Ask the Expert
answers from Helen Palmer on Marketing
How long should a press release be and what should it include?
Ideally a press release should be no more than 2 pages depending on the scale of a project (e.g. if lots of partners are involved it may run a little longer). Basic rules – make sure you cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how as early in the press release as possible. Make it easy for a journalist to find your information quickly, use 1.5 or double line spacing so it’s easier to read and don’t pad out a press release for the sake of it, if you’ve nothing to say why are you sending out a release? Include any supplementary useful information in Editors’ notes at the end of the release (e.g. Partners, sponsors, if part of a festival), and ensure that you get sign-off from partners before sending out the release. Don’t forget to include contact details of who a journalist should speak to for more information. Target key journalists and follow up releases with an email or a phonecall but don’t bombard them with messages!
I’ve just formed a theatre company but don’t have any money to pay a graphic designer. Can you recommend any ways that I might be able to get someone to design a leaflet for me for free?
To be honest it’s not really good practice to expect anyone to do work for nothing. Even many university student design departments now charge for their services. If you really can’t afford to pay anything then you need to think what you could offer someone in return as a pro bono relationship. Your most likely option is to find a young designer who is starting out and wants some work for their portfolio or a student looking to do a project, so talk to your local college/university design department and see if they can help. Alternatively talk to other theatre companies and find out who they work with and whether they have any contacts who may be able to help.
Do you think people respond better to receiving e-flyers or leaflets?
People need repetition; it’s unlikely that seeing one marketing promotional activity will generate direct sales in itself. Different markets respond to different marketing activity, e.g. social media has not replaced websites (not yet!) and e-flyers have not yet replaced leaflets and not everyone is online. It’s such a crowded marketplace that you need to do all that you can to stand out. Ask your audiences how they find out about theatre and arts events and what they prefer. Obviously e-flyers are cheaper than leaflets but both rely on good design, distribution and a clear call to action (more information, booking tickets) whether that’s viral or paid for leaflet racks, for example. Think about your marketing as a campaign approach so that all activities reinforce and support each other and your key messages.
What proportion of an overall production budget should be given over to marketing?
Ideally at least 10%. No matter how good your show is, if you skimp on marketing and communications it will affect your profile, audiences and potentially your ability to raise funds for the next production. Even if you can’t afford 10% (which many small companies cannot) look at how you and everyone working on the production can help to spread the word, e.g. helping out with print distribution, social media, creating digital content, liaising with local journalists etc. Be creative about marketing as well as the production.
How can I interest journalists in previewing and reviewing my show?
Develop a press list of the most important journalists that you want to target. Read their articles so you get to know what interests them or doesn’t! And follow them and/or their publications on twitter. If you regularly tweet and/or blog interesting information about your work and the sector, they may even follow you too and then contact you if they are writing a relevant article. Send them regular information but the best way is to start developing a relationship with them and not just talking to them when you want coverage. If you think you’ll struggle to get anyone to review your show, are there any other local shows that they could also review around the same time to make it more worth their while to visit? You don’t need to pay for them to come to you, if they are commissioned to review the show their publication should cover their expenses. Go to other companies first nights and introduce yourself to journalists but again, don’t bombard them with information, you can send them more as a follow up the next day.
I have been asked by a venue to provide a marketing pack but am not sure what I should include in one?
This is your showcase, whatever you produce and in whatever format needs to be high quality (not necessarily expensive) with relevant information: background on the company and the individual artists, information about the show: synopsis, images with full credits, media coverage (even if it’s a new show you can include coverage of the company generally from previous work), copy that the venue can include in their marketing materials (short, e.g. 50-75 words and longer 100-250 words), any information that might help to generate media stories, e.g. in relation to the making of the show, artists, subject matter etc, and contact details for marketing and PR. You can produce the pack as an online resource and/or a printed folder with information – don’t be afraid to ask the venue what they want and need.