In the "real world," I consistently hear horror stories about theaters going under, shows closing because they have low grosses, or - even worse - ones that never make it to Broadway because they lose their investments (i.e. Rebecca).
Although life is easier in the collegiate setting where process over product is stressed, it's every production's goal to get butts in the seats. So with the CCU Theatre production of The Rocky Horror Show opening in about a week, I am slowly discovering how important marketing and advertising truly are to a work. Although our first lesser-known shows did sell successfully, it's becoming apparent that, in general, resting on beautifully designed show posters and word of mouth no longer makes the grade.
So this year, after season roles were posted, we were also assigned to a few different "teams," including the Marketing Team. About once a week, 8-10 students get together with our faculty advisor and discuss promotion strategies. Within a quick 30 minute brainstorm, the ball is already rolling on many new strategies - including what I have deemed our "Guerilla Marketing" campaign for Rocky.
Good old Wikipedia defines guerilla marketing as "an advertising strategy in which low-cost unconventional means are utilized, often in a localized fashion or large network of individual cells, to convey or promote a product or an idea." As a student, low-cost unconventional means are what I know best!
The Guerilla Campaign originated with a small beginning: car markers. Our director brought in fat, heavy paint markers and told us to write all over our cars advertising the show. There is no better means of moving advertising than many red lips drawn over "I'm just a sweet transvestite" plastered windows. To further the campaign, I used photoshop (printed out photos, markers, scissors, tape, and a copy machine) to paste together ransom note style flyers that hint towards the inevitable truth: Rocky is coming.
There are three versions of these flyers posted all over campus. They cost nothing to make and employing the rest of the cast/creative team to put them up was an effortless endeavor. The posters do not state what nights the show runs. There are no times, no directors names, no location- I never even used the title of the show. All that is included are photos, quotes, and a set of lips (I kissed the paper myself!) with the tag "10.11.12 –XOXO RHS". At the very bottom it links to our twitter (@CCUTheatre) with the hashtag we have been using to promote the season: #behindcloseddoors.
My hope is that this small amount of information will not give the show away, but spark an interest. In theory, people will look up the twitter and try to decipher what is coming on October 11th. Will that always work? No. But hopefully, some will be intrigued. And hopefully they will then see the show. If not, at least we had their attention for a minute or two.
Speaking of twitter, it is relevant to note how important media sites like Facebook have become to theater marketing. As part of my job as the Student Recruitment Coordinator for the BFA auditions, I run the office Coastal Carolina Department of Theatre Facebook. Although it was previously used to provide information for prospectives and their parents, it has grown to include promotion of master classes, updates on our alumni, show photos, and now- advertising. For Rocky we did a photoshoot with our Frank-N-Furter. I took one of the shots and made it the profile picture of the group. After, this photo of him, spread legged between two teal CCU tour busses in his platforms, gained 62 "likes" and 8 shares in one night. The caption: "Coastal, are you ready?"
I recently spoke to a friend of mine who works in the box office on campus. He told me that ticket sales are going well. Whether the marketing campaign is helping or if all sales are based on Rocky's iconic status is not something I can measure. But I do notice the amount of followers on our twitter account sky-rocketing since the flyers have gone up, and I grin every time someone stops and stares at one plastered in an odd place like a dumpster or on a crosswalk button.
The idea of the theater "dying" because of the lack of an audience is not something that I am knowledgeable enough or pessimistic enough to discuss, but after joining the marketing team, I am extremely interested in finding new ways to get audiences to the theater. Next up for us is A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the team has already started throwing out ideas for how to fill our bigger proscenium space. But with faeries, young love, and spells at our disposal, I think marketing will be as magical as ever.