This July, I will have been the listings editor at Theatre Bay Area for a year. After receiving hundreds—probably thousands—of press releases and event notices, I've gleaned some insights about effective—and not so effective—marketing and publicity tactics. Although these may seem basic, I certainly could have used a few of these pointers while doing marketing for some theatres fresh out of college.
Tailor your email or press release to who you you're sending it to. I'm not even talking about addressing the recipient by name (although knowing how to do a mail merge can sure come in handy), but know the organization you're sending your event to. Take the time to look up what kind of publication you're submitting to. Don't send announcements about poetry readings to a website that only lists theatre performances.
Unless it’s a new play, don’t focus on the play, but on the production. I recently got an event listing for "Death of a Salesman," and the whole listing was a textual analysis of the play (complete with a comparison between Oedipus and Willy Loman—could you scream school paper any louder?). The name of the director and everyone else involved, which was really all I was interested in, was buried in a blurb at the end.
It’s also equally painful when someone tries to make an overdone play seem sexy and edgy. I once got an event listing for “a new Broadway musical,” a.k.a., "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown," which debuted in 1967. The play’s not going to be new, no matter how good a writer you are. Focus on this production, which is new.
Send show info and photos early. You’d be surprised how early the deadlines are for publications, especially those going into print. Back when Theatre Bay Area still published show listings in our print magazine, the deadline was the first business day of the month before the publication month. It’s an even longer lead time for stories, which are due closer to two months before publication. Rehearsals often don’t begin until a month before opening, and costume choices are often still being finalized during tech, but at that point, photos are useless in terms of advance publicity. If necessary, stage some photos a few months before your show with stand-in costumes, or possibly even stand-in actors, if you have not yet finalized casting.
Remember you’re talking to a human. Unless you’re filling in an online form, any event notice you send is going to a human. Even if you’re emailing a generic address like calendar@, there's a person on the receiving end. Otherwise, why would you be sending it? So adjust your tone accordingly. Just writing “List my event!” with the show information is like banging on your neighbor’s door screaming, “Give me sugar!” The Oatmeal does a good (and hilarious) job illustrating how this kind of antisocial web etiquette translates into real life.
Put your info in a clear, easy to read format. As someone who is constantly getting requests to list events, it can get frustrating if I can’t find the necessary information to list the event. Every media outlet requires its own set of information, but I would suggest including the title of the show, the company that is producing it, the playwright, the director, the cast if possible, the dates of the show (making it clear which are previews and which is opening night) and showtimes, how people can buy tickets, ticket prices and where the show is. I like it when there’s a calendar editor section with a who, what, where, when, why, etc.
Look up deadlines and other submission requirements. As the saying goes, “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” The calendar editor may accommodate you this time, but you may have just guaranteed that person will never do it for you again. And for God’s sake, don’t send event notices the day before your event. To me, this is like asking me to drop everything I'm doing and promote your event on my home page. The likelihood that this is going to happen? Not much. The likelihood that I am annoyed? Pretty high.
Theatre Bay Area’s updated "Sources of Publicity," which will be available online by June 1, has some other good tips for reaching out to the media to publicize your show.
The views represented in this Chatterbox Art & Opinion post are those of the individual author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Theatre Bay Area or its staff.