Engaging with schools

It was a pretty well-known fact in Hertford that no schools had ever ventured into the theatre when it was formally Castle Hall. Having always inherited a list of enthusiastic schools in my previous venues, the thought of having to ‘cold call’ was slightly terrifying.

Fortunately I had six months grace to pluck up the courage whilst the venue was being transformed into a modern, light and airy facility with a cinema and studio and a fab cultural offer! How hard could it be – surely they would be knocking on our door?

With Hertford’s first ever professional panto to sell, I sent out what I considered to be a fab direct mail campaign to the schools – silence from the schools! What a nightmare I had 4x 350 seat performances to sell and not a Yr1 in sight – help!

Determined not to be down hearted I phoned a couple of the local schools to find that the majority of the schools book up in February and this is now July and on the verge of breaking up for the end of term.  I used the phone call to say hello, told them who I was and could I meet them for a coffee and chat through what we were going to be doing for the theatre and for Hertford.

Although time consuming this proved very beneficial as we got the teachers commitment and interest from the start, being able to tell them the sorts of things we were going to be offering proved to be invaluable. It was also a good learning curve for us as we soon realised that we had to send publicity out (if we could) up to nine months in advance, not to programme shows any later than May because of exams and teachers love a freebie – tea, cinema ticket, you name it.

The 1st year we opened, 2010, we had 3 schools come to the panto, last year (2012) we had 23. How? This is down to building a relationship with the schools, it might mean having to go and have lunch with them – I promise they are better than we were at school! But it’s really worth it, schools are a very loyal audience and if you look after them you will find them a very engaging part of your audience.

Emma Parlow is Marketing Manager of Hertford Theatre.