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Why It’s More Important Than Ever for Dance Companies to Watch Marketing Trends

It's easy to come up with excuses not to spend time and money on marketing right now.

You may have lost revenue due to canceled classes and performances and need to be tight with your budget. You may fear appearing opportunistic during a global crisis. You may worry that people just don't have any money to spend right now.

While these are all understandable, they miss the larger point: Marketing is ultimately about building relationships with your community, says Gretchen Fox, CEO and founder of MTO Agency. And these relationships matter more now than ever—especially within our tight-knit dance community.

We talked to the experts at MTO about best practices for marketing during difficult times, and the trends that all dance companies should be paying attention to right now. And to get even deeper into your questions about everything from promoting your virtual performances to making up for lost ticket revenue, join us for a (free!) live webinar with MTO, June 25 at 3 pm ET.

Put your values (and your value) first.

There's a reason why you're probably turned off by certain commercials you're seeing during this time. As a consumer, it's obvious when a brand isn't being genuine in their marketing, says Arielle Mullen, strategic marketing specialist at MTO. (For example, a corporation that spends millions on a commercial thanking its employees, when we know from the news that those same employees aren't being treated fairly.)

Instead, focus on what really matters to you as a brand, and let that come through in all your marketing. "Make sure your values are where you are grounded," says Fox. "They are the number-one reason why we connect with each other, and people are more and more making their purchasing decisions based on values. It's a way to stand out." Are you driven by helping dancers perform at their best? By bringing quality dance performances to the most people possible? By providing dancers and dance educators with the tools they need to succeed? Know what your values are, and communicate them clearly.

In addition to leading with your values, focus on the value you're offering, says Mullen. You have something worthwhile to share—like a fun, educational class, or an exciting, enriching performance—and being clear about that will help you avoid coming across as opportunistic.

Be forward-looking.

Raise your hand if you're tired of hearing the phrase "uncertain times." How about "unprecedented"?

Instead of telling your audience what they already know—and overusing language that's become cliché around the current crisis—tell them about how you're looking to the future. "Share what your vision is or how you're working to build new things," says Fox. "We need some light at the end of the tunnel. We need some leadership, some hope and some orientation right now."

Promoting your innovative virtual class offerings or giving your community a peek at your safe and creative plan for staging performances can give everyone something to look forward to.

Be sure to also look ahead to any prescheduled promotions—perhaps around summer intensives or festivals—and make sure your language and framing still feel appropriate given the circumstances, says Mullen.

Market smart, not hard.

Effective marketing doesn't have to cost you lots of time and money. In fact, paying attention to trends can save you both.

For example, Mullen says that since the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook has seen a significant drop in ad spending—which means that those who do spend see their money go further. "Lots of small businesses reacted out of fear and pulled way back," she says. "It means the competition isn't there right now. That won't last forever, but we're seeing higher click-throughs, engagements and delivery than we've seen in the past few years."

Paying close attention to Google Trends, too, can help you keep track of what consumers are interested in right now. Mullen says that keywords and phrases have been fluctuating more rapidly than usual during this time.

And in general, focus on making the highest impact in the leanest way possible with a minimum viable product, says Fox—whether you're trying out marketing on a new social platform or launching a video series. That way, she says, you can learn what works before overbuilding an idea and wasting time and money. "If people take that approach to their resources, that's better than me saying, 'Spend money here. Spend money there,'" she says.

See marketing as change management.

The pandemic has forced everyone in the dance world to rethink their entire business models.

Instead of thinking of marketing as an extra thing you have to do on top of all this, understand that marketing is an essential part of any organizational change.

"Relationships matter a lot as we're transitioning as companies," says Fox. "Marketing is the tip of the sphere for change management for an organization."

Whether you're pivoting from classes in the studio to classes online or outside, or restructuring your season, communicating these changes to your community is essential.

Have more questions about running your dance company during this time? Join us June 25 at 3 pm ET for a free webinar with MTO.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021