The Art of Publicity

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{Header image courtesy Pixabay and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain license.}

Note: this article was previously published in the February 2005 issue of KC Stage Magazine as a Stage Savvy column (link no longer active). I’m posting as a part of Throwback Thursday, as while some of this has changed in the 12 years since I wrote it, some of this is still relevant.

Getting the word out about a production sounds easy: after all, who doesn’t think a show they’re involved in isn’t worth all the attention it deserves? But when you start thinking about the theatre (as well as music and dance) as a business and less as an “Art” (with the capital A meaning it’s something to be awed), it starts getting a little harder. After all, from the media’s perspective, a theatre doing a play is akin to a bank offering a low APR: just a matter of industry.

The person in charge of publicity not only has to send out press releases about the show (which includes such vitals as show and author information, performance times and dates, how much tickets are, and where to go for more information), but also has to come up with some sort of a hook to make it more than just ‘a theatre doing a show’. This hook can relate to the overall season, it can be the play itself holds some extra punch (a world premiere, for example, or it relates to something going on in the world), or it can be one of the actors or technicians (i.e., the lead actor has never been in a show before). Find that hook, and you have a better chance of grabbing the media’s attention — as well as the audience.

The audience at Starlight. Photo courtesy the KC Starlight Theatre Flickr account.

Publicity isn’t just to get the media, but to get more audience for the production. That hook can work to sell them as well, if you know your audience well. Marketing research (a whole different article) can help determine who your typical audience is, as well as how to go after audiences you may not have — which leads to helping find which hook would be best. The audience gets some other publicity than media ‘influence’: posters, postcards, brochures, even purchased ads. A good publicity person not only makes sure that there is a hook for each show, but that this hook reflects back on the season (and on the production company) in the hopes to get the audience to think of more than one attendance.

The important thing is to remember that at the heart of it all, it’s the same as marketing and publicity for any organization. A company can’t be all things to all customers, and those that try usually fail. The goal is to bring business in, using tactics that focus on certain segments for certain ‘products’, and leaving the customer happy enough to want to try it again.

“Hunting prospects involves loading a gun with bullets and shooting until you hit something. You can take a day or a week or a month off from this endeavor and it won’t take you long to get back into successfully bagging a few.

“Farming prospects involves hoeing, planting, watering, and harvesting. It’s infinitely more predictable, but it takes regular effort and focus. If you take a month off, you might lose your entire crop. On the other hand, farming scales. Once you get good at it, you can plant ever more seeds and harvest even more crops.” — Permission Marketing, by Seth Godin