Ask Me Anything: University Arts Organizations

April 16, 2018

As a performing arts organization within a university, we often struggle with how to engage our student population as new audiences. What strategies, be that pricing or promotion, have you seen work?


We asked the following Marketing Directors from three esteemed universities to be our guest AMA respondents:

  • Sara Billmann, Director of Marketing & Communications, University Musical Society, University of Michigan
  • Daniel Cress, Senior Associate Director of Marketing, Yale Repertory Theatre
  • Jenny Reik, Director of Marketing and Digital Communications, Cal Performances, University of California Berkeley

Here are their responses:


“A couple of years ago we moved to flat-rate pricing: $20 and $12 tickets, depending on seat location. So those who wish to splurge for better seats still have an affordable option, and those who are price sensitive can still get in for the cost of a burrito at Chipotle.

We also put together a student ambassador committee that picks out a select number of performances each year and works to increase visibility for those performances on campus. Their excitement about attending those events definitely translates to their peer group.”


“Our strategies are super simple.

First, price. We try to keep student pass tickets under the price of a movie, so they are currently $10 with a 5-ticket student pass. We once raised student pass tickets to $12 and saw a huge decline in sales.

Second, timing. We need to hit students hard in spring before they leave campus and then again in late summer/early fall before they realize how busy they are about to be with school obligations.

Third, messaging. Our student pass messaging is much more informal than for our other constituents, e.g. “No blackout dates. No restrictions. No joke.”


“The first is pure marketing: the creation of a new “product” three years ago called Flex Pass that instantly appealed to students. The idea was simple: 4 passes for $40 that could be exchanged for actual tickets to almost all performances in a variety of combinations. In our first year, we easily sold over 500 Flex passes throughout the first semester. In our second year, we sold 500 passes in two weeks and ended up having to put an upper limit on selling additional passes and rationing them out throughout the school year from there.

Our second strategy involves a more hands on, small group approach to making students feel welcome in the theater. Our Artistic Literacy department holds a diverse group of what they call “SpeakEasy” parties, giving students who are attending a particular performance a place to gather socially. While this strategy builds engagement more slowly, it nonetheless brings in new students to our programs each season, and gives them an opportunity to not only become more familiar with each other, but with our artistic programs as well through the artistic talk aspect of the events.”

JCA Arts Marketing is very grateful to Sara, Daniel, and Jenny for their time and terrific insights.


JCA Arts Marketing collaborates with cultural organizations to increase revenue, boost attendance and membership, and grow patron loyalty. We provide consulting and software services to hundreds of cultural institutions across multiple genres, including dance, museums, opera, performing arts centers, symphony, and theatre. We can help you achieve your marketing goals.