With the economy still sput-tering along, dance teachers shouldn’t rely on last year’s marketing tactics to get them through the seasons ahead. Instead, be creative and devise a new plan to get potential students in the door. And if you’re tightening your belt, be careful not to cut ad dollars too short. “You don’t want to cut your marketing in a tight economy. You want to cut extraneous marketing,” advises Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars. “You want to put your dollars where they’re going to work the hardest.”
Fine-tune your target customer and message.
Gordon suggests starting your new plan by writing a list of target customers—those who have a need, can afford what you’re offering and are willing to pay for it. “Whenever you have a tight budget, the first thing you do is reallocate dollars to the tactics that reach customers when they’re closest to making a buying decision,” says Gordon. A couple of examples include moms of 4-year-olds interested in beginning ballet, or senior citizens looking to enroll in a weekly tap class.
When your list is complete, decide on the image you want to communicate to potential students. Keep in mind that four years ago customers were more interested in the benefits of a product, but now price is at the top of the list. “You have to get the message out to parents that you understand what they’re going through,” says Gordon.
Weigh your media options.
With the target client and your message in mind, the next step is figuring out which media outlet will best suit your business. Here are a few options for you to consider:
E-mail marketing is an inexpensive way to reach target audiences, and sending out e-newsletters is an excellent way to keep your customers informed while promoting your studio. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater puts out a newsletter each month with information on The Ailey Extension, which offers dance classes for the general public. “I can honestly say the more targeted you can be, the higher the return rate,” says Alison Lucek, Ailey’s associate director of marketing. “For example, if we’re offering a belly-dance class, we’ll send out a dedicated e-mail to people who’ve already taken one. But the monthly newsletter works really well and we pack it with what people want, like jazzy pictures and lots of information.” (See below for more newsletter do’s and don’ts.)
Don’t forget to include print media when itemizing your budget. Advertising in dance-related magazines and trade newspapers will go a long way toward reaching your target audience, as will a colorful brochure with class schedules that can be handed out to walk-ins. Rachel McRoberts, communications manager at Malashock Dance and the Malashock Dance School in San Diego, California, found that mailing or giving out postcards is a great way to make new contacts in the community. “We are also more aggressively looking for free trade and marketing opportunities,” says McRoberts. “For example, we put out other arts organizations’ collateral materials at our shows, and vice versa, basically creating a win-win situation.”
Don’t be afraid to try out new strategies.
Sometimes just pairing creativity with your business smarts is the most effective budget-cutting method. Last September, Pamm Drake, director and owner of Dance/10 Performing Arts Center in Alameda, CA, noticed a steep drop in enrollment and decided to cut corners elsewhere. “We backed off spending money on competition entry fees and costuming, and instead played up the educational component of dance. Parents are always going to want to spend money on a child’s education—that’s a given,” says Drake. The strategy worked and enrollment is now back up and growing steadily.
Providing customer incentives could also do the trick. According to Gordon, about half of all Americans belong to at least one customer rewards program, so offering discount cards for classes is another way to draw attention to your business. Randy Allaire, owner of EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, offers class cards at a regular and professional rate, for anywhere from 1 to 30 classes. Rates are listed on the website, with savings noted in red. Drake offers a discount for students who register before September. Last year she also instituted a spring special: one month of unlimited classes for $99, which brought in a lot of new faces. “You have to pay your dues,” says Allaire. “But if you have a really good message that’s supportive of the kids, that’s a great plus.” DT
Newsletter Do’s and Don’ts
Do highlight one of your teachers, course offerings and/or special events each month, using a photo and detailed information.
Don’t jam up your clients’ inboxes with e-newsletters—once a month is fine.
Do use software like PatronMail or Constant Contact to keep track of how many subscribers open your e-newsletter and click on links within it.
Don’t include more than six small articles within the newsletter. Content ideas include new classes, schedule changes and upcoming recitals and
Fiona Kirk is a freelance journalist based in New York City.