How do we market ourselves in the arts? Part 1

Luke John Emmett

  • OnStage United Kingdom Columnist
  • @LukeJohnEmmett

For an industry where we are constantly in the spotlight why is it we find it so hard to talk about ourselves and sell what it is we have to offer? I run a grassroots organisation which aims to promote all theatre within a small area of England. We have been approached on many occasions over the last four and half years to help local companies promote their shows. I thought it might be useful to share some of the hints and tips we have learnt with you and perhaps help you to promote yourselves and your work more effectively. Do we have all the answers? No… we can just tell you what has worked well for us. Some of the ideas will have more of an impact than others – it’s up to you to try them out and see what works for you. If there is anything we think we have missed then please do let us know and we’ll add it to the list. This article will appear in several parts as it’s a huge subject to try and condense to a few short articles.

Press Releases

We are currently working in partnership with our local newspaper to help them collate arts coverage and organise reviews for productions. It’s a massive job but it has allowed us to see a wide variety of different press release examples – some are brilliant others just cannot be used. We have produced a template with some guidelines here which you are more than welcome to use as a guide – we are UK based so there may be some differences depending on where you are from.

Firstly what makes a good press release?

A good press release covers the basics – Who, What, When, Where and Why. This is the bare minimum you should cover in a press release.

Try and find an interesting angle to add more depth to the story. A press release shouldn’t just be “this is us – this is what we’re doing”. Find an edge. If you are a place of education perhaps you have students which have been offered places at Drama Schools or have been offered professional roles. Finding a common interest story will make local media more likely to use your story as it will appeal to a wider audience of readers. Perhaps you are collecting for a local charity or to raise awareness about a campaign. Perhaps you are the first company in your area to perform this particular piece? There is always some angle you can come at the story from that makes it more interesting.

Do not just send over the show blurb, dates, venue and times. This is a listings release and not a press release. It’s boring and no-one will want to read it.

Include at least one quote from the director, producer or cast members. Inspire us. Why are you excited about putting this production on and why should people come and see it? If you cannot show us that you are excited about the production then why should we get excited about it?

Ensure you have good, professional quality, high resolution publicity images for the show. Far too often we get sent low resolution images, images that have been badly edited in Photoshop or copies of posters or flyers. Great – but we cannot use them. Bright, crisp images jump out from the page and draw readers in. The images are a representation of your production – if they are bad or low quality that is what our expectations of your show become. Try and get some basic costume together and take the photos at an interesting location that fits the piece. Even better if you can take them on the actual set of the show (but we appreciate this is not always possible). Obviously many email hosts do not allow you to send lots of large image files with an email. That is fine. Upload them to something like Dropbox and send us a link. Make sure you label all of the photographs clearly with who is in them (usually from left to right), what characters they play or roles in the production and most importantly – please credit your photographer. It’s completely okay to send us a list of photo numbers with this information written next to it if the title becomes too long to save as an image. Just make sure it is clear and easy for us to find this information. Make sure the images you create are in a common format – jpegs of at least 300dpi resolution are preferred.

The final point on press releases, (and this is our biggest irk), please, PLEASE, send us your releases either in the body of an email or as an attached word document. Please do not send them as a PDF with images embedded. It makes extracting the text so much harder for us. You have to appreciate that newspapers and media companies receive a vast amount of releases daily and we want to be able to extract the information as quickly and easily as possible. Personally I skip over PDFs that have come in and leave them until I have had time to crack them open and extract the text. Send us info in the correct format and it makes everyone’s lives so much easier. By all means attach a PDF as well if you want to show how something should be displayed but make sure we can access the text easily as well.

Social Media:

Does your company have social media accounts? If not, why not?

Social media has become a huge part of everyone’s daily lives. It is quick, easy and free to share content to a wide audience of people anywhere in the world.

We recommend at the very least setting up a Facebook Page and a Twitter account as the minimum. You can very quickly get lots of follows and likes by getting your members to subscribe to you and share with their friends. We currently have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Linked-In, Flickr and Periscope to name a few. Don’t go mad though – start small and you can build the others up later when the need arises.

A few key things:

Branding – your social media accounts are advertising what you do and making sure they look good and all match is important. Keep the brand consistent.

Facebook Pages:

Don’t just upload any old photo as your page cover photo. Try and design a photo that fits the cover perfectly and says something about you. Dimensions of the cover photo are constantly changing but a quick Google search will find you the most recent size and even some editable templates you can download. Facebook compresses every image you upload to it so make sure your cover photo is less than 100k in size or it will start to distort and pixelate it.

Profile picture – if you are an organisation it’s a good idea to use your logo or something that is instantly recognisable as you. Again – designing something that fits the actual dimensions means that everything looks tidy and clean (do an internet search to find these).


There are fewer customisations available on Twitter (at the moment) but ensuring you have a good and easily identifiable profile picture and cover image are again important.

Finding your voice

A theatrical term if ever we heard one! What voice do you want your social media pages to have? What is the atmosphere you are trying to create with them? What sort of interactions are you looking for?

You can tell a lot about a company by how they respond and interact with other users on their social media accounts. Personally we go for casual, fun, chatty and occasionally a little bit tongue-in-cheek. This works well for us and we often get good responses and strike up conversations and interactions with other users. The accounts should be an extension of yourself and your brand – perhaps you can even shape the chatter to fit in with the current production you are producing? Replying in the lyrics of songs or quotes can be quite fun (if not done too often).

It’s not all about you…

Sorry dears but it really isn’t. The best social media accounts interact with other users, share their info, share silly photos which are in some way loosely related to what they do and wish each other good luck for shows and productions. That’s a massive one for the theatre industry. If you support other companies in your area and they support you then they will be more likely to help share your info in the future and it creates a unity and a strong online network of support. It also says a lot about you as a company. It is totally okay to share local info on your feeds, particularly if they are issues that are having an impact on your local community. Showing support for others goes a long way and is often returned – as long as this fits with the style of voice that you are using.

Most companies who fail at social media are those that have nothing important to say other than information about themselves. It gets boring to see and read and people will just skip over it.

That’s a few of the basics – there is lots more to cover but that’s enough to get you started for now. Look out for my next article which will go into more detail about how to get the best out of your social media accounts and how to build up a loyal following.