GUEST BLOG: Tom Reed's top 10 ways to help improv take over the world

[We asked some local experts for their top tips on promoting improv shows.  This week’s tips are from Tom Reed who, in addition to being a brilliant improvisor, wrote and performed wildly successful one-man Fringe shows Harry Potter and the Half-Drunk Twins, Bite Me, Twilight, and Disney Dethroned: Snowcahontas and the Tangled FrogBeast.  Tom Reed blogs at www.frecklemeat.com and can be seen regularly at Comedy Sportz, Brave New Workshop and as crooning sensation Lounge-asaurus Rex.  Thanks for these wonderful tips, Tom!]

I want everyone in the whole world to love improv as much as I do. The first step is getting the whole world to an improv show. Based on my experience, here are 10 tips that will eventually lead to improv world domination, or at least a few more people at our shows. You gotta start somewhere!

1. Set aside time for promotion. This sounds obvious, but I’ve been part of countless improv shows where promotion is an afterthought at best. It’s really easy to get caught up in creating an awesome show and then realize it’s opening night and you’re not sure if there are going to be any butts in seats. You’re spending time making an awesome show – don’t forget to spend time ensuring that people will come see your awesome show.  Otherwise, why are you creating such an awesome show? For your cats? Cats don’t care about improv. (sorry)

2. Make a plan. It doesn’t need to be fancy, even if it’s on a bar napkin, write down a list and timeline for your promo efforts. Having some kind of plan is a good way to hold yourself accountable to make sure you’re doing #1. Having a rough idea of what you’ll be doing two months out, two weeks out, two days out… will make the whole process seem way easier and more manageable. And easier equals more likely to get done.

3. Promote early. The plan you just wrote on that napkin should start more than a week before your show. It’s more effective and efficient if you start promotion early. As improvisers, planning ahead isn’t necessarily our strongest suit, but no amount of last minute tweeting and Facebook posting can replace planting a seed in peoples’ minds three weeks before the show opens. AND if you get in the habit of deluging people with a million last minute social media posts, people might not want to be social with you anymore. Which is only fair, because digitally shouting “I HAVE A SHOW TONIGHT!” 10 times in a day isn’t very social of you.

4. Consider your audience. Consider who your target audience is and how accessible they are promotion-wise. If you want to do a show where four improvisers silently pretend to be cactuses for 45 minutes, you need to figure out who wants to watch that and how to tell them about it. This is NOT a warning against obscure weird shows, as long as you know how to reach that obscure weird audience.

5. Target your audience. Speaking of obscure weird audiences, there are lots of types and you have to figure out which audience will come to your show and how to tell them about it. If you have a theme or genre hook for your show, figure out where folks interested in that hook hang out- online and offline. Spend your time focusing on a few places where your potential audience will be a high percentage of the traffic (digital or otherwise). There’s a blog or specialty shop for just about everything; send an e-mail, make a call or stop by and see if you can display cards, posters or get blog coverage. It might be worth contacting other media, especially those related to your theme, genre or location.

Targeting is all about quality of promotion over quantity, which means an efficient use of your time and (probably really tiny) resources. I’d much rather 10 people who are interested in my topic see a poster than 100 random people who just want to buy a cup of coffee. Keep in mind that the right theme or genre will appeal to people who don’t know anything about improv, so expand beyond those who are already familiar with improv.

6. Develop promotional materials that preview your show, rather than explain it. Everything from your title to the background color on your promotional materials should give people a taste of your show. Instead of just describing your show, use emails/cards/images/words that match the tone and content of your show.

This can be difficult with improv, but figure out what makes your group unique and incorporate that into your promotion. Is your group made up of six sassy 20-somethings who create richly detailed worlds and vivid characters? Are you two wistful nerds who tend to go on fantastical adventures? Even though you don’t know what the scenes are going to be in a given show, obviously those two groups are going to have very different “feels.” Figure out how to preview that in all the promotion you do.

Use language and images that are compelling and specific to your show. Don’t just use group shots of people in a line or canned language like “unpredictable and funny.” Most good improv is unpredictable, funny and is done by people who could arrange themselves into a line. Give your potential audience more info than they already have, and better yet, a compelling reason to check out your brand of improv.

In addition to distinguishing your show from others, previewing your show in your promotion is really important for setting audience expectations. Disappointed or confused people are terrible ambassadors for your show. People who got what they expected, and maybe even more, will tell their friends to go to the show. So be compelling, specific and honest. A happy audience comes back, with friends.

7. Tell everyone you know. I know I just got done saying you should target your audience, but part of your target audience is the obscure weird niche know as “the people that know and like you.” Make it an expectation of everyone involved in your show that they help promote. Have them send a quick note to their friends, announce it at their soccer team practice, call their grandmas – tell everyone.

You may be surprised by who comes to your show and as long as your promotion is honest and specific, they won’t be unpleasantly surprised by what they see. Especially good targets are big groups that might peer pressure each other into going in large numbers. Were you ever in a choir with an e-mail list? In a show with a cast of 50? Goldmine.

As long as you’re sending one e-mail (or whatever) every now and again, you aren’t being annoying. Especially when lots of your friends are performers, it’s easy to think it’s just annoying to send people an email or Facebook invite. Civilians still respond to those, so write up a friendly message and tell your friends what you’re up to.

8. Remind, but don’t harass. You want to keep your show in peoples’ minds, but you don’t want to piss them off. That’s a fine line. I try to alternate platforms to mix it up and make promotion less likely to annoy. If you tweet about a show today, throw up a Facebook message tomorrow and start working on an email the day after that. You want people to hear about your show multiple times, but if you’re too persistent you’ll look desperate and everyone will start to secretly hate you.

9. Find other ways to be deliberate and strategic. You have limited time and resources, so try to maximize your results by being strategic. Do your emailing, tweeting and Facebook posting at times that people are more likely to read, like and share them. Before flyering, make a list of the important or easy places and do them first in case you run out of time or flyers. Especially if you’re part of an ongoing show, think long term so you don’t have to do the same thing 10 times. In general, experiment and keep an eye on what works. Sidewalk chalk? Discounts? A sticker on your car? Giving free tickets to people who might bring a big group? Do what makes the most sense first and if you have extra time, try to figure out the new greatest way to get people to show up.

10. Support other artists. I’m going to end on a slightly touchy feely note- go to other people’s shows! You’ll have fun, you might learn something and you’ll make the audience a little bigger. If we don’t go to shows, how can we ask anyone else to?

For more tips, see last week’s guest blog from Max Sparber!