In the performing arts, promotion and communications are one of the trickiest parts of presenting work. Everyone, from emerging to established figures, has to struggle with how to present themselves, and how to find their audience. Promotional strategies are constantly evolving, and different approaches will be more or less effective for each individual. A successful communications strategy will include a multi-pronged approach. Here is a brief overview of things to consider.
- The Raw Materials
- Press Kit
- Social Media
- Posters and flyers
- Working with a publicist
- The 10% rule
Text, photographs, and video are the raw materials with which you will develop a marketing image.
Write a clear and dynamic descriptive text. Prepare a long version (300 words), and a short version (100 words), in both French and in English.
Ideally, when scheduling a photo or video session, you will choose a moment in your choreographic development early enough to meet promotional deadlines, while late enough to have a clear idea about what the piece will look like. In reality, you will often be asked for promotional images so far in advance that you will have to ‘invent’ an image of a piece that does not exist. This is Ok! Think of the photo shoot as a creative opportunity to advance you understanding of your creation, no matter what stage it is in.
As you develop your communications materials, get feedback both from people who are familiar with your work, and those who are not. Remember that your promotional images are an extension of your artistic process, and should reflect your values and aesthetic. While you may take inspiration of the promotional images of other artists, your goal is to express your unique vision, not a generalized idea of ‘what you think will sell tickets’. If you are working with a presenter, they will often have a right of final approval for your communications materials, and may reject images, or edit texts that are not sufficiently polished or ‘sellable’. In this case, it is important to remember that communications materials must tread a fine line between artistic expression and advertising. It may take some trial and error to find the right balance for you.
Some presenters will request that you prepare a presskit, while others may prepare one for you with materials you provide. The presskit is sent to media outlets in advance of your performance to inform them about the work, and provide context in case they decide to write a preview or a review. For the most part, a digital presskit (.pdf) is sufficient, no need to spend money on printed materials. A basic kit will include:
- a presentation of the company (if applicable);
- a description of the piece(s);
- a biography of the choreographer(s);
- a presentation of the designers and dancers.
- press clippings from past works, if available
Create a mailing list of addresses including media, presenters, funding bodies, organizations and individuals whom you wish to inform about or invite to your show. Keep in mind that while a mass e-mail can help get the word out about your performance, personal messages will be more effective. Online e-mail campaign managers like Mailchimp can be a useful tool for managing your contacts and creating nicely designed messages. Keep in mind that according to Canadian law, you cannot subscribe an individual to your e-mailing list without their consent.
Tip: One very effective way to someone to come to your show is to take the time to write a personal message. This can be time consuming, but, with the number of performances happening in Montreal, and the saturation of mass online communications, a direct invitation simply carries a greater weight. While you cannot write to every single person who you want to invite to your show, take the time to make a list of 10-20 people who you really hope will come, and write to them directly.
Many artists do the bulk of their promotional work on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Take the time to understand how each of these tools work, and what kind of promotion each platform is useful for. (For example, Twitter is known as a particularly good tool for reaching out to journalists.) Building a social media presence is a long-term process, not something that can be achieved in the three weeks leading up to your performance. While not everyone enjoys using these platforms on a regular basis, the reality is that social media is a powerful promotional tool, and it is probably worth taking the time to find a sustainable social media strategy that works for you.
Some presenters will provide you with posters and flyers, others will not. If a presenter does not print materials, or you are self-presenting, you might make the decision to produce your own. Don’t go overboard by printing huge quantities of posters and flyers. Usually, 500 flyers and 50 posters do just fine.Target studios, galleries and schools that could display your flyer on a bulletin board. Include all essential information on your poster and flyer, typically in the following order:
With collaborators and dancers
Date, time, venue, address
Website and/or telephone number for tickets and more information
Logos of funders and other partners
The information presented depends on the space available and your graphic designer, who inevitably will want to keep the design uncluttered. Despite possible crowding, crediting collaborators is a respectful way to promote their contribution and can draw people to the show interested by their work.
A press agent or publicist’s primary job is to contact journalists and try to set up interviews with the choreographer to ensure media coverage. Following a list of media contacts, they send out press kits and press releases and make follow-up calls. Upon closure of the show, the press agent gives you a copy of or link to any articles and radio or TV interviews that occurred over the course of the run.
Professional press agents are expensive, and hiring one may or may not be a worthwhile investment. Before hiring a one, carefully consider what your priorities are. Do you want to increase ticket sales? Do you want previews and reviews to help build a presskit for the future? Is your target audience mainstream or underground? Are you looking to build a presence locally, nationally or internationally? Answering these questions will help you to clearly communicate with your publicist, and allow them to work more efficiently, with your specific needs in mind.
Volume is an important aspect of communications. It is a safe assumption to assume that any one communication will reach 10% of your intended audience. This means that if you e-mail 300 people, you can assume that 30 of the them might consider buying a ticket to your performance, or if 500 people have RSPV’ed to your event, you can assume that at least 50 will actually attend. While you may be pleasantly surprised, the rule of 10% can help you from over-estimated the effects of your communications efforts on turn out.