The Stratford Festival To Be or Not To Be Customer Engaged in 2018

Cathy    February 10, 2018

The Stratford Festival in Stratford Ontario is the king of customer engagement! When you think of the people that flock to Stratford every year to see the theatre it is amazing.  Stratford Ontario has a population of 32,000 people, but in the summer that number will swell to almost a three quarters of a million people, why you ask?  The Stratford Festival of course!

Tom Patterson first built the Stratford Festival in October 31,1952. Mr. Patterson saw a need to revitalize the city of Stratford after acknowledging the loss of the steam powered railway. The city of Stratford was facing a horrible ending unless something happened to keep it alive. Mr. Patterson also was an avid theatre goer who cherished Shakespearean plays. Since Stratford had the name of the birthplace of William Shakespeare, it made sense to open a Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario. The first performance of Richard III and All’s Well That Ends Well took place in July 1953 and the Stratford Festival was born!

Fast forward to 2018; With a staff of 963 and with four theatres – Avon Theatre, Studio Theatre, Festival Theatre and the Tom Patterson Theatre they are obviously doing something right. The Stratford Festival has an enormous engagement with their patrons, members, and potential patrons.

Here are some of their engaged following at the moment:

  • Stratford Festival had an attendance of 512,016 in 2016. The 2017’s attendance will be released at this year’s AGM on March 24th.
  • Facebook-142,484 people like this, 136,326 people follow
  • Twitter -30,389; tweets 6,306, followers 24,550
  • Instagram– 798 photos, 12,954 followers, 170 following
  • Linkedin – 2,783 followers
  • Trip Advisor – #1 of 31 things to do in Stratford, reviews – 4.7, 4.7 of 5 stars, 2.6K reviews
  • The total impressions through social media that the Stratford Festival had in 2017 was 96,855,466.

The Stratford Festival continues to grow their online social media every year, they have a dedicated staff of 17 that continues to work to engage consumers in the enticement to come to Stratford and see one of the festival’s performances.

As they moved into a new millennium it had become very clear to the Stratford Festival that they would need to reach out to more patrons to continue to operate the theatre. The audience that they relied on for years were starting to age, and the festival needed some fresh young blood enjoying and loving the theatre. They worked hard to introduce many different kinds of programming to include fun and lively things to do at the Theatre besides just seeing the performances. They added Back Stage Tours and Costume Warehouse Tours, they also engaged their patrons to participate in forums, which consisted of interaction with the actors and patrons discussing the plays. There are many more engaging programs besides the three mentioned that the Stratford Festival offer to attract consumers. These programs are marketed and promoted through all their social media platforms.

In late August the Stratford Festival will release their Playbill for the following year. The engagement with the world needs to be strong to get the message out about the new Playbill. The Festival engages in 360 marketing, ensuring that the patron receives cohesive message and imaging through multiple platforms including; email, mail, social media, print and digital advertising. Social Media campaigns include remarketing to existing patrons in our database, look-a-like and interest lists which are based on the same demographics as our patron lists. The media of course picks up the playbill and reviews it, which in turn generates more engagement for the Festival. Then the potential customers begin to speak about the playbill. With the Festivals social media department being able to social listen to any conversation that mentions the Stratford Festival allows the social media department to engage with the potential customer.

The social media team at the Stratford Festival engages actively in “social listening” which allows the team to follow conversations happening about the Festival on social media channels. “Social listening means tracking the conversations people are having on social media about particular topics or keywords,” says Stratford Festival Social Media Coordinator Jordan Worsell-Collins. “We use different programs and apps to keep track of what people have to say about our productions and events, to gauge the excitement people have for what we are doing.”

The customer immediately has the ability to easily book tickets. They may then engage in conversations with their friends and plan a trip to Stratford. The more involved you can make your customer,  the more engaged they will be with increased knowledge and recognition of your brand.

The Theatre also acknowledged that they needed young school age children to love going to live performances. So they hired staff to go out and engage the school system to include these Shakespearean performances as part of the school curriculum.

For Groups and School sales I use social media to keep our productions top of mind to existing group leaders and teachers. I engage current patrons with a 360 marketing approach, they will receive mail, phone follow up, emails and sponsored advertising on social media and digital platforms. This ensures that they are seeing the same message, offer and images on multiple levels with each campaign that we offer up to them.  I also use Facebook targeted campaigns to attract new patrons by marketing to users with similar demographics to my current audience. On top of marketing and social media campaigns I engage my patrons year round with personal outreach, events, gifts and exclusive access and opportunities. Combining marketing and personal connections is vital to maintain and increase the groups and schools markets. Heather Martin, Groups and Schools Sales Manager, Stratford Festival, 2007 – 2018

The school aged children came and saw a Shakespearean play, loved it and told their parents and then the parents decided they needed to come, see and experience the Stratford Festival as well. Once the students and their parents started attending the theatre and having a wonderful time, it grew on them and their love for the theatre will continue to thrive from generation to generation. Before long customer engagement in the simplest form was created.

Patron engagement through social media offers us several marketing advantages. Being a seasonal product, social media allows us to stay engaged with our patrons year round. We are also able to offer patrons an insider experience, giving them access to behind the scenes through video and images. Theatre patrons tend to be an aging market and social media engagement gives us an opportunity to build and maintain a connection with a younger demographic. Trudy Watson, Associate Director, Marketing

Besides the Stratford Festival’s engagement with their potential customer you now bring the appeal that the small City of Stratford Ontario has to offer. With the swell of tourists in the summer it brings engagement with businesses in Stratford. There are approximately 81 accommodations locations, 80 restaurants and approximately 250 retail locations in Stratford. Each and every one of the businesses engages in customer attraction. The City of Stratford is a growing community with so much to offer now. According to an estimate by the Conference Board of Canada, it generates $140 million in economic activity, $65 million in taxes and 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.(Wikipedia). With being named the top 7 Intelligent Communities, the technology sector is also soaring within the city. The City of Stratford is now home to the testing area for the driverless cars. The city will continue to grow and engage in all walks of life. The Executive Director of the Stratford Festival, Anita Gaffney, also has the insight to see the importance of keeping the City of Stratford a vibrant community and engaging all sectors of society.

“The theatre going experience in Stratford is a unique one. It promises great work, done at a high level of achievement in a bucolic setting. We work hard to make the experience so compelling that it’s worth the journey to Stratford year after year. It has become a ritual for some patrons and a fresh, new discovery for others.” Anita Gaffney, Executive Director of the Stratford Festival

Lessons for Others

The Stratford Festival started in 1952 on a concrete pad with a tent and has now grown to four theatres and millions of theatre patrons coming through their front doors year after year. The Stratford Festival’s ability to reach people from all over the world to visit this small community of 32,000 people is remarkable. The boost in the economy, the spin off of all the great businesses in the community, it really couldn’t be any clearer about the importance of customer engagement.

What to Learn:

Engagement with customers is number one

Keeping your product top of mind by engaging patrons through multiple platforms

Making your customer feel important is the key to longevity

Engaging in your community and working together will grow customer engagement

Social Media plays an important role in your ability to outreach customers and potential customers

Organization: The Stratford Festival
Industry: Arts and Festivals
Name of Organization Contact: Anita Gaffney

Authored by: Cathy Bieman

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