SOR 007: Marketing at a Fringe Festival (Part 1 of 2)

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Being part of any theatre festival is a fantastic opportunity to get exposure to new audiences. The people attending these festivals are clearly interested in discovering new performing arts options in their city. When you get accepted into a festival it would be so easy to relax on your marketing efforts because the festival itself is going to bring you all kinds of foot traffic, but you still need to get those people walking past to stop and watch your show.

Putting a store in a busy mall guarantees that people will be walking past the front door, but it doesn’t guarantee they will stop in and buy anything.

Last summer I helped promote the show 465: Sex Drive as part of the IndyFringe Festival. While it was the first year that this production company had entered a production in the Fringe – in fact this was the company’s first stage production in Indianapolis –  we were the highest grossing show. Since ticket prices are set to $10 for all shows in the festival, this also means we sold the most tickets.

The organizers of the festival offer workshops for the participants to help them in various aspects of marketing their shows, and they asked me to run a session this year and share what we did to promote 465. That workshop was earlier this month, and it was very well received. People were asking questions and jotting down notes. I’m pretty sure everyone left with some concrete ideas they will be using to promote their shows this summer.

So I wanted to share this material on the podcast. The original workshop was 2 hours long. That’s in part because there were a lot of questions and interjections. I’ve streamlined the material quite a bit for the podcast format, and now it runs just over 40 minutes. Even with that trimming, though, I still needed to break the material into two separate episodes. Part 2 will be released next week.

In this episode:

  • why ignoring marketing and just focusing on art doesn’t work – it has a noble appeal, but even the most amazing shows can’t find an audience without promotion
  • questions in a potential audience member’s mind when they see your postcard – what they are thinking about you and this show as they decide if they want a ticket
  • when word of mouth starts – hint: it should be long before opening night
  • marketing is entertainment – we tend to lump it in with sales, but marketing has a lot more in common with performance
  • organizing your promotions – how often you need to be releasing your promotions
  • 2 channels you absolutely must use to market your show – press releases, posters, and Twitter can all be key for your marketing, but here are two channels you can’t do without

Items mentioned:

  • Slides from this workshop – If curiosity is killing you, here are the actual slides I used during the presentation. Completely optional.
  • IndyFringe Festival – annual theatre festival in Indianapolis from which the examples in this workshop are taken
  • 465: Sex Drive’s Facebook page – the Facebook event page for the show referenced in this case study. Most of the examples mentioned here of things like cast bios, polls, videos, etc. are linked to in status updates on this page.
  • The Secret Power of Facebook Events – a blog post I wrote explaining why event pages are the most effective way to leverage your Facebook connections


Discussion Question: I make a pretty strong statement in this episode that I don’t think you can find an audience for your show by focusing on putting an amazing production up on stage and neglecting traditional marketing activities like putting up ads. Am I right? Under what conditions could you truly ignore the promotion and just let the quality of your work build buzz on its own? Leave your thoughts here.

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  1. Great topic. We just cast for a show that opens in November. I want to generate the buzz as this is the So. Az premiere, but need a timeline for promotion, and what to promote, when and where. Can you address timelines, and unique things to do for a musical vs dramatic play. Thank you

    Sue Bishop on Wed, May 22nd, 2013 at 9:44pm
    • Hi Sue, every show is a little bit different, of course, but in general I think you want to ramp up the promotion going into opening night. The last two weeks or so you should have some small bit of news going out every day. A month out it can be a few times a week. More than two months out you might just need one thing a week.

      Since you have a show that isn’t incredibly well-known (I assume you are talking about A Man of No Importance) a lot of your stuff 1-2 months out can be about why the show is good. Under 1 month focus on why your production in particular is so good.

      Be sure to check out the show notes for part 2 of this podcast. You can download the last few weeks of the timeline I used to promote 465 last summer. Might be a good template to help you get started. That episode also has more specific tactics that might be useful.

      I would also suggest throwing your question out there on the Sold Out Run Facebook page. There are a lot of people who care about theatre marketing there, and you might get some good ideas from that group.

      And finally there’s a full timeline example included in Reaching a New Audience, btw.

      Clay Mabbitt on Thu, May 23rd, 2013 at 8:03am

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