Little Jimmy's Guide to Self-Producing, Part 7: Publicity
SK made my job a little easier for this entry by reposting Mac Rogers' ranked list of things a company needs to do to build an audience from our online dialogue a few years back. Here it is below (in bold), with Mac's recent addition:
1. Good branding (consisting of a logo, a website, email and snail mail updates, and individual show promotional materials that are tied together by some sort of visual strategy).
2. A consistent record of good shows. (I'm being idealistic by putting this at #2.)
3. Widening the group of artists you work with. When you see good work from other companies on other shows, poach their people. No one's making any money, so people are drawn to good work. If you've got the goods, people will be interested in working with you. For best results, extend this beyond actors to directors, writers, and designers. Extend into other kinds of theater. In the next year and a half, I'd like to write a play in collaboration with puppeteers, for example.
4. Tirelessly reaching out to media. If you last long enough and bug them diligently enough, eventually they will pay attention.
5. Carefully crafting non-pushy, non-obnoxious email and snail-mail updates about your shows and your company's progress. (This is really hard.)
6. Fair and polite treatment of everyone you work with. I've stayed away from shows on occasion for no reason other than that the people who made the shows, while talented, were jerks. People won't forgive you for being a jerk unless you're super-successful.
7. Go see other people's shows! You can't see all of them, of course, but see as many as you can. Watch them, talk about them, think about them. Help your colleagues learn from watching your reactions. Learning to be an audience member is vital to being a theater artist, and makes people want to see your next show.
For the would-be self-producer, I cannot stress this enough: print up Mac's list, make copies, give the copies out to your producing partners and all of you tape them to your fridge.
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I think this would be the time where I'd tell you to hire a good publicist to successfully market your company. Well, I'm not going to do that. Not that there aren't great press reps out there (there are), and not that they can't get you good publicity (many can). But, in a way, it's kind of cheating. A press representative - at least a good one - can be quite costly (the good ones range from $1,000-$8,000, maybe more), and in my humble opinion, I think starting out the gate just outsourcing the role of reaching out to the media (#4 on Mac's list) and washing challenges away with the money hose may not be the best option. (I also think if you're starting out with a ton of money and are already set on the business model of "solve all problems with money," these self-producing entries are of no use to you.)
Plus, I think it's a better idea to interact and reach out to the media outlets on your own. If you're in this for the long- (or at least medium-) haul, you should have at least some personal interaction with the press, since this is all about getting the press to know you and about you and vice versa, right?
(Also, if you'd like, the Drama Book Shop in Manhattan sells mailing labels for agents and press outlets at reasonable prices. Just be forewarned that they're neither comprehensive or fully up-to-date. We bought them for our second and third pays, Allston and The Awaited Visit, but found cultivating our own contact list was easier, more efficient and cheaper.)
With a couple of singular exceptions, Nosedive hasn't used a publicist. Press agent duties were delegated to Yours Truly from the start (just as filling out the Equity and insurance paperwork was delegated to Pete from the start). Our publicity efforts for Monkeys was relegated to being listed on the theatre's Web site, emails blasts, and promotional postcards (which were placed at every and any bar in the neighborhood and surrounding areas as well as mailed to friends, family members and vague acquaintances).
Since then, we've found sites, blogs and publications that list theatre events and review plays and send them press releases (we used to snail mail them, but we've since joined the Internet age and email them) and photos, if we have them early enough.
(I'll admit, Nosedive's always been a little late in the game with photos: you really should have some sort of photo to go along with the press release. Even if you haven't designed the show yet, you'll have it cast and you know the story, so you should send something that vaguely kinda, sorta resembles what the show may look like. And if you're not wild about those preliminary pictures, when you're in tech - which [ulp] is usually when Nosedive takes and sends them - you'll have another option to send the press outlets photos.)
Ideally, it's good to send sites the press release about five to six weeks before opening, and send another personal invitation/reminder about press nights about a week and a half before.
(In terms of what your press release should look like, there are many acceptable formats, but keeping it clear and concise is, I think, the best way to go. It should convey all the necessary information about the show: who's in it, who's producing it, what it's about, and all the whens, wheres and ticket information. For those really curious, here's what Nosedive's typical release looks like.)
In terms of where to send your photos and releases (without giving you Nosedive's list, which, no, you cannot have), there are a ton of sites and publications out there. You know which ones to send to. Hell, Google search the term "[your city] + theatre listings" and you'll find a ton of sites. Not only that, but check out the publicity from other companys' shows. They often have blurbs or foam cutouts of reprinted reviews in the lobby or on their postcards or Web sites. Which outlets reviewed them? Look into them and invite them to the show.
Also, you can personalize. Some magazines may not regularly list or review plays, but their target audience may have some interest in your show (there were a bunch of Stephen King fan sites out there that we let know about our Blood Brothers Present...The Master of Horror show, since it was an anthology of original plays based on King's short stories. Also, many other companies like to personalize and individualize their press packets to tie in with their show).
The real perk about doing this yourself (at least, at first) is that it enables you to not only expand and refine your contact list on your own, but to also show these publications - both online and print - that you're here to stay. Remember: they may not come see your first show, but if you keep sending them releases about your third, fourth and fifth shows, they'll start to recognize your company's name and realize that you're not going anywhere.
As Mac said, if you last long enough and bug them diligently enough, eventually they will pay attention.
In terms of getting a publicist (and again, if you can already afford one for your first production out of the gate, why the hell are you reading this site?), I think it's a good idea to work with your press rep, not just hand them the money and wait for the flood of press requests. If you've been doing your own PR work at first, you should have created your own press contact list. Make sure your press person is inviting everyone on your list as well (if and when you do your own publicity, you may stumble upon some smaller outlets, such as new blogs or student newspapers, which your PR person may not have).
Also, if and when you do have critics coming to see your show, it's a good idea - though not mandatory - to have press packets for them. What should be in them? It's really up to you: whatever you think the critic should have to make writing their review easy for them. For us, we often put in the headshots & resumes of the cast, the program, the press release, occasionally a printout of past positive press quotes, Pete and/or my business card and a copy of the script (some folks don't like giving critics a copy of the script: we do. Having reviewed shows, I always appreciate having them, just in case I need to make a quick reference to a specific line or scene). You can also include a CD-ROM of photos and other information.
It's really up to you.
Wanting people to notice me,
James "Attention-Starved Ham Sandwich" Comtois