Learn the Key Industry Tricks to Top Quality Theatre Publicity Photos Translating to Sold Out Shows

When you see the marketing materials for Broadway tours or successful regional theaters, you have to admit they usually strike a chord. They feature images that stir emotions. It is clear that these big budget producers have the money to do marketing right – and it translates into ticket sales.

But don’t think that just because you organization doesn’t have multi-million-dollar budgets you can’t have similar quality marketing materials to translate into your own sold out houses.

We’ve all heard the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In the case of marketing for theater companies and other performing arts organization it really rings true.


I cannot even come close to counting the number of theater companies I have run across that don’t understand the value of good publicity photos.

If you are doing marketing for a theater you are in charge of putting people in the seats. You want publicity photos that are going to do that. You want publicity photos that when people see them, they say ‘Damn, I need to see what that’s all about.

Think about movie posters. The good ones tell a story.

  • If it’s a car jumping off a bridge – you know you’re in for action.
  • If it’s a woman crying in a man’s arms – you know it’s a tearjerker.
  • If it’s a singer with a guitar in front of screaming fans – you know it’s a story about rock n’ roll.

From that one image, the average person will make the decision on if they want to see that movie. So, why aren’t theaters doing the same thing?

Well, the good ones are. Take a look at the promo photos from the upper echelon of Chicago theaters like Goodman, Paramount, Steppenwolf, and Drury Lane. The images they use to sell their shows – really sell their shows.

Now, just because you don’t have the same budget as some of these more established theaters doesn’t mean you can’t have effective publicity photos. You just have to know how to do it.

Paul Mescal and Anjana Vasan. Photo by Marc Brenner/Almeida Theatre


The first mistake that most theaters make is they tie themselves to the concept of capturing actual scenes from the show. Nine times out of ten, staging a scene from the show doesn’t translate what the show is about. Without the context of the dialogue, it’s just actors posed on some furniture.

Forget about being literal. Nobody who sees the publicity photo in the paper or in a Facebook ad is going to be coming the to the theater to see if the people in the photo actual strike that pose in the play.

People who see a publicity photo and come to see the show are coming because its an interesting photo that tells a story and makes them want to know more.

Matthew Amira and Alanna Smith. Photo by Mark Garvin/from Walnut Street Theater


If the play is about a romantic date, have a picture of the leading man with flowers and a bottle of champagne and the ingénue smiling coyly at the door. That screams – we’re on a date far more than two people sitting on a couch pretending to receipt lines.

Once you open your mind to thinking outside the box, you’ll be amazed at the creative options you can come up with.

For instance, why feel locked into the set? While there are some theaters that have sets with the amazing details to stand up to zoom lens investigation, most theatrical sets will look like painted wood and canvas under the microscope. So go on location.


Nobody cares if the place you shoot the promo photos is on the stage or somewhere else. If you’re doing a show that takes place in a restaurant, go shoot stage your publicity shots in a real restaurant.

It all comes down to this: figure out what will sell the show and then create it.


Another thing to keep in mind, is perspective. You don’t have to capture the full stage in promo photo. Don’t be afraid to get close up. Sometimes a detailed closeup of just a face can be far more interesting that a full body action shot.

Moonlight Stage Productions’ Newsies, Photo by Ken Jacques Photography


Of course, there are times that posing people for a still photo is the exact wrong thing to do. Sometimes, such as in the case of a musical, an action shot is going to sell the show the best. In these instances, use the camera to create something stunning. Make people feel the sweat.

Paramount Theatre’s Into the Woods, photos by Liz Lauren


Gone are the days when you just needed one good promo photo. Ever since USA Today began filling newspapers with big color photos on every page and Facebook opened up internet marketing to the masses, the need for multiple publicity images has been apparent.

Generally speaking, you want a minimum of four good publicity shots per show. These should include shots with both landscape and portrait orientation.

Good publicity photos don’t happen by chance, they happen because of planning.


If you are pouring money into production value and not marketing, you may be selling yourself short. A great show isn’t going to be remembered if nobody sees it.

Great publicity photos make people want to see the show. If the picture is exciting enough, that prospective audience member doesn’t even need to know what the play is about ahead of time. The photo will tell them.

Consider hiring a marketing consultant. A good one will work with you and your photographer of choice so that you learn how to create pictures that sell on your own. That way you won’t always have to use a consultant. 

If you spend the money now to learn how to do it right, you won’t have to hire consultants in the future. It’s all about acquiring the skills you need to succeed.

I’ve handled marketing and public relations for a number of theaters and entertainment organizations. In addition, I am the former head of public relations for Empire Today – during my tenure I earned the company record media coverage translating to record sales and being named one of the country’s Top 200 brands. I currently handle public relations for Steven Adler of Guns N’ Roses fame.

If I can ever be of help, don’t hesitate to reach out through the contact feature on this website. I truly enjoy helping people.

I encourage you to continue to create great art. We can work together to make sure people see it and remember it.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta


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