© 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
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
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.
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 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 -