Never Delegate Your Marketing Completely
Promoting a live stage production is not easy. It’s tough to find well-documented examples of someone doing it well, and it usually feels like you’re trying to hit a moving target.
So when you find someone who’s willing to take on the task of marketing your show, it can be very tempting to just hand them the reins and wish them well. After all it’s not like you don’t have a hundred other things to worry about to make the production successful.
Don’t do it.
I mean, yes, certainly if someone is willing and able to do the legwork of marketing, then I think you welcome them with open arms. But that isn’t to say that you’re just going to hand them the baton and check out of the marketing process completely.
You may not (and if your very lucky will not) be involved in executing each tactic of the marketing plan, but you need to be aware of what all the tactics are. If there’s a marketing calendar, you need to be there when it’s created and checking it regularly.
Even if you have the most amazing marketing person in the world. Here’s a few reasons why:
1. Personal connections
So much of successful marketing involves working with other people, and existing relationships can make all the difference. Your marketing specialist probably has some existing connections; maybe they already have a good working relationship with the local arts critic. Maybe they have a great photographer they can pull in for publicity stills. That covers the basics.
Now let’s say you end up doing a production of Hands on a Hardbody, and you really want to connect with a Nissan dealership for some cross promotion and sponsorship. Your marketing person could spend a few hours on the phone trying to track down the right person to talk to, but you have a spin class with the wife of the service manager at the dealership, and in less than 5 minutes of phone calls you’re talking to the decision maker.
That probably sounds a little facetious, but there are opportunities like that all over. In fact consider giving your entire production team a brief of the type of connections you want to make to promote the show just to see if there’s any easy connections that people can make.
2. Two heads are better than one
You know things that your delegated marketing agent will not. They might have exciting ideas that sound great on paper, but just aren’t going to be practical. Maybe they want a big photo booth in the lobby, and you know the board is just not going to let that happen. Or they want to do a promotional video with the actors, and you know the schedules just aren’t going to line up.
Or whatever. If you know what the potential obstacles to an idea are, you can bring those up early enough to either address them or move on to the next idea. This saves both money and time.
Speaking of money, if you know what’s involved in the marketing plan you can be more intelligent about the marketing budget. You can ask intelligent questions like, “What if we shot this promo video for Xanadu in the park for free instead of spending all this money to rent out the local skating rink?”
And sharing your brainpower isn’t just about avoiding the negative. You can also introduce new positive ideas. The marketing person may not know that your set designer is really getting into stop motion animation and would jump at the chance to do a simple stop-motion video using the scale model of the set that’s already been built. But you do, and you can offer that information up during the brainstorming phase.
3. Regular accountability
Everyone can use a little extra accountability. (I’m half convinced the reason that marketing for many small theatres isn’t better is because what little accountability there is doesn’t come into play until too late.)
If you know the full marketing plan, that means you know what’s supposed to be happening and when. If things start slipping behind schedule, you’ll be immediately aware. Sometimes just knowing that is enough to make sure that when things get busy in the life of your dedicated marketer, the tasks for promoting your show don’t keep getting pushed until tomorrow.
This also means that if your marketer is getting overwhelmed, both of you will be able to recognize it and talk about it early enough to find some extra help. Otherwise you might be left with an increasingly tense marketing specialist who is secretly missing deadlines and hoping / wishing to catch up later without anybody noticing.
That’s a recipe for empty seats.
Unless you are submitting your marketing plan to a stodgy board to get approval for your marketing budget (which is not at all uncommon), I think formal documentation can be overkill. In a lot of cases, informal documentation can cover you.
If you are involved in identifying the marketing tactics for this show and looking at the timeline for when everything is going to happen, there is inevitably going to be informal documentation. Usually there’s a printout or some emails that break down everything that needs to happen.
Why does this matter? For one there’s less of a chance that any steps are going to get missed if the entire plan isn’t living in one person’s head.
More importantly: you’ve got a record of what you did. If your delegated marketing specialist is any good, then someday they will move on to greener pasture. At that point you will be very glad that you have some recording of what you’ve been doing to promote shows so that you aren’t starting from scratch.
In that same vein, someday you may move on to your next opportunity. Whether you’re directly responsible for marketing in that new position or not, you may find it useful to have a few marketing tricks up your sleeve that you can share to help the new organization be more successful.
You sly devil, you.
5. Post-run review
As the current show winds down, we can’t help but start focusing on the next production. It’s unavoidable, but make sure you carve out a sliver of time to review the run you just finished. Certainly there will be logistical things to review, but I encourage you to also look at the marketing.
Did you get the turnout you were expecting? And how do you account for that? If your numbers were low, was it really because the weather was bad? Was it really because the local football team made the playoffs?
Or was it that elements of your marketing didn’t resonate with people the way you expected? You’re only going to be able to respond to that question in a meaningful way if you understand what marketing was done.