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Marketing on Coffee Cups Working for Local Performing Arts Venue

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IOWA CITY, Iowa A marketing twist that literally puts the message in your hands is delivering results for a local performance venue.

Hancher Auditorium has promoted various events on the sleeves that adorn coffee cups at Java House locations in Iowa City for more than six years. Currently, the sleeves remind customers of Working Group Theatre's The Broken Chord, which opens April 12.

Rob Cline, who leads the marketing and communications efforts for Hancher, said the coffee cup sleeves debuted before any other part of the promotional campaign.

"I don't want to say it set the world on fire in terms of ticket sales, but it certainly started the ticket sales engine," Cline said. "We started to see an uptick in nightly sales for Broken Chord as soon as those hit."

Cline said he was initially skeptical of the idea when an intern brought it up back in 2006. He wondered about the costs involved. The intern approached Tara Cronbaugh, the owner of Java House, who was in full support of partnering.

The decision to go ahead made sense, Cline said, because Java House was not facing an extra charge to print designs on the sleeves, and in turn, would not bill Hancher for them.

Initially, Hancher used the sleeves to promote mostly Broadway shows, such as Rent and My Fair Lady. The strategy changed when the 2008 flood ruined the venue.

"When the flood upended our world, we started doing less Broadway shows...so we had to think of new ways to make those sleeves useful for us," Cline said. "We did them for the Boston Pops and one year we just used them as a supporting piece for our general season announcement."

Cline said he frequently gets positive comments about the coffee cup sleeves. They are only found at Java House locations, and the coffee shop does not utilize the sleeves to advertise for other organizations or businesses.

"In the cluttered media landscape, where we know people don't necessarily want to hear from us as much as we'd like to talk to them, this seems like a non-obtrusive way to reach people that people think is clever and engaging," Cline said.