The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

So, how much should you be spending on marketing and publicity? November 26, 2008

Filed under: Arts Marketing,Business of Arts,Finances,Success — Rebecca Coleman @ 10:35 pm
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I was just reading a really interesting post by Darren Barefoot about Victoria’s Belfry Theatre, called The Economics of a Theatre. In it, he breaks down how much money the theatre is spending, and where their revenue comes from. Now, The Belfry is doing pretty good–last year, they sold 92% of their tickets, which, in an industry where you are considered to be a success at anything over 40%, is fantastic. More than half of The Belfry’s income comes from ticket sales. Very impressive.

Then I started to look at their expenses. Their greatest expense is actually production costs, things like sets, lights, costumes, and, of course, actors, designers, directors and technicians. But their second biggest expense, in fact 18% of their budget, goes to marketing and publicity. Which leads to 52% of their income coming from ticket sales.

Not to compare apples and oranges, but locally, the greatest  theatrical success story in town is undoubtedly Bard on the Beach. Last season, they did 96% at the box office. Percentage of their budget that goes to Marketing and Publicity? About 10%.

Well, to be fair, you don’t have to spend loads of dough on marketing and publicity. If–and only if–you have time. If you don’t have loads of money, but you have lots of time, you can get away with not spending so much, but your investment is still there–just an investment of a different kind.

Simon Ogden just wrapped a play, The 21st Floor, produced by Lyric Stage Project over at the PAL. The numbers are still coming in, but early reports indicate they did about 80% at the box office. In terms of expenses for marketing and publicity, they paid for things like postcards, stickers, a website, paper, printing and ink. But they also used the internet to do marketing. They set up a blog, which was written by one of the characters in the show, and handed out invitations to everyone they knew and met on the bus. They used Facebook, Twitter, and invited bloggers to come and see the show and write about it. They also managed to get some preview coverage on radio, and quite a few reviews.

So, the next time you’re producing a play, unless you are lucky enough to have someone on staff that has lots of time to devote to marketing and publicity, you should budget between 10-15% of your overall budget to help get the bums in seats.

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This is what good networking gets you November 24, 2008

Filed under: Local Shows,Networking — Rebecca Coleman @ 9:04 pm
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Halle Berry.

Halle Berry and Eric Pollins at Tony n' Tina's Wedding

There’s a local actor in town called Eric Pollins. Eric’s a regular guy, just trying to make a living, so, in addition to his Film and TV work, he also plays the father of the groom, Nunzio, three nights a week at Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.

Well, Eric booked an actor role on a feature that is currently filming in Vancouver: Frankie and Alice. The IMDB blurb says: “A drama centered on a young woman with multiple personality disorder who struggles to remain her true self and not give in to her racist alter-personality.” Halle Berry plays the title character.

So, when Eric went in to film his scenes with Halle, she introduced herself to him. Later, during a long break between scenes, Eric took the opportunity to tell her how much he was enjoying her work. She asked him about his life outside of the film, and he told her about his ‘other’ job on Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, and invited her out to see the show. And last Saturday night, she did!

Eric says, “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is interactive theatre—the audience is encouraged to play along as guests at the wedding and interact with the characters. My character, Nunzio, is the proprietor of a gentlemen’s club, ‘The Animal Kingdom,’ so we worked Halle’s character from the movie into Nunzio’s back story in Tony n’ Tina’s. When I greeted her at the church I “recognized” her as Frankie, who used to dance at my club. I told her that customers keep asking for her, and that The Animal Kingdom just hadn’t been the same since she left. On the receiving line, still as Nunzio, I introduced her to my girlfriend Maddy, who was auditioning to become Frankie’s replacement at The Animal Kingdom when she and I met and fell in love. Later, when I danced with Halle at the reception, I told her how she had changed my life by bringing Maddy into it when she left … and of course I tried to woo her back to The Animal Kingdom! Halle played along, telling me that she had moved on and was never coming back … and even throwing rice at the bride and groom!”

”Halle was the most wonderful and gracious guest imaginable. The warmth, humanity, and emotional generosity she shares, both on set and as a “guest” at Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, are the very same qualities that make her an international star. It was a rare pleasure to host her, and particularly to be the entertainer’s entertainment. I will always treasure the memory.”

A tale of networking gone horribly right.

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What the Tweet?!?? A rookie’s guide to Twitter November 21, 2008

You’ve probably heard of Twitter. It is rapidly becoming extremely popular–some say, even more popular than Facebook. If you’re wondering what all the hoopla is about, and what the point is of joining another huge time-waster, read on!

For this blog post, I interview Trilby Jeeves, actor and instructor of the fine art of “Le Bouffon”. She says of

Trilby Jeeves talks about the Twitter phenomenon

Trilby Jeeves

her Twitter experience:

“I started a few months ago, and was very reticent to get involved. Then slowly I started joining some conversations, and when I got some responses I started getting hooked. Then I started being encouraged for my writing, and I started learning from different people’s blogs, and then I started enjoying helping others, too. I like giving book suggestions, video suggestions, moral support…. It’s all about building trust. You find your voice and the people who like your voice and vice versa. I’m still finding my twitter voice, but its coming. I read someone’s twitter advice which was don’t just try to be clever… be true to you and that’s when the followers come. I still wish there was a better word for “follower”!!”

TAoTB: What is Twitter?
TJ: Twitter is micro-blogging. You have only 140 characters to express or share a thought. For me, it’s an online global networking party, and it’s live–conversations and information are being shared constantly. Because it is global there are always people sharing thoughts, and they can be personal or informational. Maybe the best thing to compare it to is your status line on Facebook. I would like to start a blog and I find this is a great introduction to that world.

TAoTB: How does it work?
TJ: Once you sign up, you start looking for interesting people to “follow”, namely, people who share similar interests or who have experience from which you would like to learn. You can do this by uploading your email address book and seeing how many people you already know are on Twitter (note: the ‘Search’ feature is disabled on Twitter right now). You can also use a site like Twellow. Once you are following someone, you can look at who else is following him or her or who they are following and link up with them. It’s amazing how quickly your list of followers can grow.

TAoTB: How can Twitter help me to market my arts-based business?

TJ: Through developing relationships online, you have an opportunity to help people, and to have people help you. A lot of artists, actors, writers, and people in the creative world won’t venture into social networking because they are scared it will take them away from their work. Once you have figured out the system, though, you can let it work for you, and it takes up less of your time.  It really is like any networking where everyone shares his or her work, and maybe someone knows someone who could use your service. All Twitter does is increase the possibility of more exposure, both in your own community, and globally. I know that traffic to my own website has increased a lot from Twitter. And people are hearing about “Le Bouffon” in an indirect way, which is also good for me. This could eventually translate to business!

Marketing is traditionally where artists fall short because it isn’t where their interests lie, but the reality is, if you wish to make a living from your art you need to let people know it exists! Setting aside a small amount of daily time to use the social networking tools can open up doors for you. I’ve already made some super interesting contacts. I needed an actor to help with our workshop in Singapore and we found him on Twitter! (He also took us to a great restaurant for seafood!)

TAoTB: What do I need to know to get started?

TJ: Go to www.twitter.com and choose a user name. This is the name you will be known by online, so make sure it has something to do with your business. For example, my Twitter name is TJBuffonery. Or if you are branding your name, use your own name. Once you choose your username and password, you need to set up your profile, which should reflect who you are and what you do, and it’s the place to put your blog, or your website.

Now you can start looking for people to ‘Follow’. You do this by looking at their profile page, and then you click the little grey button beneath their name that says “Follow.” You are now following them, and when they publish a post, or “Tweet”, you will see it when you log on to Twitter. Conversely, anyone who is following you will be able to read your Tweets.

You can now also start posting. But you only have 140 characters for your post so you get good at concise writing. You can ask for advice or help, or respond to someone else’s request, or it’s equally okay to write personal stuff. I think the best Tweeters are those that post a mix of personal and business. If you are a blogger, Twitter is a great place to announce a new blog post or invite people to look at your latest Flickr stream.

Some notes about using Twitter:

  • Although the space is limited in Twitter, most people still use full sentences whenever possible, instead of using shorthand like a text message. For example, you should write “later” instead of “l8tr”
  • When you are posting a URL that you want people to look at, it is common to use a service like Tiny URL or SnipURL to shorten the size of your URL. That way your whole post is not taken up with just the URL.
  • There are two ways to directly message your followers or people you are following on Twitter. One is through Direct Messaging (DM), which is kind of like sending an email–only that person will see the message. The second way is an @ message, where you write something like “Writing a blog post on Twitter for newbies with @rebeccacoleman.” This kind of post will be able to be viewed by anyone following you. It’s a way of introducing people to other people in your network. Also, if you include another person in the post with @ that person will also see the update.

Those are the basics of Twitter, but before you get too into it, you might want to read an online resource that can give you some more detailed rules, like  http://twitterhandbook.com/blog. This article by Jeff Woekler is also great: Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Twitters.

Trilby Jeeves is an actor and instructor of “Le Bouffon.” She is passionate about helping people break through their critical and overworked thoughts to reach the honest depths of instinctive performance. She is an active social networker, and you may follow her on Twitter @tjbuffoonery. Her website is: www.buffooneryworkshops.com


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Is there no such thing as ‘bad publicity?’ November 19, 2008

Filed under: Arts Marketing — Rebecca Coleman @ 9:18 pm
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Last summer, I guest-blogged a post over on The Next Stage that addressed a big controversy that was happening at Toronto’s Summer Works Festival. A group in the festival had written, and was performing a play about a man called Reverend Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Westboro Baptist Church believes that being gay is wrong, and they make it their business to go out an picket and protest gay events, like theatre productions. They are pretty organized about this–on their website http://www.godhatesfags.com (I kid you not), they have a schedule of all their picketing dates. On November 28, they are scheduled to picket at our own Havana Theatre, the opening night of The Laramie Project, produced by Fighting Chance Productions.

Here’s the blurb from the Havana Website:


Ten years ago Matthew Shepherd, a gay University of Wyoming Student was viciously beaten and left to die tied to a fence under an cold October sky. 18 hours later he was discovered in a coma. Five days later he died. In the months following members of a theatre company conducted over 200 interviews with residences of Laramie, Wyoming about the reactions to the crime, and the trials that followed. This is that play. In September, 2008 members of that company returned to Laramie to re-interview residents as part of a “ten years later” epilogue to the piece.

n2980345636_2956n2980345636_29561Phelps and his gang hate this show–they regularly protest it no matter who is producing it. A local anti-protest-protest rally is being organized for an hour before Phelp’s is supposed to start. Last summer, he got turned away at the border, so it is possible the same thing will happen this time and he won’t show.

That’s the backstory. I had a conversation with Ryan Mooney, the producer of The Laramie Project last week, and he told me that he’d already sold 50% of his tickets for the run. This is, no doubt, in part, due to the publicity he has been getting surrounding the controversy.

I’m happy that Ryan is selling his tickets.  It’s my not-so-hidden agenda to promote and encourage theatre in this city. But quite honestly, I hate to give Rev. Phelps the time of day. He is a bigot, and bully, and my mom always taught me to ignore bullies. Sure, the publicity and attention is selling tickets to Ryan’s show, but it’s also driving traffic to godhatesfags.com, even if it is just for morbid curiosity. The thing with this kind of publicity is, that both parties get the benefit, and I would rather see Rev Phelps be ignored into obscurity.

Perhaps that’s unrealistic–after all, he started it, right? To continue with the schoolyard analogy, I’d also probably be encouraged to tell an adult if I was being bullied. And hopefully, the Canadian Government will be able to keep that bully away from us, so we can get on with our art in peace, and no one will get hurt.

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Future Finances, Part 3: Insurance November 17, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rebecca Coleman @ 9:29 pm

In this, the third and final installment of Future Finances, I continue my conversation with Shelley, who is a financial planner with Investor’s Group. This post deals with personal insurance.

TAoTB: I’m self-employed.  What kind of personal insurance should I consider having?

S: There are four: Disability Coverage, which covers your income in case you get sick, Critical Illness, which covers you in case you get a debilitating illness, Long Term Care Insurance, and Life Insurance.

TAoTB: But I work from home. Why do I need disability coverage?

S: Because more than 65% of people will become disabled for up to 3 years in their working lives.There are many types of disability – from a slip and fall that breaks a bone to the diagnosis of a critical illness.  There are just as many types of insurance to cover these instances.

Disability insurance can cover your expenses for a period of time depending on what kind of insurance coverage you have.  If you don’t pay into EI or WCB, you can’t collect those.  Let me share my story with you:

A number of years ago I was working as the Business Manager for Theatre M.O.M.  A few months after starting with MOM, I noticed my hands/wrists would feel quite sore and fatigued at the end of the day.  One day, I was emptying my dishwasher and dropped a mug.  I didn’t have enough tensile strength to hold onto a mug.  This was a problem.  I went to my doctor that afternoon and she told me I needed to stop working immediately and begin intensive physiotherapy for both Tendinitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  EEK!  I hadn’t planned for this!  I didn’t have much backup!

I called WCB and began the claims process – and it was a long one – ultimately ending in the denial of my claim nearly 1 ½ years later.

So what happened? After 6 months of painful therapy, completely depleting my emergency fund and borrowing money from family for food, rent and utilities, I had to go back to work prematurely and against my Physiotherapist’s recommendations because we had to eat!

So… do I have disability insurance now?  Yes.  My point is that this can happen to anyone, and the safeties that we think we have may not necessarily be there for us.

TAoTB: What about Critical Illness? I’m young, and I don’t like to think about the possibility of getting a serious or life-threatening disease.

S: Yeah, I totally get that. But it’s not unknown, and what happens if it does? Your family could be devastated if you were diagnosed with Cancer, or had a heart attack.  What Critical Illness Insurance does, in essence, is create an immediate cushion for you and your family, should you be diagnosed with one of these terrifying illnesses.  The fact is that your chances of surviving are very good.  What CI insurance does is offer you options – options for treatment, options for staying home during your recovery, options for care.

TAoTB: Okay, what’s Long Term Care Insurance?

S: It’s actually a bit of a misnomer.  It is an essential extension for your disability Insurance.  Should you become disabled for a period of time and you are unable to do 2 of the 6 essential daily activities (bathing, dressing, feeding, transferring (for example, getting out of bed), toileting, cognitive function) without aid, who’s going to look after you?  Probably a friend or family member, yes?  How will they earn money while helping you?  LTC is designed to pay you a pre-determined amount to help with your care – whether it’s $250/wk or $2,000/wk, you can plan for your own care without relying on friends and family.

TAoTB: I should probably have life insurance, huh?

S: Not everyone may need it. Read the questions below:

1.    Do you have children/family?
2.    Do you have assets that will have value when you die?
3.    Do you care about whether or not your beneficiary/next of kin will be responsible to pay your estate taxes on death?
4.    Do you want to leave a bequest for a charitable foundation or other cause?
5.    Do you want to leave an estate for your friends/family/loved ones?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the answer to Life Insurance is also “Yes”.  There are a variety of coverages that are available, but it is impossible to give you an adequate quotation unless I know your precise situation and requirements. But remember – the younger you are, the less you will pay for ALL types of insurance.

TAoTB: But isn’t insurance super expensive?

S: There is no precise answer to that, without example.  I’m going to counter with this:  How much do you pay to insure your car?  …your house?  …your possessions?  Well, the fact of the matter is that you will pay less to insure yourself.  Are you worth more than your car?  …your house?  …your “stuff”?  At the end of the day, what will matter more?

TAoTB: Okay. But it still makes me a bit crazy that I will spend money on something I may never use.

S: Cost/benefit analysis shows definitively that insurances are worth it.  Also, there are products that are available for purchase with CI and LTC that give you a premium-refund option, should you not utilize these services.

In short…?  Insure yourself.

TAoTB: Thanks, Shelley!

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I feel like a gospel preacher… November 15, 2008

I’m still buzzing.

Yesterday afternoon, I got to be part of a panel on Marketing Using Web 2.0 at the GVPTA’s annual Making a Scene Theatre Conference (see previous post and its shameless fawning over Daniel MacIvor). I am always a bit nervous at these things, just because I fear I won’t know the answers to questions, but the great thing about being on a panel, is that there are other people who probably will.

3030122919_157cb2d054

Me, Simon Ogden and Rebecca Bolwitt in the Upstairs lounge at the Arts Club. Photo courtesy of Miss 604.

Enter my fellow panelists: Rebecca Bolwitt (the lovely Miss 604 herself) and Simon Ogden (who is on a crusade to create a new Vancouver theatre audience). Rebecca’s input was invaluable–she gave, I think, credibility to what we had to say, because she is a professional blogger, and comes off as such. Simon and I were able to chime in with our experiences of marketing shows using Web 2.0 technology.

I’ll be really up front about my reasons for agreeing to be on this panel. As theatre artists, we need to get serious about marketing. But we live in lean times, and only the largest companies among us can afford to buy advertising on the side of a bus (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). For the rest; small to medium-sized independent theatre companies, we have to find new and inexpensive ways to market our shows, and Web 2.0 technology is custom-made.

We talked for an hour and a half to the standing-room-only crowd about blogging–both starting your own blog to give your client base a ‘peek behind the scenes’, and how to pitch your show to bloggers to get them to write about it, and the marketing applications of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, My Space, E-mail, E-mail newsletter software, and online event listings.

And people were getting it–they were engaged, asking questions, taking notes, and I could see light bulbs going on. It was really, really exciting. I think we may have converted a few souls.

Can I get an Amen?

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