After indoor events, theatres and venues were given the greenlight to reopen this week (May 17) Stephen Izatt, Managing Director of strategic brand and campaign agency Thinkfarm evaluates how we need to adapt to get the entertainment sector thriving again…
When Boris announced that venues and theatres could finally open their doors in mid-May, there was an understandable sense of relief. But it’s going to take time and a lot of hard work to restore the arts and entertainment industries to their former glory because so much has changed.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty. And while production will begin again and venues will eventually get back to capacity, it could be a long way off. There are a few reasons for this.
Much of the sector is bound up in the tourism trade. Once the West End’s streets were full of visitors on package breaks to London, complete with hotel stay, dinner in an upscale restaurant and tickets to a hit show. With Covid-19 outbreaks and new variants popping up all over the world like a grisly game of Whack-a-Mole, it’ll be a while before we’re back up to speed on that front. So the question is, if not people from as far as the USA, Japan and Australia, then who?
Looking closer to home
Many producers and venues are looking a little closer to home and targeting people who live in the UK – Londoners missing one of the best reasons for living in the city, and out-of-towners and families looking to treat themselves and enjoy a trip to the capital. It changes the nature of the competition considerably. The West End is no longer going up against Broadway; it has to compete with Brighton and the New Forest for staycationers and day-trippers.
None of this has been helped by the fact that arts and entertainment venues are among the last to be allowed to reopen, after shops, pub gardens and hair salons, and so there’s a greater perception of risk that needs to be addressed. We’re being told that we’ll be back to normal in June. But what is that going to look like? How do we rebuild the confidence of our audiences?
The road to recovery
Before we tear up our tickets and head home, it’s worth looking at the key issues the industry faces and, the best ways to persuade people that they can enjoy live entertainment and cinema, et al, safely. People want to come back. Despite the surge in music, podcast and TV streaming, which has come about because we’ve all been spending so much time at home, there is an appetite for out-of-home experiences. There is no substitute for the atmosphere and excitement associated with live performance, or the memories that stay with you for years afterwards. A lot of us are craving it.
Despite this, much of the messaging that’s coming out of the industry targeted at potential audiences seems centred on safety issues, doing your bit to support the industry’s revival, and that they’re looking forward to welcoming people back. All of that’s important, of course. But you need to tell a bigger story and say something different if you’re going to cut through the clamour, celebrate the experience you’re offering, and reassure a nervous crowd.
And that can be achieved by reaching a kind of trade-off via a targeted brand strategy and cohesive creative approach across all communications.
You’ve got to look at things from the audience point of view and not get too caught up in ‘sector survival’ comms. And for that to be effective there has to be total clarity. Yes, outline the measures that you’re taking to ensure people stay safe – and then remind them that they’re going to have an amazing experience; that you’re taking care of the health and safety stuff so they can build great memories with family and friends; that live experiences are unique every time, and that it’s about being in the moment, rough edges and all. There isn’t a DVD, CD or streaming service out there that can hold a candle to that.
If you have a solid brand strategy in place, a person visiting your venue will know that they’re in safe hands – and then be able to forget about all that and throw themselves into the experience. So make sure your strategy is focused on how amazing these moments can be. In other words, don’t lead with safety. It’s important, yes, but it’s a bit of a buzz kill.
A strong call to action that engenders a collective sense of responsibility is a good way to start: “We’re all playing our part, please play yours.”
There’s a recent study by Performance Research which said that 53% of those questioned reported a ‘pent-up desire to attend the events I love’ once the pandemic is over, and 46% said they will value going to public events more than they did before. The love is there, so let’s make sure that epic experience trumps hand sanitiser when we’re saying, ‘Roll up! Roll up!’
Words supplied by Stephen Izatt of Thinkfarm