Marketing tips for small businesses, arts organisations and theatre
Author: 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
I’ve never worked in a business large enough to separate marketing and communications. Even at the largest organisation where I was an employee, I was responsible for both. So what is the difference?
As the head of the department, I concentrated on the marketing while carrying out some of the communications. So I was the person who determined the marketing strategy and plan. To grossly oversimplify, I worked out what story we had to tell and to whom we should be telling it.
Communications is about telling the story. Because my team was small and I had certain skills, I continued to oversee brochure production and wrote copy. Others dealt with the practicalities of communications through advertising, social media, PR, the website and mailings.
So how do you plan your communications?
Consult the marketing plan. As an expert in communications, you should be talking to the Marketing Manager to make sure you fully understand who you need to communicate with (clients, customers, funders) and what you are expected to achieve.
Set targets in a time frame.
Carry out an inventory of your resources, both human and physical. Human resources could be a press officer, a digital marketer, an advertising agency etc. Physical resources would be a website, social media, print media, email list etc.
Allocate the resources, single or mixed, that will best deliver each target.
If you have been given a budget, allocate it to the resources that will achieve the best return. Otherwise, work out the budget you will need and negotiate your final spending allowance with the management.
Create the stories in images and words that are appropriate for each medium. I’ve said it before but I can’t stress enough that it is never the case that one piece of copy fits all: an email will be personal while a press release will be quite neutral; a tweet will be snappy while flier copy will go into detail. On the other hand, the ‘voice’ and branding should be consistent.
Test and monitor, adapting as you go.
The above is about external communications. An internal communications plan will be similar but will not take its lead from a marketing plan. Instead it will involve researching the stakeholders and understanding how best to communicate with them- most likely emails, postal mailings, social media groups, presentations and digital forums.
Paul Seven Lewis is the owner of the marketing & website design company Seven Experience Limited and presents the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews. He was formerly Head Of Marketing at The Mayflower Southampton and Marketing Manager at Theatre Royal Winchester.
Hootsuite is an excellent service for any business wanting to manage all their social media activities in one place. They also offer a blog is full of useful information. Recently it looked into the best time to post on social media and came to these conclusions.
Facebook remains the most frequently viewed social media. Its move back to an emphasis on family and friends has left business pages high and dry with your posts likely to reach 5% or less of your followers (unless you pay). So timing is more important than ever to try to ensure that those who do receive your post actually look at it.
The best time to post on Facebook is in the lunch period between noon and 3pm every weekday except Tuesday and between noon and 1pm at the weekend.
Instagram, the new star in the social media firmament, follows in the footsteps of its owner Facebook by applying an algorithm to posts, so there’s a lot more to being seen than timing. Nevertheless the hour you post plays its part and between noon and 1pm (otherwise known as lunchtime) seems to be the best time to send out your message to the world.
Twitter takes a different approach. Unlike Facebook, their algorithm doesn’t bury its users’ hard work in a shallow grave. What it does do is give prominence to posts that are more popular or what it deems interesting (which seems to mean news stories in particular). Consequently, the avalanche of tweets continues to be impossible for most of us to do more than dip into and tweets from even a few hours earlier may never be seen unless Twitter chooses to bring them to your attention (‘In Case You Missed It’). Because generally Tweets are still listed in the order they were tweeted, timing remains important. Hootsuite’s research suggests the best time to reach people on Twitter is at 3pm on weekdays. However, since everybody is posting at that time, perhaps a little earlier or later might be a good idea.
Finally there’s LinkedIn, still working for the business community and observing office hours when it comes to posts, meaning the best times are just before work at 7.45, around coffee time at 10.45, at lunch 12.45 and at knocking off time- 5.45. Only Monday to Thursday though, not Friday otherwise known as Poets Day (Push off early, Tomorrow’s Saturday).
It’s important to emphasise that this is research by Hootsuite, derived from analysis of hundreds of thousands of posts made through its auspices. Your market may not fit their norm. So, it’s important for you to check for yourself which timings get the best response. Also, timing is only one factor- the content will have a huge effect on whether people re-post, re-tweet, comment or click on a link.
1971. Two musicals premiered on Broadway. They were both early successes from composers who have since made a huge impact on theatre. Coincidentally both have been revived this year for London audiences.
Jesus Christ Superstar, although written after Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was the first stage hit for Andrew Lloyd Webber. You don’t need telling what that led to. He played a major part in the revival of the stage musical. Evita, Cats and The Phantom Of The Opera notably struck a chord with audiences worldwide.
Follies was Stephen Sondheim‘s second musical with Harold Prince as director. Prince collaborated with Sondheim on the earlier Company and the big hits A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. I hesitate to call it sugar coating but let’s say Prince seems to have been instrumental in giving a visual attraction to what could be quite challenging musicals for audiences. Interestingly Prince also directed Lloyd Webber’s massive hits The Phantom of The Opera and Evita.
Although opinion is divided, to say the least, about the quality of Lloyd Webber’s music, there is no denying his ability to appeal to a popular audience. Sondheim, on the other hand, is unquestionably a great composer but his musicals don’t tend to attract large numbers. In this respect, the contrast between these two particular musicals is instructive. This year we have had the opportunity to compare them as both were revived.
Jesus Christ Superstar was revived by Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last year and again this summer. Follies is currently performing at the National Theatre. Where the former is plot driven with very little in the way of character development, the latter is all about the characters with minimal storytelling.
Both revivals were worthy of the material and both musicals have held up well after 46 years. In my opinion, only one will still be being revived in another 45 years because Lloyd Webber already seems of his time while Sondheim both musically and in subject matter seems timeless.
Whatever your opinion of them, live theatre would be poorer without these two titans.
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.