Now That’s The Way!

I am approaching the end of the process of writing text for my next season brochure and I am trying to keep my descriptions interesting as per my earlier entries (here and here) in response to Greg Sandow’s post back in March 04 about keeping press releases interesting. He has actually since posted some examples of how to write interesting releases and I bookmarked that entry for further reference. (He is really passionate about the subject and he really expounds on the theme in his entries ranging from May 25 to June 15)

I found a place that does an excellent job of bringing a sense of joy and fun to Shakespeare, Moliere and Shaw. I have to admit to being jealous of their writing skills. About 3-4 months ago, someone handed me a brochure for American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. I really only had a little time to read it then. But I took a look at it today for layout ideas and I was really impressed by the writing.

You can get a sense of what they infuse into their work from the play descriptions on the website, but ironically they have much more in this brochure where the space is more expensive.

For example, the website and brochure more or less have this to say about Moliere’s Tartuffe:

Here’s classic comedy with a French twist. Welcome to the drawing rooms of Gay Paree. To the household of Orgon, a rich bourgeois who’s become a bigot and prude in middle age. One ridiculously laughable dude.

His family’s up in arms over Tartuffe, a flimflam man of criminal bent whose current facade of religious fervor has Orgon totally bamboozled. All in the family, including the maid, get in on the act, trying to warn their master. He’s being taken for all he’s worth by this shifty devil. What an hilarious disaster.

Wait’ll you catch the scene where Orgon’s own wife is used as bait to entrap this lascivious rat, who’s blinded by his own irrepressible lust for her. Delight in the bite of the spoken word. Ogle at the sight of breathtaking costumes. Your kids will definitely dig it. The villainy at play.

But the brochure includes irreverent notes on Moliere like “The church was so POed at Moliere’s lampooning of social and religious hypocrisy that for years his bones were denied sanctified ground.” There are about 250 words writing in this way about the play and the director’s approach to it. It is notes like this that help audiences understand the background of the show and what they are going to see.

But what I really loved about the brochure was the way they presented their ticket policies, subscription plans and just plain invited people to attend.

Keep in mind this brochure was sent out in the cold of winter.

Pop thy sunroof mama. and take golden rays along for the ride.
You are hereby invited to utilize this brochure as ice scraper, snow shovel, defrost and deluxe heater combined. Clear the windshield of your wintry mind, Feel fiery breath upon shivering bones. Leave behind the frigid Hiber Nation zone. Uncoil. Unwind. Time to don less clothes. The looser, lighter, softly silken supple kind. Pack the car with family, friends and food….Stroll up the hill to your comfu cushioned seat. The stars emblazoned overhead and afire with intensity on the stage at your very feet. You laugh. You cry. You embrace the joys of being alive. Into the arms of summer you’ve definitely arrived.”

Man, if I got a brochure like that evoking dreams of the summer ahead, I would be on the mailing list and looking forward to its arrival in the winter.

Now check out these–

Scandalous Savings and How They Relate To Your Inalienable Rights as a Chosen One.

You are a very important person to us. Among only a privileged few chosen for this critical role. With summer in the wings and stakes so great, your purchase of tickets now is intensely catalytic. Propels us forward, quickens the pace. Electrifys the place….(Explaination of discount on tickets)…Seize the moment from time’s incessant march! Ignite the Box Office phones, Crash our website. Burn out the fax. It is your right. Your might. Launch us into glorious summer. Beat the deadline of April 8, 2005.

Really great stuff in my mind. I wanna go to Wisconsin this summer!

My submission deadline is too close right now to change my season brochure but I am going to make it my purpose over the next year to integrate Greg’s tips into my press releases and take a lesson from the American Players and fire the imagination and infuse my writing with a sense of fun.

I know I can do it. I have the sense of humor to write that sorta stuff. I just have to get over the idea that my writing has to be poised and professional–sensually exciting without resorting to sensationalism, ala my Demon Horses Unleashed! entry, to try to catch newspaper editors’attention.

You Must Be This Smart to See This Show

I don’t know if you have been reading about this new book that is out, Everything Bad Is Good for You in which author Steven Johnson proposes that pop culture, TV and video games are actually making us smarter.

I had an idea that either might be an empty marketing ploy or a subversive, yet effective way to get people to attend shows depending on the degree of subtlety in the execution.

One of the barriers to attendance often cited by people is that they don’t know how to act and don’t know if they will comprehend what is going on. However, these people are getting an unstated, perhaps implied message from an arts organization that this might be the case. This is based on being unfamiliar with the method of delivery and the inscrutable traditions surrounding the viewing of the work. All the attempts at outreach and advertising lower ticket prices fail because of an unspoken, perhaps implicit message that people aren’t up to handling the experience.

It may be counterintuitive, but I was wondering if explicitly delivering that message might be the answer. (Bear with me.) I wonder if it might be effective to program a show that is intellectually challenging, but readily accessible to most audiences and then promote it in this unorthodox manner.

The arts organization, perhaps in collusion with the media might put out the word that the work is somewhat intellectually challenging and that only people who are smarter than average might enjoy it. Underscore the fact that one definitely need not know anything about the arts or how to act to enjoy it, in fact it is being held in an less formal alternate space, but an attendee should be fairly intelligent.

In recognition that intelligent people come in all shapes, sizes and economic backgrounds, you are keeping the price low so that these folks can enjoy this performance.

If not presented in a condescending a manner or laid on too thick (you don’t want to be too obvious about employing reverse psychology nor do you want to imply your regular audience is stupid), people might rise to the challenge. People tend to think of themselves as at least slightly smarter than the next guy and might feel motivated to test out this theory by attending. It is one thing to have someone use body language to imply you are unworthy–it is difficult to figure out how to combat a non-verbal statement. However if someone states you might be unworthy if you can’t meet a specific measure, there is a clear course of action to prove otherwise.

Creating a series of such events for smart people can serve as an entree (and a channel for empowerment) for new patrons to the more sophisticated world of your “mainstream” programming. I have already suggested a “garage band” approach in a posting in an Artsjournal.com discussion (mirror on my site here because I couldn’t include the links in my commentary.) I think this might be the way to promote that type of program.

Voodoo Advertising

Have you ever, especially recently, been to a conference/retreat/seminar on marketing or advertising and thought you just hadn’t learned any new techniques or strategies in a long time?

You ain’t alone. The New Yorker had a story this week about the troubles Madison Avenue (though few ad agencies are located there any more) are having persuading people to show interest in the products they are touting. Successful advertising seems to be more and more a function of having no idea why something works but doing exactly the same thing that worked the last time and being happily surprised if it works again.

Why is no big secret. It used to be that you would go to an agency and they would put together a campaign that would be televised on the three networks and you would reach 80% of the US population in a week. Today not are there hundreds of television channels, but a great portion of the public are ignore them for the internet and other pursuits. (As I pointed out in an earlier entry, today’s top ranked shows draw the same percentage of the total audience watching television as the #40 ranked shows in the 1970s.

People quoted in the New Yorker article talk about the need to differentiate yourself in a sea of sameness. However the article also acknowledges that people are becoming savvy (or gaining the tools) to allow them to avoid being exposed to said flurry of promotional efforts. Says one, “It’s easier for Toyota to figure out a new way of producing cars than it is for McCann-Erickson to figure out a new way of persuasion.”

Of course, ad agencies still are fairly successful at creating a need people don’t know they have.

“It encourages people to buy all sorts of products, from shampoo to automobiles, for reasons that do not always make sense. (Why do city-dwellers drive Hummers?) Keith Reinhard, who … wrote the “You deserve a break today” campaign for McDonald’s in 1971, a classic of manipulation which Advertising Age named the No. 1 jingle of the twentieth century. “The consumer was not looking for a better hamburger,” Reinhard explains. “They were looking for a break.”

This may be where the arts are lagging in marketing themselves. They are being too straightforward. They are saying they are all about entertainment, intellectual stimulation, economic benefits to the community. Bah! I can get my entertainment online (erm, let me rephrase that, I can order DVDs and play games online), I don’t need to be intellectual! Dumb is in!

Perhaps an ad campaign needs to borrow from McDonalds and show people escaping the hectic pressure of city life and finding solace and sanctuary in a museum.

Another point of the article underscores what I have said in numerous entries–you gotta track and assess the data about your consumers.

Jim Stengel, the global-marketing officer for Proctor & Gamble, … said, “I believe today’s marketing model is broken. We’re applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities.” Agencies, he said, needed to produce advertising that consumers ‘want to stop and watch,’ but also to collect better information about consumer behavior. (My bolds)

While there is much about the article that is interesting, it is also heavily about the owner of a particular ad agency. If you are looking for information on trends, a quick scan past the biographical stuff will help you cut through the length of the article. (Though if you ever wondered how the AFLAC duck commercials came to be, it is an interesting and entertaining read.)

One note to undermine my impression yesterday that the popularity of shows like 24 is a good sign that some people have good attention spans-

Network dramas and situation comedies have more sex, more action, more urban appeal. Susan Lyne, the former president of ABC Entertainment, says, “Anything that is complex narrative storytelling – one-hour dramas, narrative miniseries, character-driven movies for television – advertisers don’t believe there is an audience under fifty for these kinds of shows.”

Drat!

More Blogging for Tickets

Slight Sidebar before I start-Check out the Discussion over at Artsjournal.com on making a better case for the arts. An interesting collection of folks you don’t normally see writing there.

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So my entries about Impact Theatre’s offer of free tickets to people who would blog on their shows has gotten some notice.

Elisa over at Worker Bees Blog tried to add a comment to my blog only to find she was denied. Then I found out I too was prevented from commenting despite having the option left open. It was only after removing the banned IP addresses from my blog that I could post. My apologies to those who have tried to comment. (Of course, now I will get a lot of Texas Hold Em poker ads in my comments I am sure.)

Anyhow, Elisa posted her thoughts on the matter on her blog. I can pretty much see her point on most of her comments. The only thing I don’t entirely agree with is her first one — partially because if I understand it correctly, she is paid to blog for other theatres. Granted, she is in the minority of bloggers since most are not paid and most of what she writes is promotional rather than critical reviews/critiques.

The other thing is that I would imagine there are plenty of bloggers out there who are willing to become unpaid shills for something they believed in. Just read a handful of political blogs. Very few of them practice thoughtful reflection about issues and happily repeat what they heard someone else say. (Though there are a great number of those I don’t agree with who do string together very intelligent thoughts) Just as there are patrons who will love your organization no matter what ill-conceived thing you toss together, there are going to be bloggers who will rose color everything you do.

Of course where Elisa is right is that you want someone who doesn’t subscribe to your agenda because their good opinions of you will only count if they are seen as credible and discerning. Then again, just as people gravitate toward critics with whom they agree, bloggers would certainly gain the same following so there is a place for the you-can-do-no-wrongers.

I think the rules the theatre is setting up regarding number of words and readership is simply a good indication of who new technologies are always envisioned in the context of what we know. Like the houses of tomorrow or projections of the future that simply add a futuristic patina to our present lives.

Since we are used to getting press packs from print and broadcast media that celebrate the reach, exposure, market penetration, etc that we will get for our buck, that is how we look to measure success. It is easy to forget that with this new medium, the rules, expectations and measures of success may be changing. It is well known that word of mouth is much more powerful than paid advertising. Therefore, it probably isn’t a matter of how many people read a blog as how many of those who do read a blog link to/cite the entry themselves and are read/cited in turn thereby increase your exposure.

And yeah, good luck trying to quantify that (though I am sure Google will come up with a way.) Of course, if you are doing live performances, the ultimate measure of success is pretty much the same–how many butts are in the seats.