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Marketing on the Cheap

Part 4 - World-Wide Exposure - on the Web

By Mike Polo

Used properly, the 'Net is a great place to market your theater, even locally. After all, nearly every newspaper, radio station and television station has a web page these days... with links to events and organizations in their area. Chambers of Commerce are big on having local theater and arts organizations listed on their websites, because it make the local area attractive to business. The same goes for local, county and state-wide development organizations.

Additionally, more and more people are turning to the web to help them make entertainment plans. Odds are your local movie theaters are selling advance tickets online. It's time your theater was out there.

Hosting, Domains, Etc.

If you don't have your own domain by now, get one. They don't cost all that much... especially if your hosting service throws it in as part of the package, as many do. WWW.MYTHEATER.ORG is a lot easier to promote and use than It also gives you more control over your site and allows you to move it, if necessary, without having to change the URL.

Hosting providers generally provide more than just space and a domain... they also maintain the servers, provide utilities such as ODBC connections for databases, email addresses and more. Compare local internet providers with national hosting services to come up with a plan that is cost-effective for your group.

What about design?

If you have someone with a background in deisng for the web, use them... otherwise, it might be worth your while to see if a local designer might donate some work on templates and design in return for some program ads. Or talk to your local high school or vo-tech and see if they are looking for projects for their web and graphic design courses.

One thing to keep in mind, no matter which way you go on design... make sure your site is easy to update and stays updated. There's no point to putting up a website and promoting it if it lists last years shows.

What should be on the site?

As a minimum, a list of the current season with show dates, audition notices, information on membership, tickets and any season or patron ticket program, directions and an email address for more information. Make sure your current season information is very prominent.

If possible, make sure that patrons can arrange to purchase tickets online, with a credit card through a secure server if possible, but otherwise by an email contact, allowing a follow up call from your ticketing operation. DO NOT do credit card transactions without a secure server. You patrons will not appreciate that.

A more ambitious website will include a history of the organization, photos, cast lists, information on the board of directors or trustees, perhaps even some "how do we do it" type pieces to entice new members.

Is there anything we should avoid -- in a design sense?

Now, that's a very subjective area... personally, I like the KISS rule... Keep It Simple, Stupid. While Flash and Shockwave active sites are all the rage, combining spectacular graphics and animation, most people are still accessing the web through dial-up modems. A slow-loading site just encourages people to leave. If you want all the fancy stuff, fine... just make sure there are alternatives for people who are just looking for information without all the glitz... and make sure those alternatives are easy to get to.

Pop-ups are a pain in the neck, as far as I'm concerned. They're a gimmick used by advertisers and I personally block them. I also hate frames, but there are a number of sites that use them well. The trouble is, if you follow a link into the site from outside, you lose navigation within the website.

One other thing: make sure your site is easy to read. Keep the contrast between background colors or graphics and foreground text as high as possible. There's nothing worse than arriving at a website and being unable to read the information because someone decided to put blue text on a black background.

Are there any good sites out there we should look at?

Another subjective subject, but yes. I've put together a list of community theater sites that do the job very effectively. This is by no means a complete list. Where appropriate, I have included comments.

There are plenty more links to be found on the Green Room Links Page.

Some Final Thoughts

Remember, your website is selling your group and your shows... make it fun and exciting and easy to use. Don't focus too hard on administration or membership information... you should have that, but don't put it on the front page... use the front page to sell your next show.

The best part of the World Wide Web is its immediacy... if you keep your website up-to-date, you're pretty much guarranteed repeat traffic, and repeat traffic builds loyal patrons.

Be sure that your email link goes to an address that's checked regularly. You aren't going to be able to cover all the information people want, no matter how good a website you have. Email is another marketing tool, provided you use it wisely. Don't collect email addresses and spam people, use email to answer questions and encourage people to come to the theater. Keep it personal.

The Community Theater Green Room
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