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Partially because of the economic downturn that struck our nation last October, we determined make a concerted effort to expand the reach and relevance of our site for users and visitors alike and to really brand the NowPlaying experience. To achieve our goals, we enlisted the help of a major Austin event and arts marketing organization, Hook’em Marketing. (Greater Tuna, The Long Center, Russell Art Galleries, Hyatt, Wells Fargo, etc.). Because Amy Layton, principal of Hook’em, very much appreciates that NowPlayingAustin serves the whole arts community and not just one arts group, Hook’em took on the project pro-bono. As a result, we have been able to put a great deal of focused energy into strengthening the brand, and increasing visitor engagement, the positive results of which are becoming increasingly evident:
* We now have a NowPlayingAustin widget on the Arts page of the ACVB website, Austintexas.org, that allows visitors to the ACVB site to search our site for arts and cultural attractions. The widget is bringing good traffic to our site every month.
* We have a partnership with News8 Austin to produce a weekly “Austin Arts Minute” featuring events opening that week that are on the site with a closer that drives traffic to NowPlayingAustin.com for more information. The Minute is hosted by Carla McDonald, a strong arts advocate and incredibly appealing personality — on air and off. Carla also loved the fact that we were serving the whole community and not just a few arts organizations, and also agreed to do the hosting pro-bono. This has been invaluable. (It took several months between the time we first pitched the Minute to News 8 and its ultimate launch. Many thanks to Amy for her persistent negotiations, and to Carla for willingness to “hang in there” with the project from pilot to debut. (And News8 loves Carla!
* We also created a NowPlayingAustin A-Team Membership that gives members tweets to pick up free tickets to events — on a first come first served basis — in exchange for their reviewing the events on NowPlaying. The site has the capacity to generate a top ten list based on user reviews. We now have over 120 members on the A-Team and are organizing happy hours for the to meet one another. Another level of engagement with the site and with the arts in our community.
* Lastly, we have eliminated a separate ticking site for AusTIX and have built AusTIX directly into the site in order to make one-stop shopping for events and tickets that much easier. We have also tied weekly ticket bargains to our weekly e-blast, the NowPlayingAustin e-minder.
Because NowPlayingAustin is a community arts portal aimed at expanding audiences and increasing public engagement with Austin’s arts and cultural scene, our organization was also invited to participate, along with other US service organizations and national arts consultants, in Project Audience, a Mellon Foundation-funded “planning process” whose aim is to envision the next generation of technology and practice for community arts and cultural portals. How can we use our technology to foster collaborative, community-level efforts to develop new and greater audiences for the arts and cultural community? The next steps of Project Audience are being outlined at the upcoming National Arts Marketing Project conference in October 2009.