Monday, July 3, 2017

Subscribe Now! (Part 3: a successful campaign brochure)

In two previous  posts I heaped praise on all the benefits of having a solid subscriber base, and the importance of investing in a campaign with goals, milestones, and a set schedule to build up that base. At Altarena in around 2007 we set out to thoroughly revamp the campaign, as our subscriber base had shrunk from a high of nearly 700 to just over 300 from lack of stewardship.

We followed closely the advice in Danny Newman’s Subscribe Now! that “the main instrument of your campaign is the brochure.” Working with the great folks at Cairdea Marketing and Design, we came up with a new logo for the theater and a look-and-feel for the brochure that has been reused with only minor changes ever since.

As an example below are the exterior and interior views of the 2012 subscription campaign 8.5”x11” tri-fold. (These are copyright 2012 by Cairdea Design, and used here with permission of the Board of Alameda Little Theatre Inc. d/b/a Altarena Playhouse.) It took many iterations working with our designer to come up with this, but I think it does a good job of capturing a lot of the advice in Danny Newman’s book Subscribe Now!

To wit, looking first at the exterior:



  • The front panel is simple and welcoming: prominent placement of the brand logo and the logos for the shows in the upcoming season, and the first of several placements of the call to action Subscribe and Save.
  • The back panel lists, in what we have found to be order of importance based on patron surveys, the benefits of subscribing. This is the second call to action.
  • The middle panel includes the theater’s nonprofit mailing permit, giving us the flexibility to stick address labels on and do a direct bulk-mailing or to put it in an envelope (since the trifold is a standard letter-size paper, it fits in a regular business envelope, and we had envelopes printed up with the theater logo embossed on them.
Turning to the interior, where most of the content is:


  • The content is brief and direct, and speaks to what the patron wants to know rather than what we want to say about each production: run dates, why it’s exciting (awards it won, etc.), genre (comedy vs. drama, play vs. musical), the audiences for which each production is appropriate (this information is important to our demographic; it may or may not be to yours), and description that’s short enough to get everything into 2 panels—we want them to subscribe, not read a novel. It’s not hard to write the copy by consulting Wikipedia, finding critics’ reviews from major productions of the shows, and so on. As I recall I wrote the copy up until 2012 and I have no PR or communications background whatsoever. At this point in the sales cycle we typically know who the creative team will be for some but not at all shows, so for consistency we usually don’t put that information in this preseason mailing at all.
  • The third call to action is the tear-off response panel (the other side of which is the list of subscriber benefits). There are only two subscription choices, to keep it simple. Once we start the season there will be upgrade possibilities, flex subscriptions, and a separate outreach campaign with a different mailing for deeply-discount student subscriptions, but at this point, the call must be crystal clear and the required action obvious: Subscribe Now.
  • Three easy ways to subscribe highlights the patron’s convenience. The online option is backed by Audience1st
  • There’s a convenient way to add a donation along with the order; there’s a secondary call to action that tries not to overpower the main message of Subscribe Now. This is the one place we arguably deviate from Newman’s “single message” guidelines.
  • There’s an opt-in for our email list. For new subscribers who choose to subscribe by mail rather than online, this saves us (and them) a step.
It’s worth pointing out that we began with an eight-panel (4 front, 4 back) design that could fit on legal size paper. Even though the printing and mailing costs would have been about the same, we found that it was too cluttered and busy, and we were able to remove many elements while keeping the essentials above. To paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the perfect brochure has been achieved not when nothing further can be added, but when nothing further can be taken out.

We ordered a ton of them—more than we needed, because there was a big price break at around 1,000 pieces, when they switch from laser to offset printing. The result is we were able to stock them generously, distribute them to local businesses and other theaters, take handfuls of them to social events, send them to senior centers and student groups, and more. In the next post I’ll show off some of the supplementary campaign materials.

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