Marketing is the unsung part of theatre. While the glamour and applause go to the cast and crew of a play, selling the play starts month earlier. The bigger the volunteer army you can unleash to market and talk up your play the better. It is much easier to market a big cast show like a musical than it is a one man show. The math is obvious. Many people have more friends than one person. Actors cast in plays for the first time will generally bring more people to the show than will seasoned vets. Stick a six year old in a play and every relative from miles around will come to the show. For the intents of this article there is paid marketing(advertizing) and unpaid marketing(promotions).
As the old adage goes, you need to put bums in the seats. The equally age-old question is how do you do that?
Beg borrow or steal a newspaper review. Easier to do in small population centres without much competition. Find the entertainment contacts for the local papers. Send them press releases about the show and follow it up with an interview and if the newspaper has a reviewer, give the reviewer a couple of free tickets to review the show. There's no such thing as bad publicity so the quality of the review is meaningless. Give away a couple of tickets to the newspaper to enter into a draw. Contact a restaurant to see if they will give away a meal for two to go with your ticket draw. Newspapers will often ask for photos to go with your story or review. Send photos of at least 300 dpi to the paper. Readers will look at photos. Sometimes the newspaper will want to take the pictures for the interview or review. Other times they will ask for them. If at all possible, make sure the photos look good, that your cast is costumed and that the shots are attractively arranged. Wacky artsy photos don't suggest a good show any more than a photo of a messy meal suggests good food at a restaurant. Print ads are alright if you have the money, but I certainly would not over spend. If there is a good local entertainment page in your paper where potential customers will know to look for ads, then that is usually money well spent. But spending money on marketing has a law of diminishing returns. Just throwing money at marketing a play doesn't work if the right people don't see the information.
It is not always possible, but try to get a radio sponsorship for the show. Some radio stations will give shows free ads in return for extensive recognition of the station as a sponsor. If a radio station does decide to sponsor your show, they will assess the kind of show you are doing and decide which demographic would be most interested in going to see the show. They would then put the commerials in the time slot that would best serve that demographic. They might find that older people might go to see a certain show or university students and adjust their commercial placement accordingly. Their on air personalities might mention the show periodically and ask for tickets from you for contests and on-air giveaways. Radio stations like to give packages away, for instance dinner and a show and they might want you to find the restaurant. Radio stations need listeners so they are constantly monitoring their demographics to best serve the listener. That will help make sure that your free ads are placed in the most advantageous demographic slots. They will want to make the ad. Make sure you have some input. Radio stations don't know theatre. Unsupervised, they could come up with a bad ad, an ad that badly represents your show. You don't want a rock 'n roll Arsenic and Old Lace ad. As part of the sponsorship process, the station will likely give you an interview. Bring a couple of the lead actors to the interview. Radio stations like interesting personalities, people that can think quickly onm their feet. An interviewer doesn't want to have to work to pull answers from the people they interview. Make it a point to invite all the on air personalities to the show. A good way to create on air word of mouth buzz.
Television is a problematic medium to showcase theatre. The major issue is that since television is a visual medium, theatre has too many words to work well on the small screen. Any scenes that might be filmed by the local television station in a let the camera run kind of way always looks bad. Theatre scenes can look very amateurish on television, minus the magic of lights and a live audience. This is not to say that television should not be used to promote theatre, it is just that any theatre company using this medium should be aware of the difficulties.
How to use television
Interviews with attractive and charming actors is always a plus on television. Most interview subjects on local television usually seem wooden and stiff. Actors are generally lucid and intellugent speakers. If you have a local cable television station, get in touch with them and see if they will do an interview and film some of the rehearsal in costume. Pick scenes that are visually compelling. If there is a commercial station, they can likely be talked into doing an interview and giving away tickets. It is not a cost-effective idea to advertise on television. In fact television advertising is an inefficient use of money. A television sponsorship with free ads is particularly good if you hope that the majority of your potential audience is older.
Well designed Colour Posters are a good way of advertizing the professionalism of your product, of your show. You can put a bar code on the poster that a potential customer can scan with their smart phone which will open up your website on their phone and they can purchase tickets right then. Posters should be well done and fit the style of the show with its art. A comedy should have the colours and the graphic style of a comedy. These posters are calling cards for your production. Take the time to make sure they look nice. There are different schedules for the marketing tools that you will use and only time will hone your scheduling skill. I think that posters should be put up early so that potential customers will be reminded of the show. With our aging population their eyesight will not be like that of a peregrine falcon. Make sure the information is brief and easy to read from a distance. Do not make your poster cluttered visually. Do not make a passer-by work to see the important info. If the art of your poster is not of a high quality, what does that say about your show? Posters can be relatively cheap to make and usually you can find someone in the company who will be skilled at graphic design. Iconic poster images such as CATS and Les Miserables resonate with audiences. When putting up posters, there are better areas than others, and many businesses of course won't accept posters. High-traffic areas are best and use your cast and crew to get posters in places that normally wouldn't take them. An actor might have a spouse that works for a company in a high-traffic mall for instance. With actors and crew you will have to follow up with them to make sure they actually put up your posters. If the posters don't go up no one will see them.
Flyers should have similar graphics to the poster. A consistent graphic theme reinforces the brand of your particular show. Flyers can be placed in hotels, restaurants and tourism centres. A bar code can also be placed on the flyer so someone with a smart phone can access your website. Flyers and posters should tell a passer-by to look at them. If your flyer is professional- looking passers-by are much more likely to pick them up. A great graphic be it photo or art work is imperative. Make your flyer attractive and people will pick them up.
Companies like Groupon and Living Social will promote you play ahead of time if you sign up with them. Both companies use the idea of social marketing, of word-of-mouth to promote the discounts. Both Groupon and Living Social will only take your company on if you offer a minimum of a 50 percent discount off your ticket price. Then they take 50 percent of what you make. It is a good way of filling opening night. Hopefully word of mouth will take off after then. These big discount companies rely on the customer to promote the product. Groupon and Living Social work for companies like restaurant really well because of add-on sales above the coupon price. Live theatre has less of that to offer. If you can think of a way to add on salesm such as with a licensed bar or acting classes you might promote as well, then that would be a great way of expanding your business.
Facebook fan pages and events are less effective then they used to be due to the sheer number of invitations everyone on facebook receives, but it is a way of reminding people that the show is on. Bur facebook fans and friends will review the hsow right away if they like it and tell their friends. You can also advertise on facebook. Facebook has extensive dynamic marketing information on its users. They have collected info an all their users interests, the things they talk about, the things they are interested in doing in their leisure time. With Facebook you can create an ad to suit a certain demographic. Women in your community over 40 that like theatre. Only those customrts will be shown the ad. In that way you have a much higher likelihood of reaching the exact people you want to reach instead of the scattergun approach, hoping that some ad in a newspaper might actually be seen by interested customers. You set a budget and you only pay when a customer clicks through to your website or fan page. With Facebook, people who see the ad are much more likely to buy.
Adwords is an advertising product run by Google. If you create an adwords account with Google, they have a sophisticated analytics system that places your ads on web sites and on search content that is contextually related to what you are marketing. For instance if someone is looking for theatre in your town, then your ad will pop up. As with Facebook ads, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad. You can narrow the placement of your ads to your local region and you can place your ads on relevant websites, so that people on a rival site would see your ad. You set the budget with Google, the budget per click and the budget per day. Google has tools to help you design effective ads. If your ad is designed well, and relevant to what people are looking for, then the click throughs will have a high percentage of sales. If someone is looking for a Shakespearean production in your town and you are doing Romeo and Juliet, a click thru will have a high chance of eventually producing a sale.
Inviting socially important people to opening night, in fact filling the house with freebies works as a word-of-mouth push. Generally trays of food and wine are further inducements. If these freebies have an enjoyable night out, then they will talk the show up. It doesn't work if the show is not worth talking about.
Impress upon the cast and crew that they have to talk up the show. They are your main marketing tool. If they don't feel passionate about the show then no one else will. For marketing purposes in a local production, I can't think of a more valuable marketing tool then the folks that work on the show. With a big show, it is like having a huge sales force working for free. They need to be motivated. It is sometimes difficult for actors to ptmote themselves. Thye have their insecurities. But of actors that succeed in climbing the ladder in live theatre, most are good at promoting themselves and hence the shows that they are in. It all comes don to getting bums in the seats.
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