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5 Top Digital Marketing Strategies to Promote Theater Arts

November 8th, 2022 | 4 min. read

By Julia Elliott

Before the house lights dim, performing arts companies must drum up ticket sales. The marketing of show business can be challenging, especially on tight budgets.

Fortunately, theatergoers are finding their way back. The market size of the arts, entertainment and recreation industry is exceeding pre-pandemic levels, reports Statista, a consumer data expert. People are hungry for live stage shows. But how do you get them to you instead of your competitors?

We know this tension at Zoe Marketing & Communications. For 35+ years, we've promoted stage shows for our sister companies, Metro Parent in metro Detroit and Chicago Parent.

In this blog, we'll highlight the best digital marketing tactics to get folks in your seats, including:

  1. "Earned media" (and retargeting it)

  2. A clear focus on key audiences

  3. Social media ads based on interests and demographics

  4. Email marketing with clear calls to action

  5. Retargeted ads based on keywords

Worries over marketing theater are real. But by the end of this blog, you'll have a clearer idea of where to invest those precious dollars to bring more showgoers to your auditorium.

1. 'Earned media' (and retargeting it)

"Earned media" refers to reaching out to local news outlets and other influencers to "earn" a mention (i.e., free coverage). This can include:

  • Submitting your show details to their web calendars (at least several weeks in advance)

  • "Pitching" your show to editors for a possible deeper story (this involves emailing a press release/announcement and photos)

Why earned media matters

Established media have a great connection to the audiences you want to reach. Of course, you have less control over the timing and message.

Still, it's free publicity. Don't leave it on the table — especially those calendar listings.

Why 'retargeting' earned media matters, too

This tactic is paid, but it's a worthy investment. Earned articles and calendar listings usually include a link to your event page. On that page, set up a retargeting pixel.

That way, if people visit your page but don't buy a ticket, you can serve "reminder" ads to them as they browse the web. You can set these campaigns up via Google Ads, Bing Ads, etc.

A caveat: For retargeting campaigns, you'll need a minimum number of monthly visitors to your website, typically about 500.

But it's a great way to reengage people who've shown interest in your show (and are more likely to buy a ticket).

2. A clear focus on key audiences

Get clear on who you want to reach. It might vary by individual show or have a clear intent for the entire season. For example:

  • Past patrons/ticket holders you can reach via email (i.e., you have their info)

  • Prospective theatergoers looking for upcoming events

  • Folks who have "fallen off" and you want to lure back

  • Untraditional show goers who a certain title might attract

Remember that different groups may respond to different ad campaigns and emails.

Consider which demographics you'd like to reach, too, such as:

  • Families/parents

  • Single people/couples

  • Ethnically diverse populations

  • Certain age groups (Gen Z, millennials, etc.)

Consult with your in-house team to set these priorities. And try your best to test, track and even tweak your approaches as needed throughout the season.

3. Social media ads based on interests and demographics

Social media is a solid next act for paid theater marketing. You can hone in on the folks most likely to attend a show in your area — with ads using your publicity photos. You can set factors like:

  • People who like other performance venues in your area (or beyond)

  • People interested in the theme of your show

  • People interested in broad topics like Broadway, orchestra, stage plays, etc.

  • People interested in events and things to do

  • Parents of kids of specific ages (if applicable)

You can customize your geography, too — a 20-mile radius, for example, or an entire metro region.

High user volumes on Facebook and Instagram make them great places to start. Plus, a perk: They're both run by Meta, which lets you easily post to both platforms.

Remember your organic posts, too

Again: This is free stuff you're pushing out to your dedicated followers. Posts, Reels, Stories — live theater lends itself to all of it.

Craft campaigns that build up to show dates; several months out is ideal. This increases your odds of reaching (and reminding) your followers. As with earned media, you can't control the process (algorithms, in this case), but it's publicity worth pursuing.

4. Email marketing with clear calls to action

Next, send emails tailored to the demographics most likely to buy tickets. After all, 89% of us check our email at least daily — often much more.

You'll stay "top of mind," especially when people are looking for plans this weekend — or for a future special outing (holiday symphonies and touring shows, for example).

Also, emails are very action-oriented. You can get your show in front of folks with a clear, quick message: Buy your tickets now! Try these two methods:

Outside email lists

This is the paid tactic. Reach your desired patrons by teaming up with:

  • A media partner with an audience that matters to you, or

  • A marketing agency that can access opt-in subscriber lists and tailor emails to key demographics and interests (like social media)

In both cases, you may be able to send direct "display emails." These include a simple image, a little bit of copy and a clear call to action. 

Your own email list

This is the free or "organic" way. Tap into your current email list — i.e., people who've subscribed to your newsletters. They're your super fans, and you can reach them directly!

Keep them posted about upcoming seasons and shows with personalized emails. (Note: These emails can be a bit "warmer" or more familiar than the "cold" emails you send to outside lists.)

Plan a regular cadence of emails — maybe monthly, with more frequency leading up to a show. 

5. Retargeted ads based on keywords

Finally, when it comes to ads on the web, retargeting ads based on keywords may help.

Imagine someone near your theater Googles or Bings the keyword phrase, "things to do near me." With retargeting, you can serve ads promoting your show to those same folks as they visit other websites and apps.

  • The pros: It's excellent audience alignment and keeps you in their line of vision.

  • The cons: It can be pricier. You'll need to pair up with a marketing agency with access to the software that delivers these ads.

What are my next steps to market my theater arts?

Luring patrons to your theater can be tough. But narrowing your marketing efforts on a few key areas, paid and unpaid, can make an impact.

This article highlighted the importance of earned media, social media ads and email marketing. Retargeted ads, out on the broader web, can also help if funds allow.

Ready to dive into marketing your performing arts company? Talk to an advisor at Zoe Marketing & Communications. We've promoted local and touring shows to regional audiences for decades. We can help you build your audience, too.

Still exploring your theater marketing options? These brass-tacks articles are a great next step:

Julia Elliott

For 17 years, Julia Elliott crafted strategies and stories for Zoe, along with its sister companies, Metro Parent and Chicago Parent. A deep background in journalism helped her create customized content marketing to drive client success.