A Brief Overview of Theatre Marketing and Partnerships

A Brief Overview of Theatre Marketing and Partnerships

How do you reach these kids? That’s a question many school teachers have asked themselves for generations. Luckily your inquiry as a theatre venue is probably a bit more nuanced, maybe something like ‘How do I make these people laugh and smile until their faces hurt?’ We all know that social media is a valuable tool, but how can you leverage it to identify and connect with your audience? How can you find partnerships with local businesses to benefit everyone involved and stir up more attendance and participation? After determining your target audience, research shows repeatedly that building a solid connection with your patrons leads to a prosperous venue. Let’s dive into the details of what it takes to market your theatre or club in this day and age.

In the nine-billion-dollar live performance theatre industry with thousands of competitors, it pays to focus on the details. As mentioned, defining your audience is the first step, and that’s arguably a decision that will dictate everything about your theatre business, from location to the color of the floor to the type of lights you hang from the ceiling and the people you employ. While it can be tempting to provide an open-ended all-inclusive vibe in your theatre to all ages and backgrounds, you may find that focusing primarily on a specific group offers the most value. Suppose you’ve got the bankroll to build your own space or perform a serious building rehab. In that case, you can afford to do some serious reconnaissance before pulling the trigger on a location. Decide which group you’d prefer to service (young, old, mono-cultured, multi-cultured, families, children, adults, etc.) and check your city's demographic data for where these people live and meet. Having the luxury of building your own space means you can align your personally preferred target audience with the people in the immediate area of your theatre. If you’ve already established a theatre or don’t have as many options in terms of venue location, then the integration step still rings true; you’d be wise to service groups in areas close to your theatre. You may not personally want to service this group, but it can mean the difference between a theatre stagnating and truly thriving. In an earlier post, we talked a bit about catering to your club’s geographic location. Your target demographic should ideally be the majority in your club’s immediate area so you’ll be a very convenient spot for most of your neighbors.

Selecting your target demographic helps polarize the direction of your theatre in every conceivable way. Suppose your theatre is next to several retirement neighborhoods and you see value in catering to an older community. In that case, you already know that social media may not be the best way to reach everyone. It will likely be a better use of your time to choose legacy styles of networking and communication like Facebook, email newsletters, and even physical signs. Fourth Wall Tickets provides very convenient ways to display upcoming shows on your website or social media. Skipping the Tik Tok posts and Instagram reels is a good choice in this situation. Researching deeper on the area's affluence will help you determine ticket prices. Even visiting these facilities and cul-de-sacs firsthand can be enough to provide valuable insights. If these older groups are mainly in vintage retirement homes or public housing, it may make more sense to sprinkle in free shows or discounted tickets. On the other hand, if the facilities seem new and well kept with amicable and accommodating staff, more tenants are in good health with more financial freedom, and leave for outings more regularly. This latter case can mean that there’s no need for free or discounted tickets; it’s all about finding peak value (as we discussed in our dynamic pricing series).

Younger generations tend to be more mobile and have more free time but typically have less money to spend on outings. Here the determining factor of age can mean having more interactive shows or improv workshops, as this will keep younger people more engaged and invested than a passive production would. And again, this demographic should influence your chosen ticket prices. You may have to drop prices and provide free or discounted tickets to get more people in the doors. However, this usually pays dividends with the network effect and increased customer satisfaction. Younger generations typically have vast and robust social circles, so tapping into all of them to help capture market share can only work to serve your business. Once the house is packed regularly you can slowly limit the number of free or discounted tickets by simply responding to supply and demand until every patron is paying full price and you’re selling out for every show.

Focusing more on demographic differences, if your target audience is older, you may opt for calmer music, classic hits, and more conservative colors or artwork. Whereas for a younger generation, you may be better off choosing something upbeat and new age. If these target audience thoughts are considered throughout all design decisions, you’ll likely create an ideal space for the people you want to attend your productions and workshops. Aside from the aesthetics of your building and your chosen production themes, partnerships with other local businesses can help get entirely new pools of your target demographic in the doors.

With partnerships, it’s again evident that it pays to focus on adjacent businesses as they relate to your target demographic. Find out which companies your ideal patrons frequently visit, then reach out to said businesses with a mutually beneficial pitch. Americans love their food, so if you can clean up the mess that some people may leave, it can be a great way to get fresh eyeballs on your playbills. It’s essential to approach these partnership discussions with a set plan while maintaining flexibility in case any pushback or counteroffers are proposed in response. If you’re looking for inspiration, it’s typical to set up bulk savings deals that entice patrons to spend money on both businesses simultaneously. We discussed the benefits of various pricing models in our dynamic pricing series articles, and it would be wise to revisit those ideas to see which you can incorporate for these symbiotic offerings to prospective partners. Some of the most common and straightforward partnerships involve a media outlet. This can help kill two birds with one stone since some of the work of getting the word out is taken off your plate. Local newspapers and TV stations usually have dedicated resources for securing agreements. They thus can be the easiest to work with. To the surprise of more humble theatres, larger corporations are sometimes willing to sponsor entire events or even the construction of new club facilities. For example, a larger bank may provide financial support in exchange for naming rights or advertising space in the theatre. Partnering with grassroots mom-and-pop shops within the same or adjacent neighborhoods is common. Coupling with a local business that’s already thriving can mean continued convenient business and even an integration of their expertise. An example of this integration could be having a one-off event with a local bakery to provide coffee and pastries. If the event goes well and you sense that the bakery owners are really onto something with some of their products, you may consider installing a small franchise inside your establishment dedicated to providing baked goods and coffee all year round. At the very least, you could consider providing discounts for the bakery’s goods to reward patrons for visiting your establishment.

It’s important to keep in mind your theatre’s ethical and business values when forming partnerships, even brief ones. The reputation of your partners can favor yours greatly, but only if chosen carefully and managed judiciously. For example, if your club is committed to social justice, it would be wise to avoid businesses known for unfair practices. To provide a jumping-off point, the typical criteria a club will seek in its business partners are transparency, honesty, inclusivity, social responsibility, supply chain ethics, customer treatment, regulatory compliance, labor practices, cultural alignment, and, as we just mentioned, the public’s perception of said business. When two businesses align on most of these points, seemingly magical things happen. If the mission and vision of both companies align well enough, stakeholders not only benefit from the attention that comes from commitments to work together, but they’re also given access to an entirely new array of professionals in a relevant adjacent field. This synergy usually spurs new products and even entirely new businesses altogether. And don’t rule out acquisitions and mergers. As always, the name of the game is flexibility.

That’s a lot of things to consider when looking for a partnership, so what resources do you have available to make things easier? Trade shows and networking events tend to have great opportunities to meet other owners in person and provide time to exchange ideas and build relationships. Local business associations and chambers of commerce usually have directories and insights into local businesses that might have suitable partners. Of course, online services like LinkedIn and Meetup will provide ways to identify and connect with potential partners, as well as business brokers and matchmaking services. Powerlinx is one such matchmaking service to explore. Brokers tend to consist of professionals who specialize in connecting businesses for partnerships. Private market research firms and other research institutions like universities usually have copious amounts of relevant market data that can be indispensable when finding or researching a potential partner. For example, you could commission a report from a research firm to assess a potential partner’s market position and financial stability, or they may have information that’s already curated and free for you to study. There are also lots of mentors and business coaching agencies that can help connect you with adjacent businesses. SCORE is one such service that can be used for finding a solid mentor. An altruistic way to bolster your theatre’s brand while helping the local community can be done by partnering with food banks, local arts councils, and other non-profit organizations and social enterprises. Remember to routinely announce the partnerships you're proud of on your theatre’s social media. If you’ve done your research, then the response can only help your theatre succeed.

The show doesn’t stop once you’ve formed a partnership. Maintaining partnership health involves keeping track of clearly defined objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Attendance rate, retention rate, revenue generated, and audience engagement are all examples of KPIs to track and compare before and after the partnership. Fourth Wall Tickets provides a colorful dashboard to help explore some of these metrics. It’s also important to have regular correspondence and meetings with your partners to review satisfaction levels on both sides, whether goals remain aligned, and which collaborative initiatives deserve more attention than others. These meetings are also an excellent place to review contract compliance, as there are often terms that define timelines, deliverables, and profit splits, among other things. Keeping tabs on community engagement and social impact can also provide valuable feedback. Customer satisfaction, social media engagement, reach, click-through rates, net promoter score, and feedback on joint offerings all fall under this umbrella.

It’s extremely valuable to remain flexible with all partnerships, especially in fast-moving industries like performance arts. Staying transparent and maintaining open communication leads to trust and integrity on both sides, which can sometimes come down to gut instinct. If there’s a contract in the works, it typically pays to have non-exclusivity clauses baked in to make sure your theatre can operate with other businesses unhindered. Always remember your partner’s strategic interests and sensitivities when exploring new opportunities. And as part of the regular correspondence, it would follow that any written agreements are reviewed and adapted to company growth and changing market conditions. Fourth Wall Tickets maintains an open relationship with all of our clients by not writing up contracts or holding revenue hostage, allowing as much flexibility as possible for clubs.

We hope you gathered some new and interesting nuggets from this brief overview of theatre marketing. We’ll likely create a series of posts on this topic given that there’s an immense amount of research and value in its effective implementation of marketing in other industries. Surprisingly there isn’t much free statistical information available when it comes to performance theatres, so the field seems ripe for some fresh numbers. Join us in the next installment for a more in-depth study of theatre marketing nuances.