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The Difficulty of Theater Marketing

Posted: April 10, 2015, 5:11 p.m.
by Mackensie Henderson.

With a significant drop in performing arts attendance, having a theater-marketing guru is imperative to the success of a theater.

According to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, analytics show that audience attendance has been steadily decreasing since 2008. This decline could be attributed to the growth of digital media — more than 70 percent of adults in America viewed media through electronic devices in 2012.

It’s difficult for local theaters to captivate and obtain attendees. As Meghan Truhett, the marketing director for the Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa, stated, “Historical theaters are true survivors.”

Truhett, who also handles marketing for the Bama Theatre, a historical theater in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Amanda Long, the director of programs and marketing for Stage 773, a four-theater performance facility located in the Belmont Theater District of Chicago, offer insight on how marketing plays a role in upping the numbers during an unstable time within the performing arts community.

bama-stage-773-theatreStanding out amongst the clutter

Social media acts as a free service through which companies can promote products or services to the masses. For Stage 773, it’s an effective means of connecting with its key demographic.

“We aim for connection as often as possible — whether that be tagging a business or person, posting content that connects our patrons, or reaching out to join a conversation,” Long said. “Again, best practices in social media are aimed at being a part of a community, so we attempt to speak in our own unique, friendly voice.”

Truhett acknowledged the difficulties social media presents.

“The hard thing about social media is it’s always changing,” Truhett said. “Facebook has made it so the most liked or popular stuff is at the top of your feed. You have to like the page and click ‘get notifications’ to see everything we post.”

Main challenges
For Stage 773, it’s difficult to promote the various productions going on at the same time.

“With four theaters in our building, and hundreds of different shows performing every year – it’s difficult to explain and re-explain why each one is unique (even though they are!). Also, consistency of branding and clarity of the message,” Long said.

According to David Allgood, manager of the Bama Theatre, the main challenge is reaching the Bama Art House Series’ desired audience.

“Reaching out to UA undergrads has been the missing piece of the puzzle ever since I started this job almost 12 years ago,” Allgood said.

In addition, getting students to attend the Bama Art House Series has been an ongoing issue for the theatre.

“The biggest challenge for The Bama Art House Series in terms of promotion is reaching our target audience…and building on that audience.”

It is essential to educate the audience when it comes to theatrical public relations and marketing; however, it’s just as important to discover what motivates the audience to attend events.

Marketing initiatives
Truhett’s latest marketing initiative is to conduct a localized survey of the Tuscaloosa community, collecting more information regarding the public’s interest in the arts. Also, she expounded on the Bama Art House Series during which the theater shows indie films to embrace the universal shift to digital arts.

“As for the Bama Art House Series,” Truhett said. “We’ve made the promotional materials, and it’s been successful.”

Currently, increasing revenue is Stage 773’s main focus.

“We have a goal to increase our average ticket price for our weekly show. We are approaching this by limiting the number of discounts and third-party ticket vendors. We are already seeing success,” Long said. “Stage 773 is also in the process of cleaning up their logo. After a while – there are SO MANY versions of your logo out there that it’s not a true logo anymore. We are engaging a graphic designer to assist with this process.”

Future of the theaters
Both the Bama Theatre and Stage 773 have bright futures ahead of them. Stage 773 presents “Cupid Has a Heart On,” the longest running musical comedy in Chicago, every Saturday at 8 p.m.

“We hope to increase the average cost of a ticket to ‘Cupid,’ to increase the lead time on rentals, and to increase our social media following and subscriber base. These are all trends that have begun already and we anticipate their continuation,” Long said.

Stage 773 unifies more than 75,000 patrons and 5,000 artists each year. To view upcoming events at Stage 773, click here.

The Bama Theatre has seen a steady amount of followers over the past five years.

“Each year we’re sticking strong at 65 percent of people returning to our website and 35 new users. If we stay in this range, we’ll continue to do well,” Truhett said. “Also, we always keep theater restoration in mind; that is more internal, but it’s a valuable aspect to the theater.”

Here is a list of coming attractions at the Bama Theatre. The most recent productions included “Into the Woods” and “The Little Mermaid” presented by Brentwood High School.


  1. Post comment

    Interesting article! Many, I think, including me, rarely consider the efforts behind theater marketing because we tend to classify theaters as venues to promote other shows that need PR. You made an excellent point about reaching undergrads at UA. I believe more students might take advantage of the Bama Theatre’s venue possibilities if they knew more about the process of renting it for large groups and organizations.


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