Tuesday, June 27, 2017

So you want to promote your play

A recent post on The Official Playwrights of Facebook got me thinking. In it, a member of the often raucous group asked how he could promote his self-produced play.

He got a fair number of responses, but most of these fell into the category of "same old same old": posters and Facebook.

Now both of these tools can help, but they're far from the whole story. If you want to promote your own show, there are a lot more powerful tools you can use.

When I plan the promotion of one of my plays, one of the things I consider is what marketers call "stickiness". This is the ability of a particular promotional tool to stick with someone after they've been exposed to it. And the problem with posters is that they're not very sticky.

Think about it. A person is out and about when they see one of your posters. They think, "That sounds good. I might like to see that." They run to the bank. They pick up some Fun-Yuns. And by the time they get home, they've forgotten all about it. A poster doesn't offer people anything to take home.

Plus, there's the old problem of where do you put them? Libraries used to be a good place to post arts-related posters, but around here at least, a lot of them have gotten the idea that any event that charges is money s "for profit" and so they won't allow them. Starbucks too has cut way back on the type of posters they accept (although that's up to the individual store manager, so it doesn't hurt to ask).

This is why I don't use posters anymore. But let me offer some other ideas that are more powerful--and often a lot cheaper.


This has been one of my most successful promotional tools. They're like posters in that they catch people's eye with a colorful image and can include all the deets on your event. But unlike posters, postcards let you make that personal connection that's so important.

I would give 50 to 100 postcards to each of my actors so they could give them to their friends. Trust me, no one is going to be a better salesman for your show than an actor who's appearing in it. And the nice thing is people tend to take postcards home and stick them on their bulletin board or fridge so they end up looking at them several times a day.

Vistaprint is a great source for postcards and dozens of other promo items (coffee cups, anyone?). Their prices are cheap and they offer a great online tool for designing the cards.

If you do use postcards, make sure to include the website where they can buy tickets. You always want to convert that exposure to an actual purchase.


Of course you'll want to post an event with Mr. Zuckerberg and invite all of your friends. Just make sure you keep the mindless cheerleading to a minimum ("this is my first play and it would mean a lot to me if you can all come!"). That can turn people off and doesn't really set your play apart from the hundreds of other entertainment options people are bombarded with every day. Instead, hook your potential audience with a brief but punchy description of what your play is about.


Advertising your play in the program for other shows requires some advance planning (theaters tend to print them up weeks ahead of time). But this is likely to be the most effective tool in your whole promotional toolbelt. That's because you're getting your play's name in front of people who already love theater and are often looking for the next great play to see.

Rates for this type of advertising are usually pretty low and the money goes to help other theater companies. That's a big win-win in my book.


Buying radio ads can be very expensive and often isn't very effective. When I ran a children's theatre company, I spent $400 on a weekend's worth of commercials and ended up getting only one new student out of the deal (but he was a great student, so in this case, it was worth the investment!).

There are cheaper alternatives. Look at the AM talk radio and public radio stations in your area. Do any of them have arts-related interview shows? If so, you can usually snag a spot by emailing the host.

And don't be shy. I noticed that one local radio station never promoted high school shows. When I talked to them, I found out they had an equal opportunity policy. They put everyone on their show  who asked. It's just that high schools never asked.

I love doing radio shows because it's a great way to involve the actors in your show. One show even allowed us to perform a whole scene on the air. Not only was it a lot of fun, but it gave listeners a great taste of what the play was like.


Newspapers can also be an expensive place to advertise, and with dwindling subscriber bases, they ain't what they used to be. But here too, you might get some free exposure by convincing someone to do an article or review. Of course, this is a long shot, but it doesn't cost you anything to try.

Just let me give you one piece of advice. Don't send a press release. As a theatre reviewer, I was on the receiving end of these and 98% were deadly boring: paragraph after endless paragraph of cast member names and the history of the play and who knows what else (I never read that far to find out).

Instead, find out the names of the local arts editor and all of the arts reporters (their names should be in the newspaper's masthead). Then send them a brief, personal email inviting them to your show. As with Facebook and pretty much every other promotional tool mentioned here, the most important item is the hook. What makes your play unique? What will make it a compelling experience for audience members?

Oh, and don't forget those local event listings at the back of the newspaper. Those are usually free to get onto.

Email Lists

Of course, you should send an email blast to your own personal list of family, friends and people who've bought tickets from you before. But try thinking outside the box. Is there an arts other mass email list you can get on?

Colorado Springs had a great arts group called the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region. Each week, they'd email a list of local arts events to thousands of arts lovers in the areas. It was easy to get my plays included in the list and I found it to be way more effective than my own email campaigns because it came with the approbation of an independent and highly respected arts group. And if you're lucky, they might even make you pick of the week.