Lessons we've learned and here comes The CharPR Prize!
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I love it when old movies have terrific quotes. In Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Bette Davis, playing the crazy Charlotte, bellows at her elegant cousin, played by Olivia de Havilland, "Let me see, what is it you call your job? Oh yes: Public Relations. Sounds like something pretty dirty to me."
Well, it is dirty. It's a dirty job. It is setting the foundation of a show, keeping the plumbing clean and making sure that the company's next show gets eyes on it. It is the job of making sure critics and directors and actors don't go to war. It is one of the most important - if not THE most important job- linked to every production and it is the one thing small companies think they can do without. And they learn the hard way...
I recently went on a tear on Facebook asking people what was so hard about setting up a web site (free at Blogger or Tumbler - and a Facebook event page is NOT a fucking web site) or taking some pictures (even with a goddam phone) and sending out clear details (via free email)? I explained that when I started my own company we were taught at least 10% of the budget had to go to PR. Now, with free online resources, companies can even go the extra mile and hire a publicist and/or a photographer (I can not overstate the importance of good primary images).
Then there's YouTube and Vimeo for added value, an active Twitter account is crucial and, with Facebook now charging for eyes, a newsletter is not a bad idea (especially if you're planning to mount another show some day). Followup is key: good reviews have to be circulated, audience reaction can make a good video, and Twitter can help spread the word on both.
Some of the reactions I got on Facebook mentioned lack of time. That's like going into a restaurant without money for a tip...don't even warm up the car. PR is part of the tab of doing theatre.
Here are some tips CharPo can pass along that might help.
- spread the work out. Warn actors, designers and tech they may be asked to do interviews, write articles for the newsletter or web site, or for sites like CharPo. We can tell you readers (ie: audiences) love to read first-person pieces about the genesis of a work and the process.
- Facebook is not a viable communications tool anymore. We get dozens of "invites" to events each week through Facebook. They go largely ignored. Email rarely does.
- The first thing you should do is open a Twitter account and keep it active and - as the song says - Follow, follow, follow. You should be following reviewers, other companies, people you admire, and spend 30 minutes a day reading what people are saying and following the links they propose. They say, and we've discovered, that good times to tweet are at the beginning of the work day, lunch time and just before close of the work day.
- Get the pictures out there. Online media are voracious eaters of photos from every stage of your production. Make sure your pics are high resolution, and, if you're smart, instead of sending them, you'll have part of your website available for media to download pictures.
- For email follow the KISS rule: Keep it simple, stupid. If you are not using a mail service like Mail Chimp ($10 a month), DO NOT add HTML elements - curlicues, photos, fonts - to an email. Depending on the mail receiver's software your lovely email will look like an abortion. We want dates, times, prices and a link to your website, your photos, and the ticket site (if there is one) to the theatre you're renting.
Best advice: find a publicist who knows all this. This is not a joke: there are many who don't know fucking anything. A good publicist will scale rates based on your company.
This is why The Charlebois Post has created the CharPR Prize for publicists and photographers. We will be announcing our first nominees on December 26 and the winners on January 2. (If you get CHARPeyed, our newsletter - subscribe - you will know the nominees on December 23.) Besides recognition for the most unrecognized people in the business, we are providing one prize: the winner in the Indie category will get a logo/link placed on every page of the appropriate CharPo site (Canada AND Toronto, Montreal, Alberta or Atlantic) for a month before their next show opens and for their entire run.