Performing arts organizations need to advertise as much as any for-profit commercial company. But affording paid advertising? That is, indeed a comedy of errors! So should small non-profits throw in the advertising towel and depend on the kindness of their ever-dwindling senior citizen subscriber base? I think not.
Theatre artists are some of the most creative people in the world and the magic that comes out of their heads and onto a stage is often nothing short of miraculous. But when it comes to marketing and advertising we often get as creative as an I.R.S. agent (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
While expensive paid advertising is often not an option for theatre groups, there is a lot we can do to effectively promote our shows. Grass roots marketing and generating word-of-mouth buzz is the best way to generate interest in a production. Along with the normal generation of press releases, photos, flyers and video on a regular basis for each show, creative use of social networking sites has also become vital in the effort. For instance, recently the theatre I'm involved in - The Cassidy Theatre - had no less than 3 current or recent shows being talked about on Facebook - through cast photos postings, video and chats. This is free and goes a long way to generating that all-important buzz.
Theatre directors and marketers should look for the interesting stories within your cast and crew and let your media contacts know about them. Editors and producers don't care if you're putting on a show. They have a bigger responsibility to a larger population, much of which could care less about theatre. But they do want to know about the fact that a cast member recently returned from duty in Iraq or that everyone in the cast is volunteering at a soup kitchen or something. Encourage your cast to take candid rehearsal photos and video of their own and post them to various social networking sites. Write blogs, create MySpace and Facebook pages and event invitations. These have become invaluable (and free!) sources of generating buzz about shows and it helps cast members get even more involved in the production of your project. I recently created a series of online promotional video trailers for a production I directed of the Stephen Sondheim musical "Assassins" here in the Cleveland area. Each promo featured an actor playing a different historical presidential assassin revealing brief glimpses into their motivations. Of course each promo ended with show information. I got a lot of email response - soome quite controversial - which I promptly forwarded to the press, under the heading "Debate Erupts Over Assassin Promotion". The result was a front page feature articlein the local paper.