BWW Interview: ARTHOUSE's Sara Fitzpatrick Sounds Off on the Digital Media Landscape

BWW Interview: ARTHOUSE's Sara Fitzpatrick Sounds Off on the Digital Media Landscape

As part of the kick-off of BroadwayWorld's new Industry Section, we talked to Sara Fitzpatrick, CEO of ARTHOUSE. With a career that's spanned multiple larger agencies including Situation Interactive and SpotCo, she now runs her own boutique agency that specializes in all things digital marketing. We sat down with her in late July to get her take on the current state of the market & more...

So, ARTHOUSE is coming up on its 5th anniversary.. First of all, congrats and second - how have things changed for ARTHOUSE in those five years?

When I started the business, I wanted to diversify my client base. Three years in I started to make that shift and I feel like now we'll approach the fifth year with a very diverse client roster... which was always my goal. That has helped immensely because we're learning so much about what's happening in terms of other lifestyle brands and retail products. I feel like it's made us better and smarter and more strategic thinkers, because now we can see what's happening all of the time in other areas. Everything's changing so much.

I was in Cannes for the Cannes Lions Festival and everybody was talking about marketing buzzwords and new 'activations'. I feel like that's not how things in digital used to be. People used to understand very basic words and the glossary of terms, and now everybody's talking about KPI's and trading desks, etc. There's such a broad audience now because digital is so much of our day-to-day. So for us to be able to expand outside of Broadway and to work in a place where we can understand what other people are doing and talking about has been important. That helps us in theatre in such a different way than I even anticipated it would before I wanted to start diversifying.

Is that because they have larger budgets or they're just thinking differently?

I think it's sometimes larger budgets but it's also different circumstances. There's so much more information about how to get to a consumer based on what the product is and all of the information gathered from a user's habits. We have access to so much more data now so I think it's just the 'funnel effect' and the funnel is different.

Ok, let's pause and please explain to us what a 'funnel effect' is...

It used to be that we would buy the ad directly from you, specifically, and we would give you the creative and run it and that's how that rolled. Now we really have to sit down and look at the media plans and say "Okay, we need an awareness campaign and we need a funnel campaign. And we need search and remarketing to capture and convert the right consumers. We just know more information now so that feeds back into how we evaluate the buying." Learning more about TV and retail, dance conventions and tours, lifestyle brands... it just helps us understand the consumer funnel effects for different products & services. We can't possibly know everything about a theatre consumer just by studying their theatre habits.

Also the purpose of the company when I started ARTHOUSE was to focus on the creative elements of what attracted a consumer and how that was as thoughtful and as planned and directed as a New York Times ad or commercial. Obviously you're going to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a commercial or half of that into a print ad, but you still need to put a significant amount of time and thought into what you're putting into the digital space.

People are still doing print ads?

They are, believe it or not. Someone asked me this the other day. I'm not opposed to print, I just believe it's less a part of the overall matrix for a campaign. I find out so much about what's happening, as most people do now- online. So why wouldn't you pay attention to creative and messaging of that online component as much, if not more, as you would to a TV ad or a billboard or a print ad that goes away in one day? A video piece lives online for as long as you want it to live online, and you can share it, and it's used as a tool to educate people about something. I feel like that's been the biggest driving force of creative innovation at ARTHOUSE in the last five years.

I still find it weird with all of the things people obsess over being able to track online that that hasn't brought more pressure to bear on the print ads and the billboards and the other stuff. They say it's building awareness or you see a bump in the box office after it, vs. half a million dollars in the Times.

I think that there's pressure to do that. I don't think that that's not without pressure for people inside of theatre and out, but I think you can only conclude so much from it. If a commercial runs in a 10:00 hour and search traffic goes up, you can link those things together. Even with The New York Times... we did a COME FROM AWAY full page ad and the sales went up the day that ad dropped. There wasn't much else in the marketplace at that moment, which says something. But, there's also the combination effect we're constantly pushing to evaluate in advertising. We also know as a brand grows and search goes up, it's not just because we put more ads into the marketplace, or there was a large marketing campaign, or a big press event on the Today Show - but the combination of all of those things working together.

It's tricky because they look to online as such a one for one situation or think that the math is perfect, and it's not. The performance is impacted by all of the various outside elements. But the most recent difference is that a consumer's entry point to a brand now happens online much more often than it did before. Especially ten years ago when we were talking about LENNON THE MUSICAL or other early shows that I worked on.

So when you get clients from outside the theatre space, does having a theatre background help, hinder, or not matter?

It completely helps. Everything is rooted in entertainment or some sort of experience. Marketing theatre is about the experience of going to the theatre and the entire effect from the time they park the car, and go to dinner, and walk through the door, and are entertained, and come out. That's a very similar experience to going to a restaurant and eating. The food could be so good, but if the atmosphere is bad, that will affect the experience.

The millennial generation are much more driven towards experience-based purchasing. We were more goods and material-based in the 90s and early 2000s. We work on this beauty brand ROUGE, they're like a Drybar for makeup, and it's not just about getting your makeup done, but about how somebody feels when they come in and how they feel when they leave... the experience of it. I think people are looking for that emotional connection now, and so it completely helps in every single thing that we do. The theatre business is about creating a unique moment in somebody's life and that's essentially what products and other experiences are looking to do just the same way.

Do you ever try to bring brands together?

We do actually. We recently launched a campaign with ROUGE and the musical BEAUTIFUL. BEAUTIFUL is not our account, but of course a Browadway brand. We put the Broadway show and the makeup salon together and we did a big Mother's Day promotion and had them go to the salon and do their makeup and then go to the theatre and share this experience with their mothers. It was perfect marketing synergy. We only do it for our clients when it makes sense. Otherwise, every client we work on is their own unique client. They are their own brand and if it lines up that we have something that makes sense- great! But generally we're trying to look for things within their brand scope.

So you'll work with other ad agencies?

It's about the client and the brand. It's not about anything else. I think that's the most important focus of this company. It's not about working on the most shows or brands. It's about connecting with our clients and their mission and how we can bring a unique voice and thoughtful approach in the online space.

COME FROM AWAY was a great example. They needed to build an online community in a way that was conversational and connective. We couldn't just push this show, starring this celebrity, and have that be the force that moved the campaign forward. The subject matter is also hard to summarize in a quick pitch. We really had to create a scenario where the audience could connect with it, learn more about it, experience it, and understand more about the essence of the show through our marketing dialogue. The show is about community and doing good for your neighbor. So we have to create messages that amplify that and how do you do this without just saying "this show is about community and giving and paying it forward?"

You have to create things that convey messages that without saying always saying it. We strive to build relationships and conversations and dialogues with consumers who will interact with our brands in a more organic, natural way.

What's the process like for you of pitching a new client, or a new show? As a boutique agency, what's the decision making process like?

My philosophy on this agency has been that we come together with the producers or clients and we are a team. It's about the relationship with the producers and what their goals are and if it makes sense for us... because we aren't for every show and every show isn't for us. I always say that getting involved with an agency is like dating. You don't just jump into bed... you have to talk and make sure it's the right fit and then move from there. We're more of a boutique agency with an artful approach, and we look at things in a way that will spark this almost two-way conversation with the consumers. Not everybody needs that. We're dedicated to a specific type of producer or product or whatever it is that is looking for our approach.

Do you weigh in the quality of the show or your opinion on the quality of the show?

No. I don't do that with anything because I always say that people who market toothpaste aren't like "This is the best toothpaste you've ever had!" It has nothing to do with my opinion or people's opinions here. It has to do with: This show is meant for somebody. Who's the audience and what does that brand pyramid look like? What's the functional and emotional benefits? What does the consumer makeup look like and who are we selling to?

You don't think good marketing can save a bad show or bad marketing could kill a good show?

In these days, no. Absolutely not. There's too much transparency with the consumer now. I think that extends outside of Broadway in such a big way. If you order a product online and it's faulty or wrong you can return it [you can't do that with a Broadway show]. You won't tell people to see the show or you'll actively tell people, "Don't see this show." We can do so much, and we can certainly help give the show legs and provide tools to fuel word of mouth, etc. I think that's really important. We can help grow the audience and extend the life of a show, but you can't turn that around.

What new tools or new analytics or new methods are you using that are exciting?

Every three months there's some new popular "widget" or analytics platform. We are constantly trying use these tools to release campaign messages or evaluate the reaction to materials we've put into the marketplace. So, I don't even know if I would say, "Oh, there's this new mobile text messaging thing, we have to be there!," which is what we used to say. I think now it's more about how are we taking the tools that we know exist or have come to the recent forefront and how do we elevate how we use them and continually make it better?

I guess the reverse question would be, how do you know what numbers to ignore? Like we can make this number say something, but it doesn't actually mean anything in terms of ticket sales?

That's the other thing, we can only gauge so much historically or from the performance against other Broadway shows, but really it has more to do with how the audience is reacting to your product. The best thing is to gauge it against is itself. The thing about Broadway that's different than other entertainment is that it builds an audience over time. If you work on TV or movies launches, you build up to a launch and then it sort of disappears or the conversation changes.

BWW Interview: ARTHOUSE's Sara Fitzpatrick Sounds Off on the Digital Media LandscapeThere's so much information and we know guidelines and baselines. We've been working in this space long enough to we know important indicators. Then you have to go off instinct. It's not half numbers, half instinct, but I would say it's probably 70/30.

How do you make the decision on new platforms? Like, you know six months ago they said you had to be on Snapchat now and now everyone's fleeing Snapchat?

I think there are natural trends. I think the last tool actually that we were really asked to utilize was Snapchat. (There hasn't been a tool like that since.) We're just talking a year ago maybe. We were happy to lean in and I learned it but then Instagram stories took over and that's where we are now. I think it has to make sense for the brand. If you want to be able to see what's happening backstage on Broadway that's a really sexy thing, live Instagram stories or whatever would be great for you. But, if you're in a toothpaste factory and want to show behind the scenes, that's maybe not the best medium for you.

If someone comes to you and says, "We should be doing live Snapchats backstage," how do you make the decision between that and Periscope or Facebook live or whatever it is at the time?

I have always gone off of whether it makes sense for the show and the audience and the product. What's the message we're delivering? It's not just about the tool, it's what information can you relay through the tool. It's never just been about the hot tool.

Does working in this during the day make you more or less likely as a consumer to go home and play on these social tools yourself?

I don't keep a computer at home. I think if I did it all the time I would burn out on it. I'm able to come in and spend 20 minutes every morning catching up on what's happening and trends. I think if I were at home sitting on my laptop all the time I wouldn't care as much. It doesn't mean that I personally don't consume things socially, but it's like the cobbler's son that had no shoes. I need to focus the energy and if I'm constantly involved in all of this stuff all the time I can't see outside of it and the best place to be is outside. If I didn't shut down I would never shut down.

BWW Interview: ARTHOUSE's Sara Fitzpatrick Sounds Off on the Digital Media Landscape

No computer at home? I'd die! Are you reachable to clients after hours?

In the world of online, I can't pretend that it just shuts down after 6, so of course. But what we're doing is trying to always look at content and how do we set things up and create good ideas ahead of time instead of reacting? I always say to my team that I never want to be the team that is always just reacting to whatever is coming out. When you're thinking forward and planning and strategizing, there is less need to be available to react to some fire emergency situation. I did spend the first half of my career reacting to Broadway emergencies- so I've learned.

So, who else are you working with in the theatre space?

Right now we have COME FROM AWAY and we have STOMP. It was a full Broadway roster up until last year and then I spent quit a bit of time and energy diversifying. I'm still very involved in the industry and love this business, but the landscape has changed. There are four agencies now and other digital options. I spent six years at SpotCo working on every client and now with ARTHOUSE- we get to work in theater and also grow outside of it. I like selling tickets and that's what I come in to do everyday, but it's also about diversifying and expanding our knowledge base. It's not just about being a "theater client" for us, it's about being the right fit for our approach.

BWW Interview: ARTHOUSE's Sara Fitzpatrick Sounds Off on the Digital Media LandscapeCOME FROM AWAY was one of those clients that was really the right fit for us because they really needed a strong digital presence to foster this community and conversation. We created a whole video series for COME FROM AWAY to talk about the various elements of the show that were really hard to communicate with flat imagery or copy. We worked closely with Polk's PR company to strategically approach the distribution. We can also go to bloggers and do unground outreach, but we respect the importance of traditional press. I still that we're all specialists in our jobs and we need to respect those boundaries. Although, it's clear the Venn diagram is closing in a bit and that some of these things are going to come together, because there is so much more advertorial media happening and influencer ad endorsements.

It's important to work with the teams that you are put on a project with and that's not just in theatre... that's everywhere. Digital agencies are either inside or outside of the traditional ad and press agencies and it's about trying to figure out how to meld messages, efforts and work seamlessly together. I think that's probably going to be the next wave of what happens- marketing and advertising and press really start to work together in a blurrier, clearer way.

For more information on ARTHOUSE, click here.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski

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