Alberta Bair Theater, Billings, MT

Performing arts center Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, Montana uses digital tools to create and sustain personal connections

“I see an immediate ticket sales spike when a digital message is sent out.” Jody Olson, Director of Marketing and Box Office

Alberta Bair Theater sustains neighborly feel even in cyberspace

Jody Olson, Director of Marketing and Box Office at the Alberta Bair Theater thinks of digital communications mainly as an additional avenue for making connections and sustaining relationships with patrons across Montana and throughout the Mountain West.

“Patron interaction is really important,” says Olson.  The theater’s website has a simple, suggestion box-style feedback form for visitors to contact them with feedback, or to ask questions.  One might assume that this mailbox receives only occasional attention, but Olsen checks it every day.  “Once a woman was flying up from Colorado to see a show and her plane got delayed because of the weather. She used the form to say she would make it in time and so don’t release her seat.  She made it in before the curtain!  It was like instant messaging via our web feedback form.”

Alberta Bair uses the Constant Contact email service to distribute show announcements and special events, along with promotions via Facebook.  Olsen is impressed with the ability to see near instant response.  She reports, “We will use Constant Contact to send a reminder email about a show and I then see people who open the message and buy a ticket within 10 minutes.  The same thing happens when I do a Facebook post.  I see an immediate ticket sales spike when a digital message is sent out.”

Olsen is pleased with the effectiveness of digital advertising, but it hasn’t meant a wholesale shift in advertising budget allocations.  “We have done Facebook ads and Google ads and we use web analytics to see when people respond to them.   These ads have paid for themselves.  They cost only about $5 or $10 per day.  We target specific locations, people’s demographics and selected keywords.  We get a good return on click-throughs and total impressions.  These are much less expensive than print ads.  However, our advertising budget mix hasn’t changed much – among our older population many audiences we target are still print-oriented.”

Jody also still sees a need to do broadcast television ads.  “We have a YouTube channel and link videos to our website.  When we have a TV commercial running, we also post it online. Media is so fractured now so we have to use all the available vehicles.”

Theater happens on main street during Alberta Bair Theater’s Wild West Soiree in June

Other special characteristics of Alberta Bair’s Montana target population also impact its approach to digital media. Use of mobile devices to access its website is strong and growing – up 56% over last year.  One factor here may be that access to high-speed internet service is not as pervasive in Alberta Bair Theater’s region as in more urban areas.   Olsen’s previous nonprofit employer didn’t have broadband internet access, so she’s familiar with bandwidth challenges and how to work around them.

Web tools have also helped fundraising at Alberta Bair.  Olsen describes an email appeal that drove people to make online donations.  She also instituted a pass-the-hat-style “change bucket” within the ticket purchase process where ticket buyers can elect to round up their total charge making an additional donation to the theater.”

Asked what’s next to be implemented, Olsen mentions text messaging. “I want ticket buyers to be able to opt in for texted event reminders, or blizzard alerts.  Then we’ll also have the opportunity to send occasional promotional messages.”

  • Digital communications mainly as an additional avenue for making connections and sustaining relationships.
  • Effectiveness of digital advertising doesn’t always mean a wholesale shift in advertising budget allocations.
  • The use of mobile devices to access web media is strong and growing.

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