What do you do when you’re part of the largest arts festival in the world, with over 3,500 different shows with over 55,000 performances, and you’ve got little to no money to spend on marketing?
I think the obvious answer is work damned hard, having spent a fantastic week at the Edinburgh Fringe, dashing between shows across many parts of the city. I spoke to writers, producers, and performers, and continued to be amazed at their energy (they were about 10 days in when we got there).
How does this relate to your business?
You might think you’re not in show business, but everyone, even the performers, are in business. There’s expenses involved, and you’ve needed cash to get the show going, whether you’ve taken a month off work, or self-funded the show by selling your car.
I think with one, maybe two, exceptions, you probably wouldn’t have heard (yet) of any of the people we went to see. Which meant they’d done something to stand out amongst the 3,500 and with little cash to throw at it. Whatever your business, you’ve got competitors, and you’ve probably not got unlimited cash to spend. So, here’s a little theatrical stardust and graft that you might think about for your own efforts.
1. There’s (probably) no niche too small
Whatever you’re into, no matter how obscure, I bet there’s a show on at Edinburgh that taps into it. Gin? Eight shows. Golf? Yep, there was one for you. Got anxiety? At least ten shows. The origins of the Chechen conflict told through intepretative dance?
Oh yes, and it was an intriguing way to spend an hour.
Now, how busy each one was is a different question. The latter was surprisingly busy, perhaps lured in by another of their marketing ploys (see point 3) like we were. But if you produce something that appeals to a group, and can find that group, then it doesn’t matter how obscure it seems.
It’s only niche if you’re not in the niche.
2. Ask your friends
We ended up at a number of shows because performers of other shows name checked them at the end of their own show. We might not have seen the incredible “Rust the Musical” if it hadn’t been mentioned at the end of “Cirque du Slay”, as it was co-written by one of that night’s performers.
I think we all get a bit twitchy about self-promotion, and asking others for help in getting our message out there. Well, if you’re flooded with cash to spend, then feel free not to. When you’re starting out, or in early days, then call in every favour you’ve got (or get an advance on a few). Friends and family may not know how valuable it is for them to love a post on Facebook versus liking it, or how a share is even better. Help them to help you.
They can’t help if you don’t ask. Do yourself a favour and ask them to do you one. But also let them know when it pays it off for you. We had that conversation a few times when people asked how we ended up there, and could tell people were chuffed to both have been mentioned by someone else, and see it paying off.
3. Do the leg work
Flyering on the Royal Mile is part of the leg work. It’s likely to give you prospects who at least are looking for a show. Now you just have to convince them they were looking for your show.
It’s tough. It’s tiring. It’s probably very miserable in the rain. And it must work, otherwise no one would be nuts enough to keep doing it.
We booked at least 4 shows from pitches we got on the Royal Mile. Some worked out for us, some didn’t. Most had accurate pitches, but something else let them down. I’m sure one show we saw could have been good, but not with just 4 of us in the audience in quite a big space. We went to another one that seated about 25 and they were standing in the doorway. You just can never tell which is the right conversation with the right person.
Go where the people are, and make your message clear
4. Get a dog
Or a puppet. Or a large inflatable lilo. Basically, something that no one else has. Doesn’t have to be flash or expensive. We ended up at the Chechen conflict show because they did their flyering with the beautiful dog who appears in the show.
I have a teenager obsessed with dogs. That was their in to a conversation. They converted with the offer of a free ticket. We bought the other one, and went to a show we would never have gone to.
All because of a dog.
Use all and any assets at your disposal. It’s more personal and has more personality than the expensive gimmicks that larger businesses think up. It feels more authentic too, as there’ll probably be a story behind the thing you’ve chosen.
Though I’ve still no idea what was going on with the lilo.
5. Use all the tools
I put a tweet out when I’d booked a few shows, saying that I was going to leave the rest to serendipity. I tagged it with the official Ed Fringe hashtags, including #MakeYourFringe.
Hats off to twenty different people who got in touch from that one tweet. They were following the hashtag, and put the work in. I also passed quite a few of those messages onto another friend who was attending the week before. I booked two shows down to those tweets. I booked another one on the back of then following one of those accounts, and them recommending someone else’s show. Point 2 in action.
Every show had its social channels sorted, and mentioned them everywhere appropriate. Whether before or after their show, they put their message out, kept an eye on people talking about them and kept the conversation going.
6. Give people a known value to judge your offer against
Part of the classic Royal Mile pitch is “we’re like X meets Y”. It’s classic shorthand, to help people understand what you do in the context of something they’re familiar with.
Something like “Titanic meets The Office”.
Well, that’s varied but fans of either might make a decision that it’s the show for them. And, equally, if people don’t like those things they’ll stay away and that’s that not a bad thing either.
This year it was most common to be like something meets Black Mirror, so it’s also a good test of the current cultural zeitgeist.
7. Don’t compare and don’t give up
Okay, so Phil Wang was sold out before the first shows opened. Likewise Frank Skinner. Just remember where they are in their “journey”. I bet even Frank at some stage was out there, handing out fliers on the Royal Mile. There are very few, true overnight successes. Most will have done the legwork, they just don’t need to talk about it any more.
It’s tough, but don’t give up if your heart is in it. Overnight just tends to be a little longer than most of us expect.
So, your business is not so far removed from showbusiness as it turns out. None of these activities really involve massive amount of cash investment, more to do with putting in the effort on all the tools that are available to any business.
What’s the most effective legwork you do in your marketing efforts?
I want to just thank the actors, creatives and tech teams I spoke with during that week. Those involved with these shows in particular are worth keeping an eye on.