There are so many ways to reach people these days – from social media and mail shots to flyers and word-of-mouth – that it can be daunting to know where to begin when it comes to marketing your play. Having a marketing strategy, however, makes the task a lot more manageable, said Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) executive director Amber Massie-Blomfield. Drawing on her extensive experience in PR and marketing, Amber takes us through her step-by-step guide to creating a marketing strategy.
Think about audiences
From the very beginning, you need to think about audiences and how to reach them: there’s no point in making a play that no one will see. Marketing isn’t just about broadcasting: it should be a two-way process with the marketing person as a linchpin, listening to what people want and bringing those ideas to the company, as well as spreading the word about the project.
Do a SWOT Analysis
Any good marketing campaign begins with a SWOT, where you identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with the project. It’s a way of taking the lay of the land before starting out, said Amber, and needn’t take a long time, particularly on small scale projects.
Your aim is the cornerstone of everything you’re doing. Every decision you make, you’re coming back to what you’re trying to achieve
Identify the aim of your project
Ask yourself why you are doing it and what you want to achieve. Keep your aim short and snappy, but don’t lose too much sleep over the exact wording.
Set your campaign objectives
Think about the specific things you need to do to achieve your aims. These should be what’s known as ‘SMART objectives’ – ie. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. You might be nervous about being specific for fear of not achieving that objective but remember that failing isn’t necessarily a problem. Opting for objectives that are specific and measurable gives you a frame of reference for how you can do things differently next time.
Consider your audiences
Who will be engaging with your plan? The more targeted and specific you can be, the better. Take a look at The Audience Agency’s ‘Audience Spectrum’ tool, which identifies different audiences and their level of engagement. Research around the demographics of the area where you’re presenting your project can also be valuable.
You want to enable people to imagine what it might be like to be in the room
Identify your key messages
Pick three or four key messages that you want people to take away from your campaign. These should be distinct from each other, articulated in an intriguing and exciting way and reiterated throughout the campaign. Remember to make sure everyone in your company is on message.
It’s only at this point, once you’ve done all that groundwork, that you start to think about strategy and tactics – what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.
Amber recommends nine channels that you might use for your marketing campaign, stressing that you might only use a few – it all depends on your project.
Branding: this is about identifying the symbols and images associated with your company. It’s good to have a coherent sense of your identity, but if you’re just starting out don’t get too stuck on this.
Social media: Social media is a two-way exchange, connecting with the other people in your sphere. It is an important channel, but you shouldn’t get bogged down here either. Better to work with fewer platforms (those most appropriate for your audiences) and do them well, being really clear about your tone of voice and making use of the content that you have available, such as rehearsal photographs.
Digital marketing: this includes your website, SEO and e-newsletter. Don’t spend too much time or money on your website – it just needs to be a place for people to find out basic information about your show. Mailing lists can be a very positive thing, noting that the people who sign up – whether online or in person after seeing a performance – are the really engaged ones and therefore valuable in terms of selling your show. Arts Council England’s national portfolio organisations have an obligation to share third party audience data with visiting companies, so ask for email addresses and add them to your list.
Outreach marketing: there is often a lot of leg work involved with outreach-style marketing – targeting hard-to-reach groups might require making one-on-one connections with gatekeepers – but it can be rewarding. And while guerrilla marketing stunts can be fun, it’s important to ensure that they serve the aim of your campaign rather than becoming creative projects in their own right.
Print and distribution – brochures, flyers, posters – are expensive but can be an effective channel for localised campaigns and reaching older audiences. Advertising, on the other hand, is not as expensive you might imagine: there are lots of websites and blogs that engage with specific communities where you can advertise cheaply.
The final two channels cost nothing at all:
Reciprocal marketing means swapping mailing lists, e-newsletter mentions (‘PS swaps’) and tweets with other organisations
Word-of-mouth is about ensuring that everyone associated with your play knows exactly what they can be doing to spread the message.
If you spend money on one thing, make it the photography because you will find over and over again that you get so much out of having good photographs
Once you have your plan, the next step in is gathering the resources you’ll need to put your campaign into action. These will include:
- Show copy (100 words that describe the experience of seeing the show and include your key messages)
- High resolution photographs, which will help in terms of social media and press coverage
- Press release, in which you articulate what’s newsworthy about your show.
- Trailers can also be useful, but only if they give a sense of what the show is going to be like.
Timeline & Budget
Be really realistic and strict about your budget and make sure that you’re recording it all the way along
Your timeline and budget can be included in the same spreadsheet to help you keep a running tally of how much you’ve spent and ensure you’re on track with all your deadlines.
Evaluation and documentation
Last but not least, remember to evaluate and document the project once it has finished using tools such as audience surveys and box office reports to measure your success. Plan exactly how you’ll undertake this critical final stage, going back to your original objectives and considering how you’ve met them in a debrief with the whole team. And be sure to document the conversation so you’ve got the notes to refer back to when you come to plan your next project.
Words by Jo Caird