Who Do You Need On Your Theatre Marketing Team?
There’s something grand and sweeping about the idea of managing every aspect of your production. It is your baby, after all. Who could care as much about getting each detail right as you do?
Maybe you don’t view handling everything from soup to nuts as a mystic calling so much as a necessary evil. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the financial resources or connections to have anyone else taking any of the promotional tasks off your plate.
If reading either of the last two paragraphs feels like I’m inside your head, then I have a potentially unpleasant truth to share with you: you cannot promote a show alone. I won’t even hedge this statement by saying it may be true in rare cases. I’m saying clearly and decisively that you cannot be in charge of all aspects of marketing your show by yourself.
If you try to tackle the endeavor as a one-person operation, you are doing your cast, your production team, and your venue a disservice. You will not draw in the audience that you can and should with an appropriately skilled team. There’s simply too much to be done.
You might be able to handle one or two of the roles I’m going to describe, but you cannot balance all these hats on your head. Take a look at this list and consider who you know that can and will shoulder some of the load. Call in favors, pay people, or use whatever other motivation you can dream up.
Photographer / Videographer
You might actually have one person on your theatre marketing team for video and another person for stills, but I’m describing them together here because the marketing function is largely the same regardless of the medium.
People can live without going to the theatre. They must have food, clothes, shelter, and transportation, but tickets to a show are not required for survival. It’s a luxury item. (I won’t argue if you want to say that it’s “luxuries” like this that make life worth living, but that’s beside the point.)
The average person only purchases luxury items when they have a high level of confidence they are going to enjoy them. So how do they get that confidence? You can go into a jewelry store and try on a diamond ring. You can test-drive a high-end sports car. How do you test out a live performance?
The closest you can come is looking at promotional stills and videos. This imagery is ammunition that you are going to use again and again in your marketing, so this is not the place to wing it. Whether they are paid or volunteering, you need someone with the appropriate skills and equipment capturing your images.
This is a good place to point out that you shouldn’t wait until dress rehearsal to start capturing images. You can get shots of early rehearsals, costume sketches, and props. I wouldn’t necessarily reveal the entire stage, but a close-cropped image of an interesting set piece (or drawing of a sketch piece) is a good way to tease the public as you build excitement leading up to the show. In fact zooming in close on something is a great tactic for continually giving your growing fan base hints about the show without revealing too much.
It’s wonderful if you can create cinema-style trailers for your show, but that type of piece requires a big time investment by a very experienced video editor. A much lower hanging fruit is a series of short, documentary-style video segments that can be shared on social media.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of recruiting a talented graphic designer for your show. They are involved early and often in the marketing of your show.
From day one you are going to need a logo for your show. Unless you are a professional designer who receives money from strangers for your work, do not attempt this step yourself. The time you spend creating the logo yourself is better spent elsewhere, and it’s going to be obvious to everyone that the logo was done by someone who was winging it. That is not the tone you want to set for this show in your marketing.
Maybe you are producing an existing show, and the logo has already been created. Now you need to get the logo file as a vector or very, very high resolution bitmap to use in your print pieces. If any part of that last sentence felt unfamiliar to you, do not attempt to create your poster for the show yourself.
There’s going to be enough designing going on here that you really need someone who can work relatively quickly. It is unbelievably easy to find someone that dabbles in design, and they’re going to seem very appealing because they are probably cheap. I would caution that you get what you pay for. That doesn’t necessarily need to mean money, by the way. A very talented designer may be within your price range if you offer tickets, program advertising, or other non-financial compensation.
Just make sure that you are providing a fair exchange. A relationship with a good designer is worth preserving, so make sure they feel like what they are getting is worth their time. It might be a good idea to look through your contact list and send a new client or two their way while you’re at it.
Some of the things your designer might be creating include a logo, a show poster, digital mailings, email announcements, newspaper ads, signage for the show, t-shirts and any other merchandise. By the way, who’s designing your website? It’s either your graphic designer or…
Some of the most scalable and effective promotion you can do is going to happen online. (More on that in a second.) You’re going to have activity on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If you’re doing things right, people that are interacting with you on these sites are going to reach a point where they are ready to buy a ticket. Where do they go?
You need a website to serve as the hub for your online marketing efforts. When you send an email, what link are you asking people to click? While your website does not necessarily need to be complicated, it’s going to be difficult enough that you will likely need someone to help you get things set up.
If you have set up a WordPress blog before, then this might be one of the tasks you can tackle yourself, but remember this is going to be more complicated than a personal blog. Do you know how to put the logo for your show at the top of the site? Some themes make it easy, and some don’t.
Unlike photography and graphic design, people are usually more aware of their own limitations when it comes to creating a website. If you feel confident, I won’t tell you not to try putting together the website on your own, but be honest with yourself. You don’t want a site that looks like you were trying to cut corners.
If the site appears poorly done that’s going to make it more difficult to draw an audience, more difficult to convince your advocates to spread the word about the site, more difficult to get press coverage, and more difficult in all kinds of little ways that add up to a big hassle. People assume the quality of your site reflects the quality of your show.
Make sure you have someone on your marketing team that knows their way around HTML (for starters).
This is the most important role on any theatre marketing team, and unfortunately it is also the most frequently overlooked. We all entertain this fantasy in the back of our minds. It goes something like this.
You put together a show so great that word spreads without you doing much marketing at all. You find yourself turning people away at the door because there just aren’t enough seats for everyone who wants to see what all the fuss is about.
It sure sounds great, but it’s incredibly naive. For starters that kind of word-of-mouth needs to reach a certain size before it starts taking on a life of its own. You can roll a snowball down a hill, but you need to create the snowball first. On top of that until the snowball gets large enough that its inertia will keep it rolling, you need to keep pushing it every few feet.
Even if that is your plan, that kind of purely organic word-of-mouth takes a while to spread. How did you get people to show up for opening night in the first place? Once they start talking about it, how long does it take before their friends and coworkers make it to the theatre?
How long can you afford to wait for word to spread to enough people to start bringing people in waves? One week? Two? It’s more likely it would take months before you reached any kind of tipping point, and that’s if this is literally the best show that your community has seen in the last decade.
Of course that’s how long it takes if you are sitting back on your heels and crossing your fingers that people hear about your little show. That’s why you need a community developer.
This person is going to be sharing photos and videos on Facebook, responding to comments and questions that people leave online, networking with other theatres and shows online, running contests, connecting with the local press, and all the things that need to happen every day.
None of these things are necessarily difficult, but they require ongoing activity. You cannot post a picture once every three weeks and expect to see much change in your advanced sales.
Unlike the other roles almost every show creator or producer has the necessary skills to be the community developer, and it’s fantastic if you can do this role well, by the way. What you are most likely to lack, though, is time.
The tasks of a community developer cannot be knocked out by staying up until the wee hours of the morning some night with a pot of coffee. When done right (which is absolutely necessary to be effective) it requires a constant stream of small activities and interactions online.
At this point you may be wondering what exactly your role is in the marketing? I promise there is still plenty to occupy you. For starters you will be giving executive approval for all of these activities. Your designer will need you to approve the poster. Your community developer needs you to secure tickets for the contest. You’re still the one that needs to talk to that reporter from the local paper. And when your videographer wants to put together a behind the scenes documentary clip, you’re the one that needs to be interviewed.
There are enough tasks that can only be done by you. For the other tasks that can be delegated to someone else on your theatre marketing team (who may even do it faster and better), please do so. You owe it to your show.