Theatre Marketing Essentials

Make the most of your Event Run Build-Up

The Golden Rules
  • Build a strong and recognizable brand for the theater group that creates a sense of loyalty and engagement among audience members.
  • Create a strong and compelling marketing message that clearly communicates the unique selling points of the show and appeals to the target audience.
  • Develop a diverse range of marketing materials such as posters, flyers, social media graphics, and videos to promote the show.
  • Build a solid and engaged online presence through social media, email marketing, and website optimization.
  • Create a sense of excitement and anticipation for the show by hosting events, giveaways, and contests that allow audiences to get involved and interact with the production.
  • Collaborate with local media outlets, bloggers, and community influencers to generate buzz and coverage for the show.
  • Leverage the talents and networks of the cast and crew to help promote the show and generate grassroots support.
  • Create a sense of community and belonging by engaging with the local theater community and build relationships with other arts organisations and community groups.
  • Use data and analytics to track the success of marketing efforts and make informed decisions about future campaigns.
  • Continuously seek new and innovative ways to reach and engage with audiences, such as live-streaming performances or creating interactive experiences.
  • Create a positive, memorable and enjoyable experience for the audience to encourage word-of-mouth promotion.
Pro Tips for your Marketing Effort

What is Marketing?


Marketing is all about reaching new people and convincing them to do something they otherwise wouldn't do.

The ultimate goal of your marketing campaigns is to broaden your brand's awareness and gain the trust of your target audience.
The best way to do this is to use a mix of marketing channels such as magazine ads, direct mail, social media and radio to extend your reach and meet your prospects on the channels they prefer.

Marketing is a group of techniques that allow your organisation to direct its resources and budget toward the best opportunities so you can get the best return on your time and investment.

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What's in it for me?


Your Marketing Message must ALWAYS answer the question for the recipient - "What's in it for me?".

WIIFM is the stuff that shows how or why or what you have to sell or say matters to those who you are trying to sell or say it to.
It's the value proposition, the thing that makes them realize that what you're offering is worth their money or their time.

What's In It For Me? is about sending the message that potential customers expect to get.
It can be the deciding factor when a prospect is thinking about buying your product or going to the competition.

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Strategy & Audience


Marketing is a Strategic Plan. You must first fully understand why you are even presenting events. Then you must understand the audience you wish to attract and how to reach them.

Your target audience refers to the specific group of consumers most likely to want to attend your event, and therefore, the group of people who should see your published information.
Target audience may be dictated by age, gender, income, location, interests or a myriad of other factors. so work on creating a general persona that represents your target audience. Who is that person and how do we reach them?

You can learn a lot by looking at other event locations and companies to see who they are commonly selling to, and how they go about it.

Understanding your target audience is vital, right from the first production meeting.

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The Story


You must have a consistent message that conveys the promise of the experience you are producing. It may be as simple as a marketing image.. but it must tell a story on an emotional level.

Work on building a series of consistent narratives that help position your event over time.
The stories you tell center around the experience you are creating.

Your story is important because it gives potential customers an understanding of who you are, your values and what they can expect to receive from you.
When customers feel like they know you and your brand, they will be more likely to trust you with their business.

When done right, storytelling remains one of the most effective ways to capture your target audience's attention and deliver the message of your event.

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Social Media


Just posting updates to your Facebook page is not marketing. Facebook is just a messaging channel just like radio & news paper. Whilst Facebook does have some very good marketing tools, if you're not using them to promote your story then you're just preaching to the choir and not extending your reach.

Understand that posts to social media are fleeting glances for most people at best.
They rarely stick in the minds and are quickly forgotten within the noise.

Decide on a budget & strategy to use the available tools correctly.
Always include your event name and vital details in the post text so it is searchable. Don't just post an image. Include consistent hashtags, descriptions and imagery with your posts so that the message gains traction with each update.

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Your Update Posts


Always identify the basic details with TEXT in your posts. Images, whilst essential, should not contain your details since they are not indexable. So always ensure your posts contain the name of your event, and essentials like date, time, venue and something to make the post engaging - that contributes to your story.

If you are using hashtags, do not use tags exclusive to yourself.
This is a total waste of time and ineffective. The point of hashtags is so that your post can be part of a wider conversation, so do some research on what tags are trending and relevant and use them across all of your posts, every time.

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Mechanics


Promoting the mechanics of your product (what you're creating) with rehearsal images or something similar only serves to damage your marketing message. Do not use this type of material to promote your event as it only gives people a reason to say "no".

Showing your cast out of costume, in poor lighting and in rehearsal-mode does not sell anything close to the story and magic that will create the desire in people to see your show.
Save this stuff for your members-only posts. Invest some time planning your photo shoots with someone who knows photography, lighting and subject composition.

If you must profile your cast then always work on the basis that your audience knows nothing about the characters they play.
Never assume that your potential audience knows as much about your show as you do. Weave a story around your cast that builds some texture and meaning as to why you're profiling them.

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The Promise


Focus on selling the experience. It's the promise of what will happen to that person when they are sitting at your event and the show starts. It is not happening before then so you have to fabricate the experience in a way that makes it compelling.

A brand promise is a value or experience your customers can expect to receive every single time they interact with your company.
The more you can deliver on that promise, the stronger the brand value in the mind of customers.

The promise tells your customer, either explicitly or implicitly, what they can expect from your event or show.
It sets their expectations on the quality of your production.

Rather than describing how you do what you do, your promise should describe the experience you deliver.
A brand promise is a way for consumers to hold you accountable to the standard that sets you apart.

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Start Early


Market Early. Do not wait until a week before opening to start selling your story. Start promoting your event as soon as you decide to do it and have the rights. Build in the detail as you go.

Topic traction takes time so the earlier you begin across your channels, especially the internet, the better.
You should aim for absolute topic authority as soon as possible, and this includes localisation.

Construct your messages to always identify your event and location.
Use existing well used definitions to remove any ambiguity around what you're talking about. In the web and social space always include links to reliable source details for your event such as Wikipedia or something similar so search engines understand the topic of your message.

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People


Don't waste time promoting people in your Event, unless their high profile will support the marketing strategy and there is a story to tell about them. Focus on promoting the story and the characters. Your Audience come to see characters come to life so sell that magic.

Promoting your cast before the show run has started can appear self-important and says nothing of their performance.
Let the press promote your cast once they've performed in a noteworthy manner.

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Friends & Family


Don't pitch your marketing message at your own membership or at friends or family. They will decide to come based on other factors such as loyalty and who they know in the production.

Likewise, don't rely on these close associations to promote your event for you.
This is a loss of control and conveys very little of your creative vision to your marketing audience.

Pitch your marketing at a clearly defined target demographic.
Tell them a story and invite them to be a part of the experience.

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Control


There is no planning without control. Marketing control is the process of monitoring the proposed plans as they proceed and adjusting where necessary.

Control your Brand and your Product.
Don't let anyone just decide on how to market your event. Build an agreed strategy that covers all media (graphics, video, audio) and execute it across all channels (radio, paper, billboard, web, social, etc).

Work to ensure your organisation retains total control of the message, how it is executed and, as much as possible, how people react to it.
Build a marketing review cycle into your production meetings. Look at actual figures and correlations between the messages going out and ticket sales.

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Execution


Execute your marketing strategy at the Brand level (group, society, etc), not at the Product Level (show, event). Your Event must serve your Brand and contribute to your overall Brand Equity.

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Friction


Take Marketing seriously. It is not an after-thought. Always make your marketing messaging as frictionless as possible for the recipient. Make it easy to engage with your message and commit to a purchasing decision.

Never ask your readers to search for a the link to buy tickets.
Always include an easy to remember web link in all press releases and posts.

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Direction


Always direct everyone, on every channel to the same place such as your web home page. Do not use URL shorteners (like BitLy) as they are quickly and easily forgotten.

Always use a web address that sticks in the mind, and put your Event information right at the top of your web page (above the fold) with very clear instructions on how to purchase tickets such as a "BOOK TICKETS" button.

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Your Website


You may not place much value in your website however it is your brand's masthead. It should be where you point everyone to go for the latest, most reliable, official information about your productions, including press releases, media kits, audition details and ticketing. Everything lands on your website.. everything!

Your current events should be right at the top of your home page with very clear directions on where to obtain tickets.
Likewise the links to your Social Media sites must be valid and very clear. Don't relegate your Socials to some tiny icons on the footer. Give them prominence and cross-promote your content on every channel you control.

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The Market


Know your local market. Who are you competing with for bums on seats? What other shows are on at your venue or surrounding venues? Always consider ALL events happening around your schedule; professional, amateur, or otherwise.

Don't use your Event to experiment in your market.
Do your research by learning about what's on and see where people are going and when.

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The Press


Build a digital Press Kit as soon as possible and use it well. Push out Press Releases to every media outlet you can find. Don't expect media writers to do their own research on your event. Give them the story to tell.

Ensure you give your press kit to anyone coming to review your shows.
Build your kit with them in mind by including text-only synopsis and bio material, a variety of image resolutions and options and easy to access delivery, i.e. digital such as files on your website with a easy to understand link.

Talk to your local radio station.
$500 will put your show on-air for a week. Don't invest in anything longer than a 15 second spot and sell a simple message with a simple direction to your website. Ask the station about promo integration.. but do it as early as possible as promo space is always limited.

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Don't... just Don't!


Never rely on your opening weekend to generate word-of-mouth advertising to sell the rest of your show run. If you do this, you've totally missed the marketing opportunity and reduced your opening shows to a "test run".

Likewise, don't appeal to people to "support your event" as this is not a real reason for them to experience what you've created.
It's begging people to come for a reason unrelated to the story and the experience.

If you believe in what you've created then tell people about it! Don't wait until someone else bothers to write a review you can repost half way through your season to start telling people why they should see it.
Own the narrative right from the start. Be bold about what you've created and back it with a strong message.

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Addendum


If you find yourself still looking for cast well down your rehearsal schedule, don't advertise this alongside your marketing message. It just says "we couldn't get people interested in being a part of our show".

Be discrete and use channels that will speak to people who might be interested such as local actor/performer forums, casting websites or similar groups.

Nothing destroys public confidence in what you're creating more than publically broadcasting that you're short of cast members.

Always ensure your Marketing Story is not damaged by off-script announcements that introduce doubt into your potential audience's mind.

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Gerard Dunning is a career Commercial Voice Artist and Producer with clients across the globe on radio, TV, the web and in-house. He is also a radio broadcaster and TV director for over 35 years.