articles Home


Marketing for Community Theater

By Mike Polo



© 1999 Mike & Chris Polo
Community Theater Green Room

Whether your group calls it publicity, public relations, or advertising, it all comes down to the same thing… making potential audience members aware of who you are and what you are doing. It's also called "marketing".

Marketing your group's shows is the single most important function that your group must perform, after producing the shows themselves. Without promotion, tickets don't get sold, seats go empty, and your group is left entertaining members' friends and families. As Chico Marx would say, "Thatza no good…"

Community theater groups are notoriously cheap when it comes to self-promotion. After all, the shows themselves are expensive enough to put on, aren't they? Most small community theater groups spend between $500 and $1500 annually to promote their shows. These promotions usually involve ads in the local papers and a few flyers and window posters.

Over the next couple of months, we're going to take a look at how your group can increase its visibility and, hopefully, increase the number of people coming to see its shows.

Doing it on the cheap

There are two ways to get good marketing; one involves money, the other work. Since we don't have any money, we're going to have to focus on the other way.

There is a great book on the market that should be required reading for community theater PR people; Guerrilla Marketing: Secrets for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business by Jay Conrad Levinson. Levinson gives chapter and verse on how to get your group's name out on a small budget.

Some of the tips you'll find in this series are similar to Levinson's tips, others come from the experience I gained during a ten-year career in radio and a couple of years doing marketing for Delaware State Parks. Some may seem basic, but many groups just aren't taking advantage of the opportunities out there, so I'm going to do my best to cover everything.

Let's start with season ticket holders.

Patrons & Subscribers

Many community theater groups rely on season ticket holders to provide working capital for their upcoming seasons. Selling season tickets to regular holders and finding ways to increase that pool is a big part of pre-season activity for most groups. This is one place where a group should be less concerned with cost and more concerned with quality. A press release is only the beginning.


Patron and subscriber brochure for the Kent County Theatre Guild

Don't make the assumption that once a season ticket holder signs on, they're yours for life. Create a brochure or flyer selling your season to your season ticket holders. Include descriptions of the shows, name the directors, make the piece appealing. Have the brochure or flyer designed, not just typed up. If you can afford it, use a professional graphic designer to prepare your materials. If you can't spend that kind of money, try for a trade or a sponsorship or have a member with design skills and tools create your materials. (Note: Owning a computer with desktop publishing software does NOT constitute having design skills. When going this route, make sure the member in question has actually done this before. Go over their portfolio just like you would if you were going to pay this person. After all, this may be your only formal contact with your season ticket holders this year.)

Have your brochures professionally printed. Again, it's an investment that pays off. Professionally printed materials let your season ticket holders know that they are an important part of your group.

Bulk Mailing

Once your materials have been printed, it's time to do a bulk mailing. If you don't have a bulk mailing permit, it's time for a trip to the Post Office. Non-profit bulk mailing permits allow you to send out large mailings for less than half the face value of a stamp. The Post Office will be happy to help you apply for a permit and teach you how to use it.

Where do we get the addresses?

If you've already got season ticket holders, you should already have a mailing list. If not, it's time to create one. A simple survey form handed out at shows during the remaining part of the season can be used to gather names and addresses of those who might be interested in becoming season ticket holders. Be sure to include your membership on your mailing list as well. A number of members will buy season tickets to use for themselves or will let others use them if they're working on the production. Season tickets also make great gifts.

Keep your mailing list up to date and growing. If you have an arts council in your area, chances are they also have a mailing list. It may be possible to get a copy of their list.

Print extra brochures

Be sure you have a hundred or so extra brochures printed for display in your lobby. Audience members coming to see you for the first time and those who would like to become season ticket holders, but were somehow missed by the mailing will purchase season tickets during the first couple of shows of your season.


While I'll cover advertising more in depth in another chapter, don't forget to support your season ticket campaign with a little advertising. Spending some money on ads promoting your season and the availability of season tickets will usually bring in enough new patrons to at least cover the cost of the ads. Then, word of mouth will kick in and you'll also increase attendance for your group's first show of the new season.

Return on investment

Sounds like a lot of money, doesn't it? Try thinking of it as an investment. The group we work with annually spends between $1000 and $1500 on Patrons and Subscribers (money not charged to the Publicity budget) and generates $13,000 to $15,000 in season ticket sales. That's almost half of the annual operating budget. All in all, that's not a bad return on investment.

Next Time

Next time we'll take a look at how to use the local newspapers to further market your group and your season. There's more to it than sending out a press release and buying an ad.

Marketing on the Cheap - Part 2

The Community Theater Green Room
© 1999 - 2007 Chris & Mike Polo
All rights reserved.