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.