Alright, you have put together a great improv show and you are really excited about it. Now the important part: How do you get people to come and see it?
If you’re like most improvisers, you will rely on people magically just showing up. Which in most cases doesn’t work. Some people are fortunate enough to be part of a theater that seems to almost automatically get packed houses, but for most of us, we need to put in some good old-fashioned publication relations and marketing to get noticed.
Learning how to market your own shows can seem overwhelming at first, but the steps you have to take to get the word out aren’t rocket science. In fact, they’re pretty simple, once you know what to do.
So here are some easy tips on how to market your improv show.
- Get a Good Title
This is very important. You want to create a show title that is funny/clever and says something about what the show is about. I did a one-man show years ago at The Annoyance Theater called “I am 27, I Still Live at Home and Sell Office Supplies.” The title is funny and we know what that show is about. Shows like “Improvised Shakespeare” and “The Improvisers Strike Back” (a Star Wars variety show) are clever and immediately clear.
- Choose a Good Venue
Where you choose to put up your improv show will have a direct impact on whether people come to see it, and whether the press will take it seriously. For example, if you do your improv show in the back room of a bar, you might not be taken as seriously as if you do a six-week run at an improv theater. Finding an established venue gives your show more credibility, especially if it is your first time out.
- Send a Press Release to the Media
To get press for your show, you will need to send out a press release, ideally about six weeks before your show opens. (And no, you cannot send a press release about a show that has already opened). When you’re writing it, think like the reporter, critic, radio host, blogger, etc. you are sending the press release to. What is your angle? What makes this show unique? Does this person cover this type of show? What kind of stuff would they be interested in? Remember, they are busy people and they have people pitching things to them all the time, so make sure you explain why they should care about your particular show.
- Get a Good Group Photo
When you send in your press release, make sure to send a high-resolution image (which means it must be AT LEAST 1,000 pixels wide) of your group that will reproduce well. Do not send your publicity poster with text on top of it. This will just piss them off and you will not look very professional. This is one of the biggest mistake improv groups make. Also, I cannot stress enough how important it is to put some thought into your photo. The more interesting the photo, the more likely it will be run by the publication.
- Don’t Assume Everyone Knows What Improv Is
Don’t assume everyone from the press knows what improv is, especially if you are in a smaller market. Unless you know that the reporter/critic has cover improv before, you may have to explain what improv is in the press release.
- Customize Your Pitch
Once you know who you are sending the press release to, you will want to customize your pitch to them. If you’re doing an improvised Star Trek show and you know a certain radio host loves Star Trek and has talked about it on his show, you will want to mention that right in the subject line of the email.
- Write a Good Email Subject Line
The subject line of the email is the most important part of the press release. My wife, Lauren Carrane, runs a PR company called Sharp Pencil Marketing, and she tells me the subject line is what grabs reporters’ attention. It’s even more important than what’s in the actual press release since people are so busy. Most people put way too much energy in what goes in the press release instead of writing a good subject line, which is what causes someone to open an email in the first place. Also, make sure to tailor each subject line to each different reporter.
- Follow Up
Follow up with a phone call to the people you have sent the press release to. This is where most groups fail. They think sending the press release out once is enough and they can’t understand why no one picks up the story. If you want them to pick up on the story, you need to pick up the phone (or at least email again).
- Do Grass Roots Marketing
Of course, getting the press to come to your improv show isn’t the magic bullet to filling a house, either. You also need to do grass roots marketing by printing up postcards and flyers and asking your friends directly to come to the show. Yes, you should promote on social media, but you will get some of your biggest houses if you personally email or text people and ask them to come to your improv show. People love the personal touch and have a better chance of coming to the show.