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Marketing 101: Selling out your show on a shoestring budget

You’ve got the play, the cast, the crew and the venue, there’s just one problem – you haven’t sold a single ticket. If this sounds familiar then here’s a quick marketing plan used by professional arts marketers from NIDA’s Marketing and Communications team.

You’ve got the play, the cast, the crew and the venue, there’s just one problem – you haven’t sold a single ticket. If this sounds familiar then here’s a quick marketing plan used by professional arts marketers from NIDA’s Marketing and Communications team.

Set up your own marketing channels

First of all, you’ll need an online source where people can find more information about your show. Set up a website (or webpage) where you can present promotional images as well as other details such ticket vendors and show times and days. Without key details such as these, you may miss out on potential sales.

Get the following set-up early (at least 3 months before your show!):

  • Show website or webpage
  • E-newsletter subscription form
  • Any social media accounts you can manage and regularly update
  • Ticketing site (whether this isTicketek,Ticketmaster or paper tickets)
  • Print material – brochures, flyers or postcards
  • Any other channel you would like to use

Promotional partners

So you’ve told your friends and family about your great new show, but they’re not going to fill the theatre. It’s time to find more promotional partners so you can reach a wider audience:

  • Organisations whowant to promote you
    Look to your cast, creatives and crew and tap their networks. Look at their education, employment and hobby background. For example, at NIDA we usually promote the new work of our graduates. Many organisations will be happy to promote the work of their former employees or members. From mothers’ groups to volunteer clubs, there will be tons of connections already available from people directly involved in your show. It can be a win-win situation – your old school promotes how well their graduate is doing and you get exposure to a new audience.
  • Who else benefits orcouldbe interested in your show?When the Greater Union cinema in Double Bay, NSW, closed in 2004, the closure prompted a collapse in business for Double Bay restaurants and other late night venues, according toThe Australian. The area surrounding the theatre where you will perform will benefit from the visitors that your show brings to their stores, restaurants, hairdressers, parking stations and that local council.Consider the content of the play that you have chosen – does it carry themes that could appeal to other interest groups? If it’s about a garden, you could look to promote it to the local community garden, through gardening supply stores, etc.
  • The arts and entertainment industriesAudiences that are interested in the arts and entertainment industries most likely attend performances at multiple venues each year. Ask other theatre companies if they would be happy to promote your show. They may decline if it conflicts with one of theirs, but there is no harm in asking. Often, arts organisation are happy to promote one another or are prepared to do a ‘cross-promotion’ – an arrangement where they will do a promotion for you in exchange for you doing one for them. Usually, other organisations are more likely to agree if you offer something to their audience, such as a ticket giveaway competition or ticket discount.

Choose your channel

Now that you have a very long list of organisations that could potentially promote your production, what are you going to ask them and what communication channels do they have?

Some examples of marketing channels include:

  • E-newsletter (also called ‘EDM’ – electronic direct mail)
  • Social media post
  • Printed postcard
  • Website listing

For example, if you wanted to askSydney Theatre Company to promote your production, the marketing channels you could ask to be promoted in would include a mention in their EDM and social media channels. They also have a physical space – the foyer, so you could also ask to send them some postcards to display in their foyer.

But for a local cafe next to the theatre where you will perform at, they probably don’t have an EDM so you could ask if you can display postcards in their store or, if it is a shop, inside their customers’ shopping bags.

The theatre you are performing at should be able to offer all four of the examples. They may also be happy to do a ‘seat drop’ for performances happening prior to yours.(A ‘seat drop’ is putting promotional flyers on all theatre seats before a performance).

Send your message

You’ve chosen who may be willing to promote your show, which channels you’re going to ask them to promote on, now you need to ask them.

This is an example of a friendly message requesting promotion:

Hi {insert Marketing contact’s name},
My name is Melinda, I’m from NIDA and we are staging a production calledEurydike & Orpheus at the NIDA Theatres this 10-17 June and would like to know if you’d be interested in promoting it in the Ensemble Theatre’s next EDM and on social media? It is being directed byPriscilla Jackman, who last year won the Ensemble Theatre’s Sandra Bates Director’s Award.

I have attached a few promotional images that can be used. Below is a blurb about the show:
Eurydike + Orpheus is a timeless and universal tale of love, loss, faith and surrender. Inspired by Ancient Greek mythology, this new adaptation is conceived and directed by Priscilla Jackman, with words by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, circus direction by Zebastian Hunter and design by Genevieve Graham. More info and tickets at
Dates: 10-17 June

Let me know what’s possible or if you need anything else.

Thanks for your help,
Melinda France

Media outreach

A great way to make sure you reach a much wider audience than your local community, at zero cost, is through media. It’s important to reach out to a number of news outlets across print, online, radio or TV. But to ensure you don’t waste their limited time, have a press release and images ready, so that if they choose to run it, they already have everything they need. If you don’t have a particular journalist’s contact details, send it straight to their news desk.

Continue promoting

After sending out your information to your promotional partners, continue sending out your own e-newsletters and social media posts to your new followers. Keep it interesting with updates on the progress of the production.