Jumping in: New marketing director brings wealth of experience to PPT
By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post
Allison Wilhelm is articulate, funny, vivacious, gorgeous — everything you’d expect from someone who’s spent a lifetime in the theater.
Allison, who turns 50 in November — a fact of which she is quite proud — has spent the past 25 years in theater marketing. She’s now brought her prodigious talents to Piedmont Players Theatre, where she became marketing director on June 25.
Her love for PPT runs deep. A theater major at Catawba College, she met her husband, Patrick, a Rowan County native on the Meroney Stage in 1991, when they were part of the cast of “Into the Woods.” He was one of the princes, and she was an evil stepsister.
“I like to say we were typecast,” Allison says, grinning.
It was, was those in the theater say, a “showmance.”
Patrick was a voice major at what was N.C. School of the Arts. The two eventually moved to New York City in the early 90s and did the whole “artist thing.”
“I did what all actors do,” Allison says. “I auditioned and waited tables.”
She came home from Thanksgiving and booked five commercials in the Charlotte market. She realized she didn’t have to live in New York. She moved in with her grandmother, carrying for her for the last year of her life. Patrick moved in with one of his brothers. They both got jobs at Carowinds, he in events and she in marketing.
And that’s the area in which she’s worked ever since.
Patrick now works in law enforcement. His brother David was murdered in 2003 in Atlanta, where Patrick and Allison also lived. That experience, Allison says, has encouraged her always try to turn negatives into something positive. She now sits on the board of the David Wilhelm Foundation, founded by his parents, Dwight and Betty Wilhelm, in his memory.
From Carowinds, Allison worked at Microsoft in corporate events, as a local television producer, returned to Carowinds, and worked in corporate underwriting at WDAV.
In Atlanta, she founded her own company, The Marketing Shoppe, the spelling of which makes reporters cringe. The regular spelling of “shop” was taken, she explains.
Besides marketing, she did ad sales and was an early entrant into social media.
The Wilhelms eventually moved to Davidson, and had two daughters. Davis, 20, is studying abroad this semester in London with American University. Lelia, 17, is a senior at Pine Lake Prep.
One day, a girlfriend called and told Allison she’d found her the perfect job.
It was the marketing position for the Davidson Community Players, a job she held for five seasons. Then she learned of the PPT position.
“She brings a lot of experience,” Reid says. “She’s connected in Salisbury. For me and the board, it was a non-brainer.”
She’s jumped right in. She designed 2018-19 season brochure. She’s in the process of redesigning the Web site, and she’s also introduced a customer relationship management (CRM) system. So not only does the system manage tickets, it keeps track of things like development functions and class offerings.
“It encompasses the whole picture of the business side of the theater,” Allison explains. “We should know who our customers are and what they are doing with us. Knowing our customers is vital.”
With the new CRM system, patrons can now choose their seats when ordering tickets online. Beginning Oct. 15, the theater will begin selling individual tickets for the entire season, not just show by show. No worries for season ticket holders — they still get first dibs on seats as usual, Allison says.
“Allison is making an immediate, positive impact, identifying efficiencies to save this non-profit theater valuable dollars,” says Tim Proper, former board president and a member of the executive committee. “Her prior theater experience has led to implementation of a modern ticketing system that will simplify and improve the customer experience.”
Although her specialty is corporate fundraising, she’ll be meeting with individual donors as well.
“My strategy is to talk with the corporate donors and find out what their goals are,” she says. “Every business has goals with what they are trying to achieve. I’m in it for the long relationship. I want it to be successful for the corporate sponsor, for PPT, and for patrons.”
After all, she says, “I sold classical air time! That’s a hard sell.”
The ability to sit down and talk with someone — and listen to someone — goes back to her theater training. She was trained to speak, she says, but also trained to listen. “Listening is part of acting. You have to react. And to react, you have to listen and respond appropriately.”
The other skills she learned in the theater — teamwork, improvisation, selling yourself — translate well into the real world, especially in sales.
“In a small theater, you jump in and do what needs to be done,” she says. “That’s how you pick up skills.”
And that’s how she and Patrick did most of the work in building their home in Davidson.
Allison is grateful to have the support of Reid and the PPT board in making recent changes.
“Change can be hard for people,” she admits. “I’m aware of that, and I try to be mindful of that.”
Another of Allison’s goals is to grow and expand education programs.
“I’m a huge supporter of theater for youth,” she says. “It provides a home, a safe space, a family.”
And theater is good for the whole community, she says. “It gives a community its soul.”
Allison acknowledges she can be intimidating at times, but she wants to leave all the drama where it belongs — on stage.
“I prefer jazz hands,” she says, laughing. “We get to do theater! We don’t need to make it hard. Drama is draining. I’ve been through that.”
Not only is Allison on the board for her family’s foundation, she is a member of the advisory board for the Cain Center for the Arts in Cornelius.
“Allison is on my advisory board — a secondary board we have to our board of directors — specifically the marketing committee. She definitely brings years of experience and valuable insight,” says Justin Dionne, the center’s executive director.
Justin was the first managing artistic director of Lee Street Theatre, and has also been a marketing director for PPT.
“I’m happy to see another Catawba alum making a positive impact in Salisbury/Rowan,” he adds. “I’ve also seen Allison’s successes at Davidson Community Players.”
Allison says she is looking forward to the upcoming PPT season, and trying some new things.
“I do get to be creative and use the skills and the weird ideas I get at 2 a.m.,” she says.
Allison and Patrick walk each morning, and she’s recently started running again. She enjoys gardening — the garden is like a palette to her, she says — and upcycling. One of her finds was a glass door that said “pantry” on it. She asked Patrick to build a pantry around it, which he did.
Unlike a lot of theater folks, Allison goes to bed early and is up by 5 a.m.
“I like the morning,” she says. “I like the darkness, and seeing the new day develop.”