amanda campbell (me)
For the last two years I have been pleased to live and work among the Halifax Theatre Community, getting a strong sense of the strengths and the challenges faced by those who are working steadfastly and valiantly to make the theatre in this wonderful city thrive.
One of the biggest challenges I have seen here is that it is difficult for the theatre companies in Halifax to build their audience. The problem I encounter A LOT is that theatre artists tend to be cynical about the thought of marketing their shows or even hoping for a better turnout than what they have come to expect. It’s a really depressing, defeatist attitude that doesn’t benefit anyone and is completely unwarranted. Theatre artists here tend to assume that there ISN’T an audience for their company or their production, which is very problematic. (My immediate question is then: Well, then why does your company exist!?). I could discuss this at length, but actually, I DON’T think that is the problem at all.
Instead, why don’t we try to assume that there IS an audience for our work and our theatre companies and that we just haven’t found them all yet?
I have spoken to a lot of people who “don’t go to the theatre” or who “never go to independent theatre” in Halifax. I have VERY rarely heard them say, “I heard about that production. I don’t want to see it because it doesn’t sound like something I’m interested in.” What I do hear (ALL THE TIME) is, “I had no idea that show happened. What company did you say that was? Never heard of them. Are they at Neptune? There’s another theatre here? Oh. Well, this is news to me.”
This is why you need to market your shows. All the time… and not just to the same 845 friends you have on Facebook (although please do market it to them)- but this is why you all, ALL OF YOU, need to become Media Darlings to get your company’s name out into the city and beyond the little, insular bubble that the nucleus of the theatre community here inhabits.
Here are Amanda’s Tips:
- Send a Press Release. The most effective and professional way to alert the media to your upcoming production or event is to send them (via email) a press release. Often members of the media will not even consider attending or writing about your event unless they are sent an official press release by the deadline of their publication. Depending on the city in which you live, press releases should typically be sent out at least three weeks (but sometimes as much as six or eight) before Opening Night to give the theatre critic ample time to fit your production into her or his busy schedule. Make sure you double check with each publication as these deadlines vary. NB: Facebook Invites are nice but they are not Press Releases! It doesn’t matter if you are producing the largest-scale musical at the most opulent venue in the country or a one person Fringe play in a mouse hole: SEND A PRESS RELEASE. *Don’t be afraid to follow up after you have sent out your press release with an email including photographs, an official invite, an idea for an interview or preview piece or even a reminder (especially if you have sent the first press release more than three weeks in advance).
- Invite the Media. If you would like the theatre critics of your city to attend your event it is beneficial if you can make it as easy for them as possible to do so. Follow up your press release with an official invite for members of the press to a production of your choice (ideally Opening Night or Media Night) that begins with something like, “You and a guest are cordially invited to the Opening Night of [name of theatre company’s] production of [title of show] on [date of show] at [time of show] at [theatre]. Please RSVP by [date].”
- Allow Members of the Media to Invite a Guest. Not everyone likes attending the theatre on their own even if it is part of their job; it’s good manners to offer theatre critics a (+1).
- Be Respectful, Be Kind, Be Considerate. Name calling hate mail (as opposed to a legitimate complaint), bribery and guilt to theatre critics are unprofessional behaviour and it reflects badly on your theatre company. Helpful Hint: When I am faced with eight shows Opening on the same night, I tend to favour the companies who make me feel welcome and who value and respect my work and my opinions.
- USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO PROMOTE YOUR SHOW (AND YOUR REVIEWS). Theatre Companies should make use of either a Facebook Page or a Facebook Group, as well as the Facebook profiles of each of their members, they should also have a Twitter account and an email mailing list. All three of these (Facebook, Twitter and Email) should be kept up to date on a consistent basis. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES. It is up to you to decide which reviews of your production you post, but I would encourage you to champion the ones that you think do the most justice to your work, or the writers whose visions for the Canadian Theatre you respect or admire rather than privileging the reviews of the biggest newspapers just because they are the biggest. A theatre company that only posts reviews or preview pieces from The Chronicle Herald and never any of the independent theatre writers in Halifax is the equivalent of a publication that only reviews shows at Neptune Theatre and never goes to the Bus Stop.
- It’s also important that you understand a little of how social media works:
– Your friends are far more likely to read, like or comment on a post on Facebook that has been posted by you or your Company rather than one posted by or linked to from another person or source. This means that it is more beneficial for you to post links and share reviews and preview pieces rather than relying on the theatre critic to do so.
– If you have a Facebook Page only the links and posts that you write will remain prominently on your wall, so it is your responsibility to post reviews and preview pieces there so that your fans can see the articles easily.
– ReTweeting favourable tweets about you, your production or your theatre company is always a good idea. Make sure that you’re tweeting out your reviews and preview pieces too. USE HASHTAGS to help people search. #theatre #yhz #hfx #hrm are all good places to start in tweets about Halifax & Halifax Theatre. Also using #FollowFriday to promote other theatre companies and artists on Twitter is a great idea. Always ReTweet when you are included in a #FollowFriday post to help pay the Tweet forward!!
– Social Media can be difficult and the PR side of marketing a show can be time consuming and a lot of work, but the rewards are incredible and they all lead to more people coming out to see your show. It is worth the dedication and worth learning new skills like Twitter or Facebook to more effectively promote your business and your art. Don’t get dejected if the returns are slow at first. Just like everything, such things require the consistent building of momentum over time. There are lots of success stories in the city to look to for inspiration however, who prove that perseverance reaps success.
– Don’t be afraid to post and tweet reviews and theatre pieces several different times. You are promoting your business, which is integral to your livelihood. Don’t apologize for that; it is a huge part of your job. Also, don’t assume that because your friend posted the review on Facebook and you have 456 mutual friends that you don’t have to post it on your page as well. PROMOTE YOUR SHOW. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.
- Take Production Photos and Send At Least One With Your Press Release: We live in a visual society where most people have access to a fairly proficient digital camera and a vast array of free editing websites. Don’t just take that one shot for your poster, have at least six clear, bright, high resolution, production photos to add to your Facebook Page and Facebook Event (by Opening Night- don’t post the production photos after you close!!) Make sure you tag everyone in the photos. Credit the photographer if you have used a professional one. Email at least one of these (or a link to all of them) to the media either with your press release or shortly thereafter. Once again, even if you have the smallest show with the tiniest budget, send me production photos.
- USE QUOTES ON YOUR POSTERS: A theatre critic said something nice about your production!? Fantastic! A well-placed quote on all publicity material is an eye-catching way to raise the caliber of your show for a perspective (and often skeptical) audience. DON’T FORGET TO CREDIT THE CRITIC OR PUBLICATION ON YOUR POSTER TOO.
- Theatre Criticism is a Conversation: Why do we want people writing about the Canadian theatre? Why are the voices of the theatre critics important? Are they important? Are some more important or vital than others? How do we know? The best way to engage with what is written about the Canadian theatre in print and on the Internet is to begin a discussion about it. Facebook and Twitter are amazing avenues to have these discussions in an open way that invites the community to share their experiences, their opinions and their perspectives on a myriad of different issues. If a theatre critic writes something you agree with or disagree with, if a theatre critic makes you angry, if a theatre critic brings up an interesting point, if someone is writing about the theatre in a way that you think is valuable or in a way that you think is destructive, share what you think about the articles when you plunk down the link addresses. It will make your friends, fans and followers more likely to read what you have posted and you will have started a conversation that is very likely one worth having. Use Twitter to have conversations about the links that you post or that you read. Write blogs to respond to blogs. We can all get better. We can all learn more. Don’t be afraid of speaking out loud and being honest and demanding better of your community and your critics.
- Be Creative: Web Shows. Crazy poster campaigns. Teaser Trailers. Celebrity Endorsements. Ridiculous Costumes. Memes. I have seen all of these and more work wonders for shows in the past: shows with small budgets and meager resources, shows without grants in cities no bigger than this one. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses for why you can’t have a PR campaign for your production. Prove yourself wrong and do it anyway.
I have heard all the excuses: “Halifax is too small.” “We don’t have enough money.” “There’s no audience for that.” “We don’t have any TIME.” “We’re not Toronto.” “People here don’t go to the theatre.” “There can only be one Jeremy Webb.”
No more excuses. Go out and find the rest of your audiences. The media will help you.
Also, I recommend that you read this article on marketing for emerging theatre companies by Sue Edworthy.