Milwaukee, WI, U.S.A.
Milwaukee Theater District
Category: Achievement | Team Achievement | 911. Team’s Body of Work Achievement
In November of 2022, the Milwaukee Theater District was unveiled at the city’s historic Riverside Theater to a crowd of city officials, local leaders, residents and members of participating organizations. VISIT Milwaukee, in addition to nine participating theaters and supportive entities, breathed life into a project that had been more than half a century in the making. The Milwaukee Theater District Committee assembled, identifying an opportunity to amplify the live entertainment scene in Milwaukee. With more than 2,000 performances in the original footprint, drawing two million annual attendees, the Milwaukee Theater District also offered the highest number of seats per capita in the country. The venues in the district are an economic engine, contributing more than $400 million in estimated annual visitor spending to the city’s economy.
Originally designed to drive increased awareness of and attendance at Milwaukee's premier arts, live performance, and entertainment venues, the district created a committee of the participating organizations to help foster a series of coordinated collaborative marketing campaigns. The goal of these marketing efforts extended beyond driving new visitors to the area but also stoke local pride in the incredible arts and entertainment offerings found throughout the city and enhance the city’s reputation as a world-class arts and cultural destination. From the district’s inception in 2022, the Milwaukee Theater District has drawn the eye of even more performing arts groups, expanding to 13 venues and four supporting entities.
After facilitating a series of wildly successful marketing campaigns to promote upcoming shows and collectively raise the profile of Milwaukee as a Great Lakes entertainment hub, the district’s future looks brighter than ever, including plans as a group to create the city’s first Milwaukee Theater Week, partner with Grammy Award-winning artist Grace Webber and more.
Through the hard work of the Milwaukee Theater District Committee, the spotlight is on Milwaukee, and the marquee is lit with the bold letters that read, “Milwaukee Theater District.” Thanks to these efforts, Milwaukee is on the radar of theater fans from across the country.
Long identified by each of the participating theaters as an opportunity to pair each of their respective venues and performing arts groups to amplify their reach, the groups looked to VISIT Milwaukee to help facilitate the district and finally launch this initiative that had been 40 years in the making.
Current participating entities include:
• The ARC Theatre at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel
• Bradley Symphony Center
• Historic Third Ward Association
• Marcus Hotels & Resorts
• Marcus Performing Arts Center
• Miller High Life Theatre
• Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21
• Milwaukee Chamber Theatre
• Milwaukee Repertory Theater
• Next Act Theatre
• Pabst Theater
• Renaissance Theaterworks
• The Riverside Theater
• Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel
• Skylight Music Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center
• Sunstone Studios
• Turner Hall Ballroom
• United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF)
• VISIT Milwaukee
The first step for the committee was to create a brand that aligned with all expressions of performing arts and then ensure visual continuity in the form of street banners, table tents at partner restaurants, signage at each theater, skywalk signage, digital graphics and so much more. This universal branding ensured that visitors and locals could easily identify the Milwaukee Theater District as a tight, walkable cluster of venues and encouraged them to explore more of the performing arts groups in the area.
The branding was immediately deployed to create the Milwaukee Theater District landing page. Hosted on the VISIT Milwaukee website, the Milwaukee Theater District landing page acts as the hub for all things Milwaukee Theater District including member information, relevant stories and upcoming events. All-time, pages related to the Milwaukee Theater District on the VISIT Milwaukee website have 34,145 views.
This same branding was used to develop the Milwaukee Theater District social media channels, hosted by VISIT Milwaukee, designed to engage prospective visitors and locals by promoting upcoming shows and events at respective theaters. These social media channels (including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) have 1,420 followers with a total reach (Instagram and Facebook) of 352,065 throughout the campaign. The same look and feel were applied to the Milwaukee Theater District Newsletter, a monthly newsletter created to highlight upcoming events, member information, relevant stories and promotions. This e-newsletter is sent to a subscriber list of 2,816 and has an astonishing 75.1% open rate with a stunning 25.7% click-to-open rate.
Post-branding and engagement tactics, the Milwaukee Theater District sought to gamify visiting the performing arts venues throughout the region with the MKE Theater District Pass. Leveraging VISIT Milwaukee’s partnership with Bandwango digital passes, the MKE Theater District Pass was created to encourage entertainment lovers to spread the love across district members as well as other restaurants and retail partners located within the Milwaukee Theater District. Throughout the campaign, 1,108 people have signed up for the pass, with more than 75 redemptions at participating local businesses.
To spur early engagement, the committee created “Milwaukee’s Most Entertaining Giveaway.” Promoted via social media social media, digital advertising, and e-newsletters, Milwaukee’s most entertaining giveaway offered entertainment enthusiasts the chance to win one of three prizes including the grand prize: tickets to a show in the MKE Theater District, a one-night stay at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel and a $200 gift card to Lupi and Iris. The giveaway worked splendidly, attracting 5,038 entries for more than 36,000 impressions and 789 webpage clicks. This sparked interest in the district, with more than 2,294 newsletter signups, 2,453 visitors guide requests and 455 blog views.
VISIT Milwaukee and the committee members of the Milwaukee Theater District took the city’s most entertaining district on the road to the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show and to VISIT Milwaukee’s collaboration with Travel Wisconsin, “Wisconsin in Chicago Day” at Union Station. At the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show, VISIT Milwaukee highlighted the Milwaukee Theater District as part of a booth activation at the annual Chicago Travel & Adventure Show. A MKE Theater District giveaway was paired with –newsletter sign-ups to further out-of-market reach. Then, at Chicago’s Union Station, the Milwaukee Theater District Committee members of the Pabst Theater Group worked with VISIT Milwaukee to bring three local bands to the Windy City to give the thousands of commuters and visitors a taste of the good things brewing just 90 miles north in Milwaukee.
This past summer, the committee worked together to create “It’s Alive! On the RiverWalk Milwaukee.” This two-month busker activation injected $14,000 into the local performing arts scene as Milwaukee area artists performed for visitors along the Milwaukee River. Throughout the 68 busking performances during the summer, visitors and locals traveling along the Milwaukee RiverWalk had the opportunity to experience the incredible local artists.
As for the future, the committee is excited by the successes of this young district. Coming later this fall, the district will host the city’s first Milwaukee Theater Week. From November 9–19, Milwaukee’s favorite performing arts groups and entertainment venues will turn the spotlight onto themselves. The inaugural Milwaukee Theater Week (MTW) will offer Milwaukeeans and visitors the opportunity to interact with our live entertainment powerhouses and world-class performing arts groups in a whole new way.
Featuring a kick-off concert at the Pabst Theater by Milwaukee native and Grammy award-winning recording artist, Grace Weber, this event is designed to put Milwaukee on the map as a must-visit destination for live entertainment. Additional in-person activations will include behind-the-scenes tours, post-show programming and talkbacks, an advocacy fair, volunteer recognition and more. Participating MTW performance groups and venues are encouraged to run ticket promotions and giveaways while VISIT Milwaukee leverages relationships with area hotels and restaurants to offer discounts and deals for theater lovers.
Finally, the committee plans on leveraging community relationships with Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter and producer Grace Weber who is also a proud Milwaukee native to promote the city as a live entertainment destination and incubator for the arts. VISIT Milwaukee is excited to sponsor Grace’s tour and has created a forthcoming video series to share the impact the Cream City has had on her career. At each show on her tour, VISIT Milwaukee will share the latest in the organization's Non-Fungible Tourism (NFT) marketing initiative to ignite interest in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Theater District.
Ultimately, what began as a committee designed to help a group of performing arts groups and venues in the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown has flourished into an incredible community of partners working to raise the profile of the city’s place as a world-class entertainment hub. Thanks to the tireless efforts of each of these participating entities, Milwaukee’s performing arts scene has never been more visible. The groundwork the Milwaukee Theater District Committee has done has blazed a trail for this city as a hotbed for local talent for years to come and positioned the Cream City as a true destination for visitors from across the country.
Current participating entities include: The ARC Theatre at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, Bradley Symphony Center, Historic Third Ward Association, Marcus Hotels & Resorts, Marcus Performing Arts Center, Miller High Life Theatre, Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Next Act Theatre, Pabst Theater, Renaissance Theaterworks, The Riverside Theater, Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, Skylight Music Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center, Sunstone Studios, Turner Hall Ballroom, United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF), VISIT Milwaukee