Mystery, frames and BBQs- marketing tactics of a regional venue

At the start of June house held a local network meeting at the Salisbury Arts Centre with 12 representatives from 9 organisations varying in location from Isle of Wight to Camberley and including brand-new venues as well as those with a long history.  Topics included how programming decisions are made, ways that venues and artists can collaborate, and disabled access in buildings.  Representatives discussed the possibilities of collaborating more closely with nearby venues of a similar scale, and concluded that many venues traditionally considered as rivals might find on closer examination that only a small fraction of their audiences are actually shared, and that by working together on marketing and programming, both venues could benefit.

One thing that stood out from the meeting was the discussion of tips and tactics for marketing a show or increasing your venue profile generally, and here is a list of the top tactics from the day:

Sell theatre on the big screen
For venues that also show films, or live screenings of theatre, trailers of upcoming theatre shows can be shown before the main film.  Sometimes just putting ‘& cinema’ in your venue name can make it less intimidating, particularly to a younger generation audience member

Be more mysterious
Try a print campaign where initial posters are solid black with only the words ‘coming soon’, subsequent posters show a torn corner teasing at content, then gradually dates  are added, and finally the whole poster revealed.  Not a strategy to use for every show…

Get chatty
This sounds obvious, but sometimes it can be really helpful for a venue manager to spend a night ripping tickets or serving drinks, to see patrons face-to-face and to see your venue as they do

Catch their eye
Using TV screens with trailers or a slideshow of images in a foyer or bar catches and holds the public’s attention better than static posters; even in mail-outs, a link to a video is more successful than just an image

Plan your social media
Using free or single cost software to prepare and schedule Tweets and Facebook posts allows a weeklong campaign to be prepared in half an hour and allows information to be gathered about what days and times get the most response

Feed curiosity
Run backstage tours, free or ticketed, as many people are intrigued to get a glimpse behind the curtain- it’s easy to forget how exciting that is to people not in the business

Buy a frame, get a campaign
Offer to buy an outdoor poster frame for schools in a location visible to parents during drop off and pick up, on the condition that you are then allowed to hang posters for upcoming family productions- you could even offer a special discount code

Turn storage into display
Display exciting props, costumes, or artwork around your building to create interest, offer to create window displays for local shops, or decorate a hotel lobby- with brochures nearby, of course!  If your cupboards are really full, you could even offer costume and props hire, especially around Halloween

Conversation, not proclamation
Ask your members to tweet, email or post on Facebook about your upcoming show and if they do, give them a free ticket- if they’re interested in a show, their friends probably are too. Don’t just tweet and retweet about yourself.  Use questions rather than statements to engage your followers in dialogue- you could even give them a choice and ask what shows they would like you to programme

Director recommends
Add specific director recommends tags to shows in your season that may take a small leap of faith for your audience to engage. You need to have personally seen the production in question to be able to do this, and could add a line in the brochure or website text on why you have specifically programmed this piece for your venue.

Take advantage of office boredom
Contact the ‘social planner’, official or otherwise, of local companies with internal email lists and ask them to distribute a monthly email regarding upcoming events to the rest of the company

Open the doors
Have an open day, inviting local people to come in and have a look around without having to buy tickets, maybe have a BBQ or an open discussion with the venue manager so that people feel included and their opinions valued, and embedding your venue in the local community

Embrace change
Change your name or logo, or just the look of your print and brochure, to make it more noticeable- even something as simple as switching from portrait to landscape orientation can get people’s attention

To share your own tactics or thoughts on the ones featured, please feel free to comment or get in touch with Heather.