No Money? No Problem: Four Tips For Marketing Your Theatre Production On A Budget
By Gavin Damore
After paying actors, directors, designers and everyone else who makes a theatre production possible, theatre marketers often find themselves with limited funds for meeting their ticket sales goals. Even at large nonprofit theatres and some Broadway production houses, budgets are smaller than what you might see at a corporation. And, if you’re a fringe company, you’re probably working with no funds at all.
However, large budgets don’t always generate better results. Organically reaching audiences through creative tactics can sometimes be a better (and cheaper) strategy than paying for newspaper ads and TV airtime. Next time you’re marketing a production that’s strapped for cash, try these low-budget marketing options:
1. Tap Into the Community
If your tickets are cheap or you can offer special discounts, reach out to local groups such as church congregations, arts organizations and local student clubs. Send an email introducing yourself and ask the organization to share information with its members. Many will happily do so, especially if the themes of your production align with their mission and values.
Also, search for organizations that regularly publish newsletters or keep an updated events calendar on their website. Don’t be shy — they’re typically willing to include your event if it’s something they know their members will be interested in.
2. Start Being Social
Most theatre marketers understand the value in creating a social media presence, but you can take your engagement a step further by exploring Facebook groups relevant to your company or production. Small towns may only have one “townie” Facebook group for announcements and nearby events, but if you’re in a large city, you’ll probably find groups for arts patrons, local playwrights and other niche communities.
Don’t be too promotional in these posts, though. You’re virtually walking into a community space, so don’t use gimmicky language or an overly salesy tone. Keep your posts short, provide a call to action, use an engaging image or video and make sure you tie your production back to the community you’re addressing.
3. Create (Cheap) Ads
If you’re on a budget, you probably see ad space as a luxury you can’t afford — and it can be. Renting a billboard or launching a sophisticated digital campaign can cost thousands, if not millions of dollars. However, you can head down to your local office supply store and print a few color flyers. While not nearly as flashy, it’s still an effective strategy. Specifically take note of establishments with community boards and long lines — people will want to read something while they’re waiting for staff to take their order, so you can pique their interest by putting information there.
Being on a budget doesn’t prohibit you from social media marketing, either. Facebook is a good place to go for low-cost social advertising. It might not be as trendy as Instagram or Snapchat, but it provides cheap options for marketers watching their wallet. Investing a small amount in a sponsored post the weekend before a production can pull in a few last-minute ticket buyers who don’t normally follow your content.
Social media is a crowded space for advertising, though, so ensure your ad is extremely targeted by using Facebook’s advertising tools. Also, make your creative and copy is engaging — choose a high-res photo or create an interesting promotional image on a free design website.
If you can shoot video, even better — 70 percent of brands say it’s the most effective form of content marketing, according to Brafton. Keep your copy short and crisp, and don’t forget to add a ticketing link so potential audiences can quickly make a purchase.
4. Tell Your Friends
This last one seems obvious, but life is so busy that it’s easy to overlook simple actions such as sending a text to a friend or posting about your latest production on social media. Ninety-two percent of people trust word-of-mouth recommendations above other forms of advertising, according to Nielsen, so encourage your fellow artists and administrators to spread the word. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of prodding in the few days leading up to opening night to convince friends and family to buy tickets and help you meet your sales goal.
Marketing a theatre production with a limited budget is challenging, but the experience will ultimately make you a more adept theatre administrator. Even if you end up marketing big-budget Broadway shows for the rest of your career, knowing how to explore every lead will help you form effective, cost-saving campaigns that producers will appreciate.