Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spam Blogs, Crowns and Marketing

Well this blog is off to a great start. Less than 2 days into this new adventure Blogpsot decided that we looked like a possible spam blog, and locked me out of the account. Obviously the problem was cleared up, but what a strange beginning. Yes the desire to keep the blogoshpere clear of clutter is important, but to lump Civic in with people trying to sell you prescription drugs on line, or the latest sure-fire method to lose weight, not to mention the unmentionable spammers (after all we try to keep Civic family friendly) is just surreal.

I have been pulled over by the police once in my life, for an expired registration, the registration was actually current, I just had not yet put the new sticker on my license plate. I knew exactly why I was being pulled over and understood the need for the police officer to do her job, but I had this overwhelming feeling of guilt and fear of getting caught sweep over me the second I saw those flashing lights. I felt for sure that she would want to search my car and find the kind of things they find on every cop show (fiction and real). I suddenly thought that for sure she would find drug paraphernalia, guns, dead bodies, etc. When I received the notice from Blogspot that the blog was flagged I felt the same way. I knew that they would find some link to me and the spammers from Liberia telling me that I am going to become rich by helping Charles Taylor get his money out of Cayman Island banks, or whatever the scam currently is. I can't explain this strange and intense paranoia. I imagine it has to do with an overactive imagination and too much TV, but I may never know for sure.

I must be upfront and say that a key part of the desire for this blogs future is to help promote the theatre and its mission. Presently we are promoting our next MainStage production, Crowns. This show is a bit of a risk for Civic Theatre. First we are performing for only one weekend, some future blog I will get deeper into the importance of word of mouth. Second it is not a well known title, another future topic will explore how we select a season and why we choose shows people have "never heard of". Third, it is the first time Civic has done a production featuring an all African American cast, and the first time we have performed anything written by and African American. I will get into the issues of "diversity" and how Civic approaches the questions, concerns and opportunities of diversity in a later post, right now I want to speak mostly about how we are marketing the show, and why anyone should care.

Generally we market most of our shows in a fairly traditional way. We put up posters, mail a postcard to our mailing lists (around 4,000 people on the lists), put ads in the paper, send out a newsletter (again to 3,000 - 4,000 people) and use broadcast ads (currently TV, commercial radio and NPR). Usually all of that will reach our usual audiences and we will have on average 1,350 people attend the show. We spend about $3.50 - $4 per audience member on advertising (a big part of why ticket prices are "so high").

With Crowns we had and additional 2,500 tickets that we COULD sell. Frankly if we only sell our usual amount of single tickets we would probably lose money on the show. Also we thought it was important to use this opportunity to develop new audiences. An increase of African American audiences, college audiences, church goer audiences, etc. , thus I have approached how to promote this show in a different way, a way that I believe I will try to do more often than not in the future.

I once spent time observing operations at The Curious Theatre in Denver Colorado, a small professional theatre dedicated to performing world and regional premieres. They approached every title knowing that they would need to sell a product to the public that the public was unfamiliar with, no easy task for hug companies with large budgets, nearly impossible for small theatres with next to no budget. The approach they use and I adapted to Lafayette was perfect for them, and hopefully at least successful for us. For every production they formed what they called a show committee. This was a group of people from the Denver community that might have a particular interest in the specific themes of the show. For instance when they did a show on a famous mayor of Denver, they worked with the local historical association, when they did "Take Me Out", a show about an open homosexual in professional sports, they worked with local gay and lesbian groups as well as local professional sports teams. These committees help get the word out to groups of people that may not usually be inclined to go to the theatre, or to feel that they are welcomed in theatre. This is exactly what we have done with Crowns.

First we teamed up with the Purdue Black Cultural Center, hoping that they would at the very least assist in promoting the show to the African American community in Lafayette and at Purdue. They have done so much more, including actually "co-producing" the show. Crowns Director, Bill Caise, is the Assistant Director of the BCC, and Music Director, Twana Harris, is an artist in Residence. We also reached out to the Art Museum, thinking that if they were to put up a display of hats, or photos of people in hats or something that would mimic the book, we could use that to boost awareness. The museum loved the idea. Currently you can go to the Micky Shook room and view "Her Crowning Glory" a collection of LOCALLY owned hats, with accompanying photos and stories. Finally the local YWCA featured the cast and Twana Harris as a part of their Network lunch series. The lunch had about 100 people in attendance.

All of these groups working together to promote on show. The results of all this work will be apparent next week as the show opens on April 4. I have a good feeling about this one.


Steve Martin said...

I love the idea of having a Show Committee to promote productions, Steve. The actual involvement in the community will touch more people, I think, than blanketing the city with fliers and postcards alone would.

Can't wait to see Crowns!

Kyle Bushre said...

Word of mouth is always the best promotion. I have learned this as a church planter. I agree with Steve Martin and would go so far as to say that you will have more turn out from word of mouth and gathering events than from passive advertising. The problem in the future, of course, is designing events and word-of-mouth campaigns for shows that do not have a niche. Also, how do you maintain the audience niche you reached going forward?

Steve said...

I agree completely. In my mind the passive advertising serves as a reminder and that is about it. This is my fear with one weekend shows.
Ticket sales seem to be going well thus far, it speaks highly for developing the "show committee" model a little more next season.
Thanks for the comments guys, spread the word about the blog, tell everyone you know.

Steve Scherer said...

I like the blog, too. A blog could almost be Civic's main web portal. Blogs are often easier to update than web pages.

I'll check back often.