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This is where I talk about my work, my discoveries, my creative process, and the ins and outs of marketing in the arts.

Three Reasons Not To Buy Stock Theater Art

May 1, 2015

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branding, wisdom

So you have a theatre company and you’re producing a play. Fantastic! Now you need some marketing to get people into your seats. And to create marketing, you need imagery! But where does that imagery come from?

When you produce a large, well-known play or musical, the licensing company of that show often has ready-made publicity art that you can use for a small fee. This art is usually from the original Broadway or similar big-venue production. This option can be very appealing for cash-strapped theaters because licensing that art is much cheaper and easier than hiring an illustrator or designer to create custom-made marketing artwork. But I’m here to tell you why it’s a TERRIBLE idea!

Avoid Being A Franchise

McDonalds Header

Using well-known artwork from a big show is a double-edged sword. Yes, the Broadway artwork from Cats or Miss Saigon will be immediately familiar to many of your patrons. You don’t have to work as hard to tell them what the show is. You have built-in recognition! But on the other hand, if patrons have seen these shows before, perhaps on Broadway or other lavish productions, using that artwork implies that your production will match that same level of quality and budget. If you can’t deliver the same experience, then you run the risk of over-promising and disappointing audience members.

Beyond just the quality level, using the same artwork as another production says that your version is a copy of the original. The reason that the marketing for American Idiot or Book of Mormon is so effective is because I know exactly the show I’m going to see when the tour comes to town. If the show ends up being a different artistic interpretation or staging, I’m going to feel cheated. It’s like franchise branding. The reason that McDonald’s signs and stores all look the same is because they offer the same food and experience. You know exactly what you’re in for when you walk into a McDonald’s or most other franchise restaurants. There’s a comfort to that similarity.

And c’mon– you’re an arts organization! Why would you want to copy somebody else’s production!? And if you’re not copying somebody else’s production, why would you copy their marketing?

Don’t Promote Your Show, Promote Your Organization

Take a step back and look at this from an even bigger perspective. Using stock poster imagery is a missed opportunity for branding your organization. If all of your theater’s posters, banners, and ads use art designed by other productions, then it’s all going to be wildly different from show to show. This leaves your theater with no style of its own. How would I be able to tell your theater’s ads from a competitor’s at a quick glance?

But if you can partner with a good designer or illustrator to create artwork with consistent personality traits from show to show, then that artwork becomes your brand and patrons will begin to know it and recognize it as your company. Back this up with excellent shows and good customer service, and you will make people want to attend your theater no matter what shows you are producing. And this means you don’t have to work quite so hard from show to show because you’re building a loyal following that gives you consistent income. To go back to our food metaphor, instead of going to a random restaurant because you saw it was advertising fish, you go back again and again to your favorite restaurant because you enjoy the whole menu, the service, and the decor. Use your marketing as branding to become that favorite hangout place!

Marketing from Steppenwolf Theatre

Almost every theater-goer in Chicago recognizes black and white photos paired with red text or backgrounds means Steppenwolf Theatre. That’s what consistent brand marketing gets you. (Design Director Paul Koob)

You’re All About Art, Right?

The final reason to engage a designer instead of grabbing up stock posters is because your organization is an arts organization, and designers are artists too. You wouldn’t replace your actors with tape recordings of the original Broadway performers, would you? You wouldn’t stage a play without a director just because the script contains stage directions. So don’t ditch a visual designer just to cut corners. Good designers are an invaluable asset to your marketing team and an integral part of the process.

Do you have a favorite designer that you work with? Give ’em some love and a shout out today!

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