One of my last posts was about Surviving the Four Year Curse where I talked about Budgeting in a very general way. But, how exactly does Twenty-Something Theatre break down its expenses? Where does most of the money go? The two largest chunks of change, for us, go towards a) the Venue and b) the Marketing & Publicity.
For established companies that rely on their reputation or the reputation of their plays, this might not be the case. But for a new company that doesn’t have the luxury of relying on reputation, spreading the word of who you are and why people should come to see your shows should probably be your most important task. (Dare I say even more important than the work itself). Obviously, you have to have quality shows, or no one is ever going to come back, but if they’ve never heard of you in the first place well my question is: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?
So, where to start? With a little thing we call branding. It’s the who, what, where, why and how of your product (or in this case production). Again, I was super lucky to have been put into contact with Sarah Gordon (who did the Marketing & Publicity for both Gateway and Playhouse before going into “semi-retirement” to raise her kids). I had a bit of a leg up with my background working in Marketing but her knowledge regarding the specifics of Marketing & Publicity for the arts was invaluable. She basically showed me the ropes and asked for absolutely nothing in return. I still can’t thank her enough. She gave me copies of her press releases so I could format my own. She gave me her entire industry contact list (!), told me the timeline and how to connect with the media.
But the very first thing she asked me was those 5 very important questions. She asked me to identify my target audience (ie, What age? Where do they live? What media do they tune into/read, etc?] and then she asked me to identity what makes us unique. All of these questions made me look at what we were doing, our productions, from an outside perspective. Essentially that is what Marketing is: looking at the product (production) from the consumer (audience) point of view so that we can anticipate their needs/wants and “market” the product (production) directly to them.
This is SO important. More often than not, as theatre artists, we get so caught up in the work that we forget to ask ourselves why anyone would want to pay money to come out and see our shows; however, I believe, this should be one of the very first things we consider when we choose our next play or production. How does this play relate to the local Vancouver audiences? Why should they choose to come to see this play rather than go to the next blockbuster movie, or concert at the Commodore or a Canucks playoff game (GO, CANUCKS, GO).
When you ask yourself these questions, you force yourself to identify what exactly that you, or your company, is selling to your audience. Then every time you go to produce another show you should go back and use those exact same criteria to choose your next play/production; thereby, creating a “brand” for yourself.
Your “brand” will then reflect the personality of your organization and audiences will “buy into” your product (production). People who become invested in your “brand” are more likely to return because they believe in the product and they know exactly what they are getting. Why do you think people still go Starbucks? Because trust me, it isn’t for the quality of the coffee, it is because people know exactly what they will get and it is familiar to them.
Theatre is no different than the Starbucks’ of the world; therein, lies part of the problem. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as different than any other business. A business is a business and the same principles apply.