Lights up after Lockdown: Reclaiming the spotlight as the stage re-opens

As audiences return to the theatre, it's important to promote your brand as well as the work you're staging, says publicist Geoff Sirmai.

It’s been a train wreck.

In March 2020, most performing arts companies and venues shut down almost overnight. Huge upheaval, financial, social, family and creative trauma all round.

Then ingenuity and imagination brought work to life by online means: first to a select group of other artists; later , tentatively – and eventually more confidently – to a wider audience.

Now it’s Spring, and little green shoots of theatre, music, comedy and more are pushing up through the soil and reaching for the light. The sunlight first – then, the spotlight!

Hopefully, you’re planning for the relaunch of your performances soon or in the new year – maybe you’re even mid-rehearsals already. COVID-safe, of course, but with the prospect of living, breathing live audiences to smile, laugh, applaud and cheer your efforts. ‘Spaced out’ they may be – but believe it: they’re ravenous for live performance!

Now is the time to do the vital work of promoting your shows, your concerts and your brand. It’s been a long time and you can’t leave anything to chance: you need to let the world know you’re back by exploiting the three pillars of promotion: marketing, social media and publicity.

No matter how loyal your pre-Covid audience, how big your database is, how wide your social media network, you’re going to need to reach new audience and reclaim your old one. Don’t take them for granted – keep them in the loop. Let them know you’re relaunching, invite them to the ‘party’ – whether real or virtual. Make a splash!

Some important facts to remember:

1. Social media reaches a few degrees of separation at best. It’s your existing network but doesn’t reach potential new audience. And most of your ‘friends’ are probably other artists who are being bombarded with promos already. For all the good will in the world you can’t depend on them to buy tickets – especially in a post-Covid world when stepping out into the light will take a little extra courage! Social media – especially in the last 9 months – has been exactly that: social. Don’t depend on it to sell tickets. Remember, as the Bard might have said: a Facebook ‘like’ doth not a ticket sale make!

2. Advertising, e-marketing and other direct promotion (like social media posts) are transparently self-promotion. You can control where ads appear (and pay for the privilege), but you can’t control the seriousness with which they are received (or the objectivity with which they are perceived!).

3. Publicity – editorial coverage in the media, such as news articles, TV and radio interviews, online features and more – carries the weight of 3rd party endorsement, the cache of editorial support and it reaches an audience far beyond your own network of contacts.

In the hands of a skilled publicist with regular media relationships (not just cold-call contacts!) you can reach the right editors, journalists, presenters and producers with eye-catching material that will win you critical media profile, valuable reviews and gain you bums on seats. You’ll regain the public spotlight for your ‘brand’ and gain much appreciated acknowledgement for your hard-working creative team.

You and all your creative team will pour blood, sweat and tears, time and money into getting back on stage. Don’t spray unfocussed material into the vast, virtual beyond. Be savvy, be promo-smart while covering all bases. You can’t afford not to.

Geoff Sirmai
About the Author
Geoff Sirmai is the director of Sirmai Arts Marketing and author of both You and Your Publicist and The Confident Consumer (Allen & Unwin)