Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Video Should be Center Stage in Theatre Marketing

One of the biggest selling points TV Ad Sales reps use (I certainly did during all the years I sold TV) is the ability for a visual medium like TV to convey the sight, sound, motion and E-motion of a particular product, service or event. For me personally, there is not a more thrilling visual medium than live theatre. Next to actually being in the theatre when the magic is happening, the best way to describe and re-create the thrill of live theatre is with video. I always wonder, then, why so many community theatres still rely solely on still production photos, press releases or static program ads to try to generate revenue and interest in their productions. True, video photography and editing is a skill that takes time (and in some cases considerable money) to become proficient at and a poorly produced video can backfire and reinforce the "amateur" stereotype of community theatre. But modern technology and pricing is steadily breaking down barriers to producing intriguing videos for your theatre and other businesses. "Duct Tape Marketing" Author John Jantsch recently wrote about this in his blog entry Making Video an Everyday Marketing Activity.

Video marketing should be an important part of every theatre's marketing mix. Here are just a couple of the reasons why:

Sales - When I go on a sales call for a theatre, I have to realize that the person I'm presenting to may not be a fan of live theatre at all. My first job is to convince them that the resource I'm providing - my audience, and their eyes and ears - can help improve THEIR business, not mine. But I also need to convey the excitement of live performance. This is where video comes in. I will often bring either a projector or just my laptop and show them edited video montages of recent productions or behind the scenes documentaries of the shows we're doing. It's also a good idea to provide some sort of brief performance as well. I have often performed a song from a musical or had our outreach performing group do a brief presentation. That is, after all, what we do. The key is EXCITEMENT! Let's turn them on!

Also, producing short commercials for a client and showing them on screens in the lobby or in the theatre before each performance can be a valuable element in a sponsorship package. Many advertisers may already have TV or cable spots produced in which case , it becomes as easy as editing their spot in a pre-show reel of other video messages. And there's no reason why sponsors should have all the fun. I have produced many video messages for our theatre itself to promote our seasons - previews of upcoming shows, welcoming messages from staff, etc. But again, quality is the key here, no one wants to be represented by schlock.

By the way, including samples of these video marketing efforts in grant applications can go a long way in describing the type of work your theatre does and your efforts in raising revenue to support it.

Audience Building - I started "Call-Back" because I was looking for a way to creatively raise awareness of a show that I was Directing that is not very widely known - the musical "Violet". Frankly I was inspired by reality TV. A documentary series about Boxing of all things. I could care less about Boxing, but the documentary was interesting. The actual Boxing match the series was building up to wasn't as interesting as the stories behind the scenes. In the voyeuristic society in which we now live, the same can be said of any business or endeavor- including theatre (though I hope not). I thought if reality TV shows could be produced about crab fishing, families with litters of kids and boxing, why not theatre? I mean, if ever there was drama behind the scenes of drama - theatre would be the place! And people did notice "VioletBlog" as it was originally called. And now 5 years later or so "Call-Back"is still going strong and often goes a long way to help generate buzz about shows and contribute to ticket sales.

Directing, Lighting,Costuming and Choreography - One of the things I notice as I edit hours of video for a particular show I may be working on is that it's like I'm still in rehearsal in front of my computer screen. Editing video sort of forces me to continue to examine the staging and the movement of the action on stage. I catch things I might not in the heat of the moment of a live rehearsal and I often bring in my computer to share those things with the cast at the next rehearsal to make adjustments. I have found this very helpful and costumers, lighting designers and choreographers can benefit from this as well. Even if you don't ever plan on editing video for any other presentation, I would recommend video taping rehearsals as much as possible.

Cast Bonding - An interesting phenomenon happens when I first engage my casts to stand in front of a camera and talk. At first they are very self conscious and even shy (yes...shy stage performers!). But when they see how that footage can be creatively edited into a fun segment that really is a slice of their lives in rehearsal, they suddenly start to own the process and soon are anxious to create new segments. The cast of "Violet" started to wear funny costumes and create hilarious little segments in character- all of which makes great video. But more importantly, the cast becomes closer in doing this. They see each other on local cable TV and on line and start to feel good about the buzz their show is generating and that people are taking notice. Their friends and families have seen these entertaining and interesting previews and are asking them how to get tickets and they really start to take pride and ownership of the production. These videos give them something cool to refer people to when asked about the latest show they're working on. Check out the latest segment of "Call-Back" - Call-Back: Oklahoma Pt.4: The Top Ten- featuring my cast from "Oklahoma" doing their Top 10 List of Reasons to be in Oklahoma - I think reason #1 says it all!

So get the cameras rolling and hopefully the money and audiences will be too!

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