Vancouver Opera announced last week that it was transitioning to a smaller festival format in 2017 because it doesn’t know how to sell enough tickets to sustain a full season.
Regular readers of this blog know that when things like this happen I go to the company’s marketing materials to look for signs of trouble. Today I visited Vancouver Opera’s website and found:
1. Individual show promotions that feature archaic graphics and canned blurbs. These images, pretty as they are, have nothing whatsoever to do with the desires and expectations of potential new audiences, and the blurbs that accompany them are just amateurish gobbledegook. This is what happens when arts insiders with no professional marketing expertise hole up in conference rooms dreaming up creative ways to get the word out. It’s a self-centered, self-important, self-indulgent mid-20th century take on arts promotion that should have been abandoned decades ago in favor of more sophisticated audience-centered methods.
2. Nothing About New Audiences. The Vancouver area contains plenty of curious but uncommitted potential opera-goers, but there’s not a word or image on this site that’s designed to persuade them to come. Clearly, no research has been done to learn what motivates new opera audiences, and if such research has been done (I’m being generously optimistic here), it is painfully obvious that no one has bothered to develop strategic messaging in response to what it says.
3. Passive boringness. If you sell tickets through your website, the website’s job is to sell tickets. And if you sell opera, you’d better make sure that the website demonstrates why someone who isn’t already a fan would want to come. Opera is a colorful, emotional, active, vibrant, larger-than-life social experience. This website is pretty much the opposite.
To be fair, I haven’t seen the full scope of Vancouver Opera’s marketing and this website could be an anomaly. My experience with opera companies, however, suggests that this is a reliable representation of the style and content of the rest of the campaign: Old-fashioned, out-of-touch, amateurish, inactive and designed by opera insiders for opera insiders.
Somebody at Vancouver Opera approved these marketing materials. I’d like to know where he studied marketing and where he acquired his professional marketing experience. Making marketing decisions that determine whether a large professional opera company will thrive or shrink along with its dying audience is a big deal. When a company announces that it has chosen the latter, it is perfectly fair to ask if the person who’s making these decisions has the necessary expertise.