C. Austin Hill
Your theatre company needs a marketing consultant. Whether it’s a community theatre with a tiny budget or a massive regional theatre company with $20 Million to spend each year, you can use some outside help. Although I am biased (because I AM a marketing consultant who specializes in helping theatres and other arts organizations), I think that that’s true even if you have an in-house marketing and communications coordinator, or if your business manager is a marketing wiz, or (and maybe especially) if you have an intern or a volunteer to help you out.
I know that we’re all constantly multi-tasking, that we all need to drive audiences into our seats (and keep them there), and that we all have to keep our costs down—and that’s why a marketing consultant is just what you need—and here are three reasons why:
There are not enough hours in the day to do EVERYTHING
Let’s face it. You are busy. If you are running a small company, you are often scrambling to produce multiple projects, answer phones, update Facebook and Twitter, sweep the stage, write a press release, vacuum the lobby, design the posters, build the set, arrange for rights, and contact donors to raise money to pay for the next show. You are trying to juggle events, technical concerns, contracts, and tight schedules—and Bob just texted to say he’d have to miss rehearsal tonight…again. What if I told you that you could arrange with someone—right now—to take some of that stress off?
A marketing consultant can work from your office or their own, and handle whatever you need—from those donor communications to the poster designs, to the social media updates. They can keep your website up to date, your events scheduled, and your audience informed. They can keep you in contact with your current audience, and spend time thinking about how to find you new ones. They can write those press releases, working with you to highlight the wonderfully innovative things your production is doing. This is especially true if your marketing person has a background in the theatre.
Because marketing is your consultant’s job—their area of expertise—they can work with you to handle many of those tasks much more efficiently than you could do them yourself. While it’s hard to code-switch from director-mode to producer-mode to marketer-mode, your consultant LIVES in marketer mode. If you pick the right consultant, they know how to optimize your website to ensure that you come near the top of a google search. They know how to write copy that your potential audiences will drink right in, and where to put that copy for the best visibility. They know what production photos to use on which platform, and even how to format them to fit. Many consultants know all about graphic design and can knock out a poster for you while you vacuum the lobby and deal with that darn Bob. See, that’s the thing about a consultant—you can hire them to do as many of these things, or as few, as you need.
If yours is a large operation with an in-house marketing department, then a consultant still has much to offer. You know how busy your office is, and how there never seems to be enough time to handle EVERYTHING? A consultant can give you that extra set of hands to tackle those tasks that lie just outside of your expertise. Again, a consultant can do as many things as you need (or can afford) them to do, or handle just one task with expertise and aplomb.
The overall costs are probably lower, and the potential returns much higher than you think
When you hire an employee, you have to pay them by the hour or on salary. But a consultant can work by the hour, by the project, or even on a monthly retainer. If you need your social media re-vamped just one time, that might be a 10-hour task for your consultant. Even at $100 per hour, a fairly common rate for a marketing consultant, that $1000 means that you don’t have to hire a full-time, or even a part-time employee to do this specialized work. The expertise that a consultant brings is generally far greater than that of an intern or a volunteer (unless you get really lucky, and can find a marketing specialist to work pro-bono). And at the end of the project, you don’t have an employee you no longer need. If you need your social media or website MAINTAINED, then you can perhaps arrange a retainer—a monthly prepaid fee to engage that person to complete those specific tasks—and you’ll never for their coffee breaks.
A consultant also brings accountability. If an employee doesn’t quite deliver the quality or the results you expect, then you have some (uncomfortable) options—you can fire them, discipline them, or just deal with the deficiency and wish you hired someone else. If you DO fire them, then the new person will need some time to get up to speed and adjusted—they’ll have to move their things into the desk, get to know the staff (and hopefully fit in), and then get to the task that you need to be done. A consultant, on the other hand, in order to be successful, has to already be aware of the trends, technologies, and potential needs of your business.
Before you hire them, you’ll need to discuss your needs, and agree to what they can offer and at what price. And at the end of the project, if the work is less than you expect, you’ll need to simply find another consultant (who will also already know the industry, or why would you hire them?). Sure, employees are important—you need excellent people, but a consultant can be exactly what you need, right now, with no learning curve. And that consultant is motivated to execute—because if they don’t, you won’t ask them back.
We can ALL use an outside perspective
As theatre artists, we all understand the value of collaboration—of that extra set of eyes that can help us to see what we’ve missed. In my work as a director, I try to get as many sets of eyes on my work as possible—from dramaturgs, Artistic Directors, designers, trusted friends—so that I can make sure that my work is saying what I WANT it to say, and to make sure that the story is being told. This is also true in the operation of our companies. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the daily work, and the big picture of running a company (DARN THAT BOB!!) that we lose the perspective on the BROAD picture. How does our work compare with that of those around us? Where do we fit in the cultural zeitgeist of our city?
We know that we NEED more audience, but it can be really hard to step back and figure out how to GET that audience. That’s where a marketing consultant comes in. If you need a strategist, many consultants can offer that skill—the ability to look at what you are doing, think about what you might try doing, and communicate their recommendations on what you should be doing. Again, you’d benefit from a consultant with a background in theatre, but any marketing consultant should understand MARKETING…the processes of helping you to tell your story, of enticing an audience, and of enhancing communication. They are that outside set of eyes—perhaps the operational dramaturg.
As I mentioned before, in addition to being a theatre artist, I am a marketing consultant who specializes in helping to tell theatre stories—if you are compelled by my arguments here, I’d be overjoyed to help your organization, and I’m currently accepting new clients. I can be reached at caustinhill.com.