By Tiffany R. Jansen
As summer draws to a close, it’s time to drum up new clients. For most studios, that means holding an open house—but after a while, the tried-and-true can feel stale. Read on for some fresh ideas.
“We got sick of the open house format,” says Renee Celeste, artistic director and owner of Front & Center for Performing Arts in Springfield, New Jersey. So she decided to try something new. The school’s Fall Festival, now an annual community-wide event, is held at the studio about two weeks before classes start. The festivities include games, a live band, an arts and crafts table, a bounce house, face painting, and a popcorn bar. The event draws about 150 people.
For The Dance Extension in southeastern Connecticut, “the open house didn’t really show who we are,” says associate director Nancy K. Dennis. Three years ago, the studio opted for an annual ice cream social instead. In addition to consuming their ice cream masterpieces, participants (typically 100 or more) engage in group dances, games, and crafts, and snap selfies in front of a backdrop.
The schools’ focus is not on collecting registrations, though both Celeste and Dennis recommend having studio information available and faculty on hand to answer questions. Instead, the goal is exposure: connecting with the community, welcoming new families, and getting fresh faces through the door.
Getting it together
Once you’ve decided on an event, it’s time to start planning. It’s best to hold the event at your school so attendees can check out the space. Fall is a good time, but events can happen at any time of year.
Think of fun, non-sales-oriented ways to promote your studio. For example, tickets awarded for playing games at Front & Center’s Fall Festival can be redeemed for prizes (a water bottle or T-shirt emblazoned with the school logo, or a coloring book bearing a sticker with the studio’s website and contact information on it).
At the ice cream social, kids can select a balloon to pop; each one has a slip of paper inside naming a prize. “It could be a leotard, a performance DVD, a month of free classes, depending on what we have,” Dennis says.
Other ideas include sample classes or door prizes or raffles for tuition discounts or registration fee waivers.
“Enlist your dancers to help,” Dennis says. They can decorate, welcome guests, work at stations, and run games. Celeste suggests recruiting faculty and parent volunteers as well, particularly “if you’re doing it for the first time and you don’t know what your turnout is going to be.”
But remember, people won’t come to an event they don’t know about.
Spreading the word
To get started, send email blasts to your list and submit your event to online community calendars. Reach your audience through social media updates, event invitations, and groups. Front & Center has had great success with local mommy groups on Facebook.
If someone contacts your studio for information, Dennis suggests mentioning your event at the end of the phone call or your email reply.
“I think it’s beneficial to focus on building relationships rather than payment plans and costs,” Dennis adds. “Interacting with clients without asking for money builds a different kind of relationship.”
Such exposure is a long-term marketing plan, but an effective one. Celeste has seen multiple registrations from families who attended the Fall Festival years before. “I’m not necessarily going to get more families [to register at the event],” she says. “But if they happen to have even driven by and seen it, when they’re looking for a dance studio, they may think of us.”
Tiffany R. Jansen, a former dance teacher and choreographer, lives in Westchester County, New York. She has written for Pointe and online for Self and The Atlantic.