Following their inaugural webinar earlier this month, Cinema In Flux continued its dive into another key issue exhibitors will be tackling in the coming months as the industry prepares to recover from the current COVID-19 crisis: marketing.
Their second session, which you can watch here, focused on what strategies can and should be adopted now and going forward, with insights from industry experts Karen Melton (VP Marketing, Malco Theatres), Ken Thewes (CMO, Regal Cinemas), and Rian Kirkman (VP Marketing, Studio Movie Grill) in a webinar moderated by Melissa Boudreau (CMO, Emagine Entertainment).
Kicking things off, Melton pointed to social media outreach as the most engaging campaign thus far employed by Malco during this time. Specifically, they’ve been selling popcorn in bulk and their Memphis location has remained open since it has a full-serve restaurant, the Powerhouse Cinema Grill.
“We were struggling to capture business with other downtown Memphis restaurants until we started selling popcorn. What started as a simple Facebook post exploded into 60,000 views in a matter of hours.” Multiple television and radio stations picked up on the initiative, Melton added, resulting in an expansion of the efforts to other Malco locations within a couple of days.
Leveraging Loyalty Programs
The discussion moved into the topic of loyalty databases, to which Thewes emphasized, “if you’re in marketing and you don’t have a loyalty program, that should be your top priority to develop. There is so much power in the data, you can structure it as a pay-as-you-go platform that doesn’t cost anything incremental, and you can drive incremental revenue through a variety of ways.”
Thewes added that Regal has been relying on three methods of communication during the current closure period: email, social media, and mobile. He notes that email has been scaled back with no new releases in play, but it’s still used to address important issues such as moviegoer credits that are expiring and being extended, reassuring customers that they won’t be penalized.
Furthermore, the email strategy includes highlighting movie trailers, which can generate valuable data points.
“When we target members who’ve watched a trailer, and when the movie opens up, our return on investment of those people buying tickets is two- to three-fold higher than the average member.”
On social media, Thewes and Regal have seen significant upticks in their imprint by adapting to the current times.
“Our social media approach changed as we scaled back. Instead of promoting individual movies, it’s about celebrating moviegoing in general. From that perspective, our engagement has been phenomenal,” said Thewes. He pointed to more than 100 percent increases in engagement rates on both Facebook and Twitter.
“As marketers, one of our roles is to be a strategic decision maker and not just tacticians. A loyalty program is a great strategic tool to have for every brand.”
The Balance of Messaging and Tone
The discussion moved toward the challenging decision of what tonality to embrace when marketing under the current circumstances. According to Kirkman, “One thing we talk a lot about at Studio Movie Grill is authentic optimism. We want to highlight the escapism of movies, but still be grounded in what’s going on around us. Don’t be tone deaf about the situation, but remind people about the movies.”
Learning from Other Industries
Of course, the film industry is not experiencing these issues alone. Other companies are going through similar challenges, and exhibition is in a position to use others’ examples as lessons to learn from. “There are ways to do it without offending consumers or patronizing them to a certain degree,” Melton points out.
Handling Media Relationships
Press coverage is another integral component toward weathering the current circumstances. “It’s important to make sure press relationships are strong and remain strong. That’s how we do everything organically,” says Melton.
“This isn’t about just getting a local TV station to cover you, it’s about working with stations and making sure that you keep your branding efforts up in addition to customer engagements. I want to make sure that we are doing everything positive, everything right, and that we were a good partner to the community throughout this whole time.”
Ethical Approaches in Trying Financial Times
One of the most difficult questions to tackle in these times is the ethical approach of a business trying to keep itself running and making money, thereby meaning people must leave their homes to take advantage of certain offers — and, in turn, keep as many people working as possible.
“We can’t forget about our great employees. While we’re still engaging customers, we still have to boost employee morale,” says Melton. “Our managers need something to do other than clean popcorn poppers and caulk windows or floors, and they need to feel like they belong and they’re a part of this. If this gives them some sense of normalcy in the short term, I’m all for it. If people want to come and buy popcorn, let them buy popcorn.”
Alternate Revenue Sources
Since theaters are closed for the time being, though, certain companies have engaged in the practice of virtual cinemas and alternative sources of revenue. There are different needs and different priorities for each theater owner, though.
“At Regal, we don’t really see the opportunity to drive relevant incremental revenue. It doesn’t bother me when I see others doing it, though,” says Thewes — noting that he’s completely behind Lionsgate’s Live! initiative kicking off Friday, April 17 with a virtual interactive screening of The Hunger Games and continuing with other films for the following three Friday nights to raise money for the Will Rogers Foundation.
“I think that’s fantastic and Regal’s going to get behind that and promote it.”
From Studio Movie Grill’s perspective of generative alternative revenue, Kirkman says, “We’re unique in that we have a smaller footprint but all of our locations have full kitchens.” The chain has activated those kitchens by serving meals, beer, and wine and partnering with Grubhub. SMG is also preparing to launch online ordering through their app, which Kirkman adds they’re “hoping to continue even when everything goes back to normal.”
Best Practices for the New Normal
In general, exhibitors will need to institute a number of best practices upon re-opening — some of which are yet to be clearly defined, but all of which will be important to returning moviegoers.
“We have to balance the line of saying ‘we’re ready when you are’ from a tonality standpoint and not force the issue. We’re also talking to other industries because we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. We want people to feel safe and comfortable,” said Kirkman.
Maintaining Consumer Confidence
Closing out the main portion of the webinar, the subject briefly turned to the financial difficulties facing multiple exhibitors and what that means for convincing audiences they’ll eventually be back in business. “What’s key for each brand, big or small, is to keep engaging with your consumer. If you ignore them, that just gives them a reason to wonder,” Thewes concluded.
The webinar then wrapped up with an audience Q&A tackling questions around working with studios for promotion and beginning the conversation with consumers about returning to moviegoing under ongoing social distance guidelines.
We’ll have more coverage of this webinar series in the coming weeks. For now, you can follow their updates and announcements for registration at CinemaInFlux.com.