Diverse Dealings: Marcus’s Ann Stadler Uses Marketing to Reach New Audiences

Earlier this year, Boxoffice Pro partnered with Celluloid Junkie to present the fourth annual list of Top Women in Global Exhibition, published in our CinemaCon issue. Throughout 2019, Boxoffice Pro continues to pay tribute to the women who have an immeasurable impact on the exhibition industry with a series of in-depth profiles.

The desires of moviegoers are not static. Advancements in technology boost people’s expectations for video and sound quality. A menu that you introduced five years ago might not (bad pun incoming) cut the mustard today. And, with all the diversity that exists in the United States, it would be foolish to assume that every moviegoer wants to see the same thing. As Marcus Theatres’ vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer, Ann Stadler is on the front lines of finding out what moviegoers want and determining how to best deliver it to them.

Marcus’s CMO since 2014, Stadler previously worked with advertising firms and the nonprofit organization United Way, where as vice president of marketing and communication she was instrumental in building partnerships and introducing the Live United branding. When she got to the movie business, things were … different. “We don’t control the products that we’re playing for these guests. The way this industry works, we may [only know a few days in advance] that we actually have the product in a certain market,” she explains. “Every day, I have product that I need to sell in order to keep a business thriving. How do I make sure that I’m reaching the right people with that information, and we’re playing it in all the right places?”

To match the movie to the moviegoer, information is key. Marcus’s Magical Movie Rewards loyalty program, Stadler notes, is essential for that purpose, giving the chain insight into what Marcus customers want to see and allowing Marcus to communicate about what’s available. Beyond that, “from a leadership standpoint, when I’m being my best is when I’m listening,” Stadler says. “Whether that’s listening to my associates and what they are hearing directly in the field or listening to customers, reading surveys, or looking at NPS [net promoter score] comments. Or just being in a theater: ‘Help me understand why you chose that movie, or why you chose that theater? Why are you loyal to us?’”

Stadler’s openness to learning about Marcus’s customer base facilitates Marcus’s goal—echoed by chairman, president, and CEO Rolando Rodriguez in his work with NATO to increase diversity and inclusion in the exhibition industry—of screening movies that cater to a diverse group of moviegoers. “That’s one of the things we’re looking at: How do we make sure that we create a culture and an environment that supports diversity? [How do we make] sure to attract audiences from different backgrounds, whether it be ethnic or economic? We want to invite them to the theaters and play products and produce events that make sense. [We want them] to see that we are an active part of the community who embraces everyone.”

In 2017, Marcus Theaters helped create and launch the CineLatino Milwaukee Film Festival, which “brought in close to 6,000 people” in its first year, Stadler recalls. “Part of the reason [we did that] was because the studios didn’t necessarily perceive that we had enough Hispanics [in that market for the] grosses to be in alignment with some of the other states and communities.” The success of the festival caused people to “sit up and take notice and realize that there are opportunities in a lot of communities. We just have to be able to have those partnerships in place and promote them.”

In addition to the CineLatino festival, Marcus screens Bollywood films—working with local influencers and specialized publications to help get the word out to the community—and recently worked with the “mommy blogger” crowd for a screening where people could vote on which of four retro titles they wanted to see. “We had 80 people sign up to come to this evening, not because of the movie—because voting wasn’t over—but because of that group and knowing that it was going to be a fun event.”

With 90 theaters in 17 states, for a screen count just over 1,000, Marcus doesn’t have the numbers of the “big guys” in the exhibition industry, Stadler acknowledges. But what they do have is “the flexibility to be able to do some unique things within our community. We get out there and we do grassroots efforts. We help to build relationships with people. We’re at events where key audiences will be, whether it be promoting summer films or promoting very specific, niche things.”

Stadler’s belief in the importance of connecting with people extends outside her purview as Marcus Theatres’ CMO. She belongs to TEMPO Milwaukee, an executive leadership group for women in the Milwaukee area. “It’s so important that we help each other find a voice and to support each other and to take time to celebrate successes as we all move forward.” She also serves on NATO’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee; as part of that group’s scholarship review committee, the group offers financial assistance to employees of NATO member theaters so they can attend NATO’s Annual Fall Membership Meeting. The committee aims to increase diversity within NATO, giving professionals from underrepresented groups an opportunity to participate in key discussions that affect the exhibition industry. 

Marcus has been a part of the industry for a long time—85 years, in fact, as of 2020. During last year’s holiday season, Stadler recalls, they launched a campaign that invited people to celebrate the chain’s legacy by sharing their “favorite Marcus moviegoing memory. Some were just straight moviegoing, and some were specific to the circuit. But we had an overwhelming response. … That was a campaign that was fun, because it really helps you get an understanding of your audience from a different perspective. You hear from your guests and what they’re passionate about. Many people shared a memory about either their first movie or taking their child to see their first movie. There were a lot of good, passionate, wonderful memories associated with that.”

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