Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

How to successfully market a theatre show according to audiences.

I recently found this blog post in my wordpress drafts (there’s a few others in there I might dig into at some point soon too) – it was written after a particularly shitty day at work, and then, feeling that it mightn’t be as good as my rage-addled mind suspected – I temporarily binned it – that was on 6 December 2016. So, better late then never, here it is. Enjoy x

Marketeers rejoice.
The audience has an opinion on how to do everything better.
We’re all saved.

I’ve had one of those days.

One of those days where people insist on telling you how you could sell a show/event better, suggesting that “it’s easy”, and that maybe you’ve simply not tried things that seem incredibly obvious to them (maybe they’ll suggest you should be fired for someone who knows what they’re doing).

Let’s ignore reality.

Let’s ignore budgets, time limitations, multitasking, public safety, avoiding breaking the law or indeed reason – what’s the point in factoring those in –  and instead focus on fact – the fact that everyone who works in marketing knows as they’ve been told it a thousand times – everyone can market a show/event better than you.

So here goes. I’ve done marketing for a while. The audience has spoken, the marketing isn’t working (although the tickets are selling which is curious). So let’s open our ears, our mouths and our hearts and absorb some wisdom.

  • “Just put some posters up”
    A regular one. If you put up more posters then people would come because ultimately we’ve not moved on since the 1970s. Good locations include cornershops, hairdressers, the back of toilet doors in pubs and above urinals. God knows I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone for a piss and also sorted my cultural calendar. They’re dead easy to put up too, everyone is really receptive to taking them and what’s great is that you only have one show a year on so it’s a big winner.
  • Telling the papers
    Have you considered telling people, particularly the papers. What you need to do is get your show on the front cover, and page 3 and the back cover. That way everyone will see it. Essentially you need a member of the cast to kill someone, another to strip and a third to score the winning goal in an FA Cup Final. Many audience members read the Daily Mail and The Express so make those your priorities.
  • Motorways
    More signs saying what’s on on roads. That’s what the people want. It’s what they demand. It should be easy too. Simply print out a sign, stick it to a board (prit stick) and then stake it to the ground. Hell your production department could even make the stakes for you so it’s practically free (apart from the printing and installation). All that free advertising as motorists speed by at 80mph. Even better are junctions, on blind bends, with hills, with regular pea soup fog.
  • I haven’t seen it
    That lone gun customer who proclaims that because they hadn’t heard of it the marketing must be terrible. This sample-of-one should be the backbone and basis for appraising your marketing campaigns even if they are a completely wrong fit for the product. Take Vera, a fictional pensioner living in Southend. If she were real you could ring her up, “have you heard of the show?” you’d ask. Imagine the pause, the terror, had your marketing been successful or not? If Vera hasn’t heard of it then her friends (those still alive) certainly haven’t, and you know what that means? More posters.
  • A flyer through our door
    The step up from simple posters you need to put a flyer through the door of everyone. Print is making a comeback. For each show simply print 120,000 flyers and then walk round their houses to post them (they know how expensive postage is). Even better, people can give you feedback as you walk, perhaps they might throw things like tomatoes, dog shit or advice.
  • Let me post to say how badly you’re marketing this.
    The real kicker. This is the worst most gutting moment any marketeer can ever have. That gut-wrenching moment where on your carefully crafted social media message someone writes “I didn’t know anything about this”. So terrible is your marketing that even when the only place to write a comment is under the very thing you’re marketing they still, against all the odd, don’t know anything about it. Even worse is where someone who isn’t you finds out about your event, from someone who is you, then tells people and people say, “their marketing is terrible, people should be talking about this.”

Follow these top tips and you can lead your organisation to marketing success*.

*Obviously this is a piss take, but seriously, the trends are interesting, individual comments are sometimes useful, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Arts Marketing is a skill and it’s about balancing lots of spinning plates and trying to let as few smash as possible, it’s unlikely you’ll ever engage every audience member or do a perfect campaign, all you can do is the best with what you’ve got, learn as you go along and try not to offend anyone everyone.