I've been involved with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in one way or another for over 20 years. As an audience member; a producer and publisher. It is an intoxicating drug that I admit addiction to. For first timers, it's a daunting prospect taking a show to the largest arts festival in the world, especially when the rules of the game clearly are different at the Fringe. Shared below, in this rather long, but pretty comprehensive article, is some advice and suggestions for being better prepared to take on Edinburgh (or indeed Brighton or any of the larger arts festivals).
Unless you invest time and money in marketing your show it's unlikely the word will get around until the festival is almost over
One of the best ways to get the most out of an arts festival is to go there knowing what you want out of an arts festival. Some take shows to get exposure for new writing, a performer or production company. Some use it as the launchpad to a wider tour. Some, just for the thrill of taking part. Consider the festival as a trade show for the performing arts. The price of exhibiting is the price of staging your show, offset by the sales of your tickets. But, just like a trade show, you need to make sure you come home with the right business cards tucked in your pocket. You should have a goal and a tangible method of knowing you've achieved it - that will help you focus your attention on activities that help you get there.
Consider Your Budget
Many people underestimate the cost of doing any kind of marketing of their show, allowing only the minimum for printing flyers and posters; or expecting that the 'co-op' marketing that the venue may be charging them is supposed to cover all activity. It won't. And if you invest nothing in marketing, you're likely to see nothing in return. Even if you have one of the best written, best directed, best acted or best designed shows on the fringe, unless you invest time and money in marketing your show in advance of your arrival at the festival, it's unlikely the word will get around about how good it is until the festival is almost over. You won't be on the reviewer radar. You won't have preview stories in the press. You won't have any of the buzz required to get ticket sales starting early, and you'll probably be in the all-too-familiar situation of papering your first week of performances to avoid the embarrassment of playing to empty houses. Your marketing budget doesn't need to be huge; but should be carefully planned and wisely spent.
Make Sure You Have Great PR
One of the most important parts of your marketing arsenal is your PR guy. They are worth their weight in gold if you pick the right one. Make sure you find someone who has plenty of previous experience at the festival you are going to and hasn't already got too many other acts on their plate. Ask to see what they have done for clients in the past, and ask for references if you can so you can see whether their clients really were happy with them.
You can, of course, DIY your press work - but make sure you understand how to deal with the press before embarking on such a task. Festivals stretch the resources of all publications, and it's much easier for you to research the dozen or so publications that can have a noticeable impact on your show than it is for the publications to try and deal with thousands of press releases in countless different formats. At Broadway Baby, for instance, we have an email dedicated to releases which we use to identify which shows we're going to cover. Sending mass emails to every address you can find or phoning the advertising phone number is likely to have a negative effect on your chances of getting coverage. A good PR guy will know each of the publications and how to deal with them. The best PRs have direct relationships with journalists who regularly cover the Fringe and know what they're looking for, and importantly what not to bother them about.
Press Releases - Basic Rules
The term Press Release is just a generic term for a document you send to the media. However there are many types of release, each with a specific job. Before writing your release, consider whether you are creating a News Story; Listings Info; Review Invitation; Photocall; Diary Piece or any one of the other myriad of release flavours. If you're sending an annoucement that you're doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe with no focus, your release is unlikely to get much attention. The majority of releases I've seen over during the festival are News Stories with no news.
There are long-standing basic rules regarding the writing of a press release, and some quick research on Google will help for those unfamiliar with the conventions. Send press releases as text in the body of your email. There are thousands of shows all sending multiple releases to the media, so dealing with attachments pushes your release further down the to-do list. PDF documents laid out with pictures and multiple fonts may look pretty, but they're a pain to deal with when all you want is to copy the blurb out to put on the listing. Even the 'sell your show' guides written by the festival press department get this wrong. We really don't want PDFs with photos and quotes on them. If you want to format your release to match your show 'brand' (more of that below), then use an HTML email so the text of your release is still just text that can be copied directly out of the message.
For maximum usability, press releases should be written in a way the publication can simply copy / paste as much as they need. That means the first paragraph should summarise the whole story, and each further paragraph expand on the detail, so paragraphs can be cut from the bottom without losing any of the meaning. This is a press release 101-rule that seems to have been lost over the last couple of decades.
Never send unsolicited file attachments greater than a couple of hundred kilobytes. If a publication requires a high-resolution version of a production shot, they will ask for it - never send those big files unannounced.
Targeting the Press
Know which publications are at the Fringe before you get there, and agree with your press agent which ones are on your priority list. There is a lot to be said for targeting the free press first rather than putting all your effort into high-profile targets like national newspapers. Free publications and websites are typically far quicker to press, and if you need pull-quotes early in your run then try and tempt those reviewers to one of your first few performances.
Be realistic. You are one of hundreds of shows trying to lobby journalists who can only see about 4 or 5 shows in a day, then still have to write up a (hopefully witty and insightful) review for each. Only a fraction get coverage in the first week. Your pre-Fringe activity, and who and how you've targeted the press will have an impact on whether you appear on a review-scheduler's list. Sometimes it can be as simple as your image being so striking that it'll look good on the pages of the publication, regardless of the show. Quite often it is because you're doing something of note - either because of your cast, writer, director or production company, or because the material you're doing has caught the attention of the public (or, at least, is likely to catch the attention of the public). Think about your unique selling points - your "USPs" - and make sure that you are highlighting them in your press communications. Spend time on your photography. A badly-lit snap from your rehearsal room is probably not going to inspire The Guardian to run a full-page editorial on you.
With the above in place, draw up a list of the publications you absolutely have to talk to. Resources will be too limited to get distracted by the press who aren't going to have any impact on your show, so the monthly magazine about farm machinery from Estonia that wants to do an interview with you because your press shot has a particularly fine example of a tractor in the background is probably not worth worrying about; not least because their publication date is after the Fringe is over. The Internet has also become a great leveller in giving citizen media a voice, and whilst this is no bad thing (it is, after all, where Broadway Baby started), be wary of enthusiastic punters who want to sap your time for the promise of being featured in their blog. Politely direct them toward the press resources on your website, and keep yourself focused in getting the pull quotes from the publications that can help sell your show. The "Hackney Marshes Badger Blog" probably isn't going to do that. For instance, there's no point sending a hi-res image to a radio station (although they might want a web-resolution image for their website). Do your homework. Online publications are easy to research. Printed publications also have websites and PDF editions. Local radio stations are practically all available streaming online. It doesn't take too much work to read, listen and watch what they do and then think what is it you have they might be interested in. Think about what you're sending them. With radio, for instance, they don't want listings, they want stories. They need interesting people who can talk about a subject that may be interesting to their listeners. What's the angle? What's the 'voice'? For Broadway Baby we get listings data from the Fringe office for Edinburgh, Brighton and other festivals, but outside of those events we encourage you to add your own listings directly to the site. We also run interviews with interesting people, either in written form or our video chat shows. What makes you stand out as a potential candidate for an interview? What's your USP?
Talk to your press agent and agree a plan - some of your strategy will be directed by their own relationships with the media covering the fringe, a lot will come from the USPs of your show, and which publications are likely to be interested in those USPs.
Chasing A Review
A common mistake half way through your run is to send an email to the review publications that haven't yet been in saying something like 'We got five stars from all these publications' (with a list) 'When are you coming?' The problem with that is if you've already got a clutch of great reviews, you don't really need us. We'd rather get a reviewer along to a show that hasn't had anyone in to see it.
If you are in your second week with no reviewers booked in, Tweet the main publications and tell us. Most editors agree they look more favourably on the underdog than someone bragging about a trophy-cabinet of stars seeking more coverage. All publications have slightly different methods for selecting shows to review. Again – do your research and find out how each works, and that will save you a lot of effort if getting your show into the schedules.
If your show already has a 5-star review from a publication from a previous run, then be wary of encouraging them back. They may seem like your greatest allies, but the reality is you're likely to get a different reviewer and there's only one direction that rating can go. You're better off using the five-star rating you've already got and concentrating on the media that haven't seen the show.
Engage the media with Social Media
Most of us are on Twitter, and in the lull-before-the-storm of festivals, that's a good time to get some dialog going. Don't just tweet your show name - but do try and tweet something interesting about your show. Be eloquent. The character limit can make you quite creative! Publications like Broadway Baby, Fringe Review and Fringe Guru are happy to re-Tweet interesting messages, and that's effectively a free ad going out to thousands of targeted fringe-goers. On the subject of Tweets, it's worth getting your venue to re-Tweet you, and also if you're going on after the Fringe, get those venues to also re-Tweet. Your festival buzz then can move with you rather than left behind at the festival.
Link up your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but don't just make them all copies of each other. Your Twitter audience will be different, and expect different things to your Facebook fans. And don't Tweet or update your Facebook status 1,000 times a day. That's a quick way to be 'unfollowed' and 'unliked'. Create a Facebook 'event' for your show that can be shared publically and encourage friends and company members to do just that.
Create accounts for your show on as many platforms as you can reasonably manage - and by that I mean don't create accounts everywhere if you're going to leave them as abandoned wastelands. Twitter and Facebook are almost essential these days, but also consider Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus (Google Plus not because anyone else is using it, but because of the SEO benefits it's believed to bring you).
Encourage your audience to talk about your show on their social media platforms. Add a hastag to your flyers and make sure you include links to your own accounts.
The Fringe Programme is probably the highest priority publication to get your advertising into - although it's also one of the most expensive. If your budget can stretch, you should also look at advertising where your potential audience will be. Think about your show, and who will want to see it. Think of the sort of publications your potential audience read and the websites they visit. The better you target your ads, the more conversions you'll get out of the eyeballs that read your message.
Advertising can clearly work, and you're probably expecting me to say spend all your advertising with Broadway Baby; but actually what I'd advise is to spend your money with those publications that support the Fringe, including Broadway Baby. The main reviewing publications are largely volunteer operations and non-profit. If any of them do make any money (which is rare), it goes back into building better coverage. We do this stuff because we love fringe theatre, and although we have significant costs such as hosting, travel and accommodation, we don't have the ability to sell tickets so our only chance to cover costs is to sell some ad space. Each publication can offer different options, such as traditional banner ads, featured listings or sponsorship options. So please do support the media that are supporting the Fringe. In doing so it means we can get better at covering the shows you create.
One point of note. There are some glossy publications out there that are seemingly about the fringe, but really only publish preview blurb and heavily-sell their advertising. Since the Fringe Programme does a better job of listings, my advice is to steer clear as their only interest is a commercial one.
You can also use Google or Facebook Ads to target your message. Facebook has some particularly powerful targeting methods that let you specify the gender, age, location and interests of your advert audience, and also link it to a Facebook event for your show.
Whatever your plan, have your designer create some industry-standard-sized ads ready for those last-minute opportunities that may crop up. Get online banners in Leaderboad (728px x 90px) and MPU (300px x 250px) formats, and print ads in A5 and half-A5 size. A HTML email of your flyer can also be useful to have on standby,
When it comes to setting a budget for your advertising, our suggestion for fringe shows is to allocate 10% of your anticipated average ticket price as the cost of filling a seat. If, for instance, you expect your average ticket price to be £12 and you are in a 140 seat auditorium for 24 performances, you can work out your ad budget to be £1.20 (10% of £12) x 140 seats x 24 performances = £4032, which will be enough for a Fringe quarter page programme ad, some ads in the fringe press such as Broadway Baby and campaigns on Google / Facebook.
When booking ads, you'll find the best deals from online publications if you get in early. May is actually one of the best months to start booking for EdFringe, for instance, as the publications are more prepared to discount in order to get early bookings. As the Fringe gets closer and the budgets are achieved, there's less need to discount. This works the other way around for print publications who have finite space and are more likely to discount an unsold slot.
So now you have a great review
Once you have a great review you need to shout about it. And be prepared to shout about it before you head to Edinburgh. It's quite likely that you'll want to print out review quotes and staple them to your flyers or print directly onto stickers. But rather than heading over to Ryman's on Princes Street and paying full retail for a brand new staple gun or sheet of over-priced stickers, order those things online beforehand and take your stationery with you.
Better still, have you designer work up a version of your flyer that has space for pull quotes and stars, leaving you to just drop something in at the last minute and do a reprint of your flyers. Local printers in Edinburgh and online printers like Instantprint can turn your flyers around in 24 hours, and that will save you a lot of time in the long run rather than stapling thousands of little scraps of paper to your flyers. There's no reason why you can't reprint two or three times during the festival.
Have a great review? Take £18 from your budget and post a strategic advert on Broadway Baby. Because you can book and upload your ads directly on Broadway Baby, you can do a quick-and-dirty three day campaign to shout about your latest star rating. £18 pounds buys you 10,000 impressions on Broadway Baby - that's probably an awful lot more eyeballs than you'll get standing out on the mile handing out your stapled flyers.
Because of the sheer number of shows you're competing with in a festival like Edinburgh, you really have to be creative to get noticed. Although you may think of the Fringe as just another arts festival, in reality it's a cut-throat market where brand-awareness is paramount. It's a playing field that would give even experienced marketeers a run for their money - and to work it you need to be organised.
To start with, you need to come up with an image, look and feel that will instantly be associated with your show. It will form your poster design, flyers, press releases and be prominent in every scrap of communication between you and your potential audience. It should be striking, relevant and able to tell the viewer what it is through photography, illustration or typeface regardless of the words. You should be able to take the title of your show off your poster and still know what it's about. In every venue, your poster will appear on a wall with many others, so make your design clean and clear so as to draw your audience in from a distance. Make sure your text isn't lost on a busy background. Make sure there isn't too much text. Don't be afraid of 'white space'. Show your potential designs to as many people as possible to get their feedback. And when you're happy you have the absolute best design possible for your show, use the same image, fonts and style throughout everything you do. Be consistent.
If your marketing budget stretches far enough, think about reproducing your brand beyond posters and flyers. Get t-shirts for your flyering team, beer mats in your venue and flags for High Street performances. For less than a couple of hundred quid you'll have a lot of options in promotional marketing giveaways - a search on Google will find hundreds of companies that specialise in branded merchandise, and their websites will give you countless ideas. The more you can get your brand seen by the public, the more chance your show will be considered when they're thinking of shows to see. Make sure your brand is strong, and it appears everywhere.
Showing Off Your Show
Adverts, blanket postering and good reviews are all great ways of getting your brand out there, but also consider giving your audience a free sample of your wares either before the Fringe starts (using a service like YouTube or Vimeo), or when you're in town you can apply for a slot on the High Street spaces, or as part of a showcase 'best of' fringe show (there are always more of those every year!). Before considering this option though, experience suggests that a strong comedy sketch or musical number can work well in isolation, but typically drama does less well when a scene is ripped out of context - especially when the material surrounding it is less weighty. On the High Street there is the additional technical challenge of being heard, and shouting your way through a love scene may not do much for your audience numbers let alone your actors voices. If the venue you're in host a 'best of' type show, and your material lends itself to a short extract, ask your venue press office to get you an invitation to perform.
If you are in one of the larger venues, especially one with a busy bar area, you can ask your venue management if you can perform for the bar audience.
Flyering / Papering & Postering
Opinion is very much divided on the effectiveness of flyering the Royal Mile. There is no doubt that you will see some ticket sales as a direct result of standing outside the Fringe Shop handing out flyers, but equally it is a lot of work and you give a lot of flyers out to people who will throw them away. The point is, if your show lends itself to a particular type of audience, you'll probably get a much better response for less effort (and less wasted paper) targeting that group specifically. If you've got a gay-themed show, for instance, hit the gay pubs a couple of times a week. Visit the gay friendly businesses, and get your posters up where they'll be seen. In a pub, one of the best positions is directly above the urinal!
If there are limited numbers of you (ie, you're on your own in Edinburgh), you may wish to hire the services of enthusiastic locals to flyer for you on the Royal Mile - you'll find plenty offering their services in Fringe groups on Facebook. Bear in mind the UK minimum wage is currently £7.20 per hour, so you're not going to get anyone cheaper and chances are the opening offer price for such a task is £15. Before chucking a bunch of flyers at a random stranger and a fistful of cash, make sure your flyering person or people have actually seen your show. Accompany them out on their first day of flyering to make sure they're engaging your potential audience and understand how to sell your product. Flyers simply thrust into someone's hand on the Royal Mile are far more likely to end up in the recycling bin unread, but if there's dialogue involved in the transaction you'll get better results. The important message her is quality not quantity - don't target your team on the number of flyers they can get rid of (a big incentive just to dump them!), but rather give them an incentive based on the number of punters they actually bring in. Have your flyering team put their initials on the flyers they hand out and encourage audience members to hand in the flyer at the box office when buying tickets. Assuming your box office staff know you need to count the returned flyers, you have a method of rewarding the more effective team members over the month.
A quick note about printing. You'll want your posters and flyers to arrive at your venue at just the right time. Not too early that your venue isn't yet constructed, and not too late that you miss the opportunity to sell your show. So carefully check the lead times of your designer, printer and delivery. Put a note in your calendar to remind you when artwork needs to be sent to the printer and keep an eye on dispatch notifications.
If you need to paper your house for the early performances, try and make sure the people who'll be able to say good things about your show are the ones you're giving tickets to. In the pub example above, give the landlords you are flyering a few free tickets so they can tell their regulars about the show for the whole month. No point giving free tickets to tourists who are going home tomorrow - who they going to evangelise to?
I should stress that the information provided above is purely my opinion about what has and has not worked in the previous festivals. The is no single 'right way' to do a show in Edinburgh or Brighton, but by its very nature a cookie-cutter approach will be lost in the white noise of competition. You should always look for your unique strengths and use them. Identify who your core audience is and market your product as much as your budget can afford. Once you've worked out your numbers, take a step back and do a sanity check. Are you spending more than your ticket price per person to get people in the door? Are you only spending the bare minimum but expecting the house to be full? We hope this guide is useful, but above all - enjoy your experience at the Fringe; it's one of the best on Earth.