I was recently approached by a community theater for advice on increasing ticket sales. I asked what their marketing budget was. I was told that because they are a community theater, they don’t have money set aside for marketing.
This, I informed her, might be a mistake in thinking.
You can have the best show in the world and if you don’t have people in the seats, it’s not going to keep the theater doors open. At the same time, even if you have a poor-quality show, with proper marketing you can still be profitable.
Think about the original Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde. It got primarily lukewarm reviews. But it played to packed houses for years because they reinvested a significant percentage of their ticket sales into their marketing budget. They created a following by media exposure and branding.
When I was hired to handle marketing for North Shore Dance & Drama, it increased the marketing budget. But because of that, we tripled the size of the business in five years. The profits more than justified the expense.
JUST LIKE THE MOVIES
According to Studio Binder, in the film industry the marketing budget is equal to half the total production budget. In other words, if a film costs $100 million to make, an additional $50 million will be spent on marketing.
The Small Business Administration recommends that companies with less $5 million in annual revenue invest at least 8% of gross revenues on marketing. However, that is for companies in good standing with a faithful customer base. For companies that are trying to establish a new image and bring in new customers, though, Disruptive Advertising pushes that recommendation to 20%.
Just because you’re nonprofit, doesn’t mean you are exempt from needing to market your product. As philanthropy.com points out, it takes money to make money. That’s why they also recommend that nonprofits spend 20% of their budget on marketing.
As reflected by Broadway World, each production that a theater puts on is actually the equivalent of a traditional company launching a new product. The brand has an identity, but this latest flavor is something new. You can’t just magically expect people to line up to try every new flavor, even when they know your brand.
With that in mind, Small Business Marketing Tools calls for spending in the realm of 35% of the budget on marketing when launching a new product. Broadway World’s Alex Freeman points out that this 35% marketing budget theory can also be applied to theatres launching each new production.
MAXIMIZING THE BUDGET
According 52% of those polled, Forum-Theatre.com reports that the average mainstage theatrical production for a community theater show is between $10K-$20K. Statista places the average ticket price for such theaters at $25.50.
If you do as Broadway World recommends and treat each production as a new product introduction, that means that to put on a community theatre musical with a total budget of $20K, up to $7K should be going towards marketing. If your budget can’t support that, you’re not budgeting properly and that’s probably why you’re struggling to make profits.
Investing in marketing is a gamble. But if you want to make profits, you have to do the things necessary to sell tickets.
At one point community theatres wouldn’t pay their musicians for their musicals. But some of those theaters weren’t getting the musicians they needed for the quality they wanted to deliver. So, they started paying musicians. The quality improved. Ticket sales increased. Now, it is rare to hear of a community theatre that doesn’t pay its musicians.
Also, in the case of artistic staff, at one point in time directors for community theatres volunteered their vision. Now, even the smallest community theaters persevere to pay their staff at least a small honorarium. The more successful theaters pay their directors quite well. They know that having respected staff will attract high quality talent and ensure a high-quality show. This, combined with proper marketing, creates immediate and long-term ticket sales.
WORTH THE MONEY
The next question is where to spend those marketing dollars. Just like you use a stockbroker or an investment banker to handle your investments, you should consider using an experienced professional to help navigate how to market your show.
I happen to be very good at what I do. I was the head of public relations for Empire Today – increasing their media coverage by record numbers leading to industry best sales. Under my tenure, Empire Today was ranked as one of the Top 200 brands in the entire United States.
I was also the head of marketing for Other World Computing, earning the company media coverage levels they never had before or since, directly leading to unprecedented growth and being named one of Inc Magazine’s fastest growing companies.
I now handle PR for celebrity clientele like Steven Adler of Guns N’ Roses fame, but I also serve as a public relations and marketing consultant for theaters looking to increase their reach. I specialize in smaller theaters. However, I do work with a number of fantastic PR agencies that I can recommend for large professional theaters.
Community theater is a specialty that I have had great success with marketing. If you’re looking for advice on how to take your theater to the next level of success, I’d be happy to see if I can be of assistance. We’ll look at what has worked in the past and come up with some ideas for how to move into the next phase of success.
Sometimes an investment is warranted, because you can expect a return on that investment. If you want to improve the image of your brand and increase ticket sales, consider soliciting the help of industry experts.
The performing arts community is a sprawling network of talent. So, know that you’re not alone. We’re here to help each other.
You can reach out to me through the Contact Page on this website or email RikkiLeeTravolta@lifeandtime.biz.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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Excellent advice and acknowledgement of what really happens and what should happen if you want to succeed with your production. I know your advice to be true as well as wise!