Marketing Doesn’t “Make” Someone Want To See a Show

A few days ago I was having a beer with two of my friends who have also been involved with marketing theatre over the last few years. Actually both have been doing it longer than I have, so naturally I did a lot more listening than talking. They’ve been working with larger theatres than I typically do, so it wasn’t surprising that there were some mentions of grant proposals and corporate sponsors.

The lion’s share of the conversation, though, was about show selection and marketing individual shows. This seems to be an issue for every size of theatre – and there seems to be at least a few people at each level who misunderstand the role of marketing.

At the end of the day people buy a ticket to see a show because they want to see it. Something about the title, the people involved, or maybe something they couldn’t even articulate resonates with them, and they open their wallet.

Marketing does not and cannot create this connection out of thin air. If someone just isn’t interested in a particular production, bludgeoning them over the head with slick marketing isn’t going to change that. Trying to find your audience by turning up the volume of your marketing is wildly inefficient (read: expensive).

What marketing can do is expose people to the aspects of the show that will appeal to them. Those aspects are part of the production itself. Marketing doesn’t create them, but it does get the word out about them.

Why the distinction matters

When things get busy, and you’re tempted to breeze through the marketing for your current show, remembering that no amount of promoting can convince someone who isn’t interested in the first place – that’s what brings you back down to earth. It’s what pushes you to think about who will love – not just like – this production and what they will love about it.

What usually happens when we dare to add a show to our season that’s a little outside of our normal offering? Usually it’s criminally under-attended, and we rush back to the safety of selecting from whatever formulaic genre of show we’ve trained our loyal followers to expect from us.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but it means you can’t phone in the marketing. And you can’t wait until 2 months before that type of show opens to roll up your sleeves. At the time you are selecting the show for your season, you need to be asking yourself:

Is this show different than what our “regulars” are used to seeing?

If so, then you have to know that your typical marketing activities aren’t going to bring in the usual numbers. It’s a pain, but you’ll need to find new businesses – that appeal to a different audience – that will allow you to put a poster up in their window. You need to make new press contacts in media outlets that didn’t make sense for your old shows – but do now.

You can’t offer a discount to your email subscribers to jump start sales because this show is for a different audience than what you’ve been cultivating up to this point. You can bring on board someone who has experience connecting with this particular audience to advise as you build your marketing plan for this show.

If you’re really at a loss, you could always decide not to do this show. I’m not a fan of this option myself. If the show is in alignment with your artistic mission and you want to do it, then do it. Just don’t kid yourself that the marketing you’ve done before is going to be enough. Plan for a higher marketing budget and more extensive resources when you add this show to your season.

And everyone in the organization needs to remember that the promotions for this show are going to feel different. Your poster probably won’t look like the posters you usually do. If it does, don’t expect to connect with a new audience.

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