Q&A: Andy Edge, commercial director, Odeon

Odeon’s commercial director tells how data and an FMCG background is keeping the UK’s oldest cinema chain relevant, as it launches a new website.

Marketing Week (MW): Cinema is traditionally a volatile sector that used to be wholly dependent on films. How is the ‘core’ box office receipt business in 2013?

Andy Edge (AE): Last year was a record box office thanks to Skyfall – the biggest UK box office film [taking £102m]. That will be a difficult act to follow. So far this year we’ve had a good performance from Les Miserables and Despicable Me 2. Our income and market share are up on last year. The second half of this year is looking more challenging but The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will be on release.

MW: You had a long career in the traditional FMCG sector before entering the leisure market at Tussauds Group. Has that experience influenced your process and commercial approach at Odeon?

AE: In FMCG we were taught to think and plan in a certain way and to look at a situation in a certain structure and ask ‘what’s the core objective?’ and ‘what’s the context the business is operating in?’. We could then move to strategy, planning and evaluation. The FMCG world makes you analytical and the leisure world demands a more creative approach. I have learned that the combination of being analytical and thinking laterally and creatively helps to deliver.

MW: What marketing tools and channels do you use?

AE: The big focus is on eCRM and pay-per-click display, but we also invest a lot in radio – it’s a great way to get the creative idea over and engage with our customers. We also do a lot of press work through our News International partnership. We are very insight and data based, so can accurately market and track changes in consumer behaviour.

We work closely with the film distributors, which do the marketing to generate awareness of the film and at a certain point hand the baton over to us. We then micro-market to the right customer segments. We analyse the email open rate of campaigns – we conduct between 250 and 300 campaigns a year and each might have 10 different messages, so we run a lot of multivariate testing.

Our customer spend 15 minutes in the foyer before their film – what can we do to entertain them there?

MW: Cinemas did not used to have much data on their customers. How has that changed?

AE: We have millions of users of the website each year and 2.5 million members on the Odeon Premiere Club loyalty card database, so have around 5 million data records in total. Part of the challenge with that level of information is to see the wood from the trees. I work with colleagues in IT to clean up the data in order to have a robust data structure. We have an algorithm to profile the films that customers have watched so we can recommend other films they might like. We know which cinema viewers went to and at what time. And if a loyalty card is used, we will know what has been bought at retail. 

MW: What tools do you use for customer feedback and what lessons have been learned from the Facebook complaint about customer service at one of your cinemas in 2012 that went viral?

AE: Social media is big for us. We probably get 50,000 comments from customers each year via credit-card sized forms and have around 360,000 Facebook fans, we are seeing increasing levels of engagement with the competitions we run. Our challenge is to keep the engagement fresh [on social media] and give customers a reason to talk to us. 

From the incident last year we learned that we have to deliver a consistent experience every day. Our goal is to react within two hours of a post [on social media]. We did that and the customer chose to ignore it. In hindsight, maybe we should have reacted with a more personal response.

We tried to say ‘if you have a specific issue, let’s take it offline’. I phoned the customer and asked to be taken through his complaint. He was a little embarrassed and a bit hacked off but he did not want a [social media storm] to happen. Sometimes you have to just listen.

MW: What is the thinking behind the new website and how will you measure its success?

AE: Our website was last overhauled in 2006 so it wasn’t looking and feeling as fresh as we wanted it to be for delivering content; it wasn’t intelligent enough to help the customer journey be as simple as we would like. The new website gives users more ability to filter, for example by genre or 3D screenings. 

We also wanted each cinema homepage to be brought upfront as the focus, with the Odeon brand acting as support. We’ve spent a lot of money photographing each cinema and we want to feel part of the local community. 

odeon-web-2013-460

We are drawing people back to look at trailers and reviews, and visitors can post straight on to Facebook and Twitter. We are seeing in the region of 25 to 30 per cent of our tickets generally booked in advance and expect to increase bookings. If people pre-book, it reduces the risk of people not coming because of unexpected sunny weather, for example.

MW: What is Odeon doing for its different audience segments?

AE: By having a digital estate we can bring people experiences that they ordinarily could not get to because the events are too far to travel to or are sold out, for example. The Audience play with Helen Mirren is an instance of this [wheren the play, performed at the national theatre, was screened live at cinemas]. It’s a good use of our space and assets. We see alternative programming growing in time and are exploring things like socially chosen films – asking customers to vote on three films they would like to see again at their local cinema and making an event out of a one-off screening of the most popular ones.

Another innovation is our luxury cinema in Bayswater, London – The Lounge. To cater for the affluent demographic and people coming on dates who might want to upgrade, the cinema has relatively small screens with reclining seats and a call button so that customers can order food and drink to their table, which are rubber laminated so that the cutlery and glasses don’t chink. We charge a premium for the experience and it is doing very well.

MW: What other initiatives, like the 4D experience, where seats move in time with the action on the screen, are you planning?

AE: We have developed the Cineme app with DCM which enables customers to interact with things like quizzes on the big screen to win prizes. We have been testing the technology in 11 Odeons and will roll it out across the entire estate. The evidence we have is that people are happy to have fun with their second screen before putting it away for the film. We are also looking at letting people play games on the big screen. 

As for 4D – seat movement synced to the onscreen action – we’re just finding our way with it. We are looking seriously at things like 4D movement and also smells and other sensory experiences in a limited environment. The core audience segments might not want this but others want to be at the forefront of new things. We have 4D in Liverpool and the Metrocentre in Gateshead – for certain films and for certain audience groups we know we can charge a premium.

MW: What is the strategy behind Odeon’s brand partnerships and what value does it bring?

AE: I did a lot of work at Tussauds with brand partnerships and having worked in FMCG, I understand the pressures on marketing directors, for instance of Pepsi and Nestlé, which are both Odeon partners. I also understand that partnerships are a brilliant way to engage with customers when they are in a leisure mindset. Part of what we do is enable brands to enter into our world. We have done a lot of work with Barclaycard, Amazon, O2, News International and Global Radio for instance, it gives us more clout to reach an audience. 

At the moment we are looking for a technology partner. Cinema is a huge market and our customers are spending 15 minutes in the foyer before their film – what can we do to entertain them when they are in the foyer space? Could we test blue screen interaction, for instance?

MW: What is the appeal of going to the cinema in an age where people can access entertainment with digital quality sound and images on their mobile or at home whenever it suits them?

AE: People go to the cinema to see new films and see them first; a second reason is that they talk about their experience of going to the cinema. A big pull will be the film, but it can also be a night out with your partner, family or friends. Even if someone has the best surround sound and entertainment system at home, it is never going to be the same as seeing a film on a huge screen with a £750,000 projector showing an image and a £100,000 sound system. We can consume films anywhere but can only truly experience them in their absolute glory at the cinema.

Picture This: UK’s leading cinema chains

Odeon & UCI UK

  • Total Cinemas: 112

  • Total Screens: 869

 Vue

  • Total Cinemas: 82
  • Total Screens: 1,300

 Cineworld

  • Total Cinemas: 80
  • Total Screens: 826

CV – Andy Edge

April 2012 – present:  Commercial director, Odeon & UCI Cinemas

September 2007 – April 2012: Sales & marketing director, Park Resorts

June 2004 – September 2007: Sales & marketing director, Tussauds Group

June 2000 – July 2003: Marketing director, Holsten UK

January 1997 – June 2000: Marketing manager, Scottish & Newcastle (Holsten)

October 1994 – January 1997: Senior brand manager, St Ivel

December 1992 – October 1994: Assistant brand manager, Kraft General Foods

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