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Guide for theatre marketing

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Theater productions depend on drawing an audience, but attracting and retaining patrons can be challenging. Unlike movies or TV that can be consumed privately, theater is an in-person experience that requires more active engagement from the consumer. This means theaters face the difficult task of not only generating awareness and interest in their shows, but convincing people to make the effort to attend live events.

Theater professionals have to work hard to reach their target demographic and motivate them to get out of the home and into seats. Their marketing efforts have to employ both traditional advertising like print, radio, and TV, as well as digital marketing across social media platforms. Effective storytelling is key - they need to shape engaging narratives around their productions to spark curiosity and get people emotionally invested. Discounts and promotions can incentivize first-time patrons, while community outreach and partnerships build lasting engagements with theater supporters.

This guide will explore proven strategies to help theater marketers overcome the unique challenges of promoting live productions and driving ticket sales. With the right mix of creativity, grassroots marketing and analytics, theater professionals can thrive and meaningfully engage with audiences.
1. Basics
Know your audience
Start by looking at your current audience. Getting to know your target audience is a critical first step in theater marketing. You'll want to research the demographics (age, gender, location, income level, etc.) and psychographics (values, interests, personality traits, etc.) of the people you hope to attract.

This allows you to tailor your marketing to what will truly resonate with your potential theatergoers. For example, are you trying to bring in more young professionals after work? Retirees looking for a night out? Families seeking affordable weekend activities? Understanding your audience gives you insight into how to craft messaging and select media channels that will capture their attention.

What to focus on:

  • Age, profession, income, gender, location
  • Interests, lifestyle, or behaviors
  • Feedback on your venue and services

How-to:

  • If you have emails, do online survey research using tools like Typeform or Google form.
  • If you don't have emails, do "pen and paper" survey

Before you do your survey:

  • Think of your hypothesis - who do you think your audience is?
  • What is your theatre currently struggling with? Are you considering whether you can increase the price of tickets? Make it a question - such as "How do you perceive the current price of tickets for our performance?" - and include it into your survey.

Example of survey creation in Typeform
The more specifically you can define your target audience, the better you can cater to their interests and preferences in your marketing tactics and content. Get to know who you want to attract, and you'll be better equipped to reach them effectively.
Craft a Compelling Story
Theater is ultimately about storytelling. When marketing your production, focus on crafting a compelling narrative that will capture people's imagination. Highlight what makes this particular show unique - is it a fresh adaptation, a novel staging, repertoire theatre with the same actors in rotating roles? Emphasize innovative and distinctive elements that will pique audiences' interest.

Share details on the creative vision behind the production and provide insight into the director's goals. Give a glimpse behind the curtain to get people invested in the artistic process. Consider creating video content with rehearsal footage or interviews with the cast and creative team.

Leaning into the theatricality of marketing materials can further spotlight the show's imaginative spirit. Play up the drama with striking visuals and lyrical copy; transport website visitors and social media followers into the world of the play. Devise immersive pre-show experiences that allow the audience to engage with themes and characters before the lights even go up.

With so much competition for people's entertainment time and money, a show needs an alluring identity and narrative. By focusing on the singular elements that make this production enthralling, you can craft a story that compels people to purchase tickets.
2. Website
Make sure your website is responsive
A theater's website should be responsive so that it works well on all devices, like phones and tablets, making it easy for anyone to find information and buy tickets without any hassle.

How to test if website of your theater is responsive:

  1. Grab your phone and open your theater website. Is everything shown correctly? If not, start taking notes on what needs to be fixed.
  2. Open detail of one of your shows. Does any part of your website seem broken?
  3. Try to find address of your venue (still only using your website) and open it in Google Maps.
  4. Try to order ticket for your show.

Principle of responsive website
Make sure your website is updated and easy to use
There are still many theaters with websites that are straight out of the Dark Ages of the internet. Your website is often the first impression people get, so spruce it up. Make it clear and easy to navigate, especially key sections like "Upcoming Shows" and "Tickets."

What to focus on:

  • A Home page defining your theatre’s mission, offerings, and unique value proposition
  • An Events digest page with an up-to-date list (or calendar) of shows or programs
  • Event landing pages that explore specific details about each event you offer
  • Clear option to buy ticket online
  • A Contact page with clear directions that let people know how to reach you online and find your venue
3. SEO
Do your keyword research
Use some of the keyword research tools to understand what kind of content may lead more people to your website. Concider adding location-based keywords – plain like ‘community theatre in Brisbane’, ‘musicals in Melbourne’, ‘theatre tests on the Gold Coast’.

You can see how people are searching for your theater, or your shows using Google Trends.
Update your Google Business Profile
Updating your Google Business Profile listing makes it easier for the search engine to link your events to a user’s search intent.

What to focus on:

  • Collect reviews that create strong social proof for your theatre
  • Show visitors where you are located on Google Maps
  • Position your contact information front and center
  • Feature events or programs right on Google’s homepage
  • Post images, blog posts, and calendar updates

Updating Google Business Profile gives your theater better visibility
4. PPC and advertising
Don’t blanket advertise
It often leads to wasted resources and ineffective marketing. Not all shows or events appeal to the same audience, and a one-size-fits-all approach can miss the mark for different target groups. By tailoring their advertising efforts to specific shows or demographics, theaters can allocate their resources more efficiently and increase the likelihood of attracting the right audience for each performance.
Collect audience for retargetting
Retargeting pixels allow you to segment your website visitors based on their interactions, enabling you to create highly targeted ad campaigns. For example, you can distinguish between visitors who viewed the show details but didn't book tickets and those who completed a purchase. You can serve tailored ads to different segments of your audience, reminding them of the specific shows or events they showed interest in. This personalization increases the chances of conversion.

What to focus on:

  • It may take a while before your collected audience will gain sufficient size, be patient.
  • Therefore, set it up as soon as possible.
How retargetting works
Strategic cross-promotions
Partner with related cultural events or attractions for mutual promotion. Consider combined marketing efforts - to leverage shared audiences for broader reach.
5. Social media
Share your "behind the scenes"
We all enjoy hearing about how our favourite films were made, the special effects that were used, how the actors got the roles and where certain scenes were filmed. Post teasers, behind-the-scenes photos and videos on Instagram leading up to a show opening. Use relevant hashtags to tap into broader conversations. Instagram Stories can provide real-time glimpses into rehearsals and theater life.
Take care of your posts
Respond to all comments and messages in a personal, authentic way. Social is about engagement and building relationships with fans.
Build Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools for theater productions. When people are excited about a show, they'll tell their friends, family, and social networks about it. As that excitement spreads, it can create buzz and drive ticket sales.

Here are some ways theaters can help build positive word of mouth:

  • Encourage audiences to share reviews, photos, and experiences. Provide easy ways for people to share their thoughts after seeing your show, such as comment cards or social media calls-to-action. Enable advocates to organically spread the word.
  • Identify and support influencers. Connect with theater critics, bloggers, and other influential people in your local arts scene. Offer them complimentary tickets so they'll review and discuss your shows. Their opinions carry weight and can spark interest.
  • Reward referrals. Consider offering ticket discounts or other perks to existing patrons who refer new audience members. This incentivizes people to tell their friends.
  • Stage memorable experiences. A bold, spectacular, hilarious, or emotional production will spark conversation. Give people outstanding experiences worth raving about.

Positive word of mouth is a voluntary endorsement from fans of your theater. Facilitate and encourage it by delighting audiences and providing shareable experiences.

If you'd like to read more on using social media in theater marketing, there is a whole article titled Mastering Social Media to Fill More Seats.

Collaborate with influencers
Partner with local influencers or bloggers who have an engaged following to promote your shows through reviews or social media mentions.

What to focus on:

  • Choose influencers whose audience aligns with your theater's target demographic and the specific show being promoted.
  • Establish clear collaboration terms, compensation, and expectations in a written agreement.
  • Encourage influencers to provide genuine and honest reviews rather than scripted endorsements.
Make trailers and shoot video (a lot)
Create show trailers, cast interviews, and highlights to engage and attract viewers.
Engage with influential Treads and Twitter users
If they talk about something relevant to your performance or topic, join the conversation.
6. Media and press
Write a list of media contacts and update it regularly
If you don’t already have a media list — or if yours is woefully outdated — now is the time to start. That way, when it’s time to market a community theater production, you won’t have to scramble to find contacts. Include the email address, job title, phone number, and physical address for local media contacts.

What to focus on:

  • Local arts/events journalists for online and print publications
  • Radio station hosts
  • TV journalists
  • Websites with local event listings
  • Marketing/PR staff at other performing arts organizations in the region
  • Local bloggers and social media personalities
Build and share a press release
Start with a strong headline and go straight to the point. Plan the timing of your press release to coincide with important events, show launches, or relevant news.

What to focus on:

  • Keep track of where and how the press release is covered, whether in online articles, radio segments, or TV reports.
Give away some complimentary tickets
These are tons sought after and can make publicize around your production. You can use complimentary tickets in different ways, similar as for:

What to focus on:

  • social communications competitions (tag an friendship instead involve influencers)
  • media – newspapers, magazines, radio, both TV
  • raffle tickets at localized events

Innovate your theater

Learn how you can bring more spectators via better accessibility into your theater, using Captitles app.
Try it out!
7. Tickets
Group tickets
Group tickets encourage more sales by locking in additional people. Here she have an opportunity to offer a prize incentivizing for group participants and how your viewers incrementally.
Offer season subscriptions
Create subscription packages that offer savings to those who commit to attending multiple shows throughout the season, providing financial incentives for regular attendance.
8. Improve the experience
Improving the audience experience starts from the moment they arrive at the theater. Focus on making every interaction welcoming and positive. Train staff on providing exceptional customer service. Make sure the lobby is clean, comfortable and inviting. Play upbeat music before the show to set the mood.

Consider amenities that enhance comfort and convenience. Offer cushy seating, plenty of legroom, and footrests. Provide programs, playbills or synopses so guests understand the story. Have easily accessible restrooms, coat checks and concession stands. Offer reserved seating and online ticketing to reduce wait times.

Evaluate opportunities to upgrade the experience. Serve wine, beer or snacks at intermission or upgrade to plush VIP seating. Provide thoughtful touches like hand warmers on chilly nights or free umbrellas. Work with nearby restaurants to offer discounts on pre-show dining. Offer premium extras like meet-and-greets with the cast or backstage tours.

The goal is to anticipate needs and minimize friction, allowing guests to relax and fully immerse themselves in the performance. Pay attention to feedback and continually refine. Delivering an exceptional experience makes patrons more likely to return and enthusiastically promote the theater to others.
9. Be creative!
When it comes to advertising your theater productions, think outside the box. With so many entertainment options competing for people's attention, you need creative tactics that grab interest.

Rather than just placing a basic print ad or digital banner, try innovative formats that get noticed and connect with audiences. For example, work with the local transit authority to wrap buses and trains with imagery from your upcoming show. Or partner with relevant brands to reach consumers through product packaging and in-store displays.

You can also take advantage of digital advertising options like full-page takeovers, video ads on streaming services, and geo-targeted social media promotions. Just make sure the creative fits the medium. Ads on Spotify could feature music and audio from the production, while Snapchat and Instagram Stories lend themselves to behind-the-scenes video.

When designing ads, focus on intriguing visuals and snappy, compelling copywriting. Create a consistent campaign across platforms that generates buzz and excites people about experiencing the magic of live theater. Track engagement and conversions to determine the most effective ad formats and placements. With smart, creative advertising strategies, you can turn even the most limited marketing budget into a box office success.
Create compelling show titles
Craft show titles that pique curiosity and reflect the essence of the performance. Ensure titles align with the target audience's interests and expectations.
Create automatic feedback loop
Encourage patrons to provide feedback on their theater experience.

What to focus on:

  • Try to automate as much as possible, but stay personal
Guest on podcasts
Introduce your play and theater to new potential spectators.

What to focus on:

  • Choose relevant shows and get in touch with the hosts
  • Before the recording, write down 3 points on what you'd like the listeners to remember about your show/work/theater
Merchandising
Explore the potential of selling merchandise related to your shows, such as t-shirts, posters, or program booklets, as an additional revenue stream and marketing tool.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the strongest asset of your theater that your fans would identify with?
Measure and Optimize
Once you've implemented various marketing tactics, it's crucial to track data and optimize based on what's working. Key metrics to monitor include:
  • Website traffic and engagement
  • Social media followers, engagement, clicks
  • Email open and clickthrough rates
  • Ticket sales and revenue over time
  • Demographic data from surveys or ticket sales
  • Referral sources and discount codes
Analyze this data regularly to identify effective strategies to double down on. Pay attention to social posts, email campaigns, partnerships, or ads driving the most conversions and engagement. Look for opportunities to refine and improve underperforming tactics.

Set performance goals and benchmarks to evaluate success. For example, aim for email open rates over 20%, or increase website traffic by 25% month-over-month. Compare results before and after marketing campaigns. Continuously test new ideas and creatives, then scale up the ones gaining traction. Optimization is an ongoing process as audience interests and media platforms change over time.

Thank you for reading this far.