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By Doug Booher
For many university venues, dark days are an unfortunate reality. With seasonal audiences and work forces, finding events to fill summer days can be quite a challenge for facility managers who are looking to improve the bottom line and improve their usage rates. Campus venues, however, are also uniquely situated to take advantage of the downtime by partnering with other campus offices and activities that flourish while students are away for the summer.
As financial pressure for profitable facilities rises, managers take a more active approach to fill their halls. When looking for partnership possibilities, there are only a few campus organizations actively working with the public during the summer, the most important of which is the university’s orientation program. Throughout the summer, many campuses host a number of programs to which they invite their incoming freshmen and their families. Partnering with the university’s orientation staff provides the campus public assembly facility the opportunity to enhance the facility’s service to the university, maintain sponsor relationships and create new relationships with incoming students and their families.
At Indiana, we’ve realized that finding a win-win with orientation programmers is simple. They work to put the university’s best foot forward with the incoming students and families. Providing them programming space in a high-profile campus facility increases the value of their program. By serving as a host for the orientation activities, more VIPs and administrators pass through the facility, noting our active role in creating a positive experience for our new students. This has proven to build valuable political capital by creating stronger on-campus partnerships with administrators, who can then serve as advocates for our facility when renovations and facility enhancements are requested.
This type of collaboration also provides an opportunity to provide additional impressions for venue sponsors to a new set of customers. In any collegiate market, businesses and corporations strive to connect to incoming students as soon as they arrive on campus. By hosting these students during their orientation visit, sponsors have the first opportunity to influence that audience. In our case, we negotiated with the orientation programmers to hold a daily drawing for a package of prizes and gift certificates to local and national sponsors. Each session’s packet contains everything from free ice cream and meals to apparel and haircuts.
One grand prize of free text books from the campus bookstore, savings bonds donated from a sponsor bank, and an iPod from a local big box retailer is offered to one lucky recipient from the entire incoming class. Each sponsor is recognized through signage, the opportunity to provide coupons and a stage mention when their prizes are given away. Existing venue sponsors relish the exposure, and we’ve also converted other sponsors from summer orientation only to full venue sponsorships once they’ve seen the reach and impact of participation.
To be eligible for these prizes, students simply fill out a “register to win” card, sharing with the venue their e-mail, mobile phone and campus and permanent addresses, while their families are served a complimentary coffee or soda. On the entry form, they can opt in to receive updates about events occurring in the venue, advance announcements of campus concerts and special discount opportunities.
Each year more than 75 percent of the incoming students participate and opt in for the e-mail messaging. Total acquisition cost for these contacts averages just $.20 per student. As students enter the seating area, music from upcoming concerts and events is played, the venue video system displays sponsor logos and spots featuring upcoming events, and each student is given facility event listings and brochures.
Before the orientation session begins, students and their families are shown a seven-minute video segment about the facility and its programs, complete with instructions on purchasing tickets. This showcase of venue programs has piqued student interest and increased student ticket sales substantially. Again, the value of influencing student habits at the outset of their college career is clear.
At the conclusion of the video segment, the orientation session begins as it would in any other campus lecture hall, except the students and families have been welcomed, entertained and educated about all that the venue has to offer. For the added value of prizes, refreshments and entertainment to the program, orientation covers the direct staff costs. The venue covers the marketing and facility rent and beverage costs.
Through this arrangement, the venue makes excellent use of the dark days of summer, covers a portion of the fixed costs of appointed labor, and benefits from the increased sponsorship, customer acquisition and campus goodwill. fm
Doug Booher is the director of Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington, Ind.
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