If you are like many other comedians, you probably haven’t put much thought into the marketing of your improv show. You made a Facebook invite, invited your friends, and made a post or two on Instagram… but is that enough?
Imagine this- you’re in line at your local coffee shop. The line advances and you’re next. You see a stack of brightly colored postcards that seem to be advertising an upcoming show.
The postcards are glossy on the front and matte on the back. There are a bunch of smiling faces attached to posed and costumed bodies. Also, there are words on the postcard. You consider moving to see what the words say, but you decide against it.
Then, you pull out your phone and check your text messages. You advance in the line. Finally, you order your coffee. The postcards sit there and gather dust. Fade to black.
This story unfortunately doesn’t have a happy ending, because you could have been an audience member for your city’s hottest improv show. But, you missed out because their marketing is ineffective.
People often think, “If my show is good enough, I shouldn’t need to worry about marketing.” This is patently false. I’m not just saying that because I have an MBA with a marketing emphasis and I want to feel better about my mountains of student loan debt (even though that is a consideration). If your show is good, then marketing should be your main concern. Because why waste your time being good if no one knows it?
Here are some things to consider when putting together a show:
What makes your show unique?
This is honestly the hardest question for teams to answer. However, putting work into understanding the answer to this question will make it easier to promote your show.
Is your team a bunch of dudes who do a Harold? I’m sorry to say that there are one or two other teams that do the exact same thing. But just one or two, so that’s okay.
Are you a team of former Navy Veterans who dress as members of the band KISS and do improvised Shakespeare? Yeah, that’s pretty unique! And I’d bet my improv diploma (from a very prestigious improv school) that that show would sell.
Understand what makes you unique, and you’re going to have a much easier time marketing your improv show. The alternative is that you blend in with all the other noise. Remember, you’re also competing with Netflix, TikTok, and Disney+ for people’s time, money, and attention (this sentence will be incredibly dated in about two years).
Who is going to watch this show?
No show appeals to everyone. And, if you try to sell your show to everyone, you’re wasting your time and energy. Big advertising firms have this figured out. You’re not going to see a Mary Kay ad right after a wrestling match. Nor are you going to see a Life Alert add in the middle of a block of Cartoon Network shows.
Put some thought into who your audience might be. If you’re doing improvised Star Wars, then are there ways to market just to Star Wars fans? For a team composed of septuagenarians, perhaps advertising at the local college isn’t wise.
If you know your brand, then you can know your audience. Think about what they’re probably doing before they come see your show, and you’ll have a better idea of how to find them.
How would they prefer to find out about this show?
As mentioned before, you want to be careful about wasting your marketing energy on things that won’t be productive for your show. For example, if I know that I’m putting together an improv show for kids, then I probably won’t post about it on Facebook. UNLESS I’m trying to sell it to the parents of those kids.
Also, think about how you would rather find out about a show. What would a show have to do to make you interested in watching it? Are email blasts helpful or a waste of time? There are tools like MailChimp that allow you to actually see how many people open and engage with your emails. Try out the free versions and see what kind of responses you get.
Additionally, don’t go crazy with social media accounts. Instead of having a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Parler (this joke will be dated at the time of publishing this article), TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest for your team…. maybe just pick one and get REALLY good at it.
Marketing and building a brand and a relationship with your audience takes time. So, wasting energy on things that aren’t productive just means that you’ll burn out quickly.
What is the relevant information that people need to know about your show?
Again, people have limited time and attention. Be quick, direct, and informative. Watch commercials, look at social media advertising, and pay attention to the emails that you receive. What catches your attention, what bores you, and what annoys you? Learn from others!
Is the messaging you use around your show confusing? Can people figure out what you are “selling” at a quick glance? If your show is called “BLAST PARTY: AN EXTRAVAGANZA OF EXTRAVAGANCE,” then I might just ignore it because I’m confused (or I might check it out because of curiosity – who knows?).
If you’re advertising to improvisers, then you don’t need to explain a lot of things. You can use our shorthand: longform, Harold, Deconstruction, etc. If you’re advertising to the uninitiated, you might have to spell things out. “Blast Party is an improvised show about five, goofy friends who have to save America from a new terrorist plot every week. Each Saturday, they will take a few suggestions from the audience and create a new show on the spot.”
Include the information that will help people decide whether or not they want to see the show. Also, include how to see the show when they decide they want to see it.
What is the best way to package all of the above information?
Finally, you have to decide how to package everything. A postcard might have attention grabbing visuals on the front, with key information detailed on the back. While an email invite might be filled with GIFs or links to performances, and information about the next show.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy that will work for all teams. But if you take the time to think about your show’s uniqueness, your ideal audience, their preferences, and how best to communicate to them, you’ll have a dedicated and adoring audience in no time.
Jeff has been an improviser since 2002 and currently performs and teaches at the Westside Comedy Theatre, Ruby LA, and Impro Theatre.