Marketing in the arts


Twitter post.

Press release…

Sometimes arts marketing can feel very repetitive.

You have an exciting new show to sell, it’s completely unique and very special, and you want to make sure plenty of people take up the opportunity to see it. So you go to the tried and tested promotion methods – arrange an interview on local radio, put together a mailing list of previous bookers who you think might enjoy it, hand flyers out, get a buzz going on your social media.

Now, all these things are vital to promoting any show, and I wouldn’t say for one minute that they aren’t worth doing. It’s just that sometimes, even when you’ve gone through all the normal channels, the seats still aren’t shifting and the sense of frustration can be intense. What to do next?

For arts, heritage and non-profit organisations, the problem is often one of resources. Namely, you don’t have any spare cash to try things that bigger commercial marketers might. No bus-side adverts, TV slots or promotional beer mats/pens/cuddly toys for you – instead you cross your fingers and get back to the Facebook campaign.

But sometimes, at this point, someone has a good idea – necessity is the mother of invention, after all. It won’t work for every campaign, but on occasion you can come up with brilliant, one-off, free(ish) publicity that will really get you noticed, sometimes by many more people than you were expecting. Yes, such a thing does really exist! I have seen a few excellent examples over the years – here are a few of my favourites:

  • One summer, chalk pictures appeared all over the pavements in Norwich. I was walking to work when I came across a giant test tube drawn on the floor, full of a gloopy green liquid which was spilling out of the tube to form a large arrow-shaped puddle, pointing towards the Inspire Hands-On Science Centre. The centre was tucked away on a side street, away from the main areas of footfall in the city centre, so wasn’t able to publicise itself to passing pedestrians. It was a great way to build awareness of the building and its facilities.
  • To publicise tour dates for Sister Act, Norwich Theatre Royal tried to break the world record for the largest gathering of people in one building dressed as nuns! The local press loved the story and it was widely featured across the media. The theatre Press Officer was surprised to hear the local BBC radio talking excitedly about the record attempt as he drove into work. The record wasn’t broken, but the show was booked out.
  • Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre had a run of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman one winter. After receiving a Snowman costume from the theatre company, a member of venue staff dressed up and went skating at the local ice rink, much to the delight of all the kids there!  Of course, he had plenty of flyers on hand for when they asked him why he was in Edinburgh, rather than at the North Pole.

It’s amazing how inventive necessity can make you be sometimes.

Patrons at Norwich Theatre Royal attempt to break the record for most people dressed as nuns in one place. Photo: Steve Adams. 

Caz Slota is Marketing Manager at Norwich Playhouse.