A young lady in South Carolina was asking about advertising for theatre. It struck me as ironic – and I said so – that just as advertising and marketing folk are realising that they have to go for authentic emotional engagement and telling a good story, theatre people, for whom this is their stock-in-trade want to know from advertising bods how to go about it.
Obvious to me it is that a blog about the production would be a really cool way of generating and sustaining buzz. So I stuck my oar in.
These thoughts are where I’m at with it so far – I’m aware that my knowledge of the business is not what it was and that I’m overflowing with ignorance and prejudice in this area, but this is what I think:
What is success for a theatre PR campaign?
I’m guessing #1 is derrieres on the plush velvet seats. Preferably derrieres belonging to people who will love what you do, tell their friends, become patrons of your little theatre, come to every show, tell their friends to become patrons of your little theatre, tell their friends to come to every show.
You also want some press coverage, maybe local TV and radio. The best of this will be persistent stuff on the web, so that whenever someone’s looking for theatre anywhere in SC, say, they see the glowing reviews of your baby and the really, really cool way you went about producing it.
So how could a blog help with that?
Blogs build buzz. By talking everyday about what you’re doing with the production, and inviting people to comment and contribute, you’re giving yourself a platform for building a community of people who are already (positively, I hope) engaged with you before you even try to sell them a ticket.
What I was thinking was of a kind of collaborative production journal, where everyone contributes. This may be too much for you, especially with a small, poorly funded company that hasn’t been exposed to this sort of thing before, but think “The Making of…” fly-on-the-wall documentary style, only on the web, and released in chunks as they happen, day by day rather than being stitched together after the show has closed.
What do we have to work out first?
Who’s going to contribute? Ideally, (ie if I were running the project!) everyone would submit their own little diary pieces (or not) every day as they go along. Now of course a theatre project isn’t the same as, say an IT implementation project – you don’t have everyone working at a computer all day everyday. So it might be worth appointing someone as your blogger-in-chief, someone whose job it is to document some of what happens in the course of the day – maybe you could get a talented grad student from a nearby university who has a love of theatre and would do it on a kind of intern basis for the privilege of being involved. Maybe your PR person should be doing this and nothing else.
I think it will be richer the more people you can involve. I think it would be a mistake to just focus on the director’s view, or an actor’s, or the stage manager’s, or the wardrobe mistress’s – it would be great to see all the facets as they come together – but you might find the only thing you can get done is the diary of a struggling theatre PR assistant!
What media will you use? I think the barest minimum is text and pictures. You should also consider getting some video footage and some audio (rehearsals, performances or interviews with people who don’t like having a camera shoved in their face)
How much of the life-cycle are you going to cover? You could just cover rehearsals or from day 1 or rehearsals to opening night or all the way through from the initial commissioning meeting through to striking the set.
Will you allow comments? I’d strongly recommend that you do – this is where you start to engage with people and show them that you’re real people yourselves, just trying to make a piece of art. You may get abuse – we all do – how you deal with it will also be a measure of your success.
Who is already passionate and authoritative about this play, it’s subject matter, your theatre, the people involved in the production. These are the people that you want to draw into being involved. They may keep you on your toes from time to time, but they can also be a great help, because they already care. If they’re already online, where do they hang out? Go there yourself and politely introduce yourself – you know how to do this already.
How do we go about it?
You can set up a free or cheap blog at lots of places – typepad.com is popular, so are blogger.com and livejournal.com. They are all straightforward to set up – all you have to do then is start writing :o)
You can tag your content so that it can be easily found through technorati and other blog-based search engines. These tools will also help you monitor whether anyone else is talking about you.
You can get free statistics on how much traffic you’re getting and who is looking at your site. I use statcounter.com for this.
If you’re new to all this and your head is starting to swim, you might enlist the help of a friendly, experienced blogger who doesn’t mind sharing what they’ve learned (if you’ve ever come across someone like that).
Oooh, what might the grouches say?
There will doubtless be people who are negative about this, both within the company and outside. There’s the whole technology kills art thing. And then there’s the simple fact that this opens people up to some sort of scrutiny and that can be uncomfortable. If you’ve worked in theatre for long, you’ll already know how to deal with grouches – don’t imagine that they’re any more powerful just because they’re online.
Whatever you do, it must support and facilitate both the creative and the commercial processes. I’m sure that, done well, it would add to the overall success of the production, not just the PR side.
There are, of course, no guarantees – this is a new area and it might all go horribly wrong – I’ve only done some quick googling, but I couldn’t find anything like it straight away so you’ve also got the advantage of not having to live up to any expectations.
Anyone in the UK doing anything like this? Anyone want to?
Photograph by Bev Sykes on flickr