How Can I Help Market When the Producer Doesn’t Seem To Want Help?

There hasn’t been much new content at Sold Out Run for the last few months. There are various reasons for that, but I bring it up because… well, even though I haven’t been adding new material, new people are finding the site. In the past week I’ve seen a new comment, a thank you email, a purchase, and a question. I guess there’s an audience for this type of information, so I’m stepping out of my pseudo-sabbatical to respond to the latest question.

I’m the lowly playwright. The company who is currently producing… doesn’t seem to need my help in any way. I’ve offered to contact reviewers, etc., but I get no response. I know they’re very busy, but I wonder if I should just go ahead. You have solid ideas. Thank you for what you do.


My gut reaction…

The knee-jerk response here is that the producers are fools for not taking advantage of your obvious willingness to roll up your sleeves and promote the show. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. A lot of their marketing practices might live in their heads, and if that’s the case they don’t have an operations manual they can hand a self-starter such as yourself.

You’re likely already doing a lot of the things that you can do from outside the theatre: talking about the show in your own online (and offline!) circles and encouraging people to get tickets in advance. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but you might want to scan the big list of tactics to see if there’s any low hanging fruit there for you.

If the producing company doesn’t have the capacity to bring you into their marketing fold, you can still move forward. The challenge is making sure you aren’t duplicating efforts (or most importantly not contradicting any of the messaging they are doing).

I would suggest running any ideas you have by the theatre. If they really aren’t communicative, you can always include a timeline in your communications with them. (i.e. Hey, there might be an opportunity to do an interview on this local radio show on the arts. They’re interested in talking to me, and if the director and leads are available that would be great, too! I need to give them a yay or nay by 8am Thursday. If you see any problems with that let me know by then, otherwise I’ll move forward with the planning.)

The more I think about it…

If you’ve ever worked in a job where you’ve suddenly got an assistant or an intern, you know that they create a lot more work for you at first. Later as they start learning the ropes they’ll take work off your plate, but until then it’s a burden. And if you had enough work to justify bringing someone else in, you’re probably already shouldering as much burden as you possibly can.

If you’re training someone who’s going to be with you for (hopefully) a few years, all this effort up front is worth it. But we have to look at this from the company’s perspective. You want to help with this current production, but you’re (I think) not offering to act in this capacity for all their future productions.

So, on the one hand you are offering to volunteer your time in the next few weeks to promote their show for them. On the other hand you’re asking them to carve out some big chunks of time in the limited days before this show opens to:

  • organize their thoughts around what needs to happen with the marketing in a way that someone else can understand
  • decide which pieces make sense for you to do
  • train you on implementing those pieces
  • follow up with you to see how things went
  • and if we’re being completely honest: fix whatever pieces you didn’t get quite right because, hey, this is your first time doing things exactly this way

So how can you make this work?!?!

Your offer of help will become appealing if it really doesn’t require much more of the company than saying yes or no. It’s going to be more work on your end, but if you really want to help this is what it’s going to take.

Start by making sure you understand what they’ve done to market past shows. It will just help you get your arms around what they’re already doing.

Don’t just ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Offer an outline of what you can do, and be specific (and brief) about what each idea you have entails. Here are two blog posts that include examples of the type of “proposal” you might want to create.

  1. The Email That Eventually Became Sold Out Run
  2. The Open Book Project: Brainstorming Marketing Tactics

Note that the format in these blog posts make it relatively easy for the company to run down the lists and either give you the go ahead or point out any problem with each item individually.

Good luck, Elizabeth! And, of course, if anyone else reading has a question about theatre marketing that you’d like my take on, just ask.

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