3 Things Never To Say When Promoting a Show

Whatever formal initiatives you have in place as part of your theatre marketing, you should be broadcasting more informal (or at least more conversational) updates, too. This happens in face-to-face interactions when people ask about the show and over social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. If you aren’t careful you (and your cast and your crew) can unintentionally say something about the show that sends the wrong message about the quality of the production.

This past weekend I gave a marketing workshop to participants in the 2013 IndyFringe Festival. As part of the 2012 festival I had promoted a show called 465: Sex Drive that performed very well at the box office so they asked me to share the approach I took marketing that show.

I enjoyed presenting that information, and I’m probably going to turn that material into a longer episode – or maybe a series of episodes – of the podcast. (If that appeals to you be sure to subscribe to the podcast.)

There was one idea in the workshop that deserves its own blog post, though. This is a simple mistake that I see repeated over and over again on social media. And I’m not innocent. I’ve done it before, too.

There are some things that are just so natural to say about our shows. They seem like positive endorsements that will get people excited to buy a ticket. But what we intend and what we communicate don’t always match up. Here are the three versions of this mistake I see most often.

1.) Tickets are going fast!

What you’re trying to say: There is a demand for this show. People are buying tickets, and you should to.
What it sounds like: We just had a little burst of ticket sales, and we’re terrified we won’t sell anymore. Billy’s mom bought 8 tickets for his whole family to see his first solo, but now what?

2.) Rehearsals are going great!

What you’re trying to say: We’re on track. We have ambitious goals for this production, and it looks like we’re going to meet them come opening night.
What it sounds like: For the first few weeks rehearsals were bad. We were very worried, but things are starting to get better. This may not be a complete train wreck.

3.) We’re having a lot of fun!

What you’re trying to say: Everyone’s dialed in to this project. We’re getting people’s best work, and it’s exciting because we know the finished product is going to be great.
What it sounds like: We’re mostly goofing off. Also we’re really stretching to try to come up with positive things to say about this production.

Here’s the kicker. If everything is going well with your show, all three of these statements will be true. Tickets will be going fast. Rehearsals will be great, and you will have fun. The problem is these are all things that someone in a terrible show is likely to say, too.

these are all things that someone in a terrible show is likely to say

The overarching problem with saying any of these is it sounds like you are intentionally avoiding talking about the one thing that separates a good production from a bad one.

What about the quality of the work? If you’re worried that the person you’re talking to doesn’t know much about theatre and won’t understand what you’re saying, that’s okay. Of course, you should not go into a lengthy explanation of the technical merits of your show for 5 minutes as their eyes glaze over.

But it’s not necessarily a bad thing to talk over their head. Just keep it at 10-15 seconds. They may not understand your explanation of why the staging, accents, or fight choreography is amazing, but they will understand that you do. And that’s plenty.

One thing you can always say:

Tickets for this performance are sold out. There is never a bad time to say this. The difference between this and the “tickets are going fast” mentioned above is subtle, but the distinction is important. There is absolutely no desperation in saying “sold out.” So many people want to see this that we now have to turn people away. We couldn’t sell you a ticket if we wanted to.

Talking about how you’ve sold out a performance provides social proof that automatically makes it easier to sell tickets for your other shows, so you never have to sit on this information.

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  1. I am not too sure that these three things are so bad to say. I’d go for it, first, if they’re true and second and related to the first, if they are not what you always say.
    My opinion? If things are, in fact, going well, simply say so. Just don’t overuse these lines.

    Jake Cole on Wed, Jul 4th, 2018 at 10:47am
    • Fair point, Jake. Everyone’s mileage may vary. I might be a little jaded to it because so much of my social media feed is friends in the Indy theatre community repeating these same things. To the general public – who only sees posts related to shows currently in rehearsal as a smaller part of their feed – it might not come across as forced as it seems to for me.

      Clay Mabbitt on Wed, Aug 1st, 2018 at 10:34am

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