How can we market theatre in new ways? Using print and press – flogging a dying horse?

Convener(s): Rob Haughton

Participants: Ed Jaspers, Alison Goldie, Ingo, Venla Hatakka, Matthew Austin, Louise J., Antonio Ferrara, Matt Trueman, John Challis, Laura Kriefman, Lyn Gardner 

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

The discussion started with talk about the drawbacks and positive aspects of print. It is very expensive and also time consuming to make. It was generally agreed that a positive aspect of print is being able to hold or recognise it as a physical thing which promotes engagement. 

A theme running through the discussion was about the content and scale of marketing of all types. Venla Hatakka raised a point about the confusion that can be raised by offline forms of marketing: If the piece changes after marketing products go to print it can cause confusion with critics and the public; they could feel misinformed about the topics or themes of the piece. People talked about the problem with too much information about a piece in the marketing strategy, audiences may feel that they know too much about the play to be entertained or surprised. It was proposed that brochures could be taken away to allow more time/resources to be spent on marketing innovation.

The group referred repeatedly to the issue of saturation; people are exposed to too much information and will discard a large quantity of it or become frustrated with the amount they are expected to pay attention to. A possible solution to this problem is constant innovation as once a concept is successful it is replicated until it is obsolete due to saturation. It was said that flyering has a high saturation level so many people disregard them, this could be costly and unsuccessful. An idea was proposed that similar to some shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, flyers are only given to those who enter into a dialogue about the piece with the promoter/street team and show interest. It was also noted that merchandising can be too costly and ineffective in contrast to a well designed poster/flyer/brochure.

It was proposed that the future lies in ‘free’ and easily accessible marketing, such as online websites and social networks. This was contested as not all people have internet access and everyone has to pay for the privilege of the internet.

The conversation settled upon press and reviews for a while. Ed Jaspers raised the point of fringe theatre trying to replicate the big and mainstream theatres in press reviews and features. This was expanded upon as the ratio of reviews between fringe and mainstream is very unequal. It was discussed that a fringe review can be damaging as it is often read at the same level as big productions and written in the style of mainstream critics. Lyn Gardner provided a positive example of successful press marketing: Jerry Springer: The Opera. This production managed to stay in the press and created an enormous amount of buzz whilst it was still in the scratch process and development stages. 

The word of mouth style of marketing was discussed. It was the general consensus within the group that this is the best style/type of marketing. It was said that the process of generating buzz, hype and interest by word of mouth is a slow one but is not very time consuming once the ball is rolling. Lyn Gardner gave the example of Punch Drunk. This group had the radical concept of having the audience find them, heavily relying upon word of mouth and carving a reputation by that marketing means. Ingo also put this idea across and expressed that marketing can sometimes be a case of the audience ‘finds us when they want us’ – which relates to both online, offline and word of mouth marketing. The ‘ambassador’ idea was put forward – like a street team of promoters with market research at the venue to get quantifiable information on which promoter were succeeding in generating interest.

The word of mouth topics lead directly to blog writing, a large proportion of the discussion. This topic covered the effectiveness of blogs and why they were successful. Lyn Gardner said that although a double page spread can be seen by a great number of people who buy a paper it can be missed, whereas a blog can have multiples of that number in ‘page hits’ in a very short space of time. It was highlighted that most blog readers are engaged in that page but there is evidence of intent to learn beforehand and not initial exposure to a piece or venue. Laura Kriefman moved the discussion onto venue specific blogs, written by people involved professionally with a venue. She posed the question of who should write the blogs. It was pointed out that running a blog is an exhausting process and can sometimes come across as too promotional. An idea proposed was one of the blog circulated among all employees to write to share workload. The problem of poor writing came up as this can detract from the quality of the blog. Using writers involved in the venue could both create interest in the venue and the writer, it could also improve the quality of a venue blog. It was mentioned that people show interest in the process of a piece and will follow it through blogs, photos and other media (like trailers) online. It was pointed out that bad comments/content (insensitive or inflammatory) on a blog can have terrible consequences for a venue. Another idea proposed was about blogs by public member being sent complementary tickets to help create buzz, this however can reduce the neutral objectivity of the blog and the trust people have in its content.

The success of ‘Twitter’ ( was touched upon as it can market blogs and information to people who already have interest in theatre.

John Challis also expanded upon the trailer idea, showing that it could be marketed ‘virally’; by letting it move or be forwarded to people online without marketing officers/producers (after initial uploads/release).

The final crux of the discussion was about how marketing strategies should be done. The main point being that there should be a two way dialogue between marketers and producers with everyone else involved to create engaging campaigns which compliment the idea and concepts of the piece itself. It was mentioned that making a piece for a specific audience in mind could be unnecessary as the theatre audiences have a very wide range of demographics and interests.