Journeys and tests

I had a test on Tuesday. First one in a long time. I had been to classes, taken notes, thought about how these applied to practical situations and in different contexts, and on Tuesday I sat down to see if any of it stuck.

I’m not retaking high school nor have I enrolled in a post-graduate degree. My test was sitting down with Nick and Ed and hashing out a strategy for improving our marketing; the classes I’d attended were part of a new project by British Council Connect ZA with Business Arts South Africa (BASA – yes, the same folks who gave us a Small Business award in 2013) and the Arts Marketing Association (the AMA – a UK based network of marketers figuring out how to get artists and audiences together).

The plan (which is already well underway) is for the AMA to train up four South African arts marketers, expose them to some UK practice and thinking and then use them to spread that knowledge throughout the SA arts scene by placing them with different organisations and having them help run courses on marketing. The focus being on growing audiences for art, which leads to the program’s title: Connecting Creative Markets.

As I said, the plan is already underway. Four South Africans were selected: Ukhona Mlandu, Kim Sanssoucie and the ubiquitous Yusrah Bardien (who pops up on this blog a number of times). We arrived in London to catch an early morning train through the pastoral greenery of England to get to Cambridge, home of the AMA. Already the discussions about art, politics and audiences were flowing (Ukhona has a great gift for being intense without being tense) so by the time we sat down with Cath and Laraine we were pretty certain we knew everything. Predictably, we were wrong.

Over two days we looked at systematic approaches to marketing that were at once a revelation and yet also perfectly logical. It made me realise something about myself which I think also applies to many people working in the arts: if you know how to you can achieve your goals, but knowledge is easy to come by when Google puts everything a click away… so why don’t we use it? Why didn’t I use it to market better, connect better, etc.? Because systematic thinking isn’t just knowledge, it’s a habit, one that creates time and space to work and meet your goals. Am I actually busy working toward something, or am I busy being busy?

So sitting down with Nick and Ed was not a test of knowledge gained, it was a test of will. What’s going to take our theatre to the next level is application of the strategies and techniques that the AMA has shared, and that test of will is ongoing.

Better get back to it then.

 

Press release stuff:

British Council Connect ZA. This project is part of SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015 which is a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa and the British Council.

Founded in 1993, the AMA is a not-for-profit organisation with over1,800 members, providing a community of knowledge for arts professionals passionate about bringing arts and audiences together.

We support the professional development of AMA members through events, courses, training and resources. We run a range of practical, strategic and conceptual level events and courses each year, in locations across the UK and online. The AMA also manages www.CultureHive.co.uk, which holds over 1,000 resources on arts marketing. These resources are easily searchable and free to download. CultureHive is part of a project managed by the AMA and supported by Arts Council England. Further information on the AMA can be found at www.a-m-a.co.uk

The AMA has invited Northern Ballet to help deliver the audience development training. Northern Ballet is one of the UK’s five large ballet companies. It performs a mix of full-evening narrative ballets, shorter more contemporary ballets and ballets created especially for children. Based in Leeds in the North of England it tours extensively to theatres throughout the UK and overseas reaching audiences of in excess of 150,000 people annually and selling £2.5 million of tickets. It was three-times winner of the Audience Award at the UK National Dance Awards, voted for by the public, and has been recognised for its work in raising the profile of dance in the UK. Its communications team received the 2013 UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Marketing and this year the Company was voted Europe’s Best Company at the Taglioni Ballet Awards. www.northernballet.com

Colouring the Kraken!

A comedian observed that handing out flyers is a bit like saying, “Here, throw this away for me.” He’s not wrong. Flyering can be the most disheartening activity in theatre. Marketing general gets that reputation.

But like any challenge it has the possibility of being really exciting. Every year performers try crazy stunts to get people to take their flyers – they cavort in costume, they sing, they beg… And the for the designers the challenge is just as intense: How to deliver information in a way that engages the imagination of the target audience. As much as the aesthetics matter, the result is what counts.

Yusrah Bardien passed on a great idea to me from Fiona Gordon (if you’re interested in the up & coming generation of people who make theatre happen, it’s them). Instead of making the standard flyer, make a colouring book page. Suddenly the flyer becomes entertaining in itself, an item families can engage with and even look forward to finding on their tables. For me it’s a joy to be able to doodle the characters and a challenge to figure out what makes a good image to colour in. Usually I don’t work with vector graphics but since I’m travelling it became the best way to work.

Colouring Page 01 vWebFirst I’d doodle the characters, trying to find a nice clean cartoon style that is still energetic, then I’d roughly sketch ideas for layout, finally I’d rework these with the vector tools on Photoshop (I know, I know I should use Freehand or Corel if I’m serious about vectors. But I didn’t have time to learn a programme from scratch). I’ll do a work through when I have more time.Doodles 01

The results are still evolving. In these sketches you can see I went back to rework Jay – the first pass felt too non specific, too generic kid (a danger of writing young characters too?) while the new sketches give him more energy and expression.

Doodle 3Doodle 2I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction of kids. Hopefully they’ll enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Get Kraken is on daily at 12pm at Oatlands Hall as part of the ASSITEJ Family Venue at the National Arts Festival 2013.

That was Owl – Part 3

The Building Blocks of marketing: A How-to guide to Estimating the Effectiveness of Marketing Strategies

With the tagline and a firm idea of identity I went into step two: drafting press releases and covering emails, creating content for the website and material like posters and flyers. But how do you decide what to spend you money and energy on?

There is a formula I use to work out how valuable a certain strategy might be. I made it up based on common sense, high school maths and general reading. If you can spot any problems I’d love to improve it. Basically answers the question: How likely is it to pay for itself?

Stage 1: How many people does it need to bring into the theatre to pay for itself?

Simple version:

(unit cost x number of units) / (minimum ticket price) = number of tickets you need to sell

Then take that number and compare it to the number of units. How likely is it to bring in those audience members?

Ticket sale target / number of units

This gives us a ratio to compare

So Case Study time! The design stuff is pretty straight forward for me, being a designer myself. I decided to make a thousand business card format flyers and distribute them. I handed them to people who wanted to know what I was up to. I left piles at coffee shops, bookstores, back packers, and had the magnificent Mwenya hand them out to her students. Yusrah recommended a super cheap printer out in Kensington 7th Avenue. They were R360 for 500, so we’ll plug that straight in:

R 720 / R50 = 14.4

Which means 1000 flyers need to bring in 15 people to pay for itself, sunk into a single value: 0.0015. We’ll call this number its minimum effective value. Of course this is pretty useless since we’re now just looking at it with our gut. Unfortunately until more people share their strategies and audience numbers it’s impossible to work out a statistically significant average effective value – and even then marketing is a remarkably tangled system. All we can do is rely on our personal experience to try figure out if the minimum effective value is greater or less than the average effective value.

Frustrating.

What we need is a Fermi formula – a means of organizing our ignorance and generating a logical estimate – to find the average effective value.

number of days x number of distribution points x (daily average traffic at distribution points x percentage of population interested in theatre x percentage of people who notice ad)* x percentage of people who intend to come and follow through**

* this cannot exceed the number of units per point if it’s a flyer.

** this is the ‘facebook event’ phenomenon – the percentage of people who rsvp ‘attending’ and actually show up.

This is roughly the way that websites and advertisers work out how effective an advert is, except that they have detailed numbers returned to them so they don’t have to guess.

OK, so plugging in the guesses:

7 x 10 x (70 x 0.05 x 0.6)* x 0.4

This gives us a total of 58.8 to 1000 flyers or an average effective value of 0.058

I’m not going to lie, this system is spotty and I may have missed some obvious modifiers but the margin between the minimum effective value and the average effective value is wide enough that we can safely say that flyers are good value for money.

Is anyone still reading? The point of all of this is that I can remember graduating and planning how to advertise my shows and doing things because they were what everyone else did. Really there is a lot to think about and you can go about it in quite a logical way. You can maximise your efforts by concentrating on improving one or two aspects of the formula. You could increase the number of distribution points, or pick points with greater traffic. You could discard the idea of flyers entirely and concentrate on more noticeable strategies with greater visibility but higher cost, like banners or posters. These formulas also help you to be realistic about free strategies like Facebook events or emails, which is what I’ll be covering next.

With these ideas in my head I chose to do business card flyers, 20 posters only, and to focus on free strategies: emailing, Facebook, blogging and Twitter.

That was Owl Part 2

The Building Blocks of marketing: Identity

I have spoken briefly about why I chose to do the PR myself. Finding myself in that position I still took all the help I could, like good advice and email lists. Marketing your show isn’t a single action or strategy; it’s the creation and management of relationships. That and many other things I’m going to be talking about I first read about on the Mission Paradox blog – an excellent resource of good advice and strategy.

I’m going to go through these marketing topics in successive posts: Identity, Getting Reviewers, Print Campaign, Social Media, the First Week, and the Last Week. This post will cover the first step of any marketing campaign: knowing yourself.

Just who is Jon Keevy? What does he stand for, believe in? I’m not trying to turn Jon Keevy into a brand – I’m trying to distil my own values and make sure they come across clearly. One of the most important for me is honesty. I’m not going to use buzzwords and throw around adjectives – I am going to be direct about the triumphs and problems of working in theatre. I am going to say things I wish people had said to me when I was starting out. This attempt at honesty is about trying to stay humble and recognising that there is always room for improvement. That’s in the production too. It’s in the process. It’s me. Marketing is not lying about who you are; marketing is letting people know who you are.

Having contemplated myself more than usual I moved onto making sure that the information is out there. I registered the domain for my blog so I didn’t have a “dot wordpress” to deal with and I made sure that I kept it updated with content. I tried to stay away from posting straight “when, where” and to make sure who I am came through. This goes for messages on Twitter and Facebook too – social media works when you use it to build a relationship and not when you treat it like an advertising space.

Briony and I then brainstormed, searching for a good tagline for the show. This is the under  10 word ‘hook’ you use to tell people what the show is about. It’s harder to write than the whole play because it needs to convey in a moment the tone and content of the show. We came up with:

“Climbing trees, punching boys, kissing girls”

This went on the posters and as a lead-in to our press-releases. It worked well. It’s serious but not emo. It has some swagger to it, an attitude. And each idea evolves and adds a layer to the image. We tried a lot of very ridiculous lines before we found it. I see many shows squandering their tagline with clichés like: “a sensitive and moving tale”. Others use quotes from a review – a perfectly legit method, sometimes it takes an outsider looking in to understand what a show is really about.

It may even take a sit down with someone else to tell you what you’re really about.

Punching Theatre in the Face

People are trying to save theatre all the time. I recently sat in a circle of shell-shocked arts administrators at the PANSA Western Cape offices in Salt River and saw the zeal glinting from underneath the exhaustion. They try to grow theatre in townships and preserve particular art forms like dance, puppetry or spoken word. They battle bureaucracy and antipathy. Many of them started in the ‘industry’ as artists, gradually realising that art depends on someone filling out forms and sending out fifty emails a day. They wrestle and they keep going – some of those present represented companies that have been operating for over 20 years, each year entirely uncertain. Looking around that circle it’s hard to lay the blame on the arts administrators for the dearth of funding allocated every year.

Not represented except by myself were the ‘independent’ theatre makers (I can’t the label ‘independent’ seriously. I depend on so many people willing to do favours and take risks that I am more dependent than any company able to raise funding). It’s not that they couldn’t benefit from a workshop on fund-raising; it’s that they don’t believe in the funding system. I know I don’t.

Independents rely on a forward momentum to build in their careers. They start off shoving hard against a Sisyphean boulder; sweating and losing money they earn working for the establishment. Eventually people start calling them, start arriving at their openings and experiments and offering them better jobs, roles, collaborations, etc.

But neither of these strategies counts on the audience arriving.

The wild card ‘independent’ theatre makers try to get people with money to love theatre, and try enticing the intelligentsia and that massive stratum of Cape Town’s young middle class, the designers and advertisers.

However they will fail. And it’s not entirely their fault.

Newspapers and some radio stations maintain an interest in the theatre world and it’s possible to draw an audience through these narrow canals alone. However, they are reaching the people who already like theatre, who read the paper looking for a show to watch. My crisis of marketing is not how to reach those people (although on my list of things to work out is: ‘how to reach them sooner’) but how to reach the intelligentsia, the hipsters, the wired generation. I’m looking specifically for vectors that (in the words of the PR Institute of SA) objectify the information. Word of mouth is more valuable than a flyer not because you pay nothing for it, but because you can’t pay for it.

But what do we do when reviews become homogeneous? Surely positive feedback is good for marketing? Yes and no – if no one disagrees with your opinion then no one is listening. A hard statement, but if theatre is to be relevant then a spectrum of critical opinions must exist and they must be accessible. So I am left with this conclusion: I want people to criticise my work and to do so vocally. However, some reviewers will hold back a negative engagement because they feel it’s impolite or under the mistaken idea that their silence is a favour. I know some theatre makers and companies who believe that is true. I am not one of them, and I am just arrogant enough to believe I’m right about this.

There are people who are trying to save theatre and so they treat it with kid gloves. I think theatre needs to get smacked in the face a couple of times.

So, with thanks, I link to Scarlet’s review of Owl.

Getting Schooled in Public

Do I need to point out that I talk about marketing a lot? I’d talk more about writing or directing but I don’t think I have any great insights into those (my only advice, if you’re looking for some, would be: read more). I write about marketing because I write about what I’m learning; I write about wrestling with my ignorance. I’d love for someone to give me the answers – wouldn’t we all? But that’s not going to happen for a simple reason:

No one wants to look dumb.

No one has all the answers, but we can’t admit it. We are success-obsessed and only reveal our mistakes and flaws to our friends after a beer. We’re the classroom of silent kids not asking the teacher to go back and explain it again for fear of looking like the slowest. Except there is no teacher, just another kid reading off the blackboard.

Fortunately I am a slow kid. I’ve got a certificate to prove it. So I’ll ask the questions that everyone else seems to find obvious and I’ll show my worksheet to the class so we can make corrections.

My play Owl opens soon and at the end of the run I will post a full report here. The budgeting, the marketing, what proportions of my emails got replies, how I got people to come and most importantly: how many people I got to come. I will post concrete numbers and I will give my best crack at guessing why. I’m hoping that Owl is a success, but even if it is a terrible failure I’ll post the results and people can either learn from my mistakes or take this as the excuse they’re looking for to ignore what I have to say. I’m hoping I’ll start a trend – that other groups will post too. I’m hoping to start a conversation where people can talk about what works and what doesn’t.

The first step to wisdom is figuring out just how ignorant we really are.

Nibbling my hat

I have ideas. Some of these are pretty solid, I think. Others I wrote down on my arm after the last tequila of the night. I put the ideas up here. One that pops up a lot is that theatre needs better marketing and it’s usually followed by a couple of idealings about how. FTH:K proposes the same solutions I do, that what’s needed are more and more diverse arts administrators. Of course that solution is just another problem. How do you find them?

And I have no answer.

I’m starting up the marketing for my play Owl and I really wanted to find that organised, edgy dynamo that would take it on. Unfortunately the organised, edgy folk I know aren’t biting – they’re busy, which is a constant state of being for organised, edgy dynamos.

Fortunately they took the time to help me, giving me contacts, ideas and strategies. For which I’m amazingly grateful. All this put another idea in my head: I’ve been proposing a silver bullet to the marketing woes of theatre. But there isn’t one. I need to learn more, hustle more, work more. But most of all, I need to be more honest about what I can do better. I think it all starts with that.