Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Arts Marketing: 50 Easy-To-Do Tips

First things first – 50 tips, easy-to-do or otherwise, is a fuck-load of tips.

I’ve been wanting to write a big tips list* for ages – I’ve a draft folder which has around 40 arts marketing articles in, all at different stages of disarray. I thought about combining them in this article, instead, reading them back, they largely revolve around me slagging off different theatre companies who’ve wronged me for some reason or other – not tremendously useful but, I’d like to bet, it’d get considerably more likes.

Anyway, I left it for ages, until I read The Guardian’s list of 100** small ways to change your life (link here) – it’s a combination of useful things and things that make you want to stab your own eyes out with a rusty spoon. And I was REALLY tempted to write my own version of that list, maybe include some top tips such as “hold a rock once a day” or “lick a stranger every week”, or even, “just remember to breathe” – y’know, the kind of thing that makes the blood boil.

Anyway, despite my better judgement I decided to do the arts marketing version – mostly because while I found The Guardian’s a little annoying, it did get me thinking and help separate the wood from the trees when I was doing some thinking. A fair few of these are a little more theatre specific, just so you know in case you don’t work in a regional producing theatre.

Also, it’s worth saying, dedicating some time to thinking, while pretentious, is actually quite useful. I mean how many of us have ever gone to a meeting to talk about something after actually really properly thinking about it (this isn’t in my list).

So yep, have a read, let your blood boil, tweet me yours, retweet if you MUST*** and let me know which are the best****.

Thanks, Sam

*this could be rude
**100 is far-far-too many
***I never get retweets
****Also buy a ticket for my tour, I meant seriously, it’s really good and available in York, Huddersfield, Halifax, Cardiff, Wigan, Lancaster, Aberystwyth, Liverpool (Preview), Wolverhampton, Brecon and Harrogate. But not the South of England. Those theatres don’t want Northerners on their stages… Or to reply to e-mails. Ahem.

  1. Tweetdeck
    If you’re just using the twitter app to do your organisational tweets then try tweetdeck (click here) – you can schedule tweets, follow specific tags to follow for retweeting opportunities and also set an alert for every time your executive team tweet so that you know what they’re saying at all times in an uber-creepy way.
  2. Sort out Facebook admin
    This one is so dull. Lots of people set up their facebook accounts on the fly years ago with no idea whether it’d be around for that long – we genuinely didn’t know if it’d go the same direction at the organisational Bebo and Myspace accounts. Going through the setup for an hour can be really useful – not least for making sure your account looks legit, but also as a time-saving thing – setting your billing thresholds at appropriate levels, or setting up alerts or even using the chat to redirect people depending on their questions. Also I’d recommend having 2 business accounts – at some point your ads will be randomly stopped, always have a backup.
  3. Google Analytics
    Get e-commerce set up – it makes such a difference being able to know exactly what a digital campaign contributed (or didn’t), but also the source of income. It’s better than simple “reached a page” goals. Then set up some automated reports. Also use it in conjunction with Google Campaign URL Builder (click here).
  4. Make your reports simpler
    This is another slightly dull one that saves a tiny amount of time – but remember, tiny amounts add up. Work out what you need on a day-to-day basis and what is actionable. For example on daily sales yield isn’t going to massively change your approach – it might when you’re doing analysis, but generally simpler is better. It also makes it easier to disseminate information around leadership teams that’s meaningful and not crowded out.
  5. TeamUp Tool
    For years I did marketing planning on excel, until I had something that looked like MarketingPlanner_v3_thisone_current_Final.excel which was infuriating. Excel is great for lots of things – agile planning is not one of them – try TeamUp.
  6. ROI
    We don’t do this enough – but ask what you get back from activity – if it’s a mailing keep track so you can compare, the same with e-mail, facebook etc… It’s tedious (I’m terrible at it), but sometimes you spot a gem of an idea in the data.
  7. Create a Website Audit Ticklist
    I’ve been doing this mentally – essentially write down the top things that are vital on a website for a ticket buyer – they’re who’s key and who keep the lights on – start with is the book button easy to see, then can I see when the shows are on… that sort of thing. Simple, obvious stuff.
  8. Create Content not Press Releases (for local press)
    People working in local and regional press are dedicated troopers. Teams have got smaller, time comes at a premium. Creating content can be a useful thing – this isn’t writing news, or your own reviews, but maybe 5 Mins With… interviews, or sending gallery content. Each newspaper has a gem of a journalist who can help you and build a really production, 2-way relationship, find them, cherish them.
  9. Print out a “print essentials” list
    We’ve all done a flyer or poster and realised that we’ve missed something obvious at proofing. Make a list, put it on the wall, avoid that in future – venue, date, time, prices, website, box office, funding logos. (I’ve not done this one, but it’s been on my list of things to do for ages!)
  10. Decaf tea for the afternoon
    Don’t get too wired. At some point you’ll have drunk 6 flat whites by 11:45am and then as your heartrate accelerates you lose the ability to function just as some terrible ticketing complaint comes in. Decaf tea can really calm people down. Also you’ll sleep better.
  11. Give everyone an early deadline
    Everyone is late. Programmers will programme late, directors will cast last, writers will write copy late. Make their deadline early and don’t say when the real one is – you can’t afford to be late, if you’re late it’ll ruin loads of planning, and sales will be wore. Save yourself the stress of getting cross with people.
  12. Multibuys work… mostly.
    Give people the opportunity to see more and spend more with you – reward people for wanting to engage with you more frequently. Also use popular to sell challenging – maybe by creating conditional offers – because you bought popular show X you can have interesting show Y. Oh and make them time limited so that people don’t leave booking until next month/never.
  13. Early Birds work… mostly.
    Encouraging people to commit really early is a good idea, even if it means your yield is slightly lower. It means the lower cost tickets are gone so that when your marketing push happens 4 – 6 weeks out you’re maximising your revenue. Also means you’ve an audience hopefully advocating for the thing they’ve already booked. You can also upsell etc…
  14. Don’t go unreserved
    Unreserved theatres are shit. Audiences get stressed about where they’ll sit, pricing can’t really have ranges, bar sales are lower, queuing is higher and elderly people get knocked over in the surge to get the perfect seat. Also if you can get the best seat in the house simply by arriving 10 mins early rather than booking in advance where’s the motivation to book early?
  15. Sell nice beer
    Profile your audience. Now ask “do they drink Carlsberg”. Then ask what they do drink. Stop serving shit beer, there’s no excuse. And no, Stella Artois is not nice beer.
  16. Don’t let your director include a dull letter at the start
    I don’t fully object to leaders saying something at the start of a brochure, but please don’t make it a) long, b) tedious and c) simply telling people there are shows on. We know there are shows on. Write something about the organisation, how you want people to relate to you, make it an exercise in brand. Oh and write simple, sentences with plain English that doesn’t require an MA in Comparative Literature to understand.
  17. Hide don’t reply
    Sometimes people just bait you on facebook comments – “well I FOR ONE would NOT pay THAT” or “Middle Class Shit” – don’t engage them in debate, save your time, do something useful, trying to convert one troll isn’t your job, hide them.
  18. Ignore the crazies (especially the anonymous ones)
    If you get someone screaming at you online, usually about something they’re misinformed about, and they’re anonymous then you don’t have to reply. Just block them, or message them to say “we don’t reply to anonymous queries online”. Then block them.
  19. Celebrate going to print
    I’m terrible at this. Every time you finish a brochure and send it to print, just take a second to celebrate what an achievement pulling it together is. Everyone thinks it’s easy but it’s not. It’s hard, like herding cats, apart from all the cats think they should be the most important cat.
  20. Don’t worry about the mistakes
    We’ve all done it – 9 people in the organisation have proofed something and yet still a mistake has got through. It happens. Don’t dwell on it. Our current brochure has 4 mistakes. Honestly I think there are maybe 4 people max, in the entire world who’d be able to find them. Luckily they all work in the marketing team. Just try and avoid them next time (or make new ones!).
  21. Track sales in graph form
    Line graphs are really good for tracking sales – they give you a visual representation on whether things are moving or not – make sure the Y axis is set to 0% to 150% of target so that you can see change, and look at it twice weekly (once in case you need to take remedial action and once to quell the nagging panic in the back of your mind). If you can add decent comparisons then do that too!
  22. Work your hours (not more, not less)
    This is a note for managers as much as the managed. I was told that there’s only ever two reasons why people work over their hours – reason one is that the remit is too big, reason two is that the approach to the remit isn’t efficient or strategic enough. If your staff are banging out extra hours every week and they feel they have no choice then you’re a bad manager. If you’re doing extra hours by choice then remember it’s essentially volunteering. Also remember that well-rested people tend to work better than tired people, not matter how much coffee you drink.
  23. Meetings don’t have to be sat down or an hour.
    Try walking meetings, particularly if you want to spit ball ideas or get the creative juices flowing, or indeed if you’re looking after your team and they just need to let loose a bit. A change of scenery can be incredibly useful. Also, it doesn’t need to be an hour, no meeting has ever been made better by making it longer. Short, sharp, focused (even if your focus is spit balling ideas).
  24. Write honestly, write with pictures, play with form.
    There’s lots of ways of writing to capture people’s attentions – indeed all the techniques of comedy, speech and playwriting can be used for all sorts of content creation. Maybe a long list format helps, maybe occasionally adding pictures. Perhaps making sure there are links. Or maybe the first letter of every third sentence forms a secret word. Maybe adding an asterix so that people scroll to the bottom to read a hilarious quip*. Maybe write it in script format, or a different voice. But be honest (and don’t be a dick). Also the asterix after “quip” was a test. If you didn’t scroll down then you failed.
  25. Simple Sentences
    Short, simple sentences are easier to read. If you can’t read your copy out loud in one breath then it needs full stops. If you can do circular breathing then this is cheating. Don’t cheat.
  26. Keep all your notes in one place on Teams/Evernote etc…
    Everyone loves a notebook. Who doesn’t become overcome with giddy excitement when you go through the hallowed doors of Paperchase. I find though that keeping all my notes together, digital, and, importantly, synced to the cloud is handy. It saves on losing notebooks, spilt tea on paper and illegible handwriting.
  27. Don’t get too attached to production shots
    Sometimes the shots you like don’t get approved. They can be rejected for a myriad of reasons. Remember that the more flexible and understanding you are, the more flexible and understanding other people will be. Work out where you can get easy wins and go for them by negotiating away the ones at the bottom of your list.
  28. Don’t get too attached to copy
    I think my copywriting is good. The problem is that I write copy with my voice in my head, so sometimes the flow isn’t quite right. Take amends with humility, it’s a combined effort and more perspectives is usually a good thing.
  29. Apologise when you’re a knob
    I am, occasionally, a bit of a knob. I’ll get on my high horse about something, or I’ll leap foot first into something and, before very long, it sometimes turns out that, well, I’m wrong. I think, increasingly, that the approach of act don’t ask is one that can drive organisations forward and prevent walls of inertia from befalling you. But it comes at a cost, that sometimes you’re wrong. When you are then apologise, learn and move on.
  30. A/B test things cheaply on facebook
    It’s easy and cheap to do an A/B test on facebook – I’ve used it to test out options of artwork and also copy variations. I once discovered that the artwork for a show was an active hinderance to its sales. For $10 you can gain quick insight into what you’re doing. It’s better to dip your toe in the water to find out the temperature first, before leaping in.
  31. Get a network of trusted marketeers you can bounce ideas from
    I’m lucky in that I’ve had other marketeers I can ask questions of and bounce ideas off – for me it’s Sarah at the Everyman, Scott who’s a freelance genius and Duncan the king of PR. Find those people – sometimes you’ll doubt yourself and those people who can help separate the wood from the trees.
  32. Noone can see properly past the 4th row
    If a show is selling poorly then fill the front four rows. The acting company can’t really see vastly further than that most of the time and it’ll create a much warmer atmosphere than people spread out. Audience and actors will have a much better time. But do it from the start through pricing design, don’t get your ushers to move people or it’ll be obvious you meant to sell more.
  33. Talk to other venues – particularly about shows that are dying
    Sometimes shows die. If they’re touring then chat to other venues to see what’s worked or what hasn’t. Sometimes you get a gem of an idea that can sustain you forward. Sometimes you just needs some support and sympathy. I remember a show that was selling terribly and the producer told me that we were clearly doing worse than everyone else on their tour, then mentioned that every other venue was near selling out. I rang a couple. The most they’d sold was 10% of capacity.
  34. Save the living not the dying (but dress it to make it feel nice)
    If you have the option of spending time on a show selling well or a show selling badly then focus on the show that’s selling well. Get that sold out but make sure that the audience distribution is right on the slow show so that it feels nice for everyone (aka towards the front). Also always look at the deals – sometimes you’re stemming a potential loss, and sometimes you’re fuelling a profit. Know which you’re doing and what’s best long, mid and short term.
  35. Always keep some spares for press night
    A really obvious one, but there is ALWAYS someone who turns up expecting a ticket who hasn’t asked for one. Have a spare, save the blushes, save taking the blame and become a hero. Also, if you do this then someone else will not turn up and you’ll have empty seats. You cannot win.
  36. Dress up on press night
    It’ll make you feel good. Smile like a lunatic. It’s the best show you’ve ever seen (in public). And if you wear contacts then take your glasses with you. And dressing up doesn’t always mean a suit and tie. It could mean a costume, or even a bunny suit. Whatever fits the mood and vibe. Just make a change. Oh and don’t drink two bottles of red wine.
  37. Make the front seat the cheapest seat
    We want people to sit in their seat, look forward, and see a full house. What’s behind them matters less. Create the perception of success, even when not successful.
  38. Know why you discount.
    We’ve all looked at an epic concessions list and felt it is incredibly worthy. But make sure that every concession is appropriate and does the job. A concession is to allow someone who would otherwise be economically excluded to attend – does £2 off the standard price do that? A concession is something that can drive a particularly audience group to attend – if they need driving (wrangling) then is the product right? Ask questions about your concessions.
  39. Go through the booking experience
    Buy tickets at your own venue and live the audience experience. I do this fairly regularly and it throws up loads of stuff about how you can improve in the future. It also makes you question your box office provider. We use a company who is largely coloured green – the more I buy tickets the more I realise the limitations of the software and/or our implementation. The starter-for-10 is finding the issue, the challenge is how to enact positive change.
  40. Use recommendations from others
    Use reviews, audience feedback, and yes, stars to act as recommendations for your shows. Stars works. Put stars on. And if you’ve never heard of the publication then make the publication name small. Oh and don’t get politically motivated – if you hate The Guardian or The Times for some reason then get over it, some of your audience will like them.
  41. Don’t be snooty about pop culture
    Even if an actor prefers that you tell audiences that they were in an astonishing 1989 RSC production of Titus Andronicus, remember that more people will have seen them in EastEnders. Unless you’re contacting solely people who saw the astonishing 1989 RSC production of Titus Andronicus.
  42. Tag things – tickets selling fast – perception of success
    I once ran a comedy night in an 800 seat theatre and a mate called Rick booked tickets as soon as they went on sale. Then he asked me why on the poster it said tickets selling fast when he’d bought the first tickets… Well technically, I said, now they are. The perception of success is really important – people want to buy into things that are doing well – it’s natural, we don’t want FOMO, we want to be in the cool gang – if something sells out tell people, if it doesn’t then stay quiet or tell people that’s what you intended. It was a vital lesson I got from working with Stephen and Christina from TRG. Create the perception of success and success will follow.
  43. Don’t be a faceless, personality-free entity
    It’s awful when you feel like you’re talking to a faceless corporation. Be a real person. Be a real person with empathy, with kindness and with humility. Know what the hard rules are, but also know where you can compromise, where you can help and where it’s okay to turn a hard rule into a soft rule. Oh and write like a human not a bot.
  44. Get on sale as early as you can bare/bear
    The longer you’re on sale the better. Also I’m not prepared to google which bare/bear is right.
  45. The less recent an audience has been, the less you spend on them
    The people who are more likely to spend money with you have been most recently and most frequently. For everyone else you’re almost going from a standing start – go for lots of cheap interventions to try and break through, oh and incentivise coming back.
  46. Database cleanliness is really important – but also very hard and expensive
    If 10% of the details on your database are wrong then that’s a 10% waste on any activity. Make sure you de-dupe accounts regular, but also look at getting your database cleaned. Stannp (and other mailing providers) have the ability to check your mailing lists before sending to see the deceased or gone away numbers. They might be much higher than you care to imagine. Sorting it is short term expense for medium to long term gain.
  47. Give as much information as possible without being wordy or dull. Get to the point.
    Being concise is a really good skill – communicating in 100 words is fine, but you need people to read 100 words. If you can communicate in 10 to the same degree and with similar impact then your hit rate will go up. Oh, and be interesting and avoid jargon. Not everyone knows that Ophelia is a character name. Write for your audience not for the industry.
  48. If you feel sad tell someone (and look out for people)
    You’ll have hard days, hard weeks, dark months and sometimes dark years. Don’t keep it to yourself, it can eat you up inside. We worry so much about weakness, but I genuinely believe that honesty about when you’re struggling is one of the strongest things you can do. Also lots of people hide parts of themselves. I’m reminded of the West Wing quote about a man in a hole who can’t get out. Eventually another man jumps in. “Why’d you jump in” the man asks, incredulous at the idiocy. “Well” the other man says, “I’ve been in this hole before but I know the way out”. You get the gist.
  49. The Ronseal Approach
    I think our job is to make it simple and easy to engage with the arts. There’s a lot to be said for the Ronseal Approach – does exactly what it says on the tin – we all love an amazing title for things, but if no-one understands the title then they mightn’t get to the small print that tells them more.
  50. Let others be creative for you
    Let yourself be surprised. I think I’m a pretty good writer. I sent copy for my show (did I mention it?) and sent it to all the venues. One venue wrote their own copy. I was initially cross. “WHO THE F**KING HELL HAS WRITTEN….” my mind shouted… Then I read it. It’s far better than mine. FAR. FAR BETTER. Don’t lock down creativity. Don’t limit it to people who are “creative” or “arty”, or by job description, or grade. Let it flourish, let people engage, let people run with ideas. And please. Please I beg you. Don’t be precious.

Finally… It’s worth saying that some of these points are things we do, some are aspirational, some are lessons learnt the hard way etc… Oh, I also got asked what happens if you click the links – do I get some sort of financial kickback – nope. When you click a link the internet shrugs and a marketeer tries to work out what they can sell you.

Drop me a message, share and reply.

Best, Sam

P.S. This is longer than my Uni dissertation.

*you passed the test.