From the Comfort of Your Couch
Here are some marketing tips and tricks, in no particular order, that many successful groups employ:
Postcards & Fliers
Tim Eberle, formerly of The Magnet Theater's improv team, Lead McEnroe, is all too familiar with Guerrilla tactics.
IN: Is handing out postcards on the street really effective?
TE: We stood in front of schools or heavy traffic areas and handed out postcards to the latest show. We used to perform at the Magnet Theatre, which is down the street from F.I.T., so we'd go down by the school and hand postcards out to everyone because they were tangible and physical. People like that. Postcards, albeit a good way to get your name seen, can be a tough sell without the proper approach because postcards will usually be thrown away or forgotten, but a website sticks. We put our website address on our postcards so that people have another way of knowing about us.
Pranks & Gimmicks
INNY Award Winning group, Improv Everywhere, most recently known for their “King Phillip IV Autograph Signing” prank and their “No Pants Subway Ride 2011,” campaign, successfully utilize pranks and gimmicks to generate the all important "buzz."
Tim Eberle agrees that a website is a necessity. In fact, in the case of his former improv troupe, the website has outlived the group.
IN: Did your website add to your name recognition?
TE: Our website was the strongest tool Lead McEnroe had, and other groups will be behind the curve if they do not have one. It’s a one stop shop. The Lead McEnroe website offered fans everything they could possibly need. The website offered directions and a link to The Magnet Theatre, a link to our Facebook page and e-mail, and information on our schedule and latest cover story. The most important thing about a website is it’s professional look. The better it looks, the more hits it will get and Lead’s site got thousands of hits.
Social Networks are fast becoming Professional Networks.
IN: Have social networking sites helped you get attention?
TE: Our Facebook page was also one of our greatest assets. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Improvisation News and Tumblr all help to boost a group’s following and facilitate marketing.
It's relatively inexpensive to do and there are several companies offering different option and markets:
How to Advertise on Google - With Google, you only have to pay when someone clicks on your ad. The upside is that you can Target which sites on which your ads appear, by specifying "key words." The downside is that it's a bit of a crap shoot. You never know when a key word will hit and what works one day, may not work another.
How to Advertise on Facebook - With Facebook, you also have the option of paying by the click. That means you only pay when someone clicks on your ad and views your Fan Page. The down side is that you are only able to drive people to your Fan Page, not to other sites with more information.
How to Advertise on Improvisation News - Although you can post press releases, upcoming shows, videos etc. on Improvisation News for FREE, an enhanced membership ($10 / mo) allows for a few perks, including advertising on the Site. For the price of a couple fancy coffees a month thousands of new readers will read about your group. The upside of an Improvisation News ad is that it appears on our home page and you are able to include and photo and whatever text and links your heart desires. You are also advertising to a niche audience whom you know is interested in improv.
The Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City showcases long form and short form improv at its theatre all the time; the catch, as with most training theaters, is that you must be a student. Melinda Coyne, a former student at the school, says that the theatre does a great job at marketing their acts.
IN: What exactly does a theatre do to help market a group?
MC: You can make postcards and leave them in the theatre lobby, and your group is advertised on the theatre website. Also, a sense of camaraderie is established within the theatre among the students and the house fills.
Tim Eberle also says the same of The Magnet, echoing Melinda’s sentiments about partnering with the right training school.
IN: Did The Magnet help you when it came to your marketing?
TE: We got our start as students at The Magnet. We all performed on different house teams and eventually teamed up with each other and that’s how Lead McEnroe began. While performing at the theatre, we begged friends and family to come to our shows, we handed out fliers, and started up our website. When the Theatre saw that a great draw was being produced from the group we made our way to a split bill with another team. While continuing to pack the house after a one-month trial, Lead McEnroe landed a permanent spot at The Magnet for quite a long run.
HIRE A PUBLIC RELATIONS COMPANY
IN: When is a group ready to hire a PR firm?
LC: I think you're ready for a PR company any time you have something that has a clear news angle, whether that's a running show, a web series, a new video, etc.
IN: What does a PR Company do that a troupe couldn't accomplish on their own?
LC: While it's obviously possible to promote stuff on your own, it's incredibly time-consuming and, unless you're crazy well-connected, a publicist almost definitely has better relationships with press than you do. My biggest piece of advice is to contact a publicist as soon as something happens (you start your show's run, you release your web series etc.), rather than trying to do it yourself first. Journalists want a strong news angle and it's a lot more difficult for me to promote something that's old than something that's new.
In fact, improv groups like the INNY nominated troupe Centralia, have become masters of the promo video.
For tips on How To Shoot a Promo Video check out our recent article.
Although video helps capture the attention of Internet audiences in a powerful way, the most successful groups employ a combination of all the suggestions listed above.
Improv Everywhere has one of the most comprehensive marketing approaches; utilizing a robust website to record every prank, linking to their Facebook page (with an impressive 185, 700 fans and growing), linking to YouTube videos of their stunts, stunt outtakes and information on the troupe’s DVD, and the group’s first book. The group seems to be utilizing every possible Internet forum to have their work viewed. They are using YouTube for videos, sites like Facebook for networking, and their own website for information and upcoming events.
In short, getting noticed takes lots of time and lots of hard work, even if it's all done from your couch, but everyone will tell you that enjoying the shameless self-promotion is essential. UCB student Melinda Coyne advises, “Keep it fun. Make fliers, create Internet events, and put yourself out there as much as possible. The Internet makes it possible to reach millions of people with a minimal amount of work. So, film some sketches and create a website. But remember: you're marketing improv comedy, not taping the weather. Be creative, and never stop having fun with it; cut or edit accordingly.”
Integrating all of these tips and tricks could lead any group to success and help garner the ultimate prize: a laugh.
Edited By: Israel Savage
Apr, 09 2011 by Bobby Brower
Laura Merrill is a strong comedic actor and writer. She has recently contributed as a writer and performer to "The Beverly Bonner Show" at Broadway Comedy Club, and "In Transit" and "Something Outrageous" at the 45th Street Theater. She has experience in Shakespeare, Chekhov, and scenic design.
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