|This is not a good picture to market your show|
After I wrote that sentence, I took a week away from this piece to think. I get so frustrated with the state of our visibility and marketing decisions, that I wanted to make clear, coherent arguments that would be helpful for the discussion instead of angry, insane ramblings like we usually do.
But the thing is, when you have a review blog, you receive no less than 5 press releases a day and the atrocities are constantly in your face.
So let's start off easy and discuss your theatre's Mission Statement.
A Mission Statement is used to grab grant money and to inform potential board members of your goals and the type of work you are interested in doing.
Eclipse Theatre Company presents the work of one playwright each season. We offer the audience an opportunity, unique in the midwest, to journey with us through the playwright's works.
See? Simple, succinct, classy. It tells you what the company does and doesn't talk itself in circles.
Another example in a different style from The Hypocrites:
We will make theater. We will respect the audience. We will create a unique theater experience for every production. We will push our own limits in order to push the limits of theater. We will honor the playwright's intentions. We will hold interest in entertainment and art. We will change these rules.
That seems fun! All quirky and shit... You don't agree? Who cares. It's a Mission Statement and at the end of the day, the only people you are trying to please with this is Corporate Donors, Board Members, and Grant Writers.You need to say that you are the best, give yourself a little rubdown and move on.
*I am not discounting the importance of a great mission statement, but I think that is something you can figure out for yourself. If you are using it as a guide within your company, stop and make a Constitution so everyone understands their rights and responsibilities in your group.
Now, let's move on, briefly to Show Selection.
Part of the beauty of this town is the unending choices of live entertainment you have in front of you. In plays alone, there are usually at least 1oo shows going on at any one time. The sort of plays you decide to do is your decision, but know that if you love to do Eastern European Existential Farces, that no audience is going to come and see it, and plan accordingly.
Get a smaller theater, cut down your marketing budget, because all the advertising in the world will not help you get people into your place.
So, the long and short of it is, do whatever you want. BUT you are also a consumer and know what people want to see, so just keep that in mind.
This, and the subsequent section are the hardest for me to deal with because I do not have many answers. I can tell you that collectively, we make GOD AWFUL press releases with no end in sight.
The problem is not in our writing ability or in our intentions, it is in the fact that we expect everyone else to be as boring as we are.
Vampire Couch Theatre Company is proud to present a devised new work based on The Ancient Fables of Phaedrus. Entitled "The Joy of Sharks and Romans" Vampire Couch seeks to explore what it means to be a human in these trying times of memories and acceptance. Told through Commedia Dell'Arte, Character based Movement, and Rhythm, Vampire Couch shines a provocative light on Humanity.
Sounds ridiculous, right? No one would ever write something like that, right?
If you think that this fake synopsis sounds ridiculous, you ARE right. If you think that no one would ever write something like this, then you are WRONG, bro.
Read a press release every now and then. They are all terrible. Not all. 90% of them are terrible. You are trying to get people to come and see your show! Pay attention!
Is there somebody in your show that is super hot right now? Did the director get great reviews for something else?
Use that in your release!
"From the Producers of 'Mexican Christmas' comes..."
"Caroline Neff in..."
Why are we afraid to be celebrities and use our names to sell shows?
Are we afraid of fame? Are we scared we will hurt somebody's feelings? If Rob McLean is in a show and his name is not at the fucking top of the bill, you are doing a disservice to your show.
I went and recently saw a Joe Foust play. Now, please bare in mind that Foust is this city's finest actor. People fucking love him. I love him. Do you know where his name was on the advertising?
In alphabetical order.
Is it not worth it to you to use a person's name to help promote your show? See, when you run an entertainment business, you need to stay on top of trends and understand the climate of what is popular and who is making things happen.
As I am writing this write now, I am imagining at least 30% of the readers are very involved in Chicago Theatre and have no idea who Joe Foust is. Or Joe Dempsey. Or even Rich Cotovsky or Lance Baker.
Why don't they know?
Because they don't fucking care! They want to make their own little movement based plays and fight for Chase Grants and explore.
It takes 10 minutes to jump around some websites and find out how your actors are with critics. We have things available to us now that we didn't before. TheatreInChicago.com is a great resource for review collections of shows. Go on there and find out about your cast!
We are making a professional decision here to make a show, act like an adult and promote it that way.
If the show is hot, talk about that. You got a great director? Talk about that.
Whatever. Just don't use your play cookie cutter to make a show.
Now, that brings me to Marketing Companies. I know it is very trendy to hire your own Marketing Company right now, and I understand why. Because it is less work for you, less pressure, and you have someone to blame when it doesn't work.
And while they tell you they have 750 contacts they can reach, and you can possibly get on Dueling Critics or they can guarantee a Trib review...go on the internet and see how many new periodical contacts you can get in 30 minutes. Read some of their past work. Ask them who their favorite artists are in town. Chances are, they don't know shit.
I LOVE Shout! Marketing, and think they are knowledgeable and easy to work with, for the record, but unless you have either a hot director, actor or a hot previous show, it's hard for anybody to get Chris Jones to pay attention.
We have created a world where the only voice that is worth anything is Chris Jones at the Trib. There are other great reviewers, including Kerry Reid, Kris Vire and dozens of bloggers that are knowledgeable and worthy of our inclusion .
That being said, the only reviews that make any difference for ticket sales are Chris Jones, a 5 star review from Time Out, and the Asshole at the Times. You cannot worry about what she says, because she doesn't know what she is talking about.
Now, my point is, is that if we continue to rely on reviews from Chris Jones exclusively, we will fail at our potential. He is a smart and nice man, but unfortunately for us, he is also honest.
So how do we turn the tide? We need to constantly be embracing other blogs and periodicals as we would the Trib. Our theatre patrons will follow, if we make it the way. Direct them to sites tat you like and are proud to have in your town. Build their trust. Get a Yelp page.
We, as of today, rely on reviews to sell our shows because we are too lazy to actually try to get subscribers, but if this is going to be the case we need to get creative and put an effort into our exposure through other online sites, AND we need to get off the computer and talk to people and sell our product.
Which brings me to Facebook.
Facebook is our greatest online marketing tool. It connects us with each other in the community and helps us know what else is happening. Now you and I both know, that if we rely exclusively on Facebook to promote our show, then we will fail. We cannot rely on social networking to promote us and keep us afloat. Do not be lazy. People will listen to you speak more than they will read your posts.
That being said, if you have an ensemble member who isn't on Facebook, kick them out.
If you are going to exclusively rely on Facebook, then learn how to use it. Look at your impressions and see what time of day you are getting the most hits. Don't post things at 10pm and expect anyone to read it. The same goes for 7am. Read a book about how to use it correctly, because I am not telling you.
Here's the thing with marketing in this town, too. It's fun! You get to go out and drink! Go to an after party at a theater you have never been to and meet new people. Develop relationships, expand your talent pool. Do not wait for them to come to you, because they won't. They will say that they have never heard of you and change the subject.
We need to make a conscious change in our Facebooking soon because if you haven't noticed, it is suffocating.
You know what is best for your company. You are an artist and can find creative ways to market your product. Stay diligent. Have fun. Bond with fellow artists and learn about the world you are a part of, because lots of other people know about it already and will give your company a chance.
Artistic Directors, make your ensemble go work other places and meet new people. It will help you in the long run. You will meet new faces.
Also, if you are a casting director and you don't go and see theatre then you are an asshole and should be relieved of your duties. Not the same 5 theaters you always go to either. Go! Get out of here and go meet new people!
And last but not least, Marketing Photos.
Go ahead and splurge and take a picture that is interesting. Take a quick walk through a theatre website and look at the artwork you see. It is all awful. The only consistently decent company with this stuff is The House. Why? I dunno. Have you ever seen a House show? I bet at least half of you reading this haven't.
You look at advertising all day, and you are not exempt from making attractive ads. So take a pen around town and see what jumps out at you and what about them are interesting.
If I see one more picture of people standing in corsets in a field I am going to murder you myself.
Chicago, get better at this. Get better at your art and get better at the art of selling your art.
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach