TRG Case Study: Denver Art Museum

Case Study: Denver Art Museum

TRG direct marketing tools find new prospects, 

track response for blockbuster mail campaign

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The situation:

Becoming Van Gogh at Denver Art MuseumIn October 2012, Denver Art Museum (DAM) opened Becoming Van Gogh for a limited run in Denver only. The exhibit brought together for the first time various works by Van Gogh and those artists who influenced him. With such a unique exhibit and popular subject matter, the staff of DAM knew that the exhibit would be a smash hit.

Molly Wink, Director of Membership & Amenities, was especially interested in leveraging the would-be success of this exhibit and the consequent influx of new patrons into lasting patron relationships, especially via her direct mail campaign:

The very nature of a show with Van Gogh as the subject makes it so that almost everyone is an appropriate target. Because of this, we had lots and lots of prospects for this show to promote ticket-buying behavior, which then leads to membership-buying behavior. We started thinking about how the direct mail campaigns would look and we knew we wanted to go big with it. 

Wink was also interested in better tracking responses to campaigns and learning how different groups responded to certain offers. In the past DAM had tracked only the transactions that directly corresponded to the offer it was mailing—measuring who responded to a membership mailing by buying a membership via mail. “I had long suspected that response to our mailings was better than we calculated because we had never tracked response to mailings as it related to ticket buying, only to directly correlating membership sales,” Wink said.

DAM engaged TRG to help undertake this critical campaign by finding the best prospects not already in their database with Prospect Finder and tracking who bought both memberships and tickets with Response Reports.


“Go big” they did—both with the campaign and the results. The mail campaign had a 7.5% response rate for single tickets, and a 1.7% response rate for memberships.

Even the prospects who had no prior experience with the museum responded well. The mailing to patrons using TRG’s Prospect Finder, designed to find patrons demographically similar to current patrons, generated a 4.3% response rate with an average order $6 above the average order for the all responders. In total, Prospect Finder found 2,983 new ticket buyers and 390 new members.

In her own Words:

DAM already had best practices in place for their ticketing infrastructure and the ability of the ticketing staff to sell memberships. All of this played a part in the incredible success of the campaign. Wink described some of the details of the mail campaign:

What DAM sent

For Becoming Van Gogh, we had 4 different mailings. We had an upgrade campaign for current members, a reactivation for lapsed members, and then this big acquisition campaign, which we had two drops of mail for.

Who they sent it to

We’re unique compared to some of our peer museums in that we have a community database, in which arts patrons abound. I used the community database extensively, but I wanted to step outside of that universe. I wanted to understand who our members are and how to find more of them, by finding more people who look like them demographically. I started to talk with TRG about Prospect Finder to find those similar-looking people. I found the very best prospects I could in our data and the community database and then used Prospect Finder to fill in the gap between the number of patrons I had and the number wanted to mail to.

Typically, TRG models Prospect Finder from patrons in the organization’s database who attended similar events, but Wink modeled the new list from previous members.

I did this for one very practical and one very selfish reason: 1) practical: The only information I have is on members. I didn’t have much data on previous ticket-buyers. 2) selfish: Of course, I want more members. The interesting thing is—they’re the same. If you run the demographics on our ticket buyers, on members, and on high-level donors, the differences are minute. It’s difficult because when they all look the same, how do you know who to prospect?

How DAM tracked response

We track response to the membership appeal through our membership database but running response to ticket buying is almost impossible, since there’s a different system. Really the only way to do it is to match up the data, which TRG does with Response Reports faster than I ever could. I never had high expectations for direct mail, but our gut instinct was that these membership mailings were an important cog in the machine of marketing the show. Now we know it’s a necessary piece; it’s lining everything up, so we always have a sort of pipeline.

I would not say that people bought tickets PURELY because they got the mailing. They bought for a variety of reasons, probably including the fact that they got a direct mail piece. The mailing was one piece of the bigger marketing puzzle. But it illustrates the point that direct mail is an important part of the marketing mix.

We’re now promoting loyalty and stewarding membership in whole different way and building the pipeline for membership by contacting our best prospects in a different way, instead of treating them all the same. We’re beginning to understand better how patrons respond and we’re ready to react to that learning.

About DAM:

The Denver Art Museum is one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast, with a collection of more than 70,000 works of art divided between 10 permanent collections including African, American Indian, Asian, European and American, modern and contemporary, pre-Colombian, photography, Spanish Colonial, textile, and western American art. DAM’s holdings reflect the city and region—and provide invaluable ways for the community to learn about cultures from around the world.

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Posted September 18, 2013

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