Jun 2013

Nicky Smith – Notes and thoughts from Promoting New Performance Work Seminar

I just had an amazing afternoon at The Herbert Gallery Coventry.  Helga Henry, (Director of Creative Shift) asked me to come along to share some of my experiences as part of an ICE seminar about promoting new performance work (Thanks for inviting me Helga).

It was a great session, a lovely group and I hope everyone got a lot out of the afternoon and hopefully came away with FREE  ideas to promote their work.  We talked about…

Champions, getting soundbites, the power of local bloggers, talking about your work with integrity, asking yourself ‘ who cares? –  that ‘new’ is not always good, how to put some sozzle in your sausage?! –  targeting your audience by imagining them as a person and using language and the right product and place to create witnesses for creative work – people with an active involvement  and investment, this sense of involvement and inclusion can start with the first encounter of a flyer.

Here are the notes I made for the session, more like bullet points that were expanded on.  Food for thought:

I am very non-academic – I enjoyed university and learnt a lot but I certainly wasn’t the highest achiever or best essay writer. Infact my sort of marketing on the whole is arguably quite non-academic.  It is emotional, it is about instinct and it is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and being real. It is also about a lot of admin and providing information from business to business, working with venues and promoters rather than necessarily always speaking directly to audiences.

For this presentation I will be looking at top ten tips for generating audiences.  These are paying punters, not your brother or sister or best mate.  These are people who have never heard of you, your work. They might know your venue or the kind of work you do. But actually they don’t care about you  – they are about themselves and having a great night out.

When you write – pick your audience

  • Promoting experimental work is no different from any other work
  • Features and benefits
  • Separate the two and make sure the copy is balanced
  • Always end with a call to action
  • Under 200 words!

Postcard to a friend 

Pick a person you know, visualise them.

Pick someone who likes the arts but doesn’t attend regularly or it doesn’t feature heavily in their lives.  You have to make these people with ‘intent’ actually ‘do’ .  It is a much harder job to appeal to non-arts audiences.

You can learn a lot by the process of writing on a postcard to a ‘friend’ and telling them about why they should see your work.  You have to tell them about the show.

Write in a way that you think will grab their interest, often this means you end up writing ‘benefits’.  Because when you verbally sell something to someone you always tell them ‘what is in it for them’ but somehow this gets lost when you try and write copy… Tell them what it is about as if you are talking to your mum or gran, strip it back then add in a few grabbers.

When you are writing copy ask yourself some questions:

  • How will the work they are about to see make them feel
  • How is it different or unique – why should they come and see it?
  • What have other people said about it
  • What will it look like?
  • How do they get involved – what do you want them to do?
  • Are they bored yet? Consider people’s attention spans and how long they will read something before they get bored.
  • Who cares?

I thoroughly recommend the AMA  – Heather Maitland’s copy writing course

When you write – keep it simple and attention grabbing

  • Do not use complicated language
  • Try and edit down copy so that is says what you mean in the simplest way
  • Use action and ‘doing’ words to bring in movement and include them in your writing e.g. – watch us catapault on to the stage, feel the energy build, grab a ticket, take your seat, explore with us, be part of an experience,  join us for an evening, watch our performers leap from one end of the stage to another, be amazed at the detail and emotion of the script, you will feel moved and inspired.

Avoid using statements that aren’t true in order to impress

  • The word ‘new’ – it’s probably not – nothing is original
  • Cutting edge / avante-garde  – unless it really is
  • Exciting – this is your judgment (however there are exceptions to the rules and I use it all the time)
  • State the fact that it is experimental and then tell them what you are experimenting on!!  This statement in itself does not sell tickets

Spend most time on your visual image

  • Invest in a bank of images
  • Often pictures taken on stage are not enough
  • Use these images everywhere, use the great ones longer than you think you should use them, you might be bored of the picture but chances are your audience hasn’t seen it yet, if they see your picture multiple times – even better!
  • Create a brand not through a logo – no need to invest in that particularly, create brand through limited colour pallet, language, your choice of font and use of repeated / stylised imagery that captures the essence of what you do

Often you will need to set up a photoshoot  to create an image

  • You don’t need a photographer you can do this on your own with an iphone or average digital camera
  • On a clean background
  • Well lit
  • Every part if the picture in focus or if taken with a proper camera focus at the front and a pleasing fade behind
  • Performers / art best dressed, no rehearsal clothes, no joggers!!
  • Blurry, Motiontrail pictures are not arty, they are poorly taken
  • In high resolution
  • Most importantly has eye contact
  • A sense of movement, hair / clothes trail
  • Do not pose photos – take inspiration from dance – move into the pose and out of the pose.  The best pictures are taken slightly before or slightly after the bit you are trying to capture
  • A simple had swoosh from looking at the side to looking straight at the camera brings a moment of authenticity into the photo
  • Make sure there is loads of white space around the picture – that all hands and feet are in the shot, also space above the head or to the left

Once you have a photo, don’t stop there! Make it easy for your press, venue or person promoting you

  • Provide in landscape and portrait in high res
  • Both in low res – ready to pop onto their website
  • Provide a version in A4 portrait format that has the image to the right and loads of space to the left – you will get in all the ‘whats on mags’ , journals and magazines.  You are doing your job for them.
  • Websites often require landscape shots – bear this in mind
  • Crop into a low res square for facebook
  • Create a perfect crop with your logo to the left for the facebook header,  really wide!
  • Once you have all your visual assets save into a dropbox – you can then just share this with your venue or promoter
  • If a journalist / marketing manager has a choice of images they will pick the one that fits in easiest and looks best, whether you are a know artist or not – I have generated loads of profile for companies by supplying strong images that are usable for designers

Also supply those lovely production shots taken on stage or in situ too – they will get used on galleries or as a supporting image.

New is not cool!!

  • Do not tell people that you are a new company or a graduate company there is little need
  • People will think that the work will be poorer quality, they are worried about seeing something they don’t like
  • Treat each piece of work you make as a explanation in its own right – the copy and image should be strong enough to overshadow your lack of experience, they will just think you are an established act

The exception to the rule is if you have a quote from someone saying you are “new, cool, the best thing since sliced bread and a must-see.” New works when you have proof or a stamp of approval.

Get proof

Make it your priority to get people to comment on your work – ask them three or four questions to make sure you get the answers you want.  Feedback forms are too long-winded!! Anyone that see’s your work – promoters, lecturers, friends, new audiences,  KIDS!, press, gatekeepers, people from development agencies, people that go and see a lot of work.  What they write is better than anything you could.  I often end up using these comments to write copy. What other people write about you is often better than what you write.  Get other people to do your work for you!

Get a journalist / press to see the work

  • Newspapers do not have many arts journalists any more or the space for arts stories.  You are very lucky if you get coverage.  They often decide what they want to see independently of press releases received via email etc
  • If they hear you are good they will be knocking on your door
  • If you do not have a long tour or a run of dates place your energy elsewhere – it is unlikely you will get press coverage. Focus on local bloggers, social media users who enjoy the arts, generate your own buzz through your champions
  • Journalists do respond to tweets though, follow them, get an idea of how they like to communicate – start gently communications with them via tweet about general interest rather than asking anything of them, Tweet them and link to your press release – include the date of the performance on your tweet
  • Make sure your press release is short
  • Make the first paragraph cover every key bit of info they need

Writing a good press release is a skill in itself, there are lots of great online guides and training sessions available

Social media and digital coms (a very quick chat about something massive)

  • When using social media imagine that everyone only has five seconds – some people may have more.  Write very succinctly on facebook with images where poss –  and link people onto longer blog posts for further information.
  • Constantly direct people from little pushes on facebook and twitter on to your blog.  Don’t use both for the same thing. Don’t cut and paste the same info everywhere
  • On your blog be as arty as you like, this is your place!! Write all the creative features / background / personal information on this.  Write long articles about your inspiration, biographies, experiences –
  • Facebook page and blog should always have tour dates / gigs / exhibition times near the top / as should the blog. Don’t make people hunt around for how they access their work, some people are time poor and it will annoy them!
  • At every opportunity, add emails on to an email list
  • Use a cheap email software package to save time and cutting bouncebacks, use the data to see who your key fans are, who opens your email the most, start talking to them differently?
  • When creating emails keep them short – link through to more info on each sentance or statement on your blog, introduce an idea and always try and get people to find out more from your blog
  • use QR codes on print for people to like you on facebook, in some respects facebook is a goodf entry point for a new audience member – they can read more on your blog if they want that relationship or just keep it superficial n facebook

Tools you need

  • Facebook page
  • Twitter account
  • WordPress blog
  • A free / low cost email provider e.g. mailchimp
  • A bank of images
  • Business to business marketing pack for promoters and venues etc
  • A dropbox with all marketing resources in so you can email a link to whoever needs them instantly



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