One of the biggest tasks as an independent producer is getting the word out about your event – how else will the public know to buy tickets to your show? While there are a variety of methods for doing this, from publicity to outreach to marketing, in this article we will be focusing on advertising.
It may be self-explanatory since we see hundreds of ads everyday, but it’s important to note the difference between advertising and publicity. Unlike publicity, advertising is what you say about yourself as opposed to what other people say about you. This means that it is often (but not always) something you have to pay for. While many independent theatre production budgets are small, depending on your resources and the needs of your project, certain kind of advertising may be helpful and accessible for you.
As with all forms of marketing, it’s important to know who you are trying to reach. Who will benefit from seeing your show? How old are they? Where do they live? Where do they hang out? It’s helpful to be as specific as possible when considering your target audience and choosing an advertising platform. That way your ad dollars won’t go to waste.
When creating your ad, you’ll want to consider what it is about your show that will entice your target audience to buy a ticket. What kind of value will it add to their lives? How does your show affirm their values? And how does your advertising reflect that? What kind of language are you using? What kind of colours are you using? All of these questions will inform the way you create your advertising materials.
With the exception of radio advertising, most advertising platforms are highly visual and you’ve probably already heard the ‘Rule of 7’ that states that consumers have to see something seven times to remember it. So consistency and quality across your advertising is important. Ads that are colourful and easy to read are often the most effective, while ads that are busy or look amateur can send a negative message about your show. It may be a worthwhile investment to hire a graphic designer if you have the resources, or looking at some online tutorials for easy photo editing software.
Consider what funding bodies, sponsors, and/or partners are also supporting your project. Before making your advertising material, make sure you're incorporating any additional necessary logos or acknowledgements to your materials. Often you will need to submit advertising/marketing materials in your final reports.
This mostly refers to postcards and posters, which are often easy and affordable to produce. However, there are questions about how effective these materials are. Although costs can be low, you must also consider the time and energy used to distribute your posters and postcards, and after you leave a pile of postcards in a coffee shop or other community hub, there is no guarantee that anyone will pick up your postcards meaning that the rate of conversion (or the rate that your advertising dollars are being turned into ticket sales) can be low. However, there are some environments where posters and postcards are the norm. They are expected at Fringe Festivals and can be a valuable tool to leave with people after having a meaningful, face to face conversation about your show. Because Fringe festivals are so saturated, it can help to be individual and unique with your printed materials. Could your postcards be a different shape? Like a bookmark or a coaster? Could your posters have a silly, memorable saying on them? Anything that can make you stand out in any form of advertising can be an asset for you.
Studies show that North Americans spend an average of eight to ten hours online each day, so it makes sense that there are an abundance of online advertising options that are accessible to almost anyone with a credit card. Google Adwords allows you to purchase advertising space on websites and place ads before Youtube videos, while Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have features allowing you to make your content more visible on social media. In all of these cases, you have the opportunity to target a specific demographic by choosing the location, age, sex, and interests of your audience. Another huge benefit to online advertising is that you have access to the analytic data, which lets you see how many people saw your content and in some cases, you only have to pay when someone clicks on your ad, meaning that none of your ad dollars go to waste.
Print Advertising is the longest-standing form of advertising that we know today and continues to be used in the arts community to promote productions and events. Advertising in print ranges in cost, depending on the newspaper or magazine outlet that you choose to submit it to. Larger newspapers and magazines will often charge a greater fee than your local community paper or an independent publisher for instance. Some publications offer specific pricing for not-for-profit or charitable organizations or offer print advertising as part of larger sponsorship asks. It is important when buying print ad space that you pay attention to the dimensions they are asking for as well as border allowance (and perhaps other parameters required by each individual print company) for the design of your advertisement. Lastly, most print publications submit copies regularly to Library and Archives Canada, so advertising in print can contribute to the archival record of your event as well!
Other options for advertising in print include featured ads in a show program. Consider partnering with another theatre production for an ‘ad swap,’ providing them with free space in your program and placing an ad in their program in return. This will help give you increased visibility as well.
Like print advertising, TV and Radio ads can be expensive and often require resources for taping and editing. Sometimes, you can find a local radio or TV station who will create an ad for you or mention your event if you provide them with your logo or graphics. There are perks to this kind of advertising because they are far reaching, but they can also be very expensive.
From billboards to inflatables, there are countless advertising options available – if you can pay for it. While these types of advertising can be attention-grabbing, they are also expensive. However, some companies have found ways around this. For example, in 2015 The Theatre Centre and Why Not Theatre collaborated on ‘The November Ticket’, a joint producing initiative that allowed them to share advertising costs for marketing three separately produced shows. A product of this cost-sharing was a large ad on the side of a bus. While these are operating companies with more resources available to them, cost-sharing made a highly visible advertising opportunity available to them when they otherwise not have been able to access it.
Like any aspect of producing, careful planning and forethought is the key to success. Your advertising may be the first interaction that an audience member has with your production and is, in essence, an extension of your show’s audience experience. Being thoughtful and deliberate in choosing your advertising platform, creating your ad, and targeting your audience will make the difference between a successful ad campaign and wasted ad dollars.
Canva is an online graphic design tool that helps with the design of posters, online ads and banners, and more. It's a great tool to use if you want to create your own ads, but may not have a graphic design background.
Ballyhoo! Push Pin Media - assists arts organizations and companies who want their posters and flyers to be distributed to shops, cafes and other great high density places as part of their advertising.