For theatergoers, the Fringe season may be the most magical time of the year. All over the world, from Edinburgh to Indianapolis, performers of all stripes put on hour-long shows in small theaters. It’s an eclectic mix of styles, professionals and amateurs, but most performers have one thing in common: They want people to come see their shows. Most aren’t marketers, but they’re forced to learn quickly to compete against the sometimes hundreds of other shows.
As a Fringe devotee and a marketer, I’ve spent a few years watching which techniques work well for Fringers and which result in a lot of hard work with little payoff. If you’re marketing a Fringe show, follow these steps:
1. Have a good show. Yeah, obviously that’s always the goal, but the best marketing you can ever have is a great show. Word of mouth is and always will be the most powerful Fringe marketing tool. Even if you think your show will only be appreciated by a small number of people, if they absolutely love it, they’ll tell all their like-minded friends.
2. Make friends. But before word of mouth can spread, someone has to be the first to see the show, right? That’s where networking comes into play. At pre-Fringe parties, preview nights and any other events, you should be there with bells on. If you have one, come in costume. At this year’s Indy Fringe, one show had performers painted from head to toe in gray, like an old movie. Their appearance piqued interest and got people in the door. But even if you don’t have a fancy costume, that’s okay. Just be personable with people and get them to like you. Fringe festivals are small communities, so by making a personal connection, you can get those first few brave souls through your door.
3. Write a great blurb. At many Fringe festivals, there’s an official program with short descriptions of each show. Don’t waste your space telling us what the East Nowhere Paper said about your show–of course you’re going to choose a quote which says great things! Tell me what you’re going to show me. What you’re going to make me feel. Why I should fork out money to see your show instead of someone else’s. Spend some real time polishing it and making it enticing.
4. Use social media–and start early. The biggest mistake social media Fringers make is that they create an account just for their show rather than for themselves or their theater company. They use it only during the run of the festival and then let it fall dormant. If you plan on Fringing more than once, create a more general Twitter account. People will be more likely to follow you because they’ll be able to keep up with your other appearances and follow you from year to year. Building up a dedicated following this year can make your job much easier next year.
5. Seriously, use social media. Okay, you don’t have a smart phone. That’s fine! You can still be on Twitter. Use a PC. A library computer. A laptop. Borrow someone else’s phone. Whatever it takes, this online ecosystem puts that word of mouth concept on crack and helps you reach bigger audiences. Don’t forget to use the festival’s hashtag–chances are they have one–to see what other people are tweeting about the festival. Retweet, follow people at the festival and get involved. If you see someone who’s reviewing shows, either on a personal blog or on the Fringe website, reach out to them and invite them to your show! You’d be amazed what a simple personal connection will do.
6. Fliers are good, but they’re not enough. Many performers think all they have to do is print out some little cards with their showtimes, stand outside a busy auditorium as it lets out and magic. If only it were that easy. I’ve seen performers there all day and all night making no headway. If your shows still aren’t filling up, step away from expensive brochures and start networking. Call TV stations and ask if you can be on their morning news. Ask other performers to plug your show before or after theirs. Make connections to help you reach a larger audience.
Now, some Fringe performers just want to do their art and don’t care about making money from the festival. That’s absolutely commendable. But if you do want to share your message, a few tweaks to your marketing plan can yield huge dividends.