Partner with Local Businesses and Organizations for Unique Promotions
It’s easy to fall back on the familiar marketing tactics that we use to promote any arts performance. Call the local paper and invite them to see a dress rehearsal of the show. Send a direct mail piece out to season ticket holders at your venue. Ask your friends and family to tell their neighbors and coworkers. Give your cast a stack of posters and beg them to plaster every grocery store and bus stop in town.
Those techniques do have some value, and I think you should pursue all of them. (Except giving posters to your cast. I’m sure it has worked for someone before, but I’ve never heard of it.)
Yet the vast majority of productions struggle to fill the house. If you rely on the same promotional techniques as most shows, expect to see the same results. Yes, you’ll get some people in the door. No, it will not be as many people as you could (and want to) accommodate. What’s a hungry show promoter to do?
Promotions that fit your show
I suggest looking for ways to market that only make sense for your show. Earlier this year my local civic theatre did a production of Willy Wonka. They teamed up with a local candy shop to cross promote. I wasn’t on the inside so I don’t actually know all the ways they exploited this partnership. I have imagined quite a few ideas, some of which may have actually happened.
- Sell tickets to the show at the candy shop
- Sell the shop’s candy in the lobby of the show
- Custom Willy Wonka branded packaging for some candy
- Hide real “golden tickets” in some candy worth two free tickets
- A highly promoted appearance by Willy Wonka (in costume) at the candy shop
- Kids can sign up (exclusively at the candy shop) to win a backstage tour
- Send free candy to season ticket holders and/or high dollar value donors
- Create a table tent or brochure to sit at the register in the candy shop
- Give candy shop employees oompa loompa badges/shirts/hats they can wear
- Include a free piece of candy from the shop in each program at the performances
- A candy scavenger hunt with stops at both the candy shop and the theatre
Finding a partner
These ideas work so well for Willy Wonka because candy is an integral part of the story. Your challenge is to think about unique promotional partnerships that make sense in your show. Look at important props or costumes in the show. Think about the professions of characters in the show. Where is the action set? The answers to these questions are your clues to potential local partners.
If you are struggling to get press coverage, start by courting local businesses.
Most of the time, these partnerships are going to make the most sense for “feel good” shows. (There may be a business willing to partner with you on your production of Rabbit Hole, but I’d be surprised.) There are exceptions, though.
In Indianapolis last year a prominent local law firm sponsored and promoted a based-on-historical-fact story about several lynchings that occurred in Indiana. I can’t describe the show as “feel good”, but I will tell you it was thought-provoking and extremely well done. The law firm wanted to be involved in the community and associated with complex, challenging works. They foot the bill for the following video, created by the marketing firm I work for.
Looking for an added bonus? Partnerships like this give reporters a much more interesting hook to build a news story around. If you are struggling to get press coverage, start by courting local businesses.