LEVERAGING THE MEDIA TO BUILD YOUR AUDIENCE: How 50 Shades of Grey Being Really Bad Can be Good For Your Show.
Today’s article is about one of the biggest challenges faced by actors and creatives who produce their own work. The pressure of finding an audience. There’s a very common formula that tends to to take place as the pressure starts mounting to put bums on seats in the lead up to opening night. And it often revolves around actors pulverising their own personal networks. I call this concept: The “Me and my mates” attitude. From the smallest of theatre shows to the biggest short film festival in the country, it seems like this mantra of me and my mates seems to follow the arts wherever it goes.
The first argument that any arts project will jump to as the reason why they aim so small in targeting only their friends and family is simple. No budget. ‘We can’t afford to have a big marketing campaign because we have no budget.’ ‘You have to get your friends to come and see the show because we can’t afford to advertise within our budget.’ It’s a bitter pill for me to swallow, because the counter argument to this is also simple. Just around the corner in Entrepreneur land, lean start ups (aka small businesses) that are also living off the smell of an oily rag, are getting hundreds of thousands of dollars of free PR just by thinking differently.
The two other reasons I believe artists and entrepreneurs approach this subject differently are: Fear & Ignorance. One part of me always has reservations about putting my shows out there and inviting the possible criticism that comes from lots of people seeing my work. Especially outside of the arts fraternity. But that kind of thinking is silly and destructive and you can’t give into it. To make art only for other artists means your creating it in a vacuum. You let yourself off the hook for not properly considering the audience, because being artists, they’ll understand. This is truly deadly theatre. The other more practical problem is simply not knowing how to leverage the media into working for you, which is what I’ll now endeavour to go into.
A lot of what's to follow is a collection of what I've learnt from reading on the subject of PR. One strong influence in this particular case is Jack Delosa and what he wrote on the subject in his book Unprofessional. I have repurposed his tools to try to suit them to your needs.
In order to leverage the media into rapidly building your brand/ show’s audience, you need a way in. The end goal in this is to have the news, media, content creators, even morning television want to write stories that involve your project as the case in point or herald of a unique perspective on an existing issue. That means your press release should centre around something being written about right now. It has to be hot, relevant, factual, backed up by facts and stats and offer a new way of looking at the topic. You need to understand your show’s “why”. This is great for two reasons one it gets you exposure and two it forces you to consider and be attentive to why your audience will come to see your show in the current social and political climate. Which of course prevents the art in a vacuum style creation that some shows fall into.
For example If you were doing a production on a play at the moment about domestic violence. You could leverage off of the current stories being written about 50 shades of Grey. In particular, the negative press it’s received, calling it domestic violence dressed up as erotica. Then you could conduct research, run a survey, speak to people on the street or through your networks. Ask women if they identify with the character of Anastasia Steele? Or if they would be attracted to a real life Christian Grey? etc. Then, collect your findings. Your sample sizes don’t have to be huge, a couple of hundred is enough. Based on your findings formulate your story and set out to either be the herald or case in point of your unique perspective on the issue.
As the herald your press release might look something like this:
A recent survey conducted by "That Second Mouse" theatre company has highlighted that Sydney women haven’t got much love for Christian Grey, the lead character of the recently released film 50 Shades of Grey. Michael Drysdale the founder of That Second Mouse theatre company and Director of their current production "show name" said that the findings of the survey highlighted that only 4/10 women said that they would find a real life version of Christian Grey to be remotely attractive and that an even smaller 1/10 said they would consider having a relationship with such a man.
You could then go on to highlight the one dimensional character of Ms. Steele and that there was an overwhelming desire to see more positive representations of women overcoming characters like Christian Grey, rather than falling for them and selling themselves and women everywhere short.
Whereas as the case in point, your press release could read something like this:
One theatre company looking to disrupt the trend of victimising it’s female characters is That Second Mouse Theatre Company with their Current production "Show's name", which features a strong female character at it's core played by Actress X. In the last couple of weeks of rehearsal, as 50 Shades hit Cinemas, Company Founder Michael Drysdale raised with the production team just how negatively he felt the film portrayed women. Which set them on the course of finding out if other people felt the same way.
By implementing one or a combination of these methods you’ve given the journalist something they can use. It feeds something that’s already popular and already getting clicks, it’s not something that’s so self centred that they just send you through to the advertising department and it’s factual and statistical, not just an opinion.
From here, it once again, really all comes down to how you communicate with the journalist. You want to stand out, but for the right reasons, mainly for not being a time waster. Try to find a more personalised well researched way to communicate then through formal channels. Have a look around, find some journalists who have written stories on a similar or the same topic in the past and read them, get a feel for their tone. Find their contact details by Googling them/ their company and try giving them a call. The purpose of the call is: to talk to them about your research, mention that you read their article pertaining to the survey and that you really enjoyed it, by the end of this call your aim is to get them to read your press release, not agree to write the story. That way, out of the pile of press releases they receive that day and simply never look at, yours will have at least have escaped the spam folder.
Tell me what you think about this weeks offering, would you like more info? Want to spit ball ideas for a show you’re working on at the moment? Get in touch at The Entrepreneurial Actor’s Facebook page.
Also if you haven’t already: take our “Ask The Actors Survey” give it a look and share you’re thoughts on some of the big issues facing actors on the up in Australia at the moment! ;)
One last thing! If you want to catch me in action I will be playing Omar in John Patrick Shanley’s “The Big Funk” downstairs at the Tap Gallery from the 11th to the 21st of March!
Tickets Available here: http://bit.ly/1AD7fTy Check it out! :)
Film and Theatre Actor Based in Sydney. Creator of Script Gym. Lover of Stories.