Remember posters and flyers? You'd hang them in the hallways and around town in the time-honored tradition of generations of theatre educators...and the audience magically showed up at the auditorium. They'd even sit right next to each other, breathing the same air!
We've had to reimagine a lot about theatre since the pandemic began. But while the way we make and share a show have changed for the time being, the best practices for connecting with our audience remain the same—and all the tools you need are already in place, affordable, and easy to use. Best yet, they work just as well for online productions as they do for traditional theatre.
The 3-step process for online theatre promotion
We all know that there's something special about theatre. When it comes to marketing and ticket sales, however, the basic goals are pretty much the same as they are for any business:
1. Know your target audience;
2. Deliver compelling, click-inspiring content;
3. Make it fun and easy for people to say yes.
There are as many ways to get creative with this process as you can imagine, but the tried and true formula is to focus primarily on social media as your main point of contact and your show's website as the main info hub to which every post, ad, and external piece of content links back.
And remember, the end goal isn't just to sell a ticket to your current production. It's to cultivate an ongoing relationship with patrons who love the work you produce and come back show after show to support your organization. Direct show promotion is only one piece of this bigger picture.
Step 1: Know Your Audience—and Where to Find Them
If you've been making theatre for any length of time, chances are you already have some amount built-in audience. Hopefully, you're also connected to them on social media and have at least their emails stored in a mailing list. If so, fantastic! You're a step ahead already. And if not, that's ok, too. There's no time like the present to get started.
Your mailing list and existing social media contacts will be the bread and butter of your promotional campaigns. But the idea is to grow your audience, not just announce your show to those who are already most likely to want to see it. Even if you are producing in a school environment, there is always room to create deeper connections in your community, beyond just your students' families and extended social spheres.
To expand your reach, increase ticket sales, and develop relationships with new patrons, you're going to step outside your comfort zone a bit and get comfortable talking to strangers. Well, maybe not strangers, exactly...think of them as friends of friends and future patrons who just don't know about you yet.
Start by thinking about what you know about your existing audience base. What draws them to your work and brings them back show after show? How would you describe them demographically (age, gender, location, income level, etc.)? What common interests or affiliations do they share? What business do they patronize, or social media groups do they belong to?
Once you've identified the patterns, you can use that information to make strategic decisions about how to connect with other people who share your audience members' interests. For example:
- Use the demographics data you have for your current and/or ideal audience(s) to create targeting parameters for paid social media ads and boosted content.
- Reach out to local business or organizations with a similar audience to create opportunities for collaborative promotion or supplemental programing. (Think dinner and a show packages, group ticket pricing for members of a specific organization, informational or service-oriented events that tie in with the themes or subject matter of your upcoming production, and so on.)
- Create a contest or giveaway related to your show with a prize that will draw engagement and/or the opportunity for people to be a part of something fun and unique online.
Step 2: Wow 'em with your content
Your audience may think their theatrical experience begins when the curtain rises, but the truth is that the performance itself is the culmination of a relationship that starts with the very first interaction. Whatever content you share—and whatever platform you use to deliver it—the goal is to invite the viewer into the world of your show.
Forget the one-off announcement. People are busy. Their inboxes are teeming with messages vying for their attention. Even if they open your first email and take an interest in your show, they may not click through right away for any number of reasons. That's why you need a promotional campaign that reaches back out to everyone on your mailing list several times in the lead up to opening night.
But don't just send the same email over and over again! Vary your subject lines and angles. Include different teaser content and calls to action(CTA). Just make sure that every single CTA leads to your website, where your contact can become a ticket holder in just a few clicks!
If this sounds like a lot of work...it doesn't have to be! On The Stage has automated promotional emails built right into its all-in-one platform, so once your show site is created and your mailing list is uploaded, all you need to do is approve or adjust the schedule. And because every ticket sale is automatically stored to your list, you don't even have to manage your contacts from show to show.
You already know that social media is a critical to promoting your show. But you don't want to use social for marketing alone. Think about it: how many accounts do you follow that only post ads, no matter how much you like their product?
Your social strategy for any given show should include a healthy mix of:
- Just enough overt promotion;
- Fun and engaging content about and around your production (think rehearsal shots, behind the scenes footage, set building sneak peaks, etc.);
- Non show-specific content that demonstrates your active presence in your community and allows for reciprocal engagement, shoutouts, signal boosts, and so on.
Your social media campaigns will most likely be the most energy intensive part of your promotional efforts. But they're also the highest leverage activity you can undertake. And just like with your email campaign, On The Stage has you covered with automated social media scheduling, too. So cross the overt promotion piece off your to-do list and focus your energy on creating the really fun stuff.
Every post related to your show should link back to your production website! That's where the magic happens...by which we mean not just ticket sales, but growing your list and building long-term relationships with patrons who will support you season after season.
The media-rich production website has been a staple on Broadway for several years now for good reason! This is where the audience truly enters into your theater space for the first time—even more so for online productions, which can literally stream from this very location.
Potential patrons may arrive at your home page with the intention of learning a bit more about your organization or the price of tickets, but if you curate the experience with truly compelling content they'll be invested in the show itself in just a few clicks.
Types of content to include on your show site include:
- Your artwork or theme - Whether you're using licensed art or your own design, lead with the show art that's featured on every other asset in your promotional plan. In fact, think of all those other instances of the show art as iterating out from and pointing back to this primary source.
- About pages
- Cast & Crew headshots & bios
- Multimedia content - Remember those fun behind-the-scenes pics, videos, and more that drove your social engagement? Your production website is their primary home! (Videos will have to be hosted somewhere, as well, but display them proudly on your website and link out from here whenever possible.)
And because it's so easy with current technology to provide a deeply immersive experience, you can achieve the Broadway-style effect on even the most limited budget, without any special training or web design skills!
Check out On The Stage's all-in-one platform, which includes a full production website and complete online production and streaming tools in an easy-to-use package. Which leads us to...
Step 3: Make it easy to say yes
Everything you've done so far has led your patrons toward the final (promotional) destination: the box office.
You've piqued their interest via email and social media, you've earned their trust and their clicks to get them to your website, where you've sealed the deal with a chance to experience your show before the curtain even rises. So, the very last thing you want to do is send them away from your website in hopes that they'll complete a transaction and then show up to watch the show!
Your site visitor arrives, clicks around to check out your content, and decides to buy a ticket from your streamlined online box office. While they're checking out, they add a souvenir t-shirt to their cart.
On the day of the performance, they follow their confirmation link back to your production website to view the stream from your fully secure viewing page. Your new patron enjoys the show so much that they decide on the spot to make an extra donation to your organization from right there in the platform. Why not? It makes them feel great to support the arts, especially now when so many organizations are struggling. A great show, a seamless experience from start to finish. This is the start of a beautiful relationship!
Guess what? This isn't a fantasy. Better yet, it's easy and it doesn't have to cost your organization a thing! You could build it all yourself...but why would you? Especially when you have a show to put on!
Want to know more?
Have 20 minutes or so to spare? Get a private backstage tour of On The Stage's all-in-one platform for promotion, ticketing, audience engagement, and more...including complete online production and streaming services!