Why you should focus on getting people to NOT see your show.

There are no absolutes in marketing.

Except this one:

No show is for “everyone.”

One of the most common mistakes that new Producers/Writers make is thinking that their show appeals to every demographic.  Look, even West Side Story isn’t for everyone.  I know some people who hate Les Miz.  And don’t even get me started on Cats.

Obviously those shows appeal to an enormous amount of people, and I can only wish one of those to happen to you in your producing/writing future.

But most likely, you’re dealing with a much thinner slice of demographic pie.

When choosing a title, writing a marketing blurb, or choosing a logo, your first concern should be how to get people to buy a ticket to your show.  You are attempting to communicate a message that will heighten the buying senses in a consumer and get them excited about spending time and money on your product (ironically, the two things that most people want out of products and services is to save time and money – so you’re working against the grain a bit already).  Maybe they buy right away, but more likely, you’ve teased them into learning more about the show, so when they get their next impression (via another ad, or more likely, word-of-mouth), they well whip out their credit card and buy a ticket.

Of course, the above is what you should focus on first when putting together all of your marketing materials.

But, if we remember that no show is for everyone, and that word-of-mouth is the primary driver of ticket sales, then when developing these materials, we must also consider this question, “Who do we NOT want to see this show?”

Too many folks try to develop materials that cater to everyone.  And what happens?  Well, if it’s successful, you may have a group of people in your audience that you know are most likely not going to enjoy your show.  And then what happens?  They spread negative word-of-mouth.  Not because your show wasn’t any good, but because it just wasn’t for them.  And you’ve just counteracted all that time and money you spent on that advertising campaign.

No one likes to think that someone may not enjoy their show.  But checking your ego at the stage door may be the most important thing a Producer can do.


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  • I choose my titles and marketing images to really be clear; my shows are explicit and always involve sex, so I encourage people to self-select away from them, especially when I’m performing and self-promoting in festivals, where there really are all audiences, most of whom AREN’T a good match for me. When I am out there with Phone Whore, for example, flyering line-ups at other festival shows, I make a point of saying “it’s not a comedy, it’s a drama with funny bits”–because that is most often the wrong cross-over that occurs in people’s minds–and I go on to say that there are parts at the end that most people find really disturbing. I guess some audiences take that as a challenge, but they can’t say I didn’t warn them.

    So, YES for choose your audiences wisely.

  • PDXComposer says:

    “Not because your show wasn’t any good, but because it just wasn’t for them.”

    Perhaps the single most important line in the article. Taste is subjective – we do not all desire the same things, our tastes are each shaped by our personal experiences and they are only marginally shared with others. My musical taste has matured differently than yours, we desire different things and no two are correct, true or better than the other (good or bad.)

    The group think idea that we should all want the same custom brands, the same things and that anyone who doesn’t want what we want must be wrong – is wholly illogical. Unfortunately, a small minority of people have the acuity to comprehend and accept this. So for the vast majority, they will argue, by some pretty wild means, that their taste trumps others.

    I do think, that a producer, particularly a writer-producer, has to be particularly careful and develop the ability to discern subjective comments (of taste) from comments of feelings, disappointment and confusion.

    No debate or deft use of logic can erase the existing truth of these things – they exist because they were deeply felt by the patron – this is how they felt hearing and watching the staged event and no one can claim they did not.

    A healthy writer will want to know why the production caused the patron to feel unintended emotions (emotions not intended to be drawn from the work), feel confusion (misunderstandings arising from the work) or feel disappointment (disappointment that the work did not deliver what was expected.) It is with this information that the writer-producer can correct the errors and improve the project.

    This is particularly important for writers who are also producers – as the producer has financial relationships with a creative team who ought to be providing sound and useful comment, but may not for fear of employment reprisal. While the production’s creative team would be creative equals to the writers, they are not financial equals to the producer. For their own self-interests then, the creative team cannot always afford to make helpful, critical comments to the writer-producer for fear of loss of this or future work. The writer-producer must assume that such aid is sometimes withheld – which can leave sad consequences on the project. It becomes equally important then, for the writer-producer to seek out ALL critical commentary and sort out the experienced feelings from the subjective tastes.

    Also, “no news” is not “good news” in this industry. Tickets are sold by positive word of mouth (unless the patron desires to watch a train wreck – which occasionally happens.) Not hearing critical comments from patrons does not imply the work is without flaws.

    The majority of patrons do not bother themselves with considering and sharing their comments with producer or writer. Many are unable to articulate what exactly clouds their experience – they need added dialog and sometimes careful, controlled prompting to uncover what needles them. Others do not care to contribute, having neither the time nor desire to make the effort. And a few do not want to acknowledge their disappointment as it exposes them making a poor choice in attending, what they see as a failed event. Their silence saves face.

    Yes, a producer should always target their production at select and intended audiences. And it’s simple logic to assume one should avoid targeting inappropriate or harmful audiences – except it’s much more tricky to know one from the other. In my experience some subject targets, devotees of the shows subject, were also least likely to be musical theater patrons. The very people most likely to enjoy the material were least likely to attend. (It’s kind of like writing a musical for men – how often do they buy the show tickets?)

    It comes down to defining good. And what’s good for you may not be so for me. That also doesn’t make it bad. It simply makes it different for different people – which I think is what is truly meant in this commentary. As a writer, you must attempt to create a work that pleases the greatest number and as producer, develop a work that targets the greatest number – listening to an audience for any clues to improve their experience.

    You can not arbitrate taste, so you cannot avoid being bitten. But you can use a large net and hope the volume keeps the venomous bites down.

  • Hugh Murphy says:

    You’re better than Doctor Phill.


  • Lisa Rafferty says:

    One reason my show “The MOMologues” – has been so successful in its own way is precisely what you are saying: it’s got a built in target audience and when we produced it ourselves, our marketing and p.r. was relentless in going after the moms who needed a laugh. Now small theaters around the country are finding out the same thing. For instance, we always suggest that theaters do the show around Mother’s Day – built in publicity/marketing angle.

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