Community Theater Publicity – How to Make Sure Your Show is a Winner at the Box Office

Doing great publicity for your small community theater is hard work but it can and must be done for your theater program to thrive.

Are you putting something on in this economy and are stuck doing a publicity show?
Are you scared it will be a flop and everyone will hate/blame you?

Fear not, help is at hand and publicity (if done well) will positively impact your attendance and your theater company’s bottom line. Trust me, I just spent several weeks promoting a musical called “Urinetown” – in this economy. Believe me, if I can sell a fairly expensive show like “Urinetown” to a small down and out community and still come out in the black – you can sell your event effectively too.

Here’s how I typically try to run my campaigns. I always answer these three questions: when?, where?, what? – and I’m not just talking about show times and names.

The first part of any publicity campaign starts with the contract for the show. Get a copy immediately from your producer. Read it. know it. Live it. If your producer does not hand you a signed contract for the show… walk away. Many times there are specific rules as to what to include in any promotional pieces, and you first responsibility is to know them. What must be included in promotional pieces? Where must it be placed? When can I start promoting the show? Don’t be surprised if any or all (or more) restrictions on promotions exist in your contract. Recognize those question words? Those question words are the key to any successful campaign. Master them.

OK so you have your contract and you know what you must put in any promotional piece. What’s next? The whats of any promotional campaign for a small budget show are typically press releases, radio giveaways and or interviews, and posters. Here are the three Ws of each for my typical publicity campaign.

Press Releases:

What: Most important – include the contractually required stuff we discussed above, usually in paragraph 3.
In paragraph 1, include show title, venue, and show dates.

In paragraph 2, Include in the body of your post something about what will make your show special (who is the featured performer… is there something special about the set, or the costumes, or the choreography… give the reader something to be interested in.

Paragraph 3 is the legal stuff.

Paragraph 4 is a short blurb about the director, the theater company, and or the sponsor.

Paragraph 5 (or whatever turns out to be your last paragraph) tells where, when, and how to buy tickets. If you don’t tell people how to buy tickets… how else will people find out?

Photo: Include a photo of at least some of the characters in costume, with a caption that mentions anyone pictured, as well as the name of the venue and show dates.

Where: Obviously you place this in the local newspapers, simple submit as a press release

When: Place this article ideally in the entertainment section of your local paper the Thursday the week before your show. If your show opens May 1st 2009, submit your press release on April 20th to appear in the April 23rd entertainment section. People plan a week or more in advance. 99% of shows fail because they do not advertise early enough.

Submit your shows to every online event calendar you can find:
Many event calendars have subscriber lists and automatic RSS news feeds. You don’t need to know what this stuff is. What you do need to know is that people use it to get information about upcoming shows.

Where: Post your shows to any calendar on the web that allows it free.

When: Immediately as soon as dates and times are firm.

What: Same as your press release, including a photo (if the site allows it).

When: Week of the show, preferably a Monday or Tuesday

What: Radio interview (if possible) – be sure to mention the legal stuff from the contract. Also do ticket giveaways – one pair per show date if possible.

Where: Choose the largest radio station nearest the venue. Choose other stations also if they have strong arts supporting audiences (and if you can squeeze a few more tickets out of the producer). AM radio stations are more likely to do interviews. Get as much mileage out of the radio folks as you can, and be sure to send them thank you letters afterwards. Radio is very effective, particularly if you can get your info on air for free (see note about giveaways).

Where: All businesses within walking distance of the venue. Most will gladly accept posters, as foot traffic for the venue usually is free advertising for their business.

When: Begin at least 4 weeks before the show. Recover the area the week before the show.

What: Posters should be short and to the point. Should have the show title, show dates, times, and ticket info. Should also include the legal stuff and contact information for where and how to buy tickets. An action shot or other artsy bit is good so long as it doesn’t get in the way.

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