I was asked this question in a phone call from one of my clients last week.
“500?” she asked. I nearly choked on my coffee.
There’s a marketing revolution happening, folks. And the news is mostly good, and a little bit bad. Truth is, the tried-and-true, traditional methods of marketing our theatre productions, like posters and postcards, and ads in newspapers, aren’t working anymore. Part of the reason for this is that, we are so constantly inundated with advertising, that is is almost impossible to break through. Granted, an eye-grabbing graphic or title might help, but at the end of the day, what is going to sell tickets more than anything else is relationship selling.
The good news about that is that it is much, much cheaper than traditional forms of advertising. The bad news is, you will have to make a deep investment of time, and that can sometimes be a big challenge for already-overworked non-profit theatre companies. But the payoff can be really, really big.
In this day and age of spam, impersonal form-emails and auto responders, a personal touch is almost rare, and therefore stands out more. It’s like we’re going back to the days of the door-to-door salesman. A thirty-second “elevator pitch” paired with the backup of printed material (like a postcard, business card or flyer) could be the shortest distance between you and a ticket sale.
Online social networking via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs is another way to create relationships and reach your audience.
So… how many posters should you print? If you are a small company, and doing a show that is less than a three week run, in a theatre that seats under 200, only print between 100-200 posters. They are not your greatest form of advertising, another touchpiont, yes, but at the risk of getting torn down, or just not noticed. The return on your investment is not going to be great.
An investment of time and passion, on the other hand, could pay off big time.
Here’s my recent experience:
For our show that ended last night, we got a pro-bono printing discount on posters and ended up printing 500 large posters (20″x30″) and 500 small posters (10″x15″). Plus 2,000 die-cut postcards (shaped like a coffin).
We would never have been able to afford all that print without our pro-bono partnerships . . . so it was a good opportunity to see if more was, indeed, more.
I’d say our experience supports your above thesis. The posters were merely a touchpoint . . . the postcards were slightly more important, but ultimately, it was our web and social media presence that really connected us with our consumers.
That said, I think the print side of the campaign may have broken us through to some new networks. There were a bunch of french students, for example, toward the end of the run. It’s within the realm of possibility that they discovered the show through the poster.
What about distribution of posters? We had some real challenges with this? Any tips?
We have a few people here in town that put them up for you (for a price). The guys that do that here, generally have ‘safe’ places to put them, meaning, they have an agreement with the coffee shop or whatever, that that wall is ‘theirs’ and the stuff doesn’t get taken down until they do it. It costs, on average, about $.75 per poster.
I hear a lot of complaints from my clients, though. Like, “we paid this guy and gave him the posters, but we never saw any up.”
Again, the return on your investment is probably not going to be high…
I know that we order a LOT of posters for each show, and have 2 different guys who put them up. One of the guys does all the libraries, coffeeshops, etc & the other does all the designated light poles and re-does them each week when the old ones are taken down. So I see our posters up multiple times per day, but I’m not convinced that anyone stops to read them.
Just read your post; I agree and disagree. I don’t think a postering campaign and a grassroots marketing campaign are mutually exclusive. While the idea of blanketing a neighbourhood in posters for your show is offensive (and ineffective), posters are still a great way to get the word out about a show. Going with your idea of doing some legwork, it’s pretty easy nowadays to cater your image and message to the audience. While ordering 1000 posters from a press may be cheaper in unit price, a digital studio allows you the freedom to change you message for different neighbourhoods. When it comes to local productions where your biggest audience has a social or familial relation to your cast and crew, posters can be the visual reinforcement to the word of mouth or digital campaigning that you do to get the word out.
I will admit a bias that I do communications for a graphic design studio and print house but I’m also speaking a performer and a producer. A great example of this is done by an Ottawa Shakespeare company A Company of Fools. Rather than just postering the city for their annual summer show, they individualize door hangers to put on the knobs of the neighbourhood in which they will be performing the following week. A single poster with a full summer schedule does little to entice a viewer but a poster or hanger designed for for her community can get her excited.
This went way longer than I was expecting. I agree that less posters are necessary but don’t discount their value completely. A quick reminder to your audience that they should see your show is inexpensive and the labour can easily be shared amongst a group.
Love the blog Rebecca,
I don’t think we should get rid of posters entirely, but I also don’t think we should put too much faith in them.
I LOVE your idea of printing door hangers–thinking outside (off?) the poster!
I so agree & have a couple ideas, some free:
Bus shelters provide great exposure. Not-for-profits can apply to the City, Office of Cultural Affairs, for 10 free ramdom installations around the city. (sometimes they give more) The big cost is printing. Stays up for a month.
On campus: Doing a show on a campus or of interest to students? Students read posters.
City libraries get eyeball response. If you take 100 to the main library, main desk, they will distribute to all branches free.
Fringe theatre: It’s all about the posters (and handbills) with quotes. *insert fond memories here*
I like to get 250-300 city wide.
I think “Faces look at faces” is true, but of course strong design draws eyes. A press quote communicating the quality of the show, why it can’t be missed. (Previous productions are fair game if it’s a quote relating to the writing.)
Perry Giguere is my fav: 604.874.6828
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