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Fortune Is Telling.

Themed subscription renewal works

Usually there's a lull just before the curtain goes up at the theater. Leafing through the Playbill might soak up some time.

Well, at Portland Center Stage patrons were enticed with an interactive paper fortuneteller, which has bolstered renewal subscriptions at the 13-year-old, 860-seat Newmark Theatre in Portland, Ore.

Some 14,000-paper fortunetellers were placed on the seats of patrons during the theater's final production of the 2000-2001 season, reminding them of the final date for subscription renewal.

According to Danelle Jones, Portland Center Stage's graphic designer and the person who devised the fortuneteller toy, the theme was set up with a mailing to 6,000 acquired names of a red vinyl fish that tells a fortune, by curling in a certain way, when placed on the palm of the hand.

And during the March 27 through April 22 run of A New Brain, the paper fortunetellers greeted patrons, both subscribers and first-timers, and engaged them in an interactive mystery, said Jones.

The fortuneteller has four different messages on it, explained Jones. "One says if you're a subscriber renew by this date, the other says if you've never been here before, welcome. Another says if you've been here often you should think about subscribing," Jones said. The fourth message is a thank-you to those who have already renewed their subscription series. "So they each reference the different kind of audience members we have in the house that night."

The primary targets were subscribers. But, the innovative method was intended to capture the attention of all types of patron, and it enabled the theater to reach a broader audience.

"The goal was to get them to interact with the piece and to give it a sense of mystery, something's that a little bit more interesting than your basic advertisement," Jones said.

There are currently 8,043 subscribers at various subscription levels, said Cynthia Kirk, a spokesperson for the organization. The promotion was mainly to urge current subscribers to renew because they get first privilege on subscriptions. The fortune telling theme also ties in with the first play of the 2001-2002 season, Gypsy, Kirk said.

Renewal rates for the 2000-2001 season stood at 52 percent at this time last year, Kirk noted, compared to 55.6 percent already for the 2001-2002 season.

Sixty-two percent of six-show subscribers have renewed for the 2001-2002 season. The income from that level is 98 percent of what Portland Center Stage projects. The five-show series is 72 percent renewed, with income at 93 percent.

Income from subscriptions for the 2000-2001 season was 67.7 of the goal, whereas it is 73.6 percent of the organization's goal for the 2001-2002 season. Portland Center Stage sets a goal of $1 million from renewed subscriptions per season, said Kirk.

"And this is very interesting. The four-show pass is 57 percent renewed and 120 percent of the projected income," Kirk said. "And, the three-show pass is 59 percent renewed and 62 percent of the income."

The subscription rate scale varies from the cheapest of a three-show package (one seat, $38.40) to a ceiling of six-shows in orchestra seating. (one seat, $211.20). According to Kirk, subscription packages have increased across the board too. "You can't peg something. (higher renewal rates) to any one factor," Kirk said, "there are many different factors.... In repertory theater, every season is different. There's a different lineup of plays and people might have liked the lineup of plays slightly better than the one from the last season."

Kirk continued, "It could have a lot to do with economic forces. If you look at it that way that's why this slight increase is actually good because we began to experience the economic downturn in the winter and spring of this year."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:innovative marketing at Portland's Center Stage Theater
Author:Carpenter, Clint
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 15, 2001
Words:630
Previous Article:Human Resources.
Next Article:Who's Counting?
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