Embarking on your first UK tour is a scary thing; it’s great yet terrifying at the same time as all the best things are. As a company we’d performed in various locations with previous shows, done longer runs in one place but we’d never actually mounted a proper tour until this Spring, with CELL. It can be massively daunting, the thought of having to physically get your show to all of those places as a performer but even more so when the roles of producer, tour manager, marketing and press have to be divided between the team also.
Thankfully for me, I’m horrendous at logistics and rubbish at balancing budgets so for the tour of CELL I opted to coordinate the marketing and press. Now, I say thankfully but to be perfectly honest, I actually didn’t really know that much about marketing and what tour marketing in particular involved. I mean, yes, I got that flyers, posters, social media etc. mean ‘bums on seats’ but it’s not just about how you market your shows, it’s about what you market them with.
Now, I’m typing away like I woke up one morning and suddenly knew all of this but we were very lucky to have had CELL picked up by house as one of their 2015 tours. Part of this incredible support was in marketing so we worked closely with Sarah, from house, to work out the best possible way to market the show across the network.
When contextualising our marketing campaign, it’s important to mention that CELL is actually quite a difficult sell. Believe it or not, a show about a man with Motor Neurone Disease doesn’t always immediately sound that appealing for audiences even though the show is bright, funny and has a really positive message. It was the latter that house really helped to pull through in our marketing and so we re-wrote our copy to reflect the life-affirming nature of the show and had some new publicity photos taken of Ted in the real world with bright colours (thank you Richard Davenport) and tangible things, very different to the monochrome aesthetic of the show but immediately identifiable. We also developed our social media content by telling the story of Ted on Tour so that people could follow his journey performing CELL. This personalisation worked really well and increased our online audience tenfold, some of which then translated into live audience. All of this was centred round how an audience might engage with the show which is probably the most important conversation to have when you’re marketing a show. Yes, your marketing does need to reflect the content of what you’re performing but it also need to be accessible and relatable to the people you want to come and see it.
Another past belief of mine was that venues are very busy and so you should just send them what they ask for (copy, flyers, poster, image etc.) and then leave them to it. Oh how wrong I was. *slaps palm against face*. Ultimately, the venues are the ones that have programmed you, they have done so because they believe that they either have or want to develop an audience for your type of work. So, my biggest marketing lesson learnt is talk to the person responsible for marketing at your venue. Despite the fact that many of them hide behind InDesign and websites, they are human and from our experience touring CELL, often very wonderful. house helped us to create one of the best resources we own to this date and that is our marketing pack. It was an absolute ball breaker to write at the time but I’m so glad that we did and even though the tour has finished, we are still using the information in it on a regular basis. In this magical pack, there is a heap of information for venues and the marketing people within them, it covers press releases, target audiences, synopsis, front of house information, social media templates, all manner of things. This was a great starting point for opening up communications with venues as I called in to check that they received the pack and just to generally say hi and that I’d be their main point of contact. More often than not, because you know, I love a chat, we’d get talking about the show, how we made it, why we made it and we started some really positive relationships with venues as a result of this. The more the venues know about the show, the better they can sell it and understand it. With our house venues it was brilliant because although they had not been booked directly through us, we were very much encouraged by house to liaise directly with the venues. This also now means that we can maintain and nurture these relationships in the future.
Across the CELL tour, our audiences were very varied. Generally speaking, we split them into three groups, those who were fans of puppetry/visual theatre, those who were regular attendees at the current venue and those who had an interest in the subject. From the early stages of developing CELL, we worked closely with the Motor Neurone Disease Association and they assisted greatly with research and feedback for the show. This then fed directly into the tour with the MNDA actively promoting CELL to their networks, successfully opening up a whole new audience group to our work.
Working with house on this tour really was brilliant as I feel like we’ve learnt great practice for touring our shows. We’ve already started to build in a lot of the points above into our current new show, In Our Hands. This show is about Trawler fishing so we made sure that when we were rehearsing in Cornwall, we took some photos of Alf & Ben (our new puppets) in the harbour and on the boats so that the audience can connect these surroundings to their story.
There were lots of lesson learnt on this tour but for me, the most important is to remember that it is a joint responsibility between the company and the venue to sell the show. Communication is key though and both sides need to be able to discuss and update on a regular basis. You want your show to sell and they do too, if you’ve got a brilliant show, your marketing needs to shout it from the rooftops on your behalf.
Molly is co-artistic director of Smoking Apples
Ted is on his adventures again this August in Edinburgh, Underbelly, 6th – 30th, 16.35.
For more information on CELL, please visit cell-show.co.uk
For more information on Smoking Apples, please visit smokingapplestheatre.com