If you think your brochure or flyer will never be displayed back to front or left lying on a table on its front, then ignore this article and continue living in your fantasy world.
In the real world both of the above do happen. Ignoring the selling power of your back page is a sign to the world that you have money to burn. Who but someone above the rough and tumble of the market place can afford to leave the second hottest page of their brochure blank ? Well, one of my favourite theatres, it seems. I’m not going to name them but I can assure you there were some great shows in their season that could have benefited from a plug on the back page. If that’s too vulgar, the least they could have done is put their name at the top so that someone seeing the back would know to pick it up.
In viewing terms, your back page is page two. That’s why magazines charge advertisers more the back page than any other. Here are two random examples. The Lady charges £2750 for a standard full page but, if you want the back page, it will cost you £3450. Private Eye charges £6000 for a full page and £7200 for the back cover. Enough said. A picture is worth a thousand words so here are three.
This is how I went about producing a theatre brochure.
With the season brochure providing up to 70% of the audience for some shows at Theatre Royal Winchester, making it as effective as possible at selling products is vital. This is how I produced the last brochure during my spell as their marketing consultant.
The first thing was to gather content, which is to say all the information and images that could be used. This is nothing like as easy as it sounds. If a show is still at the planning or early production stage, there may be no photos, only an ‘image’. The copy may be poorly written.
So I was straightaway faced with a task of rewriting copy so that it sold the show- attention grabbing, benefits not features, making it personal to the reader, telling a story, cutting it to the length required (typically 100 words) or simply changing it into our (my) house style. The consistent tone of voice is important- it says that you chose these shows and back them with your enthusiastic descriptions.
Then I had to decide how to use the content. Which were the most important shows, the ones that were going to be allocated a full page aor double page spread (DPS)? That meant not only the shows that would make the theatre the most money but also those which would sell best through the brochure- drama, children’s shows- and which the least well, for example standup comics.
Sometimes I gave a show emphasis because the theatre needed to build an audience for something new or challenging, perhaps physical theatre or contemporary dance.
There are a number of pre-determined pages: the cover, contents, booking and other essential information, sponsor and funder credits. Some theatres like to include a lot of information including a seating plan but to my mind this is easily available on the website so I wouldn’t take up precious space with it.
Size And Shape
A decision had to be made about the format. This amounts to either A5 portrait or DL (one third of a landscape A4). There are other options but these are the only ones that will fit easily into standard racks. I chose A5 because it gives more scope for design and DL may end up very thick. I would consider DL for a flier or very small brochure.
So, adding up all the pages, half pages and smaller entries, I saw what the total was. In an ideal world, it would be exactly divisible by four because each sheet of paper coming out of the printing press comprises four (or eight) pages. There was also a maximum, beyond which the cost of postage and to some extent printing became prohibitive. For me, that was 36 pages. I could have accommodated more pages by reducing the weight but thin paper makes the venue look low quality.
To make the content fit, some shows had to have their space allocation reduced or expanded.
Next, there was the question of how to order the shows. The basic choice is between chronology or genre. I prefer genre because I think a drama tends to sit uncomfortably next to a CBeebies show or the style of contemporary dance can clash with that of a popular musical. For those customers who want to choose their entertainment by date, I print a calendar with page references next to each show.
Fitting It All In One Brochure
Then came pagination. I plotted it on a grid showing each page as a box, grouped in the DPSs. This is useful if there are a number of items on a page and you want to plan how you’re going to split the page, e.g. one half and two quarters or three thirds, vertical or horizontal splits and so on. A pencil and rubber were essential tools.
Within each genre, I tried to be chronological but compromises had to be made in order to accommodate the DPSs and full pages. I also wanted to make sure I took full advantage of the ‘hot spots’. These are the back cover, inside covers and the centre spread – the pages people are most likely to look at. Even if it meant taking a show out of order, I gave my best ones these positions.
I am appalled at the way some people waste these hot spots. They put information about ticket returns and parking on the inside back cover; they even leave the back cover blank which may be artistically satisfying but won’t sell a single ticket.
The printer must be booked. I like to use a printer I know but I checked with other printers that the price my printer was quoting was competitive. The decisions that needed to made include the weight and type of paper and the quantity. I prefer to have 135gsm (grams per square metre) with a cover of 170gsm. I chose art silk paper because it provides sharp text and strong colour without the distraction of shiny gloss or the dullness of matt. I also arranged with the printer the number of copies to send to the mailing house and the distribution company.
Once I knew when the printer needed the artwork, I worked out the schedule. Deadlines for each stage are important and even if some of them slide, the date for getting the artwork to the printers is immutable.
What The Brochure Will Look Like
Now it was time to bring in the designer. The brief needed to be written clearly to avoid misunderstandings and wasted time. I explained the overall effect I was trying to achieve. My earlier brochures for TRW were intended to be colourful and suggestive of the variety and excitement of the shows. The most recent involved a change of tack in which I was trying for a more classic approach that would be instantly recognized by the theatre goers who were the prime users of the brochure. In other words, consistent layout and fonts throughout and a generally more restrained approach.
The brief also included the essential elements that needed to be on each page in the same place and look the same for ease of reading: genre, dates, times, prices. The brief emphasised the importance of readable text in terms of font style and size and of good contrast between text and background.
I asked for a few early drafts from the designer to ensure he was working on the right lines. Then it was all go. Inevitably there were late additions to and occasional deletions from the programme which caused re-pagination. Sometimes, as luck and some chasing would have it, better images arrived. Because I knew this would happen, I built in the possibility of a certain number of amendments into the price.
The cover is the biggest hot spot of all. Sometimes an image chooses itself but more often I have found myself desperately asking around for something attention grabbing. What do I mean by ‘strong’? I like to use a face or a human figure. (Look at all the best selling magazines’ covers.) But it also needs to appeal to the theatre’s primary market and preferably sell the top show. I’ve rarely succeeded in finding the perfect image. (Note to producers: take the trouble to supply the right image and you could end up on the cover.)
I made sure the name of the theatre was at the top in case it is displayed in a rack behind other print. I included details of the content on the cover. This meant listing the genres but I could have included the names of big shows or acts. This is because I featured a picture of a drama but wanted people to know that there was also drama, opera, children’s shows and more on offer.
The pages went back and forth a few times to refine their appearance. A good designer will know the rules but I like to check for myself. For example, there must be something eye catching on the left of a DPS to avoid the brain’s tendency to look only at the right page; the back page must include the theatre name, preferably at the top, so people will recognise it even if it happens to be displayed the wrong way round in a rack.
This is the point I showed it to the chief executive or whoever’s in charge. In your organization, that moment may come sooner. It depends how involved they want to be.
Then we moved to proofing. I made sure someone from the box office went through it because they have the best knowledge of times and prices. I also like to use someone who hasn’t read it before and who has a good knowledge of English and a meticulous approach. Consistency is something I am checking for. For example, I don’t want to see days sometimes written in full and sometimes abbreviated. I gathered all the mistakes together on one proof copy and passed it back to the designer.
Back come proofs for a final check, then it was time to send the designs off to the printers. A printer’s proof came back in the next day or so. There was a choice between a digital and a paper proof. This is a difficult decision when you have a small budget. For the layperson, which I am, it’s easier to see what’s wrong when you look at a paper proof, because you are seeing what the final brochure will actually look like. However, it costs. What I have found is that a digital proof is okay provided your designer looks at it in detail. He was able to spot tiny registration issues or colours and type that haven’t quite worked in the transition from design to print.
All that remained was the excitement of receiving the first copies of the new brochure and, even after all these years, I still find being able to hold the result of all that work right there in my hand is one of the best moments of my working days.
I’ve just completed my marketing contract with Theatre Royal Winchester. This is what I’ve learned about marketing a mid-scale theatre.
Previously I have marketed a large scale theatre which is like piloting an ocean liner. The first thing I discovered was that a mid-scale venue is like a dinghy. You’re constantly tossed from wave to wave.
The procession of shows is relentless. Most weeks you’re dealing with three or more shows. In fact, a show on for a week is considered a long run. This means you are constantly making decisions, choices, compromises. It’s no place for a perfectionist or a prevaricator. So here are seven basic things you need to know.
1. You have very limited resources and the pressure is always there to reduce costs. I didn’t stop believing that you need to spend money to make money but at the same time I do hate waste so I analysed the effectiveness of all marketing tools. I used Return-On-Investment data from the Spektrix box office system about purchases made by people who received eshots and postal mailings as well as questionnaires filled in by customers and click-through data from digital advertising and sales patterns before and after promotions.
The result was that I was able to cut drastically print advertising which was not delivering. This saved thousands of pounds.
2. The season brochure was the most effective marketing tool for the majority of shows, especially drama and dance. Even so, I cut the print run. Why? I saw that the response rate was poor for what was supposed to be our best way of selling tickets. So I removed people who came only to shows on which the brochure was shown to have no effect (e.g. stand-up comedy, a large percentage of the panto audience). This gave me a reduction of 40%. In an ideal world, you continue to mail everybody who ever came to the theatre- but the cost is prohibitive. I got the same response in terms of numbers of transactions and saved thousands on printing and mailing costs.
3. On the subject of print, I believe in the importance of getting paper into people’s hands. It’s sticky. Therefore I increased and refined the distribution of print around the catchment area. I found a supporter who had the time to give it his personal attention, which gets much more from the outlets than using an agency. I also continued the weekly small targeted mailings, fulfilled in-house by a team of volunteers. ‘Targeted’ usually meant people who had bought similar shows before but hadn’t yet bought this one.
4. I ramped up the digital marketing. We sent out more e-shots but carefully targeted so people weren’t overwhelmed by them. Something I didn’t learn at TRW but put into practice while I was there was the necessity of using the knowledge of the team. I inherited an excellent digital specialist. His knowledge of the box office system and other analytics was vital. I learned quite a bit about using social media from him.
Don’t expect straightforward ads for shows to work on Twitter. What engages people are stories and photos about people and news from behind the scenes. Creating a community and having conversations build the loyalty and trust that leads to increased attendance. The same rules apply to your Facebook page but ads can work on the Facebook medium because you can target them so well.
5. I learned you have to use PR very carefully. Like word-of-mouth, a mention in a respected newspaper, magazine or website generates sales among followers. The trouble is, with so many events, I didn’t want to rely on editors’ choices. I concentrated on the shows that would generate the most money for the theatre or needed the most help. The others I ruthlessly ignored so that the editor wouldn’t be tempted to publicise a sold-out comedian rather than a half-full play.
I made sure we sent all the listings website and freesheets the information. Some said they wouldn’t write about us unless we advertised. I took the view that paid-for editorial doesn’t impress anybody.
The main thing is, I didn’t economise on PR, tempting as it was. Even so, I found I didn’t have the time to generate enough of the fun stories that often get coverage but don’t necessarily sell tickets.
6. Nor did I economise on copywriting. Producers will provide copy for brochures, mailshots and press releases but that doesn’t mean you have to use it. There are two good reasons for writing your own copy. Firstly, you should have a house style in your copy, a personality that fits your venue.
Secondly, a lot of the supplied copy is pretty poor. The great Drayton Bird said, ‘How can you make more money without investing more money? Run good copy instead of bad copy.’ What makes it bad? Well, that’s a whole article in itself but failure to understand the medium for which they are writing, failure to produce selling copy and failure to provide up-to-date information are just a few reasons for taking the time to research and rewrite it.
7. Timing is always important but it couldn’t be more crucial when you want to get the most out of limited resources. So I looked at sales patterns to make sure that e-shots, postal mailings and PR hit the ‘sweet spots’ or ‘zero moments’ when people made decisions to buy.
It’s also important to create synergy by working with colleagues from other departments. I helped the Head of Development establish a Friends scheme which gave the theatre much needed income from subscriptions and gave me a list of people likely to be among our most frequent attenders, people who could be nurtured and who would spread the word.
If you’re a producer, please understand that your show is competing with lots of others for the attention of the venue’s marketing people. I have three P’s for you – Provide good easy-to-use information and photos. Make Personal contact. Pester.
That’s just a taste of what I learned. If you already work in a mid-scale venue, I’m sure words like ‘Granny’ ‘eggs’ and suck’ come to mind but, if you’re new to marketing a mid-scale venue, I hope you’ve gained some useful tips. Please contact me if you want some advice or would like to run an idea by me.
Paul Lewis is a freelance marketer and owner of Seven Experience. He is available for marketing projects or short term contracts.
To summarise, you start with three emails that don’t ask for money and simply seek to establish a relationship with new members: Welcome, Did You Know, Special Offer.
Next you send three emails asking for donations: Success Story, We Have A Goal, Fundraising Event.
Finally three emails you should send to maintain donors: Newsletter, Useful News, Donor Preferences.
There are also three tips for success: Add Pictures of People, Segment Your List and Use Empowering Language. I particularly liked this last one. For example, instead of ‘We can’t do it without you’, say ‘Donors like you make this possible.’ Instead of ‘Click here to donate’, say ‘Make a difference today’.
If you work for a charity and need to raise funds from members and supporters, I thoroughly recommend that you read this article in full.
Why shouldn’t we price at the maximum your audience will pay? Here’s an extract from Seth Godin’s latest blog, proposing that long term is more important than the short when it comes to pricing:
Thirty years ago, I asked the fabled rock promoter Bill Graham a question that I thought was brilliant, but he owned me in his response. “Bill, given how fast a Bruce Springsteen concert sells out, why don’t you charge $100 a seat and keep all the upside?” (In those days, $100 was considered a ridiculous sum for a concert ticket).
“Well, I could do that, but the thing is, I’m here all year round, and my kids only have a limited budget to spend on concerts. If I charged that much for one concert, they wouldn’t be able to come to the other shows I book…”
It’s a big question that has been answered one way by the commercial theatres of the West End and Broadway, as well as some regional and subsidised theatres, who seem only concerned with extracting the maximum profit from their immediate audience. Others, mainly subsidised and regional theatres are more concerned about building a long term audience.
The Guardian recently ran a feature (Theatre Tickets: When Did They Become So Expensive?) looking at the way some theatres are charging huge amounts for premium seats and ‘added value’ packages. Last year I myself got tangled up with the mad rush to get tickets for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at The Barbican. Having found myself 29,000th in the queue, I became fired up. Refusing to be thwarted, I went to an agency and, in the excitement of the chase, ended up paying over £20 a ticket more than the official price.
I was so shocked that I had paid so much that I didn’t buy another ticket for anything for over a month. And that’s the point that Seth is making. Do you grab the money now without any concern for the future of yours or anybody else’s audience or do see yourself as part of a network of providers and long term customers?