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.

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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.

A Simple Guide to Marketing

Actually just some ideas that anyone could come up with if they take a minute to think about it.

Theatre marketers assume there’s a market. There isn’t, there’s only a target market. That one erroneous assumption is why theatre makers believe they’re in an art that is becoming irrelevant. From this flow the dull mailing list based strategies that people ignore. Once you realise that you don’t have a market you can start asking yourself how you’re going to get one.

Step 1: Who are they? What do they do for fun?

Let’s say you’re doing a play about… oh, I don’t know… a haunted house and it’s ghoulish inhabitants. It’s a black comedy, it’s not for kids. It’s not the kind of play that draws the regular theatre crowd – the silver foxes who love a bit of Fugard, read the newspapers, listen to Fine Music Radio and get their Sunday best on for Dame Janet and Sir Anthony. No – this is the kind of play made for people who download movies, argue about the difference between nerds and geeks and dress a little… oddly. Look at who likes your subject matter, not as individuals but as subcultures. In Adam Thurman’s words: “what flag are you flying?”

Step 2: Find someone who speaks their language

If I asked you to name as many theatre publicists in Cape Town as you could I doubt I could get more than three names out of you, maybe five at a push. Independent hired guns – Not employees of a single entity. And they are all white women of a particular kind right? No disrespect intended – The three I can think of are top of their game, working magic for big shows and companies. They are well connected and talented and they understand the regular theatre crowd. And that is why they can only help you so much. If you want geeks to come to your show, you need a geek. You want hipsters, you need a hipster. You want kids, you need a mum.

Marketing is the creation and management of a relationship, for it to thrive you need to speak the language. Authentically. When I worked in book store, customers would constantly be recommending books to me because people love to share their passion. And of course I recommended book as well; I shared my opinions. I loved working there because I was passionate about books too. What stuck out for me was that I wasn’t a salesman in these situations, I was sharing not selling. We had a clerk who didn’t work out, let’s call him Shelby. Shelby didn’t really read. He could read, he just didn’t. He got hired because we suddenly found ourselves short staffed over the holidays. He could direct people around the shop; he could tell people about best sellers, he could point out our staff picks. But he didn’t understand what it was that a crime reader wanted out of a story if they preferred Mankell to Grisham. Or what someone wanted when they had exhausted all Gaiman’s books and wanted something similar. Shelby was an outsider, he didn’t speak the language.

The image we have of a publicist is out of date. We cannot stick with what we know, what we think of as ‘safe’ – safe is staying at home on Friday night. Safe is dull. Safe doesn’t change the world, not in the smallest way.

Step 3: Do it

So you found a geek to help sell your theatrical horror comedy. Hopefully you didn’t just grab the first one you thought of, hopefully you picked someone with drive, organisational skills and a bit of charm. Now sit down and make a list of everything that has to be done:

  • The Basics
    • Press mailing list and widely read release carriers like Artslink
    • A press release with expanded content – So that’s your basic grab and 100 words with a pack of print quality photos and biographies to back it up.
    • Everyone involve posting on their social media about how they feel about/what they are doing for the show. Everyone ignores advertising.
  • Now, time to get creative. Your insider knows things you don’t know about your target market, you need to use this insight to figure out new strategies. (If he doesn’t actually know any more than you and you hired them because you’re too busy, fair enough. But be careful: hand-holding isn’t fun and doesn’t save time.)
    • What do they read? Draft an alternative press list, contact newsletters, online forums and clubs that share similar interests.
    • Who do they follow? Find the connectors, the ones open to interesting experiences and sharing them. The bloggers, the party organisers. Doing a Horror in Cape Town? Find the guy who started Zombie Walk here, email the Legion Ink moderators, go meet the DMs of the various Ds.
    • What do they want? Find what appeals to them and add the incentive. Is it going to be free wine or block booking discounts? Dull and done. Give people discounts for coming dressed for Halloween, get a popcorn machine, make it something they’re going to talk about. The whole experience. I’m sure your play is great. But will the whole night be? People talk about they didn’t expect, they talk about little touches like wine served in teacups or that Lurch sold them their tickets.

I’m sure someone is going to accuse me of making it sound easy. It’s not. But coming up with different ideas is. It’s hard to implement a different approach, but let’s admit that it’s not the reason we hold back. We play it safe because we are tired. The theatre makers I know and admire work damn hard, they work long hours and routinely turn their living rooms into workshops. But pouring all your creativity and time into the work and not finding a partner capable of doing the same with the marketing is a waste. Let the people who’ll love the work as much as you see it.

Oh and by the way – if you were intrigued by the idea of a haunted house filled with ghoulish characters then go watch Beren Belknap’s Madame Touxflouwe at the Artscape Arena5th January 2012. It’s really very funny. In a macabre way.

Cannibal’s Pie: Theatre Competition

There’s this thing called market share. You may have heard of it. It’s a pretty literal term measuring how big your slice of the pie is. For some calculations the pie is made of money and for others it’s a cannibal’s pie made of people.

I’m concerned about the cannibal pie right now. Audience. And what I really want to know is: how big is this pie? When I first started thinking about pies and such I had a little revelation: there are no slices in this pie, the market isn’t saturated. The same people who watch the Mechanicals’ Rep season will go check out the Artscape Spring Season and pop into Kalk Bay to see what’s playing there. Like most of my revelations it got replaced by another one that said the opposite in a louder voice. Having been at the opening of the Pink Couch’s Mafeking Road last week at the Intimate and of Solomon and Marion on Saturday at the Baxter I could use my keen powers of observation to tell that they were completely different people. Of course that’s a pretty small data set – statistically insignificant is the term – but it supports the slice analogy, and a good analogy is totally awesome.

Now there are two ways to increase the size of your slice: Take someone else’s or make the pie bigger.

So because stealing is frowned upon in our society unless you have a official title it stands to reason that we need to make the pie bigger to make our slice big enough to fill our stomachs for the month. That’s one of the goals of the Pink Couch – get the next generation watching theatre. Pretty sweet goal. But it should also be one of the goals of the big companies. Right now Solomon and Marion is R130 for students. That’s pretty steep for students. But it’s also a fair price. And is Solomon and Marion really aimed at the next generation anyway?

The big theatres have the big slices of the pie, fair enough. They’ve been around for ages, they build and maintain audience bases, they provide secure employment in an industry where most people don’t know what they’ll be doing in 4 months, they have programmes promoting and supporting new work. But maybe that first revelation I had wasn’t so crazy after all. What if the pie can be shared? What if there was pin board up at the Baxter or the Artscape or the Fugard that listed productions at other venues? By small, independent companies? The more theatre people see, the more they’ll want to see and the pie will miraculously get bigger.

The market isn’t saturated. We can afford to say that there’s other theatre out there. Let the big theatres have their big slice and share it too, and let the independents work on making the pie bigger. After all the tattooed hipster of today is the tattooed ballie of tomorrow and we need to get him into the auditorium now if he’s going to be shelling out R180 for a ticket tomorrow.

Numpties on Safari

So my last post got a certain comment, pointing out that I addressed the letter to theatre-makers. Whose job is to make theatre, not market it.

My first thought was: Am I on a safari? Because a buck was just passed.

Most of the theatre-makers I know do the majority of their marketing themselves. But let’s say just for a moment that they didn’t, that they have a dedicated Marketing Minion to do it (the ideal world for some). They would still be responsible for the shitty poster/garbled press release/passive-aggressive facebook invite that the Minion produced. Why?

Because it’s your play.

Theatre isn’t run by a sinister cabal of producers who set ticket prices, lay down budgets, dictate casting and collaborations and take every decision away from the powerless theatre-makers. Sometimes it feels that way (and a half decent argument could be made that the economy serves this function), but it isn’t. So just like you don’t cast an utter numpty in your play, you don’t let an utter numpty do your marketing. Even if that numpty is you. If you can’t hire a professional Marketing Minion and you can’t use your flirty eyelashes and boyish hips to get some pro bono, and your friends are all marketing numpties too then READ THE MANUAL. And by this I mean do some research, use the internet, ask for advice, look at publicity you think works and rip it off, etc, etc, etc.

Here’s something you may not know.

A play happens between at least two people. The performer and the audience. It can have a story. It can also not have a story. It can have words or not, music or not, lights or not. But it will have a relationship between at least two people. And that relationship, the interaction and reaction, is the play.

People who say that the job of theatre makers is to make theatre, not market it don’t understand what theatre and marketing are. They are two parts of a relationship. It’s not just about bums on seats, it’s perception, values, expectations.

Don’t leave that to a numpty.