Sometimes even beloved traditions get an update, like the Sacramento Ballet’s annual holiday production of “The Nutcracker,” which offers a new take on the classic story this year. And to coincide with the fresh take, the ballet rethought their marketing plan, working in partnership with business students at William Jessup University in Rocklin.
After 30 years of a Nutcracker that focused on joy and theatrics — and included 500 local children on stage each year — the ballet’s new artistic director Amy Seiwert has offered her own take on the classic E.T.A. Hoffmann tale on which the ballet is based. While this year’s version may look similar to past productions at first glance — it features the same set and costumes in all of their candy-colored glory and a cast of 300 local children — Seiwert’s retelling sees Marie (the original name for child protagonist Clara) becoming the heroine of her own story as portrayed by an adult female instead of a child dancer.
Runs Dec. 14-23
Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento
“The Hoffmann story is quite dark — there was a big push in Germany at the time for intellectual reasoning, so Hoffmann’s story is very repressed,” Seiwert says. “It has a degree of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ about it — Marie’s imagination is her agency, her way out. That’s the kernel I picked up on, her journey of empowerment in developing from a young girl into a young woman through her imagination. But it’s still a traditional telling of the story — I’m shifting the point of view but not the style. People will still recognize this as the Nutcracker tradition they love, just told from a different perspective.”
Seiwert started as the artistic director in July 2018, and is only the fourth artistic director in the ballet’s 64-year history. Seiwert — who previously danced with the Sacramento Ballet from 1991 to 1999 — replaced longtime co-directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda, who had run the company for 30 years until the board of directors decided not to renew their contracts beyond the 2017-18 season. Other recent transitions included the hiring of new executive director Anthony Krutzkamp in 2017 and the addition of new members to the board of directors.
For the $1.1 million “Nutcracker” production’s marketing strategy, the ballet’s board decided to “go in a completely different direction,” according to board member Ken Fry. After assessing the efficacy of their current marketing tactics — primarily postcards, print ads and social media campaigns — the ballet discovered that the company’s draw wasn’t nearly as wide as it wanted, especially for “The Nutcracker.” The production averages 23,000 attendees per year and the company wants to increase that attendance by 10 percent in 2018. Krutzkamp said opening night this year had an attendance of 1,565; Saturday’s two shows had attendance of 2,299 and 1,670; and Sunday was sold out. The ballet had passed $900,000 in ticket sales with seven shows left, as of press time.
“We’ve had an inability in the past to reach as many neighborhoods as professional companies in other cities,” Krutzkamp says. “Our ticket sales in the suburbs north of Sacramento [where WJU is located] in particular were not as good as in other directions, so it’s been great partnering with WJU because they know everyone up there — not to mention they’re bringing the fresh perspective of young people, an age group we don’t normally sell to.”
William Jessup University Business Professor Scott Alvord led his upper-division marketing class in a comprehensive assessment and overhaul of the ballet’s previous “Nutcracker” marketing materials. He also guided them in implementing target avatar marketing, in which students crafted specific personas of potential ticket buyers to help tailor the campaign.
“These avatars each had exact characteristics and psychological profiles — so every word, font, phrase and image was designed to reach the targets as if we were reading out of their diaries,” Alvord says.
The students identified avatars such as a Millennial Mom and Fun Grandma. “When targeting our Millennial Mom avatar, we focused on specific details of moms who want to start a fun family tradition by taking their children to see ‘The Nutcracker,” Alvord says. “With the release of the Disney movie ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,’ we felt this would be perfect timing to pique the interest of the children. When targeting our Fun Grandma avatar, we focused on specific psychological aspects of an aging grandma who subconsciously knows that family legacy memories are very important and that this major family production can be the type of lasting memory she desires for her diverse family.”
Once the students developed the avatars, they next crafted a press release and social media campaigns that would appeal to the psychology of those target avatars. These campaigns first ran over Thanksgiving weekend and produced a significant spike in ticket sales according to Krutzkamp, though he didn’t specify numbers. The students also analyzed the mailing address list of all ticket buyers for the prior two years of the production. They then created a focused IP geo-targeted campaign that displays digital ads in the homes of those ticket buyers, to remind them of the re-envisioned production and drive them to secure seats.
“This project gives us a real-world perspective of what it’s like to be part of a marketing team,” says WJU sophomore Taylor Stathos. “In the classroom, we can learn about different strategies, but in this project, we can actually apply what we’ve been learning.”
Because data tracking has become increasingly crucial for companies to figure out where their sales are coming from in order to replicate those results in the future, the WJU students also built tracking codes into each piece of digital collateral.
“For every marketing piece that displays the website or allows a digital click, the web address or link has a code that tells us where the traffic came from so we can easily watch the hits to the website,” Alvord says. The ballet is therefore able to track whether visitors have been driven to the website from the press release, the poster, various types of postcards, social media platforms or geotargeted ads and gain critical information about their target audience for the current production as well as future endeavors — which particularly excites Krutzkamp.
“It can be easy to become very [Sacramento] Ballet-centric,” Krutzkamp says, “so having somebody on the outside take a fresh look at us has been wonderful. The WJU partnership has given us a different way of looking at things.”