Cinema with[out] the personal touch?

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, cinema literally without the personal touch is the current order of the day. Movio’s head of marketing Holly Jones highlights how exhibitors can maintain great service and communication in a socially distanced world.


BENJAMIN ZECCOLA, CHIEF executive of Palace Cinemas in Australia recently said “People are more into storytelling now than ever. And the greatest storytelling form is cinema. From what people are saying to us on social media and email, they just can’t wait to come back to the cinema.”
There’s no denying that in the past few weeks there has been a noticeable increase in conversation around cinemas reopening, how they plan to do so and whether moviegoers will confidently return straight away. Managing a cinema business is complex. Reopening after the CV19 lockdown makes it doubly so. There are so many elements that need to be considered carefully — and technology plays an essential role in ensuring a successful and safe reopening. The tips and best practices on these pages come from Vista Cinema and Movio — significantly, our expertise covers two key areas of reopening; operations and guest communication. Along the way we will consider the impacts on staff and moviegoers.


When cinemas plan to reopen a strong emphasis will be on adapting. This isn’t business as usual — almost every element of the cinema will need to be adapted, from booking tickets and seats to ordering concessions and the experience once inside the auditorium. The guidance below considers first steps to take and tools to help streamline the process.


Booking: an emphasis on self-service
When it comes to tickets, much prominence should be given to a self-serve experience, to keep both moviegoers and staff safe and comfortable when you reopen. Self-serve can start at home, by encouraging moviegoers to book tickets through your website or app, meaning less contact at the site. The online booking process is also a great opportunity for contact tracing as required by some authorities. However, collecting your moviegoers’ details may be mandatory across all your sales channels, from web, app, kiosk and POS.


Communication is critical
Many moviegoers can’t wait to return to cinemas, but there will be others that need reassurance and encouragement. Reigniting attendance, keeping consistent communication and ensuring return visits will be vital in the early stages of reopening. Marketing campaign ideas should focus on two key stages, pre re-opening and reopening itself. Keep in mind that it’s important to consider the circumstances of your own market before sending any communications.


Before re-opening: restoring confidence
If you have not been regularly sending emails during closure, your email servers will likely need to be warmed up to maintain a positive email sender reputation and ensure  strong deliverability. If this applies to you:


  • Inform your campaign management tool provider before your start sending campaigns so they can track volume and spam complaints.
  • Limit the number of emails you send each week (for example, you could target only the most engaged and recent moviegoers first), then slowly increase your email volume over a few weeks.
  • Keep an eye on delivery rates and bounces.

One-off campaigns you can send your moviegoers could be to announce re-opening preparations or the date if you know it, alert them that you have tickets on sale or simply communicate measures you’re taking to ensure a safe opening. Some tips for this first communication:


  • Consider your tone of voice and content and be aware of the news and external events when setting up this campaign.
  • While Hollywood studios may have yet to announce new release dates, you can entice moviegoers to re-watch trailers once release dates are confirmed or use this as an opportunity to promote local content, non-Hollywood or catalogue titles.
  • Share safety measures taken on site to reassure customers you’re taking necessary steps to ensure a safe environment.
  • Communicate to members that have made a purchase during lockdown (for a voucher for example) and let them know when you are reopening so they can plan their visit.
    If you have a loyalty programme, it is vital to keep communication consistent with loyalty members, especially as you prepare to re-open. Inform them how reopening affects their benefits:
  • Update members who had points or benefits that expired during closure, consider re-applying or extending the validity period and communicating this to them.
  • Equally some members may have had membership expire during closure — again, consider extending their membership and/or compensating for the ‘lost months’.
  • Send a campaign to those members who signed up during lockdown, remind them of their benefits and inform them when they can visit.
  • Create excitement with members and send a countdown campaign and make suggestions on how they can use points and benefits once the cinema is open again.

Finally, if you paused any recurring or automated campaigns, this would be a good time to review and reactivate them. You may need to update wording or the audience segmentation before these campaigns are activated again.


Re-opening: attracting audiences back
As cinemas open again and sessions begin screening, you will need to continue to create engaging campaigns that encourage moviegoers’ repeat visitation. To build excitement, place an emphasis on content you do have available. Even with limited content, you can highlight the moviegoing experience, reminding people why movies are so amazing at the cinema. Include trailers, fun scenes or behind-the-scene clips or focus on themed emails with legacy titles (like “Top Gun”, “Grease” or a Horror evening). You could also implement a date-night experience or sing-along showing to make an event of the moviegoers’ experience. Why not have customers vote for retro titles they’d most like to watch in the cinema?


These first communications are a great time to consider pairing a pre-packaged food item with alternative movie titles to encourage F&B spend. It is a good opportunity to remind moviegoers of contactless concession systems or processes in place, like ordering through your app or kiosk.
Once you have reopened, this is the time to consider setting up or reactivating your recurring and automated campaigns for your loyalty members. Recurring campaigns are useful if you would like a member to receive campaigns automatically when an event happens or if they get to a certain state, They can also help to keep encouraging cinema visitation. For example, you could send a campaign offer to members who —once they visit the cinema — will receive free popcorn if they visit again in the next 14 days. Automated campaigns are useful for both pre- and post- session engagement with members. Before a session, remind members of safety measures you’re taking and how you’ve adapted your cinemas so there are no surprises when they visit (for example, staff may wear masks or protective equipment). After a session, keep your engagement up by sending surveys asking for feedback on their experience and reinforce that the money spent in the cinema will continue to support your business, staff and the industry.

With the pent up demand to socialise once again, share moments with friends and family and to be entertained beyond the confines of online and in-home content; cinemas are going to be a much-needed escape for many people post lockdown.


With the right operations and marketing plans in place, cinemas will be able to shift their focus to what this industry has always excelled in — delivering amazing and entertaining experiences to guests, to keep them coming back for more!