August 2013 | Mindful Marketing | Beyond Open House

Mindful Marketing
By Misty Lown

What is better than getting 50 potential students to stop by your studio for an open house? Having 50 families engage with your programs and staff for an entire afternoon! That’s what can happen when you market an interactive open house—what I call “Festival of Friends”—in such a way that children and parents alike won’t want to miss it.

I got this idea from my friend Janet Johnson of Allegro School of Dance and Music in Rochester, Minnesota. I did a version of the event to celebrate National Dance Week this year. At least 50 children and their parents came to our studios, participated in activities, and left with goody bags full of branded giveaway items—and, of course, registration materials.

While the traditional open house is relatively passive—visitors walk through, take a look around (and, if you’re lucky, stay long enough to ask some questions), and leave—the Festival of Friends is designed to give visitors a chance to interact with every facet of your business.

I added a mini-recital component—the children took class for 20 minutes and then the parents were invited in for the last 10 minutes for a “show.” Judging by the reaction of the parents and the number of photos they took, you would have thought the kids had won Oscars!

Here’s how it works. First, pick a date that coincides with a time that you can take registrations. I chose National Dance Week (NDW) not only because my school was taking summer and fall registrations during that time, but also because I thought that including NDW in our promotions gave Festival of Friends added importance and credibility. Late summer or early fall would also be good times to host the event.

Next, create two types of promotional materials. Target your existing clients by sending them postcards and emails encouraging them to participate and to invite their friends and neighbors. Then inform the public via posters, social media outlets, and calendar listings in local newspapers and parenting magazines.

Plan activities carefully; the day’s offerings should include something for everyone. Consider offering sample ballet or hip-hop classes; photo sessions in which kids dress up in costumes; letting kids put on tap shoes to learn a step, decked out with a top hat and cane; a coloring pages station; a tutu- or tiara-making station; “fishing” for prizes over a curtain; short performances by current students; a healthy snack station; and a visit to the front office to receive a coupon for a free registration.

A great way to get visitors to engage with your program is by offering a stamp card. At Allegro, Janet designed a bingo-style card that students could fill with stamps as they visited various areas of the studio and did the activities. If they filled the card, they got a prize.

In my sample classes, I added a mini-recital component—the children took class for 20 minutes and then the parents were invited in for the last 10 minutes for a “show.” Judging by the reaction of the parents and the number of photos they took, you would have thought the kids had won Oscars! Watching their young children twirl around to the strains of classical music seemed to strike an emotional chord with most parents.

Janet and I each spent about $500 on print materials, supplies, and staff time. That might sound like a lot for a two-hour event, but if you compare it to the cost of placing a single newspaper ad and consider the high number of potential new students who attended, it was an excellent value.