Notes from Community Media Workshop’s 2008 Making Media Connections conference panel: Butts in Seats-How to Turn People Out: the Secret Ingredients.
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Mike Ervin, Freelance Journalist: writes mostly about disability issues, works at Victory Gardens on The Access Project to help people with disabilities: sign language, audio adaptation, if people want to be onstage, they have performance art workshops; also involved in ACT with civil disobedience
Mandy Burrell, Metro Planning Council: related to regional and urban growth and development, active in a group called Neighbors Project, also writes for Gapers Block, used to work as a community reporter for Wednesday Journal and Conscious Choice
Tanya Saracho, Teatro Luna: female Latina theater company only one in the country until a year ago, don’t have a lot of money, but they consistently sell out the shows
Christopher Piatt, theater editor for Time Out Chicago, theater scene is really broad, Denise is the media rep that reaches all parts of the city and Tanya does not, manages weekly magazine and online presence-blogs; have to watch trends in cities and rural area
Denise Garrity, publicity director for Goodman Theater, do almost 10 productions a year between 2 theaters, her job is to act as a liaison with the press, fortunate to have a separate marketing team, she pitches theater stories and works with critics. Fourth installment of the Goodman’s Latino Theatre Festival coming this summer. Moving to the new facility means they can invite off-Loop theater companies to present in that space.
Question about strategy
Smaller companies are at Time Out Chicago’s mercy. Their response [Time Out Chicago] to the show is their [small theater] advertising. This Sunday at the Tony’s, you’ll see Steppenwolf and Shakespeare Chicago. The importance of that legacy is why Time Out Chicago’s subscribers want to know about the artist and the works. It’s harder to get their attention than it used to be. Send an email to let them know about the production. A lot of his job is emailing people about photographs. Presence of the glossy magazine means that theater is going to look different to the average consumer. There is a science and photographing theater is a craft. They have a lot of freelancers writers they have to trust. For people who are trying to push their companies out there, their attention spans can be very short sometimes. You can call him up. If you do, he will remember that. They get a lot of pitches, but sometimes they want to write about something else. Just be yourself and give them a personal contact.
Teatro Luna’s motto: redefining the mainstream. How can you not be interested in a quarter of the population of Chicago? They were an accident, met her partner and got a group together. Don’t know how they filled that main stage at Victory Gardens. Got an email list, now they use Facebook and MySpace. They want to reach 25-32 year olds.
Question: What could you attribute the success to the initial show?
We were doing something original and we had a product, but we didn’t know we had a product. Played to their strengths without the money, realized they were something special and we need to tell the people who might care. Started doing postcards. Whole Latin explosion; people wanted to see that on the stage. Originality and reflecting.
It’s basically hip hop theater. For the show Machos they interviewed 54 men and women played them. It’s an accident, but a way that you’re answering the call.
In terms of delivering the information, you have to pay attention to the calendar. We’re in the midst of the festival season. They’ve taken the cast of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” to two baseball games. Now they’re investigating ways to get the performers out. Even the Goodman, we still rely on that. Put posters in boutiques on Southport.
You got to talk to us the way we’re listening. We like to listen to the radio. There’s a free way to diffuse information via an events e-blast. Also use party promoters. From the beginning, they knew the importance of having on-point marketing materials. The logo needs to be something extraordinary. When they did start producing postcards and a web page they stood out, it’s kind of like equal opportunity on the net.
Similarities, new project: community planning process, do people really want to go to another meeting? Started in 3 different areas, began a web site and started blogging about it, looking at transit missed connections and also looking at retail amenities. It’s been a challenge because there are new people in the neighborhood. Pushed out via e-alerts and they come up with some reason to send it out. How do you have a list? Started out with a list of leaders from business and community groups to connect them to larger groups within the neighborhood. There’s some back and forth there. Then, when people came to the meetings, they collected emails. Collected stories from people who came to the meetings and had interesting things to say. Passing out at neighborhood events, festivals and libraries. Most meetings are interactive. Use surveymonkey.com. Brochure has a tear off to win a $50 transit card.
Enter to win works well.
They do holiday parties; secret Valentines bought in so much money and 350 people.
Tailor-made event, they identified their goal. Chief diversity heads at corporations very interested – had their boards blast out the information via eblast and a paper donation, caterer donated food, had to invest a little bit of money to get the artists to preview the show.
They use Constant Contact to manage email
Question: How can we tie into arts to get our message out?
Comedy, art and music are good partnerships
Journalists love it
How did you come up the fake protest and have you done anything else like it?
Fake protesting low priced jeans as performance art landed coverage in the Trib: Latinas have had enough. Also wanted to find out how men use urinals, got attention online.
How do you get volunteers?
We only use volunteers, always important to build your board
Created a program called university ambassadors that exchanged tickets for service
Theaters use Saints as ushers
Saints are the best kind of volunteers to have
pizza and beer
How do you do eblast trades?
Partner with other groups to exchange lists
Host an event with another group that’s well established to cross-promote stuff, make it easy for them
Have an incentive, give them a discount
Have to remember the law of diminishing returns with email, the more they see you, the less they pay attention. People block some companies. The really good publicity offices know how to pick those battles and how to really carefully arbitrate that.
Always attach attachments
What makes a good photo?
Very few people in the photo, the eye is going to be drawn to simplicity and movement. Michael Braslow? is so good at capturing even in the still moments. There is a difference between a production and promotion photo. Production photos will help you get coverage. Make two investments: one in production photography and one in promotional photography. Be very simple so that the picture tells a quick story. Look at the advertising campaigns across the board and see which fonts and looks that draw attention. Never place an ad or take a photo for a show you wouldn’t go to. Don’t want a photo to run with the review that looks like the ad.
Discussion centered mostly on theater production. The secret ingredients? Be original, find a need, feed people, perform where the people are, collaborate and present two faces: production/doing and promotion/marketing.
What do you think?
What’s your secret for getting butts into seats?