Must-Know Theatre Marketing Ideas From a Business Owner – Part 2

Susanne-RiehleThis is part 2 of an interview with Susanne Riehle, owner of Studio Productions Inc. There are some simple fantastic ideas for creative theatre promotion in her answers. Check out part 1.

What can a theatre do to give themselves the best chance of getting a feature written?

For feature writers develop several angles for them. Have press releases on some of the human interest stories. Make these releases image rich. Maybe the woman playing Mama Rose started on stage at age three, now she’s a grandmother of a three year old. What about an image of her rehearsing with the grandbaby watching from the front row? Maybe you’ve invited a guest director in from a local university. What interesting angles can be written about him?

If a production includes some impressive technical feature in their show – for example a truly remarkable scrim – how can they play that up in their promotions?

Thanks for mentioning scrims;) I am a scrim manufacturer. Our scrims allow for some pretty dramatic effects, like making people and sets appear and disappear, front and rear projection, shadow screens. But they also can be large unique printed scenery (that still can disappear) or be ‘cut drops’. Those aspects are truly unusual and can be played up in a behind the scenes article with some lovely pictures submitted to the papers. Since these press releases appear before the show opens, you get a timely free advertising. Better still, many small papers are hungry for picture rich articles. Imagine a production of Mulan, where in one scene you see the Great Wall of China in a beautiful full stage painting. The lights change and the Great Wall fades to reveal a garden scene behind it.

Smaller shows with paintings that come to life, or projections that change the backgrounds, or even the use of small painted scenery behind a scrim to suggest distant skylines can intrigue future audiences and make great stories for the papers

Or how about the makeup for Beauty and the Beast? The technical aspects of how to make a man into a beast is just plain fun and interesting, with plenty of backstage pictures for the papers.

When your sinking Titanic actually rises and sinks because of the pneumatic design of a few clever set people and a few truck airbags—isn’t that a story?

Without revealing all of the magic of theatre, the technical aspects do interest people. .

What’s the cleverest promotion you remember a show doing?

This answer has taken me the longest, simply because people don’t do the promotions that I wish they did. Theatre promotions tend to be an afterthought, limited to posters around town or a random time and date radio announcement. I’ve suggested sidewalk chalk ads drawn by kids in front of the theatre for a children’s show. I’ve dreamed of an old radio show style ad on the radio for a period murder mystery, complete with a “the Shadow knows” type come-on. I’d like to see street posters set up ‘burma-shave’-style on downtown lamp-posts, where one poster starts the ad and the others in sequence complete it. Could Marley’s ghost show up at a public place? Could Dr. Jekyll be interviewed on the radio drive-time radio (in character of course)? Could Nutcracker music be softly played in front the theatre where the performance will take place so passersby can be drawn to it? How many social promotions has your theatre tried? Sponsor a poster contest or tee shirt design contest for local high school students for your show.

It’s a pity that more creativity isn’t brought into the promotions—not just because theatre people are creative types, but also because theatre is meant to be fun. Fun promotions make people want to come to shows while setting the ‘brand’ for the theatre.

Promotions can be very inexpensive if done creatively—and they can spread through the community. Marketers know that the more involvement people have for themselves, the more they talk up the product. That why Publisher’s Clearinghouse has people place stickers on their entries. So act of promoting a show also makes the promoters more committed. Kids in a poster contest will talk up the event that they design the poster for.

Hands-down the cleverest promotion I’ve heard of doing involved a guy who had started several theatres. When he was setting up the theatres he asked the local community to donate lamps, chandeliers, couches, lazyboys and loveseats. He made the seating and the house lighting out of an eclectic arrangement of these all on a few platforms. Then he posted the names of the donors in a map of the arrangement in the lobby. The donors felt they had a stake in the theatre. They attended shows. Their neighbors loved to pour over the map to see who donated what. They attended the shows. Newcomers felt that this theatre was a real community place. They attended the shows. People dating snuggled together in loveseats. Families sat on couches together. He claimed to have set up seven successful theatres in very non-theatre communities.

What else should theatres be doing?

Community theatres can better avail themselves of volunteer community resources. People changing careers frequently can use a credential or two. I advised two professionals making a career switch to marketing to consider volunteering some free marketing to local non-profits. The professional got the new type of credential – even a portfolio in one case; the non-profit got free work. Similarly, colleges that offer arts management degrees have interns available and have classroom assignments. Ask colleges if there are promising students that could come up with publicity campaigns within a budget for a credit in the program.

I can’t thank Susanne enough for these incredibly thoughtful responses. Learn more about Susanne’s business and the scrim solutions she can provide at

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