Thinking Outside Of The “Box”

Integrating marketing savvy with artistic direction to take a performing arts company outside of the usual black box theater space

COMPANY: CAMPO SANTO / INTERSECTION FOR THE ARTS

THE CHALLENGE

Conceive of innovative ways to fill a house with attendees, while possessing extremely limited time and resources

THE OUTCOMES

A sold-out show that attracted newcomers as well as energized the company’s base. Additionally, the performance generated over $6,000 in earned revenue, even before a single ticket was sold.

Evolving Arts Marketing

At its height, Intersection for the Arts was revered as San Francisco’s most veteran alternative arts organization. Born out of the activism of the Vietnam War era, Intersection grew to become a culturally diverse, socially-minded, multi- and interdisciplinary arts organization with strong program areas in Community Outreach, Visual Arts, and Performing Arts. Among the many renowned artists incubated in this creative environment was resident Theater troupe, Campo Santo. 

Prior to engaging the Marketing mindset that would make its show, First Element, a success, both host organization and resident company had a traditional approach to marketing that was structured as follows: Develop a concept and “play” mostly behind closed doors and without outside interference. And then share the final result with marketing personnel who would then be tasked with messaging and sales, usually under severe time constraints. 

Such was the case for First Element, except even more difficult. Intersection and, by default, Campo Santo recently moved from its longtime Mission home to a new location in the city’s downtown. Both were very much interested in engaging their new neighbors, an eclectic mix of “makers,” co-working inhabitants, and social entrepreneurs. On top of that, the play had not yet been developed. But it had been slated, carrying with it financial as well as audience development responsibilities. So, the company was on the hook to make it happen. But how do we promote something that doesn’t even exist?

How might we get really creative with our marketing?

“A slick bio-diesel art bus experiment.”

Ben Ho, First Element audience member

A Truly Integrated And Collaborative Solution

This blank slate proved to be an advantage. In seeking ways to solve these numerous puzzles, the Program Directors trusted and welcomed staff members into the conversation including their Director of Communications and Special Events at the time, Anthem Salgado. He brought a new perspective to the table, running a thorough analysis of assets and looking at the problem through a marketing lens. 

Rather than focus on the pressure of having to make sales, asking questions like, “How do we fill the house?” new questions emerged such as, “How do make this easier to sell? What would make this extraordinarily marketable from the getgo?”

First Element, it turned out, was going to be a performance that celebrated graffiti art. Salgado with Communications Manager, Irene Duller, raised this idea, “Why bring an audience into a black box to speak to them in theory about graffiti when – situated between South of Market, Sixth Street, and the Tenderloin – we can bring ticket goers to legitimate graffiti in the vicinity?”

The team mulled it over and sparked the following suggestions:

  • We can book a party bus and bill it as a mobile theater project.
  • Resident artist (and graffiti artist), dubbed “Apexer,” can give an educational docent tour of his murals in the area.
  • Certain pitstops will have rappers and actors hop on and off the bus for surprise interactive appearances.
  • The evening can end at Intersection with an all-out, Hip Hop-themed party, replete with DJ and dancers. 

Guests were welcomed to a tour of neighborhood murals made by local artist, Apexer.

Success In 360 Degrees

Naturally, the marketing staff, under the leadership of the Director of Communications and Special Events, made the best use of many of the usual tools and channels: newsletters, content marketing through video and social media, website, blog, and press. Additionally, however, this marketing-centered approach generated all-new working methods for the entire team that addressed every aspect of the aforementioned conundrum.

✔ The thrill of the project attracted audience types across demographics.

✔ Two bus tours were scheduled, both of which entirely sold out. 

✔ Because this theater experience was outside of the ordinary, the ticket commanded a rate that was double the normal price for the company. 

✔ Again since First Element was going to be a unique experience, Campo Santo could make a case for creating a Kickstarter campaign, also designed by Salgado, leading up to the live event. Rewards were all curated from available resources and art inventory. In addition to serving as early outreach and buzz creation for the project, the Kickstarter campaign surpassed its financial target. 

KICKSTARTER AIM

$5,000

KICKSTARTER RESULTS

137% of financial goal

Campo Santo performers practice to surprise and delight bus riders with rhyme and storytelling.

A Glimpse Into What’s Possible

A lot of breakthrough results can be achieved when creative and departmental silos are interrupted. A marketing-centered approach means formulating critical messaging and stories from the outset alongside the art, asking important questions about project goals and audience relationships, rather than as an add-on or afterthought that is outside of and secondary to the art. Perhaps most encouraging about this methodology is that it needn’t require additional or new resources. Instead, just a handful of already imaginative and experienced professionals that trust and respect each other enough to enjoy wrestling through fresh ideas together.