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Producing an Event

Marketing Dance - Selling with Stories
By Phil Reed

Whether it’s a picture telling a thousand words or a thousand words painting a picture, the arts are the telling of stories. Dance, of course, tells stories through movement. The marketing of dance, along with all cultural and artistic ventures, is no different: it’s about the story.

I was reminded of this when an old friend approached me for advice on a nightclub’s 10th anniversary. A lofty achievement, for sure, but the mere milestone wasn’t enough for a journalist to be interested in, let alone a chief reporter or a few thousand readers. But in five minutes of conversation we talked about the loyal crew of DJs and bartenders and the shenanigans they’d enjoyed over a decade of seeing people at their best – and worst. “If this dance floor could talk,” laughed my friend. Well, it can – through the memories of the staff we began to weave a tapestry of stories to back up what we thought was a good headline.

Dance and the Arts can often struggle with the false notion that people will come, so long as a show is being put on. But with the competitive scramble for the public’s attention – and purse – this is not the case. So for people to see your story of dance, you need to tell the stories behind the story. The stories of trials and achievement, innovation and heritage, sorrow and loss, personalities and principles, stagecraft and success.

Good marketing is about knowing your audience, knowing how to reach them and, once you’ve reached them, knowing what to say.

By having an understanding of your audience, you are able to tailor your message and methods of communication. 

You will need to know all demographic information about your target audience including facts such as age, race, gender, income and religion. You can use this information to build pictures of people and groups, what motivates them, what delights them and what turns them off so you can develop media narratives, for example, around family values and heritage (traditional and conservative audiences) or alienation and overcoming obstacles (minority groups and young people). From here, you can understand what channels of communication they tune in to and what levers can be pulled to grab their attention: younger audiences live on social media, older audiences like newspaper articles (as a general example).

When I worked with Footnote Dance I broke the audience into three strata: Core, Fringe and Coincidental audiences, and tailored messages for each. For the Made in NZ series that paired home grown dance works with kiwi composers and fashion designers, the breakdown was thus:

  • Core audience: dance aficionados, dancers, devotees, Footnote supporters, dance students; best reached through Footnote’s direct marketing, emails and articles in dance and arts-focused media.
  • Fringe audience: partners, family, sponsors; reached through ticketing concessions, workplace marketing and ‘pester pressure’ to tap into (subtly) some feelings of obligation to support the show.
  • Coincidental audience: fans of NZ music and followers of NZ fashion; these people may be more interested in music and fashion being presented in a new and interesting way, which we reached in profiles of musicians and designers talking about the challenges of working with dance as an art form. This opened up music and fashion magazines as very relevant mediums to get the message across. Here are the main ways of reaching your audience, with a few pros and cons.
  • Posters: Pros: visual impact, reaches wide cross-section of community. Cons: scant room for messages except one or two review quotes.
  • Radio: Pros: conveys multiple stories, includes music and dialogue. Cons: niche audience, bad interviews can harm show, expensive adverts.
  • Print ads: Pros: wide readership, visual impact with good photos. Cons: people ‘tuning out’ paid advertisements.
  • Social media: Pros: wide coverage, greater ability to target, multi-media capacity, viral, can create sense of community with continual engagement. Cons: high expectations, lots of competition, easily skipped or discarded.
  • Street performance: Pros: high visibility if good location or if makes news, promotes narratives. Cons: could turn people off , lose element of surprise or reinforce stereotypes.
  • Flyers: Pros: visual impact, gets taken home, gets businesses on board. Cons: printing expensive, static medium.
  • Articles: Pros: free (well, should be!), builds narrative, reaches wider audience (the coincidentals), explores deeper issues, great impact with good pics. Cons: publication may bury article, not cover your key points, or talent may go off -topic.
  • Online listings: Pros: multiple Google hits build sense of importance, reaches across many websites, all your own copy. Cons: lots of competition, paid listings get priority.

One can’t stress enough the importance of strong, bold and captivating images. Even if the story is weak, the production amateur, or the performers are supremely obscure, a great image is highly sought after because your supplied image will help brighten pages and sell publications.

Dance has a particular advantage – a good photographer can capture the grace and beauty of the movement and dancers. Make sure your images are bold, at least 2MB in size, and it’s worth having a bland background so the image can easily be ‘cut’ for inventive use on pages, such as having the text spread around it.

A press release introduces the journalist to a story, and needs to stand out from all the other news items: crashes, crimes and celebrity coupling. It should be delivered up to two months before the event, especially if you want magazine coverage.
A few points to consider are:

  • Give the document some space - use short sentences and paragraphs, and full lines between paragraphs.
  •  Leave wide margins and use a maximum of 2 pages.
  •  Write short sentences and state facts rather than opinions and avoid technical terms, jargon, exaggeration and flowery prose.
  • Date of release at the top, with catchy headline. The intro should be concise and capture the reader’s attention.
  • Who, why, what, when, where, and how are the most important elements and should be put in the 2nd or 3rd paragraphs (often the easiest paragraphs to start writing if you feel stuck).
  • Include quotes from someone closely involved in the project, and information about your company and what it stands for.
  • Include your name and contact details (telephone, e-mail and website or facebook) at the end.

It’s worth telephoning around two or three days after sending in the press release – a good conversation opener is to check whether it was received and if anyone will attend or cover the event – but don’t pester too much!

It’s important to have one point of contact for the media. Assign someone from your production to the duty of being the media person, including oversight for the advertising, online marketing, and interview arrangements. Also, establish clear expectations about the chain of command, so that no media release goes out unless its been signed off by the producer.

The tailoring of messages, stories and information to hit the right market is critical to your chances of success.

Different audiences are in tune to different things; what’s attractive to an 18 year old is different to an 80 year-old, so it’s essential to think about what things would be attractive to the different segments of your audience.

With an open mind to story possibilities and plenty of thought into how to make your show relevant to many different people, the results can be surprising. Success begets success, and a strong media campaign for your show will help pave the way for future shows and campaigns.

The stories about your story are a great way to sell your show.

Download the article (Iss. 37) Marketing Dance - Selling with Stories

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