I studied marketing in college – and then I went out into the real world and learned how to actually put it to use! Since then, I have earned a living by marketing myself as a magician in a variety of markets – from birthday parties, restaurants and schools to corporate events, casinos, and fundraisers – and for the last 15 years in Performing Arts Centers (PACs). This article focuses on marketing in the world of PACs, but most of this information applies to any area of show business.
Performing Arts Centers pay me either a flat performance fee or a guaranteed minimum amount plus a split of the sales above the minimum. They present our show to their community and they are responsible for local marketing of the show and selling the tickets. It is in my best interest to help the PAC market our show effectively because the greater the ticket sales, the happier everyone will be. Also, the more likely it is that we will be invited back to perform again. Our track record is that 90% of PACs bring us back within three seasons.
To sell our show to PACs, first I establish a relationship with the theatre manager or programming person, and then I do my best to demonstrate that our show is a good fit for their venue and community. I accomplish this with a mix of phone calls, email marketing, and direct mail, and by building relationships with the right people. Selling a show to PACs is all about relationships. When a PAC would like to book our show I turn them over to our business agent who negotiates our performance fee. It is a demanding, ongoing job and it has taken years to achieve results, but I love where it has brought us. When we are on tour we never want to go home.
You might think we are competing against other magicians when I work on selling our show to a PAC, or when our tickets go on sale at the box office. In reality, we are competing with world-class entertainers such as big-name bands, singers, ballet companies, theatre companies, comedians, etc. We are competing with the best, so it is critical that our marketing materials be very professional. I always provide the following marketing essentials to the PACs, both electronically and in print form:
I will cover these marketing essentials in more detail, but first… a thought. We as magicians are competing with many, many different forms of entertainment. Our potential audience has a lot of options to choose from. Jenny is turning 6 years old and she can bring her friends to see the latest Disney movie with a budget of $200 million, or she can have a magic show in her living room for $200. The Jones family is trying to decide whether they will go to the latest Cirque du Soleil show or see a magic show at their local theatre. People often do some googling before making decisions. Does the magician’s website look as interesting and slick as the movie website? What to do, what to do, which one looks better? When the potential buyer looks at the magician’s poster and the Alice in Wonderland poster, which one looks more exciting?
If I have a toothache, I have a couple of options. I could bring my drill, some plastic wood and a six-pack over to my friend’s house and ask him to repair my cavity, or I could seek the help of a trained professional – someone who has practiced dentistry for years and who makes their living fixing people’s teeth. I always choose the dentist. For the same reason, I always hire a professional to design our poster or website or to film and edit our demo video. I do not ask a friend who just bought a Mac with the latest version of PhotoShop. Let me put it to you another way: if I told you that you could invest $3,000 and get back $10,000 within one year, would you do it?
My experience has been that it is always better to hire a professional when a graphic artist, web designer, photographer or video editor is involved. The money I have paid for these services over the years has always come back in the form of more work and better-paying work. These people are not unaffordable and they are professionals with industry knowledge and experience that we as magicians do not possess. Another advantage is that are not emotionally attached to the work like I am.
Key art is the image created for a poster and it is the visual concept used to sell a show or a movie. It is adapted for the show’s newspaper ads, website, and all publicity materials. It is critically important to the success of a show. Good key art should be clean, simple, and focused. It should not try to show every element of your show; instead it should convey an overall feeling of what your audience will experience.
Our current OUTERBRIDGE – Clockwork Mysteries poster has been designed to convey our name and genre at a glance. Our graphic designer used easy-to-read fonts and colors to make the title pop out. You may not believe this but for our photo shoot we hired a hair stylist for my hair! We also worked with a makeup artist and art director as well as a photographer and his assistant. The idea was to communicate that we perform a world-class theatrical illusion show for adult and family audiences. While I personally enjoy having huge posters of myself and Marion printed, my experience has been that PACs want a small poster that will fit in small places. 11 x 17 inches seems to be the most-requested size these days.
Years ago I made the mistake of including images of many of our illusions on our poster, thinking the sheer number of them would to entice people to see the show. Unfortunately the poster ended up being so busy that from a distance it looked like a pizza! The title was not legible unless the viewer was very, very close. In this case, the graphic artist listened to what I wanted – and then gave me what I wanted. It’s much better to work with a designer who listens to what you want, but then gives you what you need. Now, when dealing with creative people who I trust, I specifically request them to give me what I need.
We offer a large banner to all the venues we play, in the hopes that it will end up in the lobby to increase ticket sales. We also offer a display to generate more interest. One piece in our show involves predicting the contents of a time capsule from the city we’re playing in. On the evening of our performance, randomly-selected audience members decide on the contents of the time capsule. When the prediction is opened, it matches! Typically six weeks before the show, we send the PAC a time capsule prediction display (a locked metal chest) for their lobby or another public place. This display has often resulted in an advance story in the local newspaper.
I believe our website is the most important tool for selling our show to PACs as well as to sell tickets to our performances. We put a lot of time and effort into finding the right web designer for our current site at www.tedouterbridge.com. The average person has a short attention span, so our site has been designed so that even a quick glance at a page makes a big impact, with very little or no scrolling. The site is very visual, but it also provides a lot of information to anyone who looks more closely. The money we invested in our website has been returned many times over.
A trailer or demo video is essentially a commercial for the show. It must be good. Most people have a short attention span, so it must also be short. Our trailer was recorded in broadcast quality HD video so it can be used as B-roll footage during television interviews. This has resulted in a lot of free publicity. The movie that is playing the same night you are performing probably spent millions on their trailer, so spend a few bucks on yours and it will be money well spent. No need to spend millions, but hire a professional whose work impresses you, and make sure it is good quality. I recommend making your trailer half as long as you think it should be: make it two minutes not four, or four minutes not eight. I also recommend using royalty-free music so there are no copyright issues.
We have some rock-solid promotional ideas which we do our best to implement in each community we play. We are always ready with bulletproof material for local television talk shows, visual magic for newspaper photo opportunities, and even magic we can perform on the radio. We also offer magic workshops and lectures to connect with the communities where we perform. Many venues greatly appreciate these bonuses because they add “educational value” to our performance. By adding these to the marketing mix, we often increase ticket sales and occasionally break box-office records. I look forward to discussing them in my next VANISH article.