Friday, February 19, 2010

The bare minimum: Promoting your improv show

Getting press is hard. On any given weekend, you're up against hundreds of other arts events—many with more compelling stories, bigger stars, better budgets, more urgency, or something else that bumps them up to the top of a reporter's hit list.

But there are some basic places you're practically guaranteed to appear in, if you make minimal effort and fill in the blanks with the right stuff. The lowest of the low-hanging fruit:
  • Calendar listings
  • Facebook invites
Calendar listings
  • Find all the places you want to appear. KC has a gazillion online entertainment calendars—you can decide how many actually matter to you, and where you hit the point of diminishing returns because you're spending hours entering listings into sites that your target audience doesn't read. For improv, here's a good start: the Star, Ink, the Pitch, KCFreePress, PresentMagazine and KC Stage.
  • Name your event. If your name doesn't say "this is improv comedy," you might want to fluff it up a little. Even by just adding "improv" to the name.
  • Write a short blurb. If you're extra lucky, the publication will give you room to describe your event. But they won't give you much. Here's what the Pitch uses for Tantrum:
    Improv comedy group Tantrum invites a different local personality to every show to tell true stories based on audience suggestions. Then the seven- member troupe spins them into a series of spontaneous scenes. It's not super-exciting, but it says what we do.
  • Pay attention to deadlines. Most publications want your info at least two weeks in advance.
  • Submit your stuff. Some have forms, others ask you to e-mail. Go do it.
NOTE: If you're playing in a multi-troupe show, the producers will typically submit calendar listings for the whole show—so you don't have to, and maybe shouldn't. It's confusing to have more than one entry for a comedy show in calendar listings. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't promote your troupe; see "press releases," below.

Facebook invites
  • Figure out where to send it from. Three main options: A group page, a fan page or a personal account. A group page lets you invite everyone in the group by e-mail with one click; a fan page only lets you send updates; your personal account requires that you click names one by one.
  • Grab the reader. You've got three main tools to get people's attention
    —Title: Something straightforward—your name, and maybe the location, will probably do it. Or use the event title, if you've got one.
    —Tagline: A few words to describe the event in more detail.
    —Photo: Something attention-grabbing that adds information to your title and tagline.
  • Close the deal. Use the description to tell your potential audience something they don't know—specifically, why they should come see your show. Who's in it? Why will it be cool? What can they expect? How much is it? Assume the invite will travel outside the group you send it to—what would you say to a stranger to make him buy a ticket?
  • Invite everyone. This is why I prefer group events: You can click "invite members" and Facebook does—then lets you follow up whenever you'd like to.
NOTE: If you're playing in a multi-troupe show, find out what your producer wants before you set up an event. Some are happy if you send out your own invites; others prefer you to use theirs. At the VERY LEAST, use the producer's basic information and get the reservation line right.

ANOTHER NOTE: If you are a high school or college troupe, these rules don't apply. Everyone you're inviting knows you, and you can be as wacky or freaky or whimsical and vague as you'd like. As long as people know it's you, they'll come.


OK. So now the public at least has a chance of finding out you've got a show. Want to make headlines? You'll need three things—and sometimes, it just takes one of them:
  • A great hook. What's the story? And not just the one you, or two other people in improv land find interesting. Even better, what's the thing that makes you worth covering not just for any show, but RIGHT NOW?
  • A compelling press release. The KC Star's press release site has great tips for writing one. This isn't the time to be artsy—it's the time to be informative. Give reporters what they want, and they might just write about you.
  • A killer photo. Improv groups, as a rule, have crappy promotional photos. Sorry...I've seen and sent out dozens of them, and it's just true. Tantrum and Spite have worked with photographers who got us great, highly usable stuff. Clint Sears' shots have appeared in every local paper. And I'm guessing Ben Pieper's new shots of Spite (above) bumped us from a simple preview to the lead spot on the site home page and a capsule on the Arts top page. (What the photos that get picked up the most have in common? Interesting composition, tight shots of faces and a story or emotion.)
Of course, a lot more goes into getting covered...or not. But doing the basics allows you to sleep soundly at night, knowing you've done everything within your power to get the word out.

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