As our core membership continues to age, TPT has a business imperative to engage younger audiences to sustain our future in public media. Many millennials value experiential media and have a strong relationship with PBS, maintaining powerful nostalgia for programs from their childhoods.
In the past, our public events had generally been content-driven, providing a venue to screen PBS or TPT documentaries, or an opportunity to meet a specific PBS Kids character. In contrast, Nostalgia Nights was designed to bring younger audiences into the studio and provide an interactive experience that combines PBS programs, community partners, and local businesses. Unlike any other event series, TPT’s marketing department owned and developed the program, rather than a content team.
Our focus on audience-first, instead of content, led to several novel decisions in visioning, marketing, and implementing Nostalgia Nights. Our events program, while growing, had been dominated by our general audience demographic which skews significantly older, whiter, and more female than the population at large.
We knew our traditional event audience would be interested in Nostalgia Nights, but made the decision to only pursue marketing channels where we could target a younger demographic. We relied solely on social media (primarily Facebook) to drive attendance. We also decided to make the event 21+ and offer a cash bar as a signal to potential attendees that it wouldn’t simply be a traditional PBS family-friendly event.
For our first event, a Mister Rogers Birthday Party, we partnered with a local mask and puppet theater, which had recently finished a show about Mister Rogers. In our studio space, we transported our audience members to the Land of Make Believe with set pieces of the castle, clock, and trolley, clips from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a live puppet of Mister Rogers re-enacting classic scenes, and of course, birthday cake. To attract new members, we purchased enamel pins for our Membership team to offer as sign-up gifts.
For the Bob Ross Painting Party, we also restricted it to people 21+ and solely marketed through Facebook. TPT charged $40 to cover costs of instruction and supplies and filled the 75 available spots within a matter of days. We partnered with a local painter and Bob Ross fan who had appeared on TPT’s arts program to be our instructor. She simplified an iconic Bob Ross painting such that people of all skill levels could create a great work of art in two hours.