A robust marketing plan and strategy are key to unlocking unforgettable experiences and unprecedented success
THE 7 GOLDEN RULES
Do These - Always!
Know your Target Audience
Determine who your ideal audience is and tailor your marketing efforts towards them.
Develop a Rich Story to Tell
What is the promise of your creation? Build that story in the hearts and minds of your target audience.
Define your Unique Selling Proposition
What sets your event apart from others? Clearly communicate this in your marketing materials.
Utilise Multiple Channels
Use a mix of traditional and digital marketing methods to reach a wider audience.
Start promoting the event well in advance to build excitement and generate buzz.
Seek Media Coverage
Reach out to local media outlets for coverage, including television, radio, and print media.
Measure and Adjust
Continuously monitor and assess the success of your marketing efforts and make adjustments as needed to maximize results.
See our Pro Tips (below) for the detail
About the author - Gerard Dunning is a career Commercial Voice Artist and Producer with clients across the globe on radio, TV, the web and in-house. He is also a radio and TV broadcaster, director & producer for over 35 years and 45 years in Theatre.
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Pro Marketing Tips
Our Essential Guide for Successful Markeing
What is Marketing?
Marketing is all about reaching new people and convincing them to do something they otherwise wouldn't do.
The ultimate goal of your marketing campaigns is to broaden your brand's awareness and gain the trust of your target audience. The best way to do this is to use a mix of marketing channels such as magazine ads, direct mail, social media and radio to extend your reach and meet your prospects on the channels they prefer.
Marketing is a group of techniques that allow your organisation to direct its resources and budget toward the best opportunities so you can get the best return on your time and investment.
What's in it for me?
Your Marketing Message must ALWAYS answer the question for the recipient - "What's in it for me?".
WIIFM is the stuff that shows how or why or what you have to sell or say matters to those who you are trying to sell or say it to. It's the value proposition, the thing that makes them realize that what you're offering is worth their money or their time.
What's In It For Me? is about sending the message that potential customers expect to get. It can be the deciding factor when a prospect is thinking about buying your product or going to the competition.
Strategy & Audience
Marketing is a Strategic Plan. You must first fully understand why you are even presenting events. Then you must understand the audience you wish to attract and how to reach them.
Your target audience refers to the specific group of consumers most likely to want to attend your event, and therefore, the group of people who should see your published information. Target audience may be dictated by age, gender, income, location, interests or a myriad of other factors. so work on creating a general persona that represents your target audience. Who is that person and how do we reach them?
You can learn a lot by looking at other event locations and companies to see who they are commonly selling to, and how they go about it.
Understanding your target audience is vital, right from the first production meeting.
You must have a consistent message that conveys the promise of the experience you are producing. It may be as simple as a marketing image.. but it must tell a story on an emotional level.
Work on building a series of consistent narratives that help position your event over time. The stories you tell center around the experience you are creating.
Your story is important because it gives potential customers an understanding of who you are, your values and what they can expect to receive from you. When customers feel like they know you and your brand, they will be more likely to trust you with their business.
When done right, storytelling remains one of the most effective ways to capture your target audience's attention and deliver the message of your event.
Just posting updates to your Facebook page is not marketing. Facebook is just a messaging channel just like radio & news paper. Whilst Facebook does have some very good marketing tools, if you're not using them to promote your story then you're just preaching to the choir and not extending your reach.
Understand that posts to social media are fleeting glances for most people at best. They rarely stick in the minds and are quickly forgotten within the noise.
Decide on a budget & strategy to use the available tools correctly. Always include your event name and vital details in the post text so it is searchable. Don't just post an image. Include consistent hashtags, descriptions and imagery with your posts so that the message gains traction with each update.
Your Update Posts
Always identify the basic details with TEXT in your posts. Images, whilst essential, should not contain your details since they are not indexable. So always ensure your posts contain the name of your event, and essentials like date, time, venue and something to make the post engaging - that contributes to your story.
If you are using hashtags, do not use tags exclusive to yourself. This is a total waste of time and ineffective. The point of hashtags is so that your post can be part of a wider conversation, so do some research on what tags are trending and relevant and use them across all of your posts, every time.
Promoting the mechanics of your product (what you're creating) with rehearsal images or something similar only serves to damage your marketing message. Do not use this type of material to promote your event as it only gives people a reason to say "no".
Showing your cast out of costume, in poor lighting and in rehearsal-mode does not sell anything close to the story and magic that will create the desire in people to see your show. Save this stuff for your members-only posts. Invest some time planning your photo shoots with someone who knows photography, lighting and subject composition.
If you must profile your cast then always work on the basis that your audience knows nothing about the characters they play. Never assume that your potential audience knows as much about your show as you do. Weave a story around your cast that builds some texture and meaning as to why you're profiling them.
Hashtags are a powerful tool that can help increase the visibility and engagement of your social media posts. When used correctly, they can help categorize your content, making it easier for users to find and engage with it.
When selecting hashtags, it is important to choose those that are relevant to your post. For example, if you are posting about a new show launch, use hashtags related to the show, such as #Evita, #LaBoheme, and #RockyHorror. This will help your post reach users who are interested in the topic and are more likely to engage with it.
Popular hashtags have a larger audience, so using them in your post can increase its visibility. However, make sure that the popular hashtag you choose is still relevant to your post. For example, if you are posting about a local event, using a popular hashtag like #event or #fun may not be the best choice, as the audience is not specific to your location. Instead, use a popular hashtag specific to your location, such as #CentralCoast or #LocalTheatre.
Focus on selling the experience. It's the promise of what will happen to that person when they are sitting at your event and the show starts. It is not happening before then so you have to fabricate the experience in a way that makes it compelling.
A brand promise is a value or experience your customers can expect to receive every single time they interact with your company. The more you can deliver on that promise, the stronger the brand value in the mind of customers.
The promise tells your customer, either explicitly or implicitly, what they can expect from your event or show. It sets their expectations on the quality of your production.
Rather than describing how you do what you do, your promise should describe the experience you deliver. A brand promise is a way for consumers to hold you accountable to the standard that sets you apart.
Market Early. Do not wait until a week before opening to start selling your story. Start promoting your event as soon as you decide to do it and have the rights. Build in the detail as you go.
Topic traction takes time so the earlier you begin across your channels, especially the internet, the better. You should aim for absolute topic authority as soon as possible, and this includes localisation.
Construct your messages to always identify your event and location. Use existing well used definitions to remove any ambiguity around what you're talking about. In the web and social space always include links to reliable source details for your event such as Wikipedia or something similar so search engines understand the topic of your message.
Don't waste time promoting people in your Event, unless their high profile will support the marketing strategy and there is a story to tell about them. Focus on promoting the story and the characters. Your Audience come to see characters come to life so sell that magic.
Promoting your cast before the show run has started can appear self-important and says nothing of their performance. Let the press promote your cast once they've performed in a noteworthy manner.
Friends & Family
Don't pitch your marketing message at your own membership or at friends or family. They will decide to come based on other factors such as loyalty and who they know in the production.
Likewise, don't rely on these close associations to promote your event for you. This is a loss of control and conveys very little of your creative vision to your marketing audience.
Pitch your marketing at a clearly defined target demographic. Tell them a story and invite them to be a part of the experience.
There is no planning without control. Marketing control is the process of monitoring the proposed plans as they proceed and adjusting where necessary.
Control your Brand and your Product. Don't let anyone just decide on how to market your event. Build an agreed strategy that covers all media (graphics, video, audio) and execute it across all channels (radio, paper, billboard, web, social, etc).
Work to ensure your organisation retains total control of the message, how it is executed and, as much as possible, how people react to it. Build a marketing review cycle into your production meetings. Look at actual figures and correlations between the messages going out and ticket sales.
Execute your marketing strategy at the Brand level (group, society, etc), not at the Product Level (show, event).
Brand Equity is an essential aspect of marketing any show, whether it's a theatrical production, a concert, or a TV program. Essentially, brand equity refers to the value of a brand and the loyalty it inspires in customers. When it comes to promoting a show, a strong brand can make all the difference in attracting audiences and building a lasting following.
One of the primary benefits of brand equity is that it creates a sense of trust and credibility with customers. When people recognize a show's brand, they are more likely to feel confident in the quality of the production and the experience it will offer. This can be especially important for a new or unknown show that is competing for attention in a crowded entertainment landscape. By establishing a recognizable brand, a show can quickly stand out from the competition and build a reputation for excellence.
Take Marketing seriously. It is not an after-thought. Always make your marketing messaging as frictionless as possible for the recipient. Make it easy to engage with your message and commit to a purchasing decision.
Never ask your readers to search for a the link to buy tickets. Always include an easy to remember web link in all press releases and posts.
Always direct everyone, on every channel to the same place such as your web home page. Do not use URL shorteners (like BitLy) as they are quickly and easily forgotten.
Always use a web address that sticks in the mind, and put your Event information right at the top of your web page (above the fold) with very clear instructions on how to purchase tickets such as a "BOOK TICKETS" button.
You may not place much value in your website however it is your brand's masthead. It should be where you point everyone to go for the latest, most reliable, official information about your productions, including press releases, media kits, audition details and ticketing. Everything lands on your website.. everything!
Your current events should be right at the top of your home page with very clear directions on where to obtain tickets. Likewise the links to your Social Media sites must be valid and very clear. Don't relegate your Socials to some tiny icons on the footer. Give them prominence and cross-promote your content on every channel you control.
Know your local market. Who are you competing with for bums on seats? What other shows are on at your venue or surrounding venues? Always consider ALL events happening around your schedule; professional, amateur, or otherwise.
Don't use your Event to experiment in your market. Do your research by learning about what's on and see where people are going and when.
Build a digital Press Kit as soon as possible and use it well. Push out Press Releases to every media outlet you can find. Don't expect media writers to do their own research on your event. Give them the story to tell.
Ensure you give your press kit to anyone coming to review your shows. Build your kit with them in mind by including text-only synopsis and bio material, a variety of image resolutions and options and easy to access delivery, i.e. digital such as files on your website with a easy to understand link.
Talk to your local radio station. $500 will put your show on-air for a week. Don't invest in anything longer than a 15 second spot and sell a simple message with a simple direction to your website. Ask the station about promo integration.. but do it as early as possible as promo space is always limited.
Don't... just Don't!
Never rely on your opening weekend to generate word-of-mouth advertising to sell the rest of your show run. If you do this, you've totally missed the marketing opportunity and reduced your opening shows to a "test run".
Likewise, don't appeal to people to "support your event" as this is not a real reason for them to experience what you've created. It's begging people to come for a reason unrelated to the story and the experience.
If you believe in what you've created then tell people about it! Don't wait until someone else bothers to write a review you can repost half way through your season to start telling people why they should see it. Own the narrative right from the start. Be bold about what you've created and back it with a strong message.
Worried that people are not booking your show because it is unknown?
If you're relying on familiarity to drive ticket sales you're not employing a marketing strategy. Putting a relatively unknown show on stage is exactly where Marketing can help you the most, right from doing your research into the show and its history with your audience, to creating a target persona for your story messaging, and carving out some carefully selected channels on which to send your message - with frequency.
Nothing says “we've not done any marketing” more than defaulting to the old story of “no-one's heard of this show, and they're not buying tickets.”.
The Myth - Shows Sell Themselves
They don't. No show sells itself!
Some shows can benefit from a pre-existing, well-known "story" in the hearts and minds of your potential audience. If this is the case, and you can substantiate it, then your story-crafting just got a lot easier.
But you still have to push that story across your channels, and combine it with the promise that your brand brings to the mix. Will you be living up to the expectations already in the minds of your audience? Do you need to reset that expectation in accordance with your creative vision?
Just letting a show “sell itself” without any real marketing effort is a total loss of control, and a lost opportunity to increase your Brand's footprint, equity and reputation with your audience. Grab the opportunity to increase your Brand's reputation by binding it closely with that classic story.
The Hard Sell
When it comes to creating a successful show marketing campaign, it's important to focus on the positive narrative of the show rather than the negatives. Negativity can turn potential audiences away and create a bad image for the show. Instead, by drawing attention to the positive aspects of the show, you can attract more people and create a positive image.
One way to draw focus away from the negatives is to emphasize the positive aspects of the show. Highlight the characters and their journeys, the compelling storylines, and the uplifting themes that the show explores. Use positive language in your marketing materials, focusing on the benefits of watching the show rather than the drawbacks. For example, instead of saying "Don't miss out on the drama and conflict," you could say "Experience the heartwarming moments and emotional journeys of our characters.".
If you find yourself still looking for cast well down your rehearsal schedule, don't advertise this alongside your marketing message. It just says "we couldn't get people interested in being a part of our show".
Be discrete and use channels that will speak to people who might be interested such as local actor/performer forums, casting websites or similar groups.
Nothing destroys public confidence in what you're creating more than publically broadcasting that you're short of cast members.
Always ensure your Marketing Story is not damaged by off-script announcements that introduce doubt into your potential audience's mind.
So what are the key skills required of your Brand and Show Marketeer?
Marketing Strategy: The ability to develop a marketing plan that includes promotional strategies, advertising, pricing, and distribution strategies to attract target audiences.
Audience Insight: Understanding the target audience, identifying their preferences, and tailoring marketing campaigns to meet their needs and expectations.
Communication: Effective communication skills, including excellent written and verbal communication, ability to negotiate, influence and persuade stakeholders, and connect with audiences.
Creativity: Ability to develop innovative ideas for marketing campaigns, promotions, and branding that are unique and appealing.
Brand Management: Maintaining the brand's image, reputation, and identity by ensuring consistency and quality in marketing efforts and messaging.
Digital Marketing: Knowledge and experience in digital marketing channels such as social media, email marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) to engage with audiences and promote the show.
Analytics: Ability to measure the success of marketing campaigns, track and analyze data, and use insights to improve future campaigns.
Leadership: Ability to manage and coordinate a team of marketing professionals, ensuring they are working together to achieve the show's marketing goals.
Budgeting: Managing budgets for marketing campaigns and ensuring that the budget is spent efficiently and effectively.
Time Management: The ability to work under pressure, manage deadlines, and multitask efficiently.
Ideas for your Marketing Strategy
Need more Ideas? Let's Go!
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Patronise other theatres regularly to see which of their shows are selling well – then look at how they marketed those.
2. Most links to online ticket sales are unwieldy and ugly, create a redirect using a link shortening service like Bit.ly – or better yet have yourdomain.com/tickets redirect to your online ticket sales service. But remember to use the analytics.
3. Leave (appropriate) comments on the online articles of your local arts journalists so they get to know who you are in a context where you're not asking them for anything.
4. Host/sponsor a playwright festival
5. Offer a complimentary popcorn or soda on the night you know is going to have the weakest attendance
6. Offer an early bird discount for the first 100 tickets purchased when your tickets go on sale
7. Partner with an organization that accepts donations of food, clothes, or toys and have a night where people get free admission with their donation (use photos, videos, and press releases from this event to drive sales for all your other performances)
8. Strap a GoPro camera to an actor during rehearsal for an intricate dance, fight, or flying scene and share on social media
9. Create a video showing publicity or production stills with the actors doing voice over of their best lines
10. Put a sandwich board out on the sidewalk with rotating taglines that say things like, “free cupholder with every seat” (assuming, of course, your seats have cupholders).
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Send an email or postcard to everyone who came to see one of your previous, similar shows and tell them why if they liked that one, they're going to love what you have coming up next
2. Create a magazine ad – even if you never run it – because it will help you get clear on how to quickly, concisely convey your marketing message
3. Have a night where your subscribers or best patrons can bring a friend for free and give them the royal treatment so they look like rock stars in front of their friends
4. Hold a press junket with all the other local theatres where the press and arts bloggers can come get the scoop on all the upcoming shows at once
5. Create a Foursquare special for a free drink and advertise it to your regulars
6. Write down what you would do if you had an extra $10k to spend on marketing, once that's done – and only after it's done – look at how you can do a leaner version of those tactics with your current budget
7. Specialty printers online will create professional style trading cards for little league baseball teams – use these services to instead print trading cards of your cast
8. Work with a nearby restaurant to create a special that's themed after the show and cross promote for each other
9. Send an invite to social influencers and bloggers to have lunch with the director and talk about the show
10. Write a letter to the editor of the local paper about why an issue that your show deals with matters to your community.
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Create a ticket package with another theatre or arts organization where someone can buy tickets to an event at both places at a discount
2. Call repeat visitors just to thank them for their patronage, and if the opportunity presents itself ask them what they'd like to see you do more of
3. Offer free seat upgrades to regular patrons when available
4 .Create a short podcast series talking to cast members and the production team about the show
5. Hold an open Google Hangout where the general public can meet the leads and ask them questions
6. Instead of (or in addition to) postcards and flyers, print business cards to promote your show
7. Print custom decks of cards with your show's art on the back and distribute to influencers
8. Take out a classified ad: audience wanted
9. Posters are great for store windows, but in residential areas create yard signs like the ones used in local political campaigns
10. Do a 1-3 minute preview of your show right before the performances of whatever show is being produced at your venue right before you – just like a movie trailer.
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Get a custom domain name for your show (i.e. www.nameofshow.com)
2. Keep a production blog going for your show in the weeks leading up to opening
3. Create a custom audience in Facebook based on your email list and run highly targeted ads to a lookalike audience
4. Take your local arts journalist to lunch when you don't have a show in production just to get to know him/her
5. Create a media contact list of all the writers, radio producers, bloggers, and social media aficionados who talk about theatre in your market
6. Assemble a digital media kit with show art, contact information, publicity stills, pre-packaged quotes, the press releases, and anything else you think someone covering the show would need
7. Offer tickets to the show to other local arts groups along with an explicit personal invitation to come see the show
8. Create video postcards from the cast thanking donors and VIPs
9. Record a video tour backstage showing how any dramatic scene changes, costume changes, or other technical elements of the show are pulled off
10. Create a short exit survey you can email to audience members the day after they come to the show.
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Grab a video camera and ask people in the lobby during intermission or right after the show what they like about it
2. Prepare a 2-minute excerpt of the show (heavy on movement, not just talking) that you could pitch to local television shows
3. Prepare talking points about your production and submit those to local radio show producers
4. Pick a hashtag for your production and make sure the cast, production team, and everyone involved knows to use that hashtag when they post on social media to build momentum
5. If there's a technical element of the show that you could add with a little extra money (like a rotating stage or more advanced flight rigging) create a Kickstarter campaign to fund that specific addon and use the campaign as a promotional tool
6. Start a local Meetup group that acts as a book club for plays (make sure you give some love to other theatres around town, not just yours)
7. Take your production team to the park, turn off all your phones, and spend 30 minutes talking about what makes this show cool
8. Create a mastermind group to share marketing ideas with other similarly-sized theatres in faraway cities
9. Join Toastmasters and become amazing at talking in front of people
10. If one of your performance dates falls on the birthday of a regular patron, offer them complimentary tickets for that date.
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Create a door prize related to your show and present it during the curtain speech
2. If you have a cool poster, publicity still, or some other marketing piece that you're particularly proud of, create a behind-the-scenes video of how it was created
3. Have some or all of your cast make public appearances in a basketball tournament, quiz show, open mic night, or anywhere they have a chance to introduce themselves and show off their skills
4. Send a secret shopper to your box office to ask questions about your show and the venue
5. Set up Google Alerts with the name of your show, the theatre, and your leads to monitor any new online buzz about them you might want to piggyback on
6. Create a video contest where people can submit a YouTube video talking about the show
7. Use social media to plug all of the live theatre going on this weekend, and be specific about who would really like each show (i.e. if you love over-the-top slapstick comedy don't miss )
8. Take pictures or video of the first table read when you get everyone together in the same room – who knows when you might use those on social media or as part of a larger marketing collateral piece
9. Buy a domain to redirect to your best marketing piece (i.e. if I have a great promo video about a production of Hamlet here in Indy, I might buy the domain indyhamlet.com that points directly to the video and use that in all my marketing)
10. Send text messages to SMS subscribers with immediate, short-term specials.
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Selectively invite some folks to be a focus group for your show – which is a lot like a preview, but you'll get feedback and if you end up taking the feedback, those people feel a small sense of affiliate with your production
2. Give people a free drink when they tweet a picture of themselves from the lobby during the show
3. Set up an affiliate program for ticket sales where people earn a commission for bringing you paying customers
4. Take the marketing director of another theatre out to lunch and ask what made last year's best attended show so successful
5. Have an honorary press campaign where you invite a handful of people with no press affiliation to receive the media kit, receive comps, and have access to ask you questions about the show on the condition that they take a stab at writing a review (which you will then take care of promoting)
6. During your curtain speech, invite patrons to post an update about seeing the show (perhaps with your custom hashtag) before silencing their devices
7. Write the ideal review that you'd like to see in the paper the day after opening, then work backward to figure out what needs to happen to get the right person to write that review
8. Keep a “morgue file” of great marketing ideas that for whatever reason didn't work out this time that you can quickly refer back to for future productions
9. Create a marketing budget – you don't have to spend it all, but know what you could spend if you had enough brilliant marketing ideas
10. Offer some tickets to local organizations that do raffles or charity auctions.
10 Simple Ideas for your Marketing Calendar
1. Provide an optional gift-wrapping service for your tickets at no charge so that if someone wants to purchase them as a gift you provide them in an attractive display that is immediately ready to hand to the recipient
2. Find a mentor that does professional marketing in something other than the arts
3. Record your director talking about the strength of each of your leads and then edit together a video with the director's words over b-roll of rehearsal
4. Pick up the latest issue of a magazine that appeals to your target audience and flip through the ads, looking for a image, message, or concept you can use in your own marketing
5. Call a local business with a fair amount of employees and speak to the HR department, then invite them to buy a block of tickets for employees or VIP clients at a group discount
6. Hide free tickets or other cool swag at local retail locations and restaurants (with their approval) and provide clues over social media to help your most adventurous patrons track them down
7. Put a fish bowl in the lobby for business cards, and choose one randomly each month or production to get free tickets, a subscription, or an upgrade – then put the contacts from all the business cards on your mailing list
8. Pick a paid tactic you were considering using and scrap it – use that money instead to get the best photographer you can afford
9. Invite your social media followers to create captions for funny/shocking rehearsal photos
10. Segment previous customers who have bought more than 4 tickets at once, and send them an invitation to use a special group rate.
Ideas sourced from SoldOutRun.com