Friday, March 2, 2012

Prisme Dreaming in Technicolor

Support for artists in the province of Quebec has been strong for generations. With generous, though competitive, grant possibilities from agencies such as CALQSODEC, regional arts councils, and municipal governments, combined with the only government-administered regional conservatory system in the nation, it's no surprise some of Canada's best-known artists live and work there. Naturally, la petite Ville de Gatineau, just a stone's throw from downtown Ottawa, has drawn a musical establishment to rival its southern counterpart.

Sitting on the north shore of the Ottawa river, Gatineau, with population of just over 250,000, is home to four important musical institutions; Le Conservatoire de GatineauL'Orchestre symphonique de GatineauPlaisirs du Clavecin  and Ensemble Prisme. Interestingly, all apart from the Conservatoire are rather recent additions to the city. The orchestra and Prisme held their first subscription series' in 2006-2007 with Plaisirs du Clavecin following in 2009. Although their establishment has certainly been greatly aided by granting agencies and corporate sponsors, the ultimate challenge, as with all arts institutions these days, remains: attracting an audience.

Before their most recent concert, Ensemble Prisme decided it was time to go beyond the average marketing campaign and push the boundaries of a shoestring budget. Without any extra posters, postcards, or telephone calls Prisme scored big. Selling 59 extra tickets to their Schubert Octet concert, of which 40 subscribed to a further 2 concerts, Prisme achieved massive growth in a relatively short period. So what brush did they use when they painted the town red?

A green one.

A website which has ported coupon deals to the web, Groupon, has become an incredibly popular tool for bargain hunters internationally, offering services in 44 countries. The website operates a free daily newsletter, which promotes one deal from a local business via email. The website itself has numerous other offers available.

An idea which sprouted from a website similar to Kickstarter (as mentioned in the article about the Wayward Sisters), Groupon features the same 'collective buying' technique. Each deal requires a certain amount of people to 'buy in' to it, and after that minimum is reached, then the deal is on!

A powerful tool to raise walk-in traffic to local businesses, Groupon also proved to be quite the marketing tool for a local concert. Luc Lalonde, one of the new staff with Ensemble Prisme came up with the idea after seeing a similar campaign done by the National Arts Centre Orchestra. "Our Groupon deal [started] before Christmas," says Luc, "many music-lovers who didn't know about Ensemble Prisme decided [to buy in]...and we are very happy they did!". Luc also told me that Groupon has almost 600,000 subscribers in Ottawa, which is just about half of the metropolitan population. What made the deal stick out to so many was the fact that few arts events currently advertise in the Ottawa Groupon newsletter.

Now, with a strong subscription for the rest of the season, there's nothing but smooth sailing for Prisme. What will be interesting to see is what they intend to do next. Luc assures me that they are constantly on the lookout for new marketing techniques, but there is still a possibility of another deal through Groupon next season.

Though some might feel a bit uneasy by slashing their ticket prices to attract the Groupon audience, the minimum requirement in order for the deal to activate guarantees a certain income to the business (if, of course, the minimum amount buy in). With help from Prisme, concert presenters in the city should now clearly see that, combined with a thorough standard marketing campaign, the potential for Groupon is enormous.

All there is left to do is wait and see who else jumps on the bandwagon. It won't be hard for me to miss when they do: Groupon will email me about it.

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