4 Simple Tips To Roll Marketing Into Your Creative Process
by Joe Lott, Marketing Professional and Choreographer
As dance-makers, and in particular emerging dance-artists, we all find ourselves undertaking a variety of roles. One moment we’re fundraisers, the next HR, we’re often managers and leaders, we’re regularly teachers, and every so often, when we get all those elements right, we make it into the studio and onto the stage (or site!) to be dancers and choreographers. One of the most important roles we, as artists, must all have an awareness of, is marketing. In this post I’ll share 4 tips to embed marketing within your creative practice, to make it fun and simple, to save you time and money, and help you develop the audience for your work.
I believe that marketing, at its best, can and should form an integral part of our creative process as artists. Our creative work shouldn’t be dictated by what we think the audience wants: I’d call that craft, not art. Nonetheless, considering what we want to communicate to our audience from the earliest stages of RnD will pay dividends when it comes to the practical tasks of writing listings, designing flyers, shooting photos, or posting to social media. And if you’re lucky enough to work with a marketing professional, by giving this some thought you will help them do their best work.
After all, we all want an audience for our dance work. (Well, maybe except for that one piece a few years back.) Marketing is quite simply the process of trying to persuade people to come see our show, or watch our film, or take our class etc. I have what is nowadays called a portfolio career, I work in marketing and I’m a choreographer. This places me in the fairly unique position of possessing a wealth of professional marketing experience and knowledge, as well as having experienced first-hand the highs and lows of building a career as a dance-maker.
Here are my 4 top tips to embed marketing within your creative practice, to save money, time, and grow your audience:
1. Shoot your photos before you make your piece
Any marketer worth their salt knows that creating eye-catching, exciting images is perhaps one of the most important ingredients in a successful marketing campaign. Not least because newspapers, listings sites, theatres and dance hubs/agencies are always on the lookout to feature exciting images. The earlier you can start sharing the images for your new piece, the better.
When I am preparing to go into the studio for the creation of a new piece, one of the first meetings I schedule is with my photographer. I talk him through my initial ideas, play music, share paintings, photos or text, and he’ll usually ask me a lot of questions. These questions help the piece begin to crystallise in my mind. Out of these initial conversations we form a plan for the photo shoot.
We almost always shoot before rehearsals begin, often on location, with costumes and props. These photos have often informed my choreographic choices in the studio. For example, for a piece about astronauts, my photographer decided to make the dancers appear weightless. These photos ended up being the inspiration for the final section of the piece:
Photo Credit: Imran Uppal Photography
“Lott creates a real tour-de-force. In a sequence lasting several minutes, the dancers appear to float and hover weightlessly in slow-motion choreography.” David Bellan, Dance Critic, The Oxford Times
2. Write for your audience, not a lecturer/programmer/funding body
As dance professionals we write for many different readers. We write funding applications, grant submissions, teaching plans, festival or scratch applications, and audition notices. And if we come from a formal dance training background, we probably wrote academic essays about our creative practice. Copy-writing for marketing is none of these things.
When writing marketing copy about your work, its important to think about who you are writing to. (Sidebar: the word ‘copy’ just means any text in an article or advert.) Most of your audience won’t have a background in dance, so its important to assume no prior knowledge and avoid dance jargon such as ‘RnD’, ‘choreographic process’, and ‘site-specific’. As with photography, thinking about your copy early on can help with the creation of your piece.
Here are some of the key questions I ask myself as prompts to write copy: What will the audience see? What will they hear? How many performers are there? Who is involved in this project? In simple terms, what is the piece about? Where or when is the piece set? (If anywhere, or anywhen.) Why is this piece important right now? Who would enjoy this piece? Answering these questions, or simply noticing which questions I don’t yet have answers to, helps me to clarify my ideas about my choreographic work.
I often see emerging choreographers writing copy that describes the process of making their piece, or asking questions in their copy to indicate the questions the piece will be exploring. While posing questions is a great starting point for choreographic work, I’d generally avoid questions in marketing copy. The majority of your audience won’t care about your choreographic process (sorry!) and they probably won’t have time to think about your questions – chances are they’ve been answering questions at work all day and would like a break from that!
3. Do you really need a flyer and poster?
Now, don’t get me wrong, if you are off on tour, you definitely need flyers and posters at every venue. However, if you are an emerging artist, perhaps working on a one-off festival performance or fringe gig, I suggest you think strategically about how you spend your money and your time. I’ve sold out a 150 seat theatre on a marketing budget of £200 – which I spent on photography and 1000 flyers, of which I’d only distributed about 500 by the time I sold out!
The key elements to consider when planning your marketing are: Who are my audience? How do I reach my audience? How, when, and where can I reach my audience as simply and cheaply as possible? Of course social media platforms are great for this, but you don’t necessarily need a presence on every social media platform. If your piece is particularly relevant to a youth audience, you might decide to focus on snapchat and instagram. If you want to reach parents for a piece you’ve made for toddlers, facebook and online listings sites (looking at you netmums) might be the best focus for you. Thinking about your audience, and where your audience spend their time and attention, will help you pick the best channels to promote your work.
In fact, involving your audience in the creation of your piece is the ideal way to promote your work for free. One of the more recent trends in marketing is ‘content-led campaigns’. Basically, this just means showing people stuff they’re interested in, rather than bombarding them with adverts. By sharing content such as rehearsal photos, video clips, or interviews with your collaborators on social media, you have an opportunity to get your audience excited to see your piece before you’ve even finished it. Why not build content-creation of this kind into your RnD and rehearsal process?
4. Dare to be different
Remember, your creativity is 100% unique to you. Likewise, your approach to marketing can be unique and bold, it doesn’t have to look like what everyone else is doing. Standing out from the crowd is a good thing! As dancers and dance-makers we’re creative professionals, and so I encourage you to apply that creativity to your marketing, think about your audience from the outset, and dream-up fun, unusual ways to communicate with them. Marketing is not about looking like everyone else, so I encourage you to be bold, be brave and dare to be different. (Just remember to shoot some attention-grabbing photos and write some kick-ass marketing copy!)
Bonus tip number 5…
And I wouldn’t be a marketer if I didn’t also say: Follow me on twitter @JoeLottDance to discover my dance company, and get more arts marketing tips and insight.