How To Sell A Million Pound Panto

Very few things are certain in the world of show business but one is the profit to be made on panto. Or so I used to think until I heard that a major regional theatre actually lost money on a panto a couple of years ago. So it’s clear that you still need a good product and you need to market it well. Otherwise it shall end in tears. As someone who has sold some of the most profitable and best attended pantomimes in the last twenty five years, I can help you avoid the humiliation of a trip to the Boardroom.

Pricing is often not the responsibility of the marketing department which is unfortunate because it can make or break a show. Price too high and no-one will buy a ticket, too low and you don’t make the margin you need. Pantomime is about numbers so it is better to keep the price down as low as is profitable and concentrate on selling high volume. As always, offer at least five prices (three if you have a small venue) to appeal to all pockets and attitudes. Plan discounts for early birds, last minute buyers, groups and less popular performances.

It’s Behind You

The golden rule for promotion is, as with panto itself, it must be over the top. The first thing is to be first. Get the news out as early as possible. Party bookers are the foundation of a successful panto and they start thinking about their Christmas outing in January. Remember, yours won’t be the only show in town, or if not your town certainly somewhere within reach of a 55 seater. You want the others to be behind you so email or write to them in January. And write to them again. And phone them. And invite them to the press launch. And… you get the picture.

As to PR, since the first wave of individual ticket buyers comes quite early, I recommend a major media launch before it goes quiet for the summer. Then a series of individual visits by the stars through the autumn. If you have no stars, you can still feed stories about the director planning unbelievable theatrical magic, the writer researching the true story behind the fairy tale or an actor overcoming a fear of heights to climb a beanstalk.

Media coverage through PR is more important than ever because traditional print or broadcast advertising is far less cost effective than it used to be but the online alternatives have yet to deliver the numbers you need. Panto is particularly problematic in this respect because it appeals to an audience much greater than your usual customer base so they can’t be reached only through your email, SMS or postal mailing list.

You will need to advertise but do it sparingly and with a bang. Don’t throw your limited budget in every direction. Don’t even start until October when the main booking period begins. Do use only the paid for papers that cover your town- free and fringe media won’t deliver the numbers. Take only a few ads but make them big so they can’t be missed and because they say to the reader this is a major show worth seeing.

Otherwise use the proliferation of media that’s out there to best advantage. Make sure you have masses of photos, interviews and short videos freely and easily available for download to the huge number of websites, social networks, magazines and newspapers that want to cover your panto.

Oh Yes It Is

With such a massive choice of channels, you need help. So use your strongest supporters to spread the word. Get the word out to supporters on Facebook and Twitter but also get everyone else involved in the show- cast, creatives, producers and your own staff- to do the same.

Your website has a key role to play so make sure you’re pushing that panto as hard as possible on the home page from the moment it goes on sale. Keep updating your entry with new photos (cast in costume, set designs) and, if at all possible, upload short video interviews.

And let’s not forget that there are many people who still get their information from a season brochure or a flier. Get it in the spring brochure, even if you don’t have much information. By the time of the autumn brochure you’ll need a double page spread. Get those fliers everywhere- bulk distributed, included in mailings of tickets, handed out at shows.

As always, try to learn from what you do. The Panto Villain just spends money without knowing what works. The Principal Boy constantly experiments and monitors to find out what’s most cost effective.

By Paul Lewis

After a short stint as a journalist, I have spent most of my working life in marketing and retailing. I love theatre and have been lucky enough to work in theatre marketing for many years. I provide small businesses and arts organisations with holistic marketing at an economic price through my company Seven Experience Ltd

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