The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

E-Newsletters, Part 2 March 29, 2010

A long, long time ago, when I first started my blog, I wrote a post on E-Newsletters. it was a post talking about the basics of e-newsletters: what they do, and what options there are out there. It remains one of the most popular posts on my blog, and I often refer to it.

But, honestly, I’ve kind of been slacking in the e-newsletter department. I don’t have one myself, because I work for so many different people, and most of the people I work for have one. But I recently starting having conversations with Dave Charest, who’s a bit of an e-newsletter expert. So, I interviewed him. This is e-newsletters, level 2-what goes in them, how often to send them, autoresponders–all your questions answered.

RC: So… I have signed myself up for e-newsletter software, and I have a signup box on my website. Now what??

DC: First off congratulations. You’ve taken the first step towards taking advantage of an often overlooked yet very powerful marketing tool. I’m often disappointed at how ineffectively people use e-mail marketing. I’m not sure exactly why that is. But it seems to be a combination of factors: perceived lack of time, lack of knowledge and just copying the old school methods.

So what happens is we just end up using e-mail marketing as a form of advertising that eventually just turns into spam. But in actuality if used correctly email is an extension of the work you do, whether it be your art, your theater, your business or what have you. And as an extension of your work is should be built around your personality, or brand. Precisely how you use your email marketing is going to differ based on your particular goals. But the first step is looking at your approach to email marketing a bit differently. So what we really need to do is stop thinking of email as though it’s some type of spam device, because it’s not.

Whether you’re trying to sell tickets, trying to sell a product or just trying to keep yourself top of mind it’s very, very, very, very – I’ll say it one more time – VERY, important to understand that someone has essentially given you permission to contact them. It’s like getting someone’s number at the bar. There’s a level of commitment there that’s much stronger than someone signing-up for your Facebook page, or somebody reading your Twitter stream or checking out your blog from time to time. The power comes from the fact someone has taken a step to say,  “Yes, I want you to keep in touch.” Which in dating terms means, “I’d like to get to know you better.” So it’s better to move away from this notion of email as a tool to just advertise, but rather as a way to make deeper, personal connections to people who are truly interested in what you do.

In fact, if we follow this dating thread, I would go so far as to say, think of email marketing as a way to make love to your audience. That paints one heckuva picture doesn’t it? But think about how this would change your approach, your tactics and your overall strategy. What if your ultimate goal is to get your audience in bed? Where “in bed” equals buying tickets for your event, donating money, buying a product or taking some type of action that you want to your audience to take. Now it’s really easy to see that if all you’ve been doing is sending ads to your audience, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Hey, sleep with me.” But you haven’t actually worked up to that point in the relationship yet. I’m sure we can agree “Hey, sleep with me,” although it may work a small percentage of the time, is probably not the best place to start, right? But it’s also no secret to the involved parties that eventually that’s where we’d like to end up.

So e-mail marketing, or all marketing for that matter, becomes a dating game where you’re trying to build up to that point in the relationship. So this means you have to start at the beginning. You need  think in terms of getting to know each other and building a certain level of trust. If you work at it from this angle, you’ll find yourself smiling a lot more. =)

RC: How often should I send an email to my list?

DC: It’s best to establish a regular frequency. A frequency based on a couple of factors: 1. What are you able to keep up with? 2. Do you have a project coming up?

1. What are you able to keep up with? At a minimum, once a month is a realistic goal. If you can’t do that, you should at least set a regular frequency. Even if that means every other month. You want to avoid becoming the person who only calls when they want something. That’s a very selfish relationship. You’d rather become a regular fixture in the routine of your audience. You want to offer them something with the e-mail they’ll actually enjoy. Something they’ll look forward to receiving. What that thing is, of course, depends on what you do.

2. Do you have a project coming up? When you have a project coming up you’ll actually want to think about keeping in touch a bit more frequently. You’re trying to build excitement for the event itself. It’s a bit like foreplay. So a regular frequency of at least once a month so you continually build trust is a good place to start. Then you’ll want to keep in touch a little more frequently when you have something coming up.

RC: What are some good things to include in my emails?

DC: There’s basically two types of messages that you want to be thinking about. Many times these messages also overlap. So we’re talking about: 1. Company based messages 2. Project based messages

1.  Company based messages These e-mails reveal things about your business, about your theater company, about your work as a whole. They’re about who you are and why you do what you do. Examples would be: How you got started? Who works with you? How other things you do relate to your work?

2. Project based messages Project specific e-mails people to learn about a particular project you’re working on. This helps create desire and build anticipation while also offering some education. Examples would be: Why you doing this project? What is the purpose of this project? Does this have some type of greater connection to the world as a whole? How can your audience benefit? These types of questions form the basis for e-mails that can help you strengthen the connection with your audience.

RC: Should they be the same every time, or should I vary them? (ie: each month have one tip, one profile of an employee, but have those things be variations on the same theme.)

DC: Variations on the same theme is a good way to look at it. The big thing though is not to put too much in one email. It’s best to keep each email restricted to one topic and one action you’d like your audience to take. Essentially you’d like to start training your audience. You want them to look forward to receiving your e-mails. And you want to get them in the habit of taking an action. Over the long term there’s a patterning that happens. It’s a form of content marketing. Over time you can gain influence with your audience. Also by repeating the same themes others are able to repeat them. Which means they can help share your story. But the first step here is creating content people look forward to opening. If they don’t open, it doesn’t work. In dating terms, would you rather the person take your call or let it go to voicemail?

Again, if used properly email marketing is really powerful and completely overlooked. But if you put in work the payoff is huge. That’s really how you have to look at it.

RC: What’s an autoresponder? How and when is it useful?

DC: Autoresponders are messages you can set up in a sequence at specific intervals. They’re phenomenal for the simple reason that once you write them they last forever. Which means you get the benefit over and over by doing the work once. Autoresponders are perfect for those company based messages. Once someone gets added to your list you can start building that trust right away by sharing information about your company. Ideally, the first message someone receives from you should never ask them to buy tickets. Autoresponders help you build up to that. Remember we want to build up to it. This is all foreplay.

RC: What role should back story or narrative play in your emails?

DC: Again, you definitely want to reveal your history. Other things like,  what you’re doing? What’s the process? But you must reveal this information in a way that’s interesting to the audience. So back story and narrative play a very important role. Email marketing is the show before the show. You can use it at an extension of the story. As a way to prime people for the main event. Stories in general are powerful. It’s the way we communicate. It’s the way people remember things. It’s also great if you can work your audience into the narrative. Or at least give them a sense of what it’s like to see your work or use your product. Think about when you start dating someone new and your friends ask, “What’s he/she like?” You tell the story don’t you?

RC: Should I plan out my emails in advance, say for 6 months or a year?

DC: Ideally, yes. With email marketing you can set things up advance. Which is helpful because you’re often pressed for time. You’re doing multiple things and wearing many hats. But if you spend a bit more time on the front end and you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, reassessing what’s happening each time, it’s going to get easier and easier and faster and faster. You want to work towards a situation where you have a repeatable system.

You can also save yourself time by doing what I call “double duty.” If it’s your business, questions you get asked can become emails. But in the arts there’s a kind of built in magic factor. So you can actually use much of the research your production team is doing. There’s all this work being done that’s just sitting there when it could actually be used for marketing. So those are a couple of ways to take advantage of work you already do to save yourself time.

But also be sure to ask for feedback. Once you open that dialogue with your audience they become more invested and they’ll give you ideas for what to include. The trick is to remember the focus is them not you. So listen and give the audience what they want. What’s more interesting the guy/gal that asks about you or the one who talks about themselves all night?

RC: A lot of my clients use e-newsletter software as an alternative to email. They basically only send out emails when they have something to promote, like a show. What are your thoughts on that?

DC: What’s more important is what happens in those moments when you don’t have something to promote. It’s a lot like that friend who calls you only when they want something. You don’t really look forward to those phone calls do you? You see the number and think,  “great what do they want?” But when you’re giving, sharing and entertaining on a consistent basis, when you’re offering value to your audience, that adds a great strength when it comes time to ask for something back. Overall, the big things to remember are:

Your audience wants to get to know you, what makes you tick and why they should make love to you. =) Want to find out how to make marketing a simple part of your process rather than icky afterthought? Sign-up for Wicked Smaht email updates.

When not acting, playing music, or being a lovin’ husband and Dad – Dave inspires creative people to embrace the human condition in their marketing for better results.

Also, listen to a podcast I made with Dave on managing your time with social media.

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Mid-week Tim-… er, Tid-Bits April 29, 2009

I have a couple of things to share with you today, mid-week. No real theme, just some things that have come across my desk that I thought were worthy of sharing. So, hopefully you get something out of them…

1. Where Did I Spend it All?? A free financial forum for Women: If you are living in Vancouver, are female, and feel like you are affected by the recession, or you have money issues, you should check this out!

Full Figure Theatre is pleased to present Where Did I Spend It All?, an open and frank discussion on how women feel about wealth, assets, personal worth, and our relationship with money. Produced with the generous assistance of the Vancouver Public Library, the forum, which is free, will take place May 6, at 7 pm in the Alma Van Dusen and Peter Kay rooms at the Central Branch of the VPL
Hosted by Heath, the panel will also include: Lori Bamber (Freelance Writer), Melanie Buffel (Money Skills Facilitator), Karin Mizgala (Financial Educator), and Tracy Theemes (Financial Advisor).

More info:

2. Mad Mimi Email Marketing: Any regular reader of my blog will hear me go on and on about two things: RENT and email marketing campaigns. I am single-handedly responsible for getting a bunch of Van Theatre companies to sign up for Constant Contact–I truly should be on a reward plan. While Constant Contact is certainly the industry leader, and it’s not-for-profit discount makes it attractive to theatre companies, it can be a tad, well, shall we say, busy? I prefer clean, simple graphics, so I often recommend IContact as an alternative. However, there’s now a new alternative to simple and clean: Mad Mimi. Check them out for yourself–prices are very reasonable, starting at $8/month.

3. Finally, I recently signed up for a PR Newsfeed, which I get daily, and it is rocking my world. This was an article that was highlighted in it  a couple of days ago. Published on  a blog called Conversation Agent, it’s called When is it a good idea to include Bloggers in your Media Outreach?, and here’s a sample:

I get my fair share of press releases every day – at the tune of 4-5 per day, in fact. The best word I can use to describe them by and large is unimpressive. “I think you’re fabulous” may seem like a good idea for a subject line, but if you cannot tell me why, as in what about my work makes you say that, you’re out.

That means you not only miss the mark on what I like to write about, you show lack of interest. It is clear I’m on a hit list, but there is no effort towards understanding why. The why is the reason your press release or pitch is going nowhere. Get that, and you will begin to have some success with bloggers’ outreach.

The best pitch is no pitch at all. The best pitch is in fact a conversation. One in which the writer can find a unique story to tell. One based on an ongoing relationship with someone who writes about a specific subject matter. If journalists and editors need to think about their readers, so do bloggers.

Do yourself a favor and read the rest. timbits

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have the strangest craving for TimBits…

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I feel like a gospel preacher… November 15, 2008

I’m still buzzing.

Yesterday afternoon, I got to be part of a panel on Marketing Using Web 2.0 at the GVPTA’s annual Making a Scene Theatre Conference (see previous post and its shameless fawning over Daniel MacIvor). I am always a bit nervous at these things, just because I fear I won’t know the answers to questions, but the great thing about being on a panel, is that there are other people who probably will.


Me, Simon Ogden and Rebecca Bolwitt in the Upstairs lounge at the Arts Club. Photo courtesy of Miss 604.

Enter my fellow panelists: Rebecca Bolwitt (the lovely Miss 604 herself) and Simon Ogden (who is on a crusade to create a new Vancouver theatre audience). Rebecca’s input was invaluable–she gave, I think, credibility to what we had to say, because she is a professional blogger, and comes off as such. Simon and I were able to chime in with our experiences of marketing shows using Web 2.0 technology.

I’ll be really up front about my reasons for agreeing to be on this panel. As theatre artists, we need to get serious about marketing. But we live in lean times, and only the largest companies among us can afford to buy advertising on the side of a bus (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). For the rest; small to medium-sized independent theatre companies, we have to find new and inexpensive ways to market our shows, and Web 2.0 technology is custom-made.

We talked for an hour and a half to the standing-room-only crowd about blogging–both starting your own blog to give your client base a ‘peek behind the scenes’, and how to pitch your show to bloggers to get them to write about it, and the marketing applications of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, My Space, E-mail, E-mail newsletter software, and online event listings.

And people were getting it–they were engaged, asking questions, taking notes, and I could see light bulbs going on. It was really, really exciting. I think we may have converted a few souls.

Can I get an Amen?

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E-newsletters November 7, 2008

I probably don’t need to sell you on the idea of having a newsletter. I’m pretty sure you’re already aware of the relationship-building potential of having a newsletter for your theatre company or arts-based business. I don’t like the hard sell, so I like newsletters. My favorite one is published by the good people over at Biz Books. It’s not a hard sell–it’s just about putting the information out there in a really accessible, easy-to-read format. The free ticket giveaways are a bonus (everyone likes getting stuff for free).

imagesThe purpose of this post is give you some e-newsletter options. Not too many people are doing hard-copy newsletters these days. The price of layout, printing and stamps is formidable if your list is over 100, and there are lots of great programs out there that can do the online equivalent for just pennies per click.

So, why not just send out a formatted email? A couple of reasons. First off, your email might get tagged as spam, and then it never gets to your client’s inbox. Second, different email platforms view things differently, so your fonts, photos and links might come out all screwy (yes, that’s a technical term).

E-newsletter software circumvents all that. What you see in the program is what your clients will see in their inbox. Comforting to know when you’ve just spent 6 hours laying it out and writing the perfect copy, no?

Secondly, E-newsletter software handles all your database issues. If you have a database of email addresses, every time one bounces, you have to go in and remove it. Every time someone unsubscribes, you have to go in and remove it. The software takes care of all that for you, and more besides: it can also track your opening statistics (ie: it can tell you how many of your emails were opened, and how many were not).

Here’s a list of the top E-newsletter software out there right now, and their pros and cons.

Constant Contact is the industry leader. There’s a few reasons for that. First off, they offer a 60-day trial period, longer than any of the other softwares out there. Second, they have excellent customer service. The day after I signed up for my free trial, I got a call from some guy in Minneapolis (or some place like that) called James, asking if I had any questions. They worked for my business. Third, they offer a 30% discount for non-profits.

Constant Contact has good templates, and the interface is pretty easy to use. You can drag and drop boxes to add more, or just hit delete to make them go away. I have had some challenges changing nitty-gritty details, like background colours.

IContact: is also really big. If you have a small mailing list, like around 500, it’s a bit cheaper. Their trial is only 15 days. They also have a cool feature where you can archive your newsletter to your website (check out Biz Books). Even though they say they have more templates than Constant Contact, I found them to be harder to access. Overall, I think they create cleaner-looking newsletters than Constant Contact, and I really like that.

Mail Chimp: If you are just getting started, and you have a small mailing list, I’d start with Mail Chimp. It works more like a pay-as-you-go cel phone, whereas the others work on monthly fees. Mail Chimp does credits. You start with 600 for free, and every time you send an email, it costs you a credit. You can buy more as you go along, or you can go to a monthly fee. Overall, the templates and interface are very useable, and it has a sense of humour that I really appreciate.

if you are in the market, there are a few more: Blue Sky Factory, Member Clicks, and Vertical Response, which offers deep discounts to not-for-profits.

A couple of my clients have asked me about Canadian E-newsletter software, so that they don’t have to pay the exchange on the dollar. The only one I found, based out of Kelowna, E-Newsletter Software, charges in American dollars!

It’s a big world out there, with lots of choices. So, if you are considering going E- with your newsletter, sign yourself up for some free trials, and have some fun experimenting with the software.

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