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Theatre Marketing Tips for Sellout Shows

Theatre Marketing Tips for students and teachers

It can sometimes feel like your performances are rapidly approaching, especially when you haven’t sold as many tickets as you’d like. And without the right theatre marketing plan, even the best show can struggle. The good news is it’s never too late or too early to get your troupe and students involved in packing the house for each show.

He are a few theatre marketing strategies to help turn your Thespians into marketers and get the audience numbers you’ve always dreamed of.

Building Your Theatre Marketing Plan

We can’t distill all the wisdom, rationales, styles, ploys, and variables involved in successful marketing efforts here, and you likely know there isn’t one surefire way to sell something—anything—because if there was, you could just Google it, follow the outline, and every show would be a hit.

When it comes to theatrical marketing, there are some basics you and your students should remember.

  1. Successful marketing campaigns benefit from a long-range effort that ideally covers the time period at least 6-8 weeks prior to the show.
  2. Successful theatre marketing taps into multiple methods to strengthen the message and capture the target audience’s attention.
  3. There’s no formula for creating a post or a video that will go viral on social media. Plan and execute multiple marketing approaches to sell your tickets. If one of your efforts does happen to go viral… bonus!

The Power of Student Involvement

Thespians are some of the best promotors we’ve ever met, and honing their theatre marketing skills can go a long way to helping your show. They’re the ideal “spokespeople” to talk with other students, and best of all, everyone in the cast and crew can be part of the marketing efforts.

Perhaps the biggest lesson they’ll learn is that in order to get dozens or even hundreds of people to part with their hard-earned money for any product, including school theatre shows, it takes multiple touchpoints, with compelling messaging, and a clear call to action.

7 Creative Ways Work Toward a Successful Show

Before we jump into the ideas for marketing, let’s remind ourselves of the value of teaching students these theatre marketing and promotional principles; they’re valuable life skills:

  • Planning successfully.
  • Staying organized while tackling a long-range project.
  • Working steadily toward a goal (X number of tickets sold).
  • Using multiple efforts in a variety of ways to share a clear message.

Students making word a mouth a part of their theatre marketing plan

1. Word-of-Mouth Promo

Let the whole troupe become promo partners by making it easy for them to regularly invite people to the show. Use a simple “script” written by the troupe in their own vernacular.

Businesses do this all the time. The marketing department creates social posts, email language, photos, and simple messages to be shared by promotional partners. Your troupe can do the same. The troupe members, their friends, and even advertisers (if your school sells ads in the program) can all become promo partners. Here are a few examples.

  • Troupe members can learn to say: “I’m excited to be involved in [name of show] coming up on [dates]. Tickets are only [price] and you can get yours now so you have a prime seat! [URL]”
  • Friends of the troupe: “My friends are doing [name of show] on [dates]. I’ve seen the costumes (or the set, or heard the music) and I can’t wait to see the whole production. Join me! Tickets are only [price] and here’s where you can get them: [URL].”
  • Sponsors or Advertisers: “We’re proud to support [school name]’s production of [name of show] on [dates]. Get your tickets now at [URL] and join us in supporting the power of school theatre to improve students’ lives!”

Remember, having the troupe collaborate on simple messaging they feel comfortable repeating over and over to friends and family will go a long way to getting them to do it. Every member of the cast and crew can help with this.

2. Turn Troupe Members into Walking Billboards

Create eye-catching t-shirts for the whole cast and crew. Institute #TshirtTuesday (or whatever day is best). Then have everyone wear the t-shirts on that same day each week leading up to the show.

The shirts become a regular reminder to all who see them that the show is coming. Students’ social feeds will start filling up with pics of students in the shirts, so encourage the troupe to create a hashtag that will aggregate those posts.

In the effort to build community and bridge the proverbial wall between sports and theatre, we’ve seen some troupes give the school’s sports teams shirts as well. Seeing a football player proudly supporting their friends in the theatre department speaks volumes about how students care about each other. Thespian troupe members can reciprocate by wearing school colors on game days and volunteering with concession sales at sports events. Win/win!

3. Have Actors Perform During Announcements

If you’re producing a musical, have a soloist sing a short snippet from the show and make sure they have the marketing script memorized to invite everyone at the end of their song. Or, if there’s a funny exchange between characters in your show, let the actors share that during announcements. Again, make sure they end with the scripted details of the show’s title, dates, and where to get tickets.

ITF 2022 audience at the IU Auditorium. Photo by David Slaughter

4. Incentivize Ticket Sales for the Cast and Crew

Set a goal for each person who wants to be involved in this competition. The prize could be a random drawing for a gift card for all who reached their goal. The gift card doesn’t have to be a huge amount; perhaps a card they can use at local eateries or coffee shops. Everyone doesn’t need to participate, but having those who want to be in the drawing sign up helps with accountability.

Also, you could track who’s sold the most tickets on a dry-erase board in the rehearsal space or in your digital classroom. This will appeal to your most competitive Thespians.

5. Create Group Ticket Pricing

If you can afford group sales discounts, ask your Thespians what other groups they are involved with outside of theatre. Have a graphics-minded student create a simple flyer or postcard the students can share with those groups. Remember to include a clear invitation or call to action, along with the show’s title, dates, and where to buy group tickets.

6. Take a Tip from the Girl Scouts

Have actors in costumes set up tables for ticket sales with willing participating businesses. Organize the effort to happen for one week in multiple locations: the rec center, the grocery store, a mom-and-pop restaurant, a hometown coffee shop, or any place that wants to support your program.

If you can’t sell tickets at the table, be sure to have small flyers or notecards with all the necessary details. Hand them to people if they’re in a hurry or want to wait to buy tickets.

The actors could sing selections from songs if you’re doing a musical. They could run lines. Or they can just smile and invite people to the show while handing them the notecards saying, “Would you like to support school theatre? It makes a huge difference in my life!”

7. Last but Certainly Not Least: Social Media

By tapping into some of the ideas above, you can help your students realize that social media is only one of many ways to market their shows. Yes, students tend to gravitate to social because they’re adept at using the various outlets: TikTok, Instagram, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with using social alongside other efforts.

When it comes to social media, consider having students reflect on the ways they interact with it. Ask them what really sticks with them as they scroll. What entices them to go deeper into any subject matter? How do they respond to being sold a product?

These questions, and hopefully a lively group discussion, could be a strong lesson to help them shift their mindset from consumer to marketer, helping to get people to buy tickets and fill the theater’s seats. Here is a quick read with clear steps on how students can use social media to great advantage. It also includes what they definitely need to avoid doing to comply with copyright laws.

Patty Craft is a regular content contributor to the Educational Theatre Association.

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