Marketing guru Hughesy talks about the practical initiatives you can undertake right now to sell more tickets!

Here are a few ideas to get your creative marketing juices flowing…

1. I believe the children are our future…

Set aside the final dress rehearsal (or an additional performance) as a night you can invite local schools in, free of charge.  You can build your audience base for the future as well as provide a little encouragement for the kids to continue performing (with your company) after they finish school. Minimal additional cost (venue will have to put on staff), but if you have a good relationship with the venue, then it’s worth asking.   This is fantastic way to build your audience long term.  The kids aren’t expecting a polished performance and if you do need to stop the show, they’ll love it!  It gives them an insight as to how we construct a show and will help them gain a better appreciation of the art form.

2.  Walk the walk…

Get your company members to do a letterbox drop by walking the streets.  As cast, we've all been harassed to hand out fliers and we know it’s expected of us, but there are many more people who are not in the cast, but want to help out the company who can be recruited for this task.  You just have to ask them!  Keep building your “walker” network.  You can create a virtual army over time.  

3.  Distribute or die!

If you can’t create your own “walker army”, check out the cost of a distribution company to do a letter box drop for you.  It's insanely cheap and it covers a massive area.  You can save lots of money by cutting down an A4 flier to a DL size.

4.  Local heroes…

If you've got a few "regulars" in the cast, promote them to your audience.  Your patrons will remember them from the last show they were in and, assuming the audience liked them, they  will want to see them again. Audiences love the familiar, so make it easy for them to make the connection on the flier by using names and photos.  You can create your own 'local celebrities' who’s personal brands will add value to your company.  For some reason, companies feel compelled to put the whole production team including the props and costume people on their flier, but they leave off the cast.  You never see this in professional theatre, so it baffles me why many community companies still do this.  The point of your flier isn’t to thank everyone, it’s to sell tickets. 

5.  Too much information…

Control your level of social media promotion.  The offline conversations about your online marketing efforts may not be as positive as you think, particularly when people feel like they are having junk mail hurled at them from all sides on a daily basis.  A coordinated effort is much more effective.  One blast out to your mates a month before and then as the show opens and then maybe one more as the week before the show opens  is more than enough.  Think about social media like a party.  If you were at a party, would you go around to every person at the party and ask them to come to your show?  Would you then grab a drink and go around the whole group, once again asking them if they’d come to your show?  And then again, and again… If you think this point may relate to you… then yes… it’s you I’m talking about.  People are talking about you behind your back.  You are not paranoid. They are actually talking about you, wishing you would shut up about your show.  They heard you the first 20 times. We don’t need a “rehearsal by rehearsal” update on how wonderfully everything is going…  We get it.

Some people haven't heard of over kill…

6.  Screaming in space…

Community radio is a waste of time.  Radio advertising only works when you have mass repetition.  Think about it.  What are the ads you remember from the radio?  Erectile Problem Clinics, Clive Peters, Harvey Norman, Peter the Possum Man, Seasol… all memorable, but only because they are repeated ad nauseum.  A once-off interview is like throwing a pebble in the ocean.  Community radio is like a pond… not an ocean and the pebble is more like a grain of sand.  They have small listener bases as it is, so the chances of someone hearing your interview, having your message sink in and making a booking are tiny.  You’d have more luck telemarketing to random people in a phonebook.

7.  Call the locals to action…

Local press is useful.  It’s full of so many ads, people often scan it for anything that vaguely resembles an article, so a good photo with a compelling bit of text is a good free advertising avenue.  The articles are usually pretty lame, so try and work an angle with the reporter and spice it up if you can.  If you are going to pay for an ad, advertise BIG.  A little ad will get lost in the mix of beauty salons and “two for one” restaurant deals.  Having said that, many people cite the many, many ads that adorn these publications as part of their reading experience, so the likely-hood that you ad will get read is pretty good.  If you can offer some kind of a discount if they quote the ad, then you will get a better response rate, so it’s worth thinking about a small discount to increase the number of direct responses your ad gets.

7.  Be a Guerrilla…

Guerrilla marketing is an awesome way to get attention in your local area, but it’s the hardest to pull off.  You can make a real tool of yourself in public and make your show look well and truly 'amateur' if you go out there and deliver a low grade performance. Corporates (Virgin, Sensis… etc)   occasionally use guerrilla marketing to great effect.  Guerrilla marketing is particularly effective when it’s tied in with viral marketing or social media.  You will hit a very small group of people with your guerrilla activity, so you need to record it and pass it on via the web.   If you do go down this path.. please try something more original than a 'flash mob.'  They’ve been done to death.

8. Go viral…

Viral marketing is a really effective way to use social media rather than just blasting out status updates and tweets.  If you do this too often (“this is the best show… ever!”), then you become the boy who cried wolf and people will stop paying attention, or worse, start to find you annoying.  Produce something (video clip, photos.. whatever) that's interesting enough for people to want to pass on to their mates.  The user needs to get something out of it. An insight… a laugh… something. Viral marketing is word of mouth gone high tech and much like word of mouth, it keeps traveling with its own momentum if it’s compelling enough.  

9. Turn on the monitor…   

If it works, spend more on it.  It doesn't…. Stop using it! This can be hard for some people to get their heads around.   As a provider of advertising to the theatre community, I’m baffled with the number of companies that just book the same level of advertising as they did the year before.  If it’s working for you… spend more! If it’s not… spend less! Don’t just book the same ad space every year because you think you should or “that’s what we’ve always done”.   Marketing is about ROI (Return On Investment), so you need to make sure you are getting the right bang for your buck. 

10. Look your best…

I’ve seen some truly awful campaigns over the years.   Self indulgent, low grade videos, poorly designed fliers and ad copy that reads like a superannuation product disclosure statement.   If you are going to spend money, spend it here.  Get a proper graphic designer, produce a video (and get a photographer) that actually makes your show look better (not worse) than it is. 

Here’s an example of some great PR Shots: http://rentatwhitehorse.com.au/media.html

Here’s an example of a good video: https://www.theatrepeople.com.au/features/once-we-were-trailer

Don't be these guys

11.  There’s gold in that darn list…

Your mailing list is your most powerful marketing tool  IF you make your members feel loved.  Reward them for their loyalty, speak to them when you can, and make them feel like they are an integral part of your company.   Call your group bookers every season.  Dedicate yourself to developing your audience, not just your onstage product.  You will pay a small fortune to acquire a new customer, but keeping your current customers is much, much cheaper. 

12.  EDM is the new DM…

Paper-based Direct Mail is still important, but email or EDM is cheaper and can be more effective. Sure,  a good part of your market still sticks the flier to the fridge, but an ever growing part of the market throws it in the bin. Too many companies rely entirely on paper based DM.   EDM is even more easily deleted, so do both and hedge your bets.

13.  Ask for a commitment…

Subscriptions can be a fantastic way to gain loyalty.  People generally buy from habit, so there is a relatively large portion of people who will just re-subscribe each year without thinking.   To get people signing up regularly, you need to give them an incentive to do so (cheaper tickets, better seats, drink on arrival etc) but if you get enough of these people on board, then they’ll be the backbone of your company.  I’m suggesting this on the proviso that you get into gear and pick your two shows before asking people to subscribe.  People won’t buy a subscription if they don’t know what the shows are going to fill the season.  In order for your subscription to work,  you’ll need to be produce a consistently good product, so you’ll need to look at your company objectively and hire in the best people you can.   You will also need to dedicate one person to building your subscriber base.  It’s a massive undertaking, so it deserves proper resources.  Don’t just lump it on your current marketing/PR person and expect it to work.

14. Product Development…   

Choose shows that your audience wants to see.  Sounds simple, but if you talk to any company that’s gone under that can pretty much chalk up their downfall to putting on shows that didn’t draw a crowd.  Car companies have product planning cycles of 15 years (That’s right… they are already planning the car you’ll drive in 2026).  If you do the classics for a few years – The Rogers and Hammerstein catalogue for example, then you’ll build an audience that likes those kind of shows.  If you want to transition the audience to another genre, then you can, but perhaps RENT is not the best choice for your next show.  Move slowly between genres and you’ll retain more of your audience.

15. Measure the intangibles…

Lots of companies ask patrons what shows they want to see next, but few ask their audience to rate them in terms of their quality. Customer service, value for money, quality of the production and other qualitative criteria allow your customers to rate your overall performance as a company. Be prepared for some hard-to-swallow shocks, but more importantly, prepare to take decisive action and make the necessary improvements.  Your audience don’t just want a good show… they want a good 'experience' and that starts from their first moment of contact with your organisation. 

Mmm… Bacon…

My mother in law still raves about the time she turned up to see something at Nova and for whatever reason, the tickets she thought she booked, weren’t there.  The team there bent over backwards to make sure she was accommodated for and ended up sitting in the bio box with the director! She loved it! They took a potentially negative situation and turned it into a positive.

Next month, Hughesy talks about the power of PR!

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