By Hedy Perna
My school, Perna Dance Center, does many holiday-related performance events and participates in community and charitable activities throughout the year. For each holiday, a troupe of volunteer dancers is assigned to perform at events. All these occasions are good marketing opportunities for the school, but they require some marketing of their own.
We look for family-friendly events that include all ages and abilities. Advanced dancers should be included, of course; however, many parents and grandparents respond better to young or beginner dancers because they can envision their children dancing like them. Highlight that group of students, and you’ll be pleased with the audience’s reaction.
A community presence
Although I choose community events that include a wide variety of students, some activities have age or ability requirements. For example, my Halloween troupe, Trick or Treat, Dancin’ Feet, may perform at a haunted house, so I wouldn’t invite young dancers who might be frightened. I would invite our 3-year-olds to perform at a festival but not to dance in a two-mile St. Patrick’s Day parade. Use your judgment, and if your students are disappointed, tell them to keep dancing because next year they may have another opportunity.
Think out of the box when creating performance events. For years I wanted to re-create the beautiful Christmas window displays of Macy’s and Saks in New York City. Because I wanted to target my audiences and potential students and their parents, I needed to stay close to my community. So I went to a local mall and asked if I could create a live holiday window display called “Perna Dance Center’s Yuletide Holly Dolls.” Yes, I wanted my dancers to pose in the mall’s windows. Our display was an amazing success and drew lots of attention from the community.
Of course, your events need audiences, so make sure to get the word out. Years ago, when I first started our holiday troupes, the marketing techniques I used were few and basic. I would notify the dance columnist at one local newspaper, run ads listing the performance schedule in others, and post colorful posters with interesting pictures of our dancers in store windows (and of course in the studio).
Now, in addition to the above, we have entered the world of instant show and tell with the help of a “social media guru.” Social media is another great marketing (and bragging) tool for holiday events. You can invite your followers to upcoming events and post pictures (even as the activity is taking place). Building your followers will build your future audiences.
However, I still believe that nothing is more powerful than word of mouth. Yes, people are sharing your info on social media, but no marketing is as effective as a mom talking to another mom about her child’s upcoming holiday performance. That is your best advertising, both for your event and for reaching potential students.
Here are marketing methods that have been successful for my school.
Studio window signs: Whoever said, “A business with no signs is a sign of no business,” had it right. We order signs for our front windows from Vistaprint. These 2-by-6-foot signs announce upcoming performance events (one for each holiday troupe). So that we can reuse these signs year after year, they’re printed with a blank space where the dates would go; each year we print the dates in house on separate 11-by-17-inch signs and insert them into the larger signs.
Information tables: Whenever possible at an event, we set up an information table for potential students. Whenever your school is performing, ask the event coordinator if you can distribute your brochure or set up a small table. It doesn’t have to be fancy; however, make sure to have a beautiful sign and brochures available.
Standing banners: On each side of the performance area at every event, we place a 2-by-6-foot freestanding banner printed with the studio’s name and contact information. Again, I use Vistaprint to make these colorful, professional-looking banners. At potentially windy outdoor events, weight the banner stands for stability.
Crowns for future ballerina “princesses”: At each holiday event, we distribute princess crowns to anyone who wants them. They’re made of holiday garlands and decorative wire, with a ribbon that reads, “I’m a Ballerina Star—Perna Dance Center.” We make a minimum of 100 for each event and rarely come back to the studio with any leftovers. The children who go home with the crowns may not enroll right away, but you’ve planted a seed that they will remember: when they were watching a great show, they received a pretty princess crown. When they do want to dance, their parents will consider your studio.
Performer etiquette: All performers should be taught how to behave at various venues. Your event might be the first time they will perform in a street, at a mall, or in a store window, so explain exactly what you expect from them; they will be happy to please you. Teach them the social skills they will need at these events, such as following a coordinator’s instructions, identifying themselves and their studio, and thanking or chatting with audience members who congratulate them.
Hedy Perna has owned and directed Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, New Jersey, for more than 28 years, founded Dancefest at Six Flags Great Adventure, and is president emeritus of Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey.