document with all audiences in mind – including single ticket buyers, donors, and business clients. There is also space allocated to shows based on interest and blockbuster nature and a great seat map.
  5. Het Nationale Opera & Ballet (Dutch National Opera & Ballet): This brochure does a phenomenal job of telling two brand stories – even if you don’t speak Dutch, you can understand the emotions of each company’s season and still easily see where your seats will be.
  6. Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra: A lovely piece that showcases the artists as a pivotal part of the community, telling their brand story, as well as integrating a great seat map and pricing chart.
  7. Merrimack Repertory Theatre: This online component of the season brochure provides all the information you could want as a ticket buyer or donor, and also adds personal connections between the artists and the audience with this video from their Artistic Director.
  8. University of Florida Performing Arts: An excellent example showing how different art forms can be presented in one document, as well as a great illustration of mixing style and function.

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