The pavilion is a family run independent four screen cinema in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. We have about 20 staff and are a full time cinema and show most commercial films on national release date.
What are your organisations aims?
Our aim is to provide screened entertainment to the people of the Scottish Borders, at a sensible and affordable price, in quality surroundings, being served by friendly and efficient staff.
How are you funded?
We are funded like any commercial cinema operation – bums on seats watching films after they buy popcorn. We did receive a lottery award in the form of the Digital Screen Network in 2007 – this funded a Digital projector which was used to show digital films, 3D films, specialised films and our pavilion Arts programme (alternative content). This projector was retired in 2012 when we converted to digital in all four screens, removing all 35mm projection equipment.
Our film programme is 99% mainstream Hollywood product. We do have a small audience for specialised films but these tend to be more crossover specialised films like The Kings Speech and Atonement.
Over the past 3 years we have developed a strong following for alternative content – predominantly Opera’s broadcast live in high definition from the Metropolitan Opera House in new York City. We’re now in our 9th year of showing the Met Opera and the popularity of these screenings has levelled off; initially they were slow to find an audience, then in seasons two through to five we had regular sell-out performances, but more recently it is unusual for a show to sell out, more often we are between 60 to 80% capacity. We show all these performances (between 8 and 12 per year). It’s fair to say the main audience for the opera performances are of a “mature” nature. It is common to be helping a few customers to their seats with strong arms from staff, and we have a dedicated place for zimmer frames to be left! But the audience is slowly moving younger with more and more 30 somethings and even some children taking an interest.
We also show live theatre shows from the National Theatre in London. These performances (approximately 6 to 10 per year) are also a good source of additional admissions for us and with these being on a Thursday evening, it is not as important for them to be running at capacity.
Most successful cinema activity and why?
Our busiest film to date is Mamma Mia (2008). And it is significantly ahead of it’s rivals for the top spot; Skyfall, Spectre and the 2015’s Star Wars The Force Awakens. Mamma Mia hit the cinema screens in the middle of 2008 when the United Kingdom had just plunged into a deep recession, all the news was doom and gloom and the film resonated with the UK public, lifting their spirits and benefited from multiple repeat visits. I seem to recall one teenage girl came every weekend for 3 months, just for her Mamma Mia fix!
We have had two charity premieres of films – both of which attracted a premium ticket price of £15 or £20 and all customers were offered wine and canapés before the film started. These were both very well attended (without any “star” presence) but it is not easy getting the distributors to allow us to screen a film early.
We also had the world premiere of “Play On.” A movie about Rugby in the Scottish Borders and America. This was also well attended and benefited from international rugby stars and some of the cast and crew attending. We also had a Q & A with the producer after the film.
We recently joined forces with the local horse racing ground and ran Being A.P, the documentary about champion jockey AP McCoy. The film was shown with a live Q & A from Picturehouse Central in London broadcast live by satellite to cinemas around the country. This was a sell out performance and is an indication of how well a niche film can be marketed with the correct brand partners on board.
How you dealt with challenging situations?
The Pavilion is part of a larger building which also houses a bingo hall (which sits underneath our main cinema screen). In May 2010 the ceiling in the bingo hall collapsed which resulted in a significant period of closure for that screen and a lengthy HSE investigation (of the Bingo, NOT the cinema) and a subsequent drawn out expensive legal battle for compensation. I’ve been in the cinema industry since I was 10 years old, running the Pavilion since I was 21 and steering the business through that 4 year period was the most stressful and difficult I have ever experienced. But with personal sacrifices, grit and determination, we have managed it and we have come out the other side as strong as ever, despite only managing to recoup less than 10% of our losses during that period.
And during that period noted above, we had to fund the conversion of the cinema from 35mm film to digital. The digital revolution was not going to wait for us. We were members of the Digital Funding partnership (DFP) from it’s outset. The DFP was able to negotiate a Virtual Print Fee scheme with the major Hollywood studios, to part fund the digitalisation of the majority of independent cinemas in the United Kingdom. Each cinema had to contribute roughly 25% of the cost of the projection equipment, but with other enhancements to audio processing and networking etc, our outlay was in the region of £100,000, which was real challenge to find – especially taking into account the paragraph above.
How do you market your film programme/venue?
We currently have 3 main marketing avenues.
1 Our weekly showtimes information leaflet – available to pick up in the cinema foyer but also distributed to a number of local businesses (garage forecourts, hairdressers, taxi waiting rooms, newsagents etc) for their own customers to uplift.
2. A weekly advert detailing the full weeks programme in the main weekly local newspaper for the Scottish Borders; The Southern Reporter. Although costly, it is the first place many of our customers look to see what is showing.
3. Our web site. We currently have over 2000 registered users who are sent our showtimes by email each Monday or Tuesday once the programme for the following week is known.
Other marketing devices such as banners on the front of the building and the usual cinema fare: quad posters, pre-show trailers etc are all marketing tools we use to the best of our ability.
For alternative content we had to design a whole new marketing mechanism. We anticipated none (or at least very few) of our cinema customers would be interested in Opera. Using a couple of contacts who work in the local music and singing community who are known to the management and family of the Pavilion, we managed to create a small database of local choir groups, amateur operatic society’s and other drama and music society’s and associations within the Scottish Borders. These groups were all sent posters and leaflets for them to distribute to their own members and put up on their own notice boards. I also spent what seemed like hours on the phone to the organisers of these groups “selling” Opera Live in HD to them.
We avoided spending silly money on huge newspaper adverts, relying mostly on word of mouth spreading around the music and drama community. We did put a cheeky banner up on the council railings outside our local Tesco’s store. But this only lasted a week or so before the council ripped it down and sent us a “naughty boy” letter.
Word of mouth did spread and despite a very slow start, as eluded to earlier in this case study, admissions grew very well towards the end of the first season.
Admissions grew so well in fact, and with the initial addition of the NT Live content, we decided to bring all the alternative content productions under the one marketing label of “Pavilion*Arts”. This allows us to target the alternative content audience with their own quickly identifiable marketing materials. But utilising an effectively “roped off” area within the normal cinema marketing materials, we are also able to cross market Pavilion Arts productions for our film customers.
We also have a list of about 600 email addresses for registered customers for Pavilion Arts events. We regularly send out email newsletters with the latest seating availability information and information on new events added to the calendar. But whatever tools we use to market the Arts programme, the best tool there is and the one that has generated more custom for us than anything is the cheapest one of all; word of mouth.
What audience development activity are you currently doing?
From a cinema perspective we miss a lot of the 17 to 22 age group. These are generally well funded, less ties and have just discovered their own mobility – car! The majority of this audience are happy to jump in their car and drive to the bright lights, big city of Edinburgh – only 35 miles north of Galashiels. I did it myself when I was that age. There is little we can do to entice them to stay in Galashiels and come to the cinema here when most of the attraction for them is the actual drive north. I would dearly love to find a way to target this demographic which is cost efficient and proven to be a success. My search goes on.
Any tips to pass on?
Have patience. Get your marketing message out to the right groups, make sure the “offer” is backed up by your actions and policies. Speak to your customers, serve your customers – don’t just rely on your staff – and engage with them about what they are excited about and what they are not. Use this feedback to help shape, but not define, your program and offer.
Where can we find out what you’re showing?
www.pavilioncinema.co.uk or give us a call on 01896 752767
Where can we go for further information?
If anyone would like further information on our activities, please give me a call – happy to discuss.
General Contact Details
Cinema: 01896 752767
And your favourite film/director is…
I love many of the Coen Brothers films – Fargo is up there in the top 5 best ever’s for me. Other films in the top 5 would be: The Shawshank Redemption. Local Hero. Mars Attacks! And pretty much anything from Spielberg.