Let’s Be Alpacas Together

For a group of people who pride themselves on never going on a script, we fall back into a lot of the same sayings over and over again; “Support Your Partner”, “Heighten the Game”, “Play to the Top of Your Intelligence”. We sometimes get into such vain repetition that we kind of forget what those words really mean, and also assume that those we’re saying it to will somehow understand exactly what we mean.

Around NIN circles, one of those sayings is “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Now, if you know me, you know I believe that to the core of my soul. But just because we say those words a lot doesn’t mean we can always back them up. We’ve become so confident that it is true, that we never really talk about that idea in a real clinical or analytical sense. Maybe we should.

Well, it turns out there is some math to support it. Some 18th Century Math to be specific. That kind of thing was all the rage among the prominent nerds of the 1760s. But I don’t think we want to go that far back today.

Instead let’s go back to 2008 and Dan Gilbert’s excellent Ted Talk.

If you haven’t watched his videos or read his book, they are absolutely filled with very straightforward ideas which are great tools for marketing your theatre or your festival. In fact, you should really watch his whole video here when you can. Each of his points could be the topic of a blog post (and if there’s interest, perhaps there will be.) But today, let’s just talk about one of them.(slightly altered to fit this post)

Thought Experiment

If you’re reading this you may live in a major city, or at least near one. I want you to think about that city and answer the following question. You can’t Google or research this answer. Simply answer.

Are there more dogs or alpacas within the city limits of the city you’re thinking of?

It’s not a trick question. You know the answer. It’s obviously dogs. You don’t need statistics to know that’s correct. But why do you know that?

You know that because you see dogs. There are dog parks. There are dog grooming centers. There are magazines about dogs. There are clearly lots of dogs in the city. That doesn’t mean there are no alpacas around. There probably are. Maybe in a zoo or in a farm somewhere. There just aren’t nearly the same number of dogs, or you’d know.

The brain is pretty smart. That kind of reasoning is how humans cope day to day with making informed decisions without firm hard statistics at every moment. It helps us make good decisions. But that part of the brain can also be hacked.

As few alpacas as there are in your city, there are probably even fewer Powerball millionaire winners. But it doesn’t feel like it, does it? Every week on the news, they show the newest winner. Every jackpot billboard has a picture of a winner. A different winner on every billboard. You start seeing Powerball winners. They must be real, because you see them. And the more Powerball winners you see, the more likely you are to get a Powerball ticket. Even if you’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I’ll bet you thought about it more than you thought about getting an alpaca. Tell me I’m wrong.

The truth is, people make decisions based on familiar things. When I am hanging with my troupe and we think about grabbing a bite, pizza is an option. Because pizza places are everywhere. When I visited Vancouver last month and we talked about where to eat, people suggested grabbing donairs because there are donair joints everywhere in Vancouver. You know why we don’t consider that in Phoenix? Because no one I know has ever heard of a donair. There is actually a Canadian donair places within short driving distance of me. I just never saw it. And even if I saw it before, I probably wouldn’t have gone in because it wasn’t familiar. Pizza must be good or there wouldn’t be pizza places everywhere.

We’re Alpacas

If you own an improv theatre, if you run a festival, if you have a troupe: You, my friend, are an alpaca in your town. Improv is growing faster than it ever has. People know it beyond just a TV show now. Some day we’ll be ferrets. Some day we’ll be goldfish. And I know someday, we’ll be adorable puppies. But today? We’re alpacas. It’s OK. Own it.

When the people in your town think of getting a pet. They think about getting a dog. When they think about going out. They think about going to a movie. Advertising your shows, fliering the local record store, putting a poster up on that community board? It’s not enough. The people who see those fliers know that you have it in your mind to do improv. Big whoop. It doesn’t mean it’s worth their time. That attitude is not going to change as long as you’re the only improv flier they ever see.

There are more improvisors in your town than there are alpapacas. There are way more improvisors in your town than there are Powerball winners. There are probably more troupes and theatres in your town than there are Powerball winners. So act like it. Put that face out to the people of your city. Let them see a different improv troupe when they turn the corner. Let them know about what the guys across town are doing. Put up a poster for the festival being put on by the people you only talk to three times a year.

There are still so few of us out there, people don’t know we’re here. Why in God’s name would you hide that fact by not promoting shows around town that are not your own? Show your city that improv is worth doing. Show your city that improv is worth seeing. Invite those people to join a real true improv community. Because if you do, they will. It’s not just a warm fuzzy thought, it’s solid business sense.

So yeah, a rising tide lift all boats. But that tide doesn’t just appear from nowhere. That tide is the people of your city and they will lift you up. But you have to let them see the boats.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. And he wants to give a special shout out to Jeter’Z, NCT Phoenix, Chaos Comedy and ImprovMania who make the greater Phoenix area an place of improv.

Marketing & Social Media for Theater Owners

What Is Marketing and Why Should I Do It?

Hello fellow improvisors with marketing dreams!

My name is Andrea, and I’m an improviser by night and a marketer by day. After talking to the wonderful Nick Armstrong and Bill Binder at Camp Improv Utopia, we mutually realized that a lot of theater owners are asking questions about how to better utilize their marketing and social media tools. Don´t forget to read your king kong digital marketing reviews before you get started.

I won’t pretend to be a marketing expert, but I will do my best to provide advice and tools in this post (and in future posts) on a subject that I spend 8 hours a day thinking about.

This will hopefully be the first in a series of posts on how to bring together all your different and wonderful marketing ideas in order to accomplish your goals and to help your theater and your community flourish.

The Definition of Marketing for Theater Owners

Before we talk about the ins and outs of marketing, we should start by discussing the definition of marketing. I know this will be a review for many of you as I see so many theaters doing so many great things already, but it’s good to get everyone started on the same page.

There are numerous definitions for the term ‘marketing’ these days because the word marketing has become somewhat of a buzz word and any buzz word’s meaning tends to get lost in the cloud of the buzz. Here, for example, is a definition from Wikipedia that abruptly and concisely defines the term:

“Marketing is about communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers or consumers for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.”

And while I think definitions like this are certainly factually correct, these definitions simultaneously glaze over the most important aspect of marketing: the human connection. Yes, marketing is about communicating the value of a product to a consumer, but more than that, marketing is about making a genuine human connection between your business(you) and another person.

I think a more accurate definition of marketing is the following,

“I believe passionately that good marketing essentials are the same. We all are emotional beings looking for relevance, context and connection.” – Beth Comstock Senior Vice President and CMO of General Electric and overseer of the founding of Hulu.

What does this definition mean? It means that every time you market your theater you should be thinking about three things.

  1. Is what I’m promoting genuinely relevant to my audience (consumers) and/or am I marketing to the right audience?
  2. In what context does it make the most sense to share this information with my audience? (e.g. social media, press releases, flyers)
  3. Is the way in which I’m sharing this information helping me to make a genuine connection with my audience in the sense that they are feeling good about the relationship they have with my business.

The third tier is perhaps the trickiest because it’s the mistake I see businesses make the most. Your first priority when marketing is not to make your business look good. Your first priority is to make other people feel good about themselves in relation to your business. The distinction is small but important because it’s the difference between shouting, “my business is great,” into an empty room, and genuinely saying, “You are great, and my business is greater because of you,” to an actual person.

Everything you do when marketing should first and foremost be about making other people (your consumers) feel significant and in turn your business will look better. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t deliver a good product (a good product is the root of everything), but it does mean that when you’re promoting your theater you should be thinking about how your products (shows, classes, etc.) are good for others and not how they’re good for your business. If you can remember to ask yourself the above three questions any time you are marketing your theater, you will likely be on the right track to creating a healthy long term relationship with your audience.

Different Types of Marketing for Theater Owners

Since marketing is founded on promoting your business through human connection, it can be comprised of almost anything. However, ‘anything’ isn’t helpful in making definite decisions about how to progress your business, so here is a basic breakdown of some of the more popular types of marketing that may be relevant to small business owners. The terms below are split up for clarification but very often overlap and work together. I will discuss these at further length in future posts.

Online Marketing – Promoting your theater on the internet via online banners, ads, search marketing, email marketing, etc.

Search Marketing – Driving consumers to your website when they do an internet search (through search engines such as Google) via paid or unpaid methods.

Email Marketing – Directly marketing to current or potential customers via email.

Public Relations – Strategically promoting your business to the public in a positive way. This often includes press & media outreach.

B2B Marketing – Marketing as one business selling to another business. This is relevant for theater owners in things such as corporate workshops.

Partner Marketing – Teaming up with another organization in order to promote both businesses for your mutual benefit. An example of this might be two theaters teaming up together or theaters bringing in outside performers or businesses that have complimentary agendas.

Influencer Marketing – Marketing to key individuals who are highly influential in your community who then further market your product for you.

Grassroots Marketing – Targeting small groups in various, creative ways and hoping it will spread to larger audiences.

Social Media Marketing – Reaching out to your audience through Social Media channels via paid or unpaid methods.

Sales Marketing – Following up with consumers in a personalized way to help them purchase a given a product (i.e. a class).

Content Marketing – Creating content to attract people to your business or content that your audience can interact with. Examples of this would be specific images, blog posts, or interactive tools or training.

Direct Mail Marketing – Advertising through standard mail. This can be used to promote your theater to locals in your city.

Word of Mouth Marketing – As opposed to organic word of mouth, actively pursuing businesses and influencers to spread the word about your business.

Why Is Marketing Important for a Theater Owner: Making People Feel Significant

I think the most obvious reason that marketing is important for theater owners is that good marketing can drive people to your theater. Whether you’re trying to fill the seats for a show or get more students into the classroom, good marketing can be the force that helps your theater to grow.

What I also think is interesting and that I’d like to follow up on from earlier is the importance of making people feel significant when you’re marketing to them. Think about a given student you have in your theater that LOVES your theater. Then think about the reason why that student loves your theater. Likely you have given this student a really incredible experience. You’ve given him an awesome class, a great community to be a part of, a caring teacher, and more. Now this student can’t wait to tell his friends about his experience. You’ve nurtured this student in what was probably a very natural way because most improvisors are such caring people.

Now think about what would happen if you marketed from a similar point of view. If through your marketing you made people feel incredible about an experience or potential experience. This is how you create long term followers and long term followers are what make your theater really grow. Because getting someone in your audience for a night is great, but getting someone in your audience every month for a whole year is much better.

This brings us back to the start of the importance of building a connection with your audience and community. These connections, whether they be through a simple email or a face-to-face talk, can be what inevitably make your theater not only the place to be but the place that people truly want to be.


San Diego based improvisor. Loves science fiction books and the show BoJack Horseman. Also enjoys eating food and drinking water and sometimes exercising. During the day time, she markets different things to different people.

Make My Job Easier! – A Wish List from Marketing

amazyn-wish-list3We are posting this with permission from Trish Berrong who runs the marketing for the Kansas City Improv Festival. We thought it was pretty helpful. Enjoy and thanks Trish!

From Trish Berrong:

I’m not on the selection committee for the Kansas City Improv Festival, but I do the marketing. Here’s the wish-list I sent to the committee last year in selfish hopes of making my job easier: 

HEADLINERS
—GOOD: generally recognizable (in the civilian population) names and credentials (SNL, 30 Rock, Daily Show)
—OK: kinda recognizable names and credentials (UCB, Second City, Groundlings)
—MEH: obscure names and credentials (anywhere else)

SHOWS WITH APPEALING, EASY-TO-EXPLAIN HOOKS
—GOOD: two guys fishing, improvised rap musical
—OK: improvised [insert genre here]
—MEH: longform or shortform with no POV

SETS YOU CAN MAKE SOUND COMPELLING IN ONE SENTENCE OR LESS WITH LITTLE OR NO IMPROV JARGON
—GOOD: Every show, a new play will be improvised in the style of such great works as ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ ‘Speed-the-Plow’ and    ‘House of Games,’ with all the rat-a-tat and grift of its actual predecessors. 
—MEH: [Troupe name] is a [descriptor] monoscene with [differentiating factor] by [cast description].
—YAWN: We generally perform Harolds, but recently have been expanding out to new and innovative forms.

Other things that would make selling a festival easier:
—Websites vs. Facebook pages
—Clear, interesting photos that show peoples’ faces and have something going on
—Submission videos we can easily pull a 1-3 minute, high-quality clip out of for promotion on the website

And a few other considerations: 
—Form/style/approach gives us something different from what we have in our city
—Cast members are also in-demand workshop teachers
—Set is easy to plug in anywhere in a show (things that make it hard: too dark or low energy, dramatically different vibe, complicated props/tech/set, etc.)
—Cast seems fun, professional and low-maintenance

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