Marketing your improv group is a daunting task! We asked Jordan Bainer, Casey Haeg and Joe Halvarson of M4W to write a guest blog on the topic, as they’ve got serious hustle. Here’s what they had to say:
When we were developing M4W, we focused on marrying a fun form to play with and a story worth telling. We wanted to find a way to take our collective strengths (e.g., creating emotional bonds, playing it “real”, etc.) and tie those into a concept that people could easily understand and differentiate. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, we landed on improv inspired by Craigslist Missed Connections.
With the support of HUGE Theater and individual marketing efforts, we’ve been able to generate buzz and excitement for M4W. We are, by no means, marketing experts, but we have seen success with a few communications maxims:
Know who you are.
Though branding is sometimes seen as a dirty word in art, branding helps teams avoid the malaise of marketing. Defining your brand allows you to single-in on what makes your group special and why you matter. Once you’ve formed your story, you get to focus on the good stuff: the improv. Here are a few aspects of defining your brand:
- Write down your “reason for being” statement. Why do you exist in the improv world? What’s your elevator speech if you’re talking to a potential audience member?
- Bring out your uniqueness through a distinct wordmark or logo.
- Get everyone in the group to talk about the group in similar fashion. Avoid inconsistent selling.
Put together a plan.
There are plenty of ways to promote and advertise your group. On the flip side, you can easily get bogged down with all the marketing options out there. That said, we recommend putting together a plan that considers how much time and energy the team can put towards promotion. Detail specific websites, publications, social media outlets, and other marketing channels you’re going to pursue. Break up the assignments between group members. Everyone should be responsible for getting people to your shows.
Make audience lists.
We have lists for everything. Lists for audience members to sign up and get more info on upcoming shows. Lists for managing press contacts. Lists for updating local event calendars. Capture your audience information and use it (appropriately) to communicate ongoing information about your shows and your group. WOM is one of the most important tactics to get people to your shows.
Find a Niche or Game Related to Your Show and Content-ify It
Building on knowing who you are, you will find something unique about your show. Use that and create stuff that is not about promotion, but about engagement. If you can get people interested and reading or watching something you’ve created that relates to your show, well, that’s great marketing. There are a million Facebook events. A million emails. A million things. Everywhere there are millions of millions. Do something different, but not too different (we do function under the repressive pathos of Minnesota lagom), but just different enough to be interesting. The less you do to tell people that “HEY! WE’VE GOT A SHOW TONIGHT” and the more you can get people saying, “Hey, I wonder when they perform?” the better off you will be.
The other side of creating content is that even if it seems like you’re not getting the engagement you desire immediately don’t stop creating interesting things for potential fans to experience. Whether you know it or not, there are people who are liking things in their head, or retweeting or favoriting things with their mouth parts to other people. Those mouth parts are BIG part of your promotional engine, so you can’t stop, don’t stop, can’t stop the beat.
The other thing is, don’t stop engaging when you aren’t performing. We people all want the same thing. A little love, a little laughter, and a little, cute, tiny little pig that fits in a cup and you can carry around with you and when you pretend to take a sip in the office you yell “WHO PUT THIS PIG IN MY TEA CUP!” Your co-workers crowd around you and put you on their shoulders and pump their fists to the sky like they’re concluding a massive sing-along, dance number. But, I digress. We want to have a conversation, not be bullhorned at. We want to decide when and where we do stuff, not some red 1 that brings instant dread. We want a little extra time under a warm quilt on a blustery, winter morning. Wait, am I digressing again?
To summarize. Create content. Let the content promote you. Don’t stop creating, even when you’re off the stage.
Follow the Golden Rule
Have you ever received an invite to a show about 34 minutes before show time? We all have. When you see that friend next, they’re always the same story. “Hey, really wish I could have seen you at the show. We killed it!” Then, you feel all uncomfortable like it’s your fault. It wasn’t. It wasn’t your fault at all. You may now let it go. What I’m saying is, don’t be that person. Follow your plan and follow a schedule. As much as us creative folk think we hate schedules and order, we really do like it. I like to know what I’m doing and when, even if I’m terrible at remembering it so I end up at the Grand Forks Pride parade in September where they just talk about how much they like Grand Forks instead of the fun one in Minneapolis at the end of June. It’s not fun to listen to people yammer on about Grand Forks.
Oh yeah, what does this have to do with the golden rule? Do unto others as you would them unto you do. I’m paraphrasing, I think, but that’s a pretty solid rule. If something that someone else is doing annoys you, be sure as honkin’ heck you aren’t doing it yourself.
Having said all of this, there’s one thing to add. You can’t do it all. Although the advice here is mostly solid, if a bit rambly at times, you can’t do it all. You can try. That’s great. You can try, but you won’t succeed or hit the mark on everything. Dust yourself off. Pick yourself up. Shake your fist at the jerk who nearly ran you over, then cross the street to the telephone pole and tape up your poster. Or, hit share on your Facebook page, or retweet something you like on your group’s Twitter. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Unless you’re God. Bro’s got a ‘tude. Storms, amIright?
Also, do good improv. That’s a pretty good marketing tool in itself.