By Awards Analyst, writer

July 3, 2021 | 6 min read

Opera North won the B2C Brand Team of the Year category at The Drum Awards for Marketing 2021, for its activity in response to the pandemic. Here, the team outlines some of the many creative initiatives it brought in to not only sustain but grow its audience, in a year that was particularly hard on the arts.

The challenge

Opera North is a 250-strong arts organization using music to deliver extraordinary experiences every day to people in the North of England and beyond. The marketing and communications team comprises marketing, design, video, press, web and social abilities. The 13 team members develop and retain audiences, generate ticket sales, tell the organization’s stories and ensure the brand is strong, relevant and impactful.

In March 2020, the Opera North marketing and communications team was plunged, like so many others, into a strange and stressful environment.

With 75% of the organization on furlough, and the emphasis put on all things digital to keep the company alive, the team faced huge challenges. It had three key objectives: stay connected with audiences, keep making music, and replace lost income.

The strategy

Previously the marketers of live events, they now found themselves in the role of entertainers and content aggregators, needing to uplift audiences and keep them engaged. So - how did they do this and what did they achieve?

Firstly, by developing the #OperaNorthAtHome sub-brand whose main channel was a weekly email to mailing list of 65,000. This became the backbone of lockdown communications, and the team sent 18 #OperaNorthAtHome emails packed with light-hearted messaging, archival content and new digital content including videos, podcasts, playlists and longform content. These emails achieved some best-ever results in terms of opens and click to opens.

Opera North 2

The project

Some of the audience’s favorite content included:

  • 2020: An Isolation Odyssey - the Orchestra’s virtual performance of a Strauss piece filmed in musicians’ homes and masterfully edited by the in-house video team reached over 179,000 views on YouTube and achieved our highest ever email click-to-open rate.

  • The Ring Cycle - films of Wagner’s epic 15-hour opera were already available on the website. To drive new revenue, and entertain audiences, the team delivered an internationally-targeted paid digital campaign and promoted the films via #OperaNorthAtHome. Over 80,500 people ’put a ring on it’ during lockdown and the opera achieved over £3.5k in donations revenue.

  • Isolation Arias, weekly articles featuring the staff’s top musical picks, which were then built into Spotify playlists. The team asked audiences what live music they missed the most and from the responses created Your Isolation Arias: a lockdown playlist for audiences.

  • Thinking with Opera, a podcast series featuring in-depth explorations of the world of opera with guests including Simon Armitage, these podcasts have garnered over 2,400 downloads.

The team also organized closed events for loyal subscribers, including:

  • From Couch to Chorus - singing workshops on Zoom for anyone, from complete beginners to experienced singers. This was a new initiative which deliver over 5,000 unique participants and over £100k in donations revenue.

  • One-to-One - 261 free performances with members of the orchestra or chorus live on Zoom. With only one audience member in attendance, these personal and unique experiences have amassed £3,815 in donations revenue.

  • Opera North ONDemand, a brand-new streaming platform, built in just 10 days with the support of web agency Substrakt. When lockdown 2.0 hit, the team took a show that was ready for the stage, built a platform and hosted its first ever livestream concert.

The results

This continuous improvement of the site delivered fantastic results:

  • 32% increase in web sessions and 35% increase in unique web visitors on previous year

  • 7,364 school children watched our Cinderella ONDemand

  • 4.2 million watched our video content

  • Over 3,300 ticketed views of livestreams/video via ONDemand.

The marketing campaigns delivered a new audience segment of ‘Lockdown Newbies’: 8,785 people who engaged with Opera North for the first time during the pandemic, the majority of whom say they’re likely to book for a live performance in future. This new audience could fill six theater auditoriums!

They built an international online audience. The team identified an appetite for its content in North America and Western Europe, using paid Facebook and Google AdWords to maximize this. The new audience has come from 44 foreign countries.

These achievements will hold Opera North in a strong position as it emerges from the pandemic. The flexibility, capacity for experimentation, positivity and creativity of the team members have driven success despite the arduous last year.

“This is what the world needs now, more music, more laughter. This online content reminds us that no matter how bad things are, we are still capable of this beauty.” — via YouTube

“These are some of the most brilliant posts on the internet at the moment” — via Facebook

“Opera North have kept me going during the pandemic... Thank you Opera North for everything.” – via feedback survey

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Marketing 2021. Find out which competitions in The Drum Awards are currently open and don’t forget to visit our new interactive calendar.

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