Q & A with Harmony Wheeler
Harmony is our first expert Marketing Director! Check out her advice on what that job entails and how you too could put some of those skills to work with your very own theatre company/show!
BB: Can you tell us what a Marketing Director does?
HW: A Marketing Director’s tasks depend on the company she works for and the skills she specializes in. Working for a smaller theater like Sierra Repertory Theatre, I cover a variety of areas, including social media management, public and press relations, ad design, email newsletter creation and more. But Marketing can also include crunching numbers, doing extensive customer research with focus groups and surveys, graphic design and much more.
BB: Where are you a Marketing Director, what brought you to this job and is this something that you have to go to school for?
HW: I work part time as Marketing Director for Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora, CA and volunteer as Publicity Director for Runaway Stage Productions in Sacramento, CA. I facilitate press coverage with media outlets. In addition, I discover new and traditional ways to use Facebook to interact with customers and foster their loyalty. While emailing newsletters and videos, I create a more in-depth, behind-the-scenes looks at these theaters, as well act as quick reminders to buy tickets.
I began official, paid work about a year ago with SRT, but I’ve been writing professionally since high school, when I wrote for The Modesto Bee’s “Teens in the Newsroom” program. I attended three colleges for a total of five years before graduating with my degree in Journalism and an emphasis in Public Relations. Along the way, I changed majors and states – including New York – three times, attended several Broadway shows and NYC operas, wrote many published book reviews, developed a friendship with the producer of the “Christy” series, wrote and edited for the Biola University school newspaper, and participated in several internships, one of which was with Sierra Rep.
Two years after volunteering for Sierra Rep, the Marketing Director there left and recommended the job to me. In February 2012, I accepted the position. Ultimately, making the right connections and building experience will make it easier to find work. But building up advanced skills also comes easier with a degree or degree-in-progress.
BB: From a marketing standpoint, what are some big things as far as marketing a show or season and/or theatre company?
HW: Two things: 1) Word-of-mouth, and 2) Happy customers. These overlap with the duties of the Box Office Manager. Anything and everything you can do to make the customer happy, do it. Don’t do anything reckless or unreasonable, but give customers easy directions and tell them the best places to stay and eat. Make information readily available to them. Communicate with them, but don’t overwhelm them. Give them flexibility in their show choices when it comes to season tickets, and if someone has a bad experience or has to miss a performance for health reasons, find a way to redeem the customer with complimentary tickets, discounts or other means. Word will spread of your positive customer service.
Every person loves to be treated like a VIP. Find ways to make an experience memorable, and then find ways to tell these positive stories with others. When I interned with SRT, the company was producing “Marvelous Wonderettes.” Part of the show takes place at a prom, so our Marketing Director set up a photo booth for patrons to take “prom” pictures at. We also had a board for people to post their prom pictures on, and the school mascot from the show sometimes came out and danced. For our recent production of “Cinderella,” Cinderella and her prince came out after the show to take pictures with kids. You’ll find similar tactics used on Broadway. “Peter and the Starcatchers” had a special for those who came to the theater with a mustache, and “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark” has taken pictures of audiences during flying sequences, which they later found on Facebook after the show.
BB: How does the internet play a role in the marketing of a show/season/theatre company?
HW: We live in an age of technology; so, of course, smart Marketing takes full advantage of that. But yes, some sites are more helpful than others as your specific audience may use one outlet more than another.
SRT uses Facebook, YouTube and email newsletters mostly. We also have a Twitter account for the sake of reviewers who may want to retweet or tweet something at us, but we don’t use the account much. And Twitter does not have a huge following in our area. Twitter is a busy medium. You have to tweet often to get noticed, and you need to have a strong follower base to make it worth the time.
Runaway Stage just started a Twitter account, but Sacramento has a good base on Twitter, and our actors are active with tweeting. Twitter is more in the moment, so it works well for community theater, where actors are active in providing content for Facebook and Twitter accounts. RSP does giveaways online, as well. The company is more concerned with creating a strong, fun community, while SRT focuses its brand on its unique location and its professional nature: paid actors and staff who provide a Broadway-quality experience.
SRT also has a Pinterest account we just opened. We don’t have too many followers, but the boards do allow us to put images and graphics out there for the Visitor’s Bureau and other area businesses to repin. A few of our staff also repin our graphics that then go out to their friends in the area.
BB: What do you recommend to someone who would like to become a Marketing Director?
HW: Learn and grow with knowledge and experience. There are a lot of resources provided for free online that will teach you what you need to know about graphic design, online media and professional writing. Volunteer. Find places to use your skills. Work an internship. Network. Choose a specific industry you would like to work in and develop a plan to understand the industry and what it already uses for Marketing. For example, I follow theater and opera companies from around the world on Facebook and Twitter.
BB: What do you recommend to someone who is opening their own theatre company and wants to sell a show; what do they do?
HW: Start with word of mouth and use all the free resources available. Facebook is free. YouTube is free. Twitter is free. And if you have people involved in your company who are online, get them to share everything you share on your official outlets. Get them talking. Ask people to send letters to the editor of the local paper about your company. Creating a website will cost some money, but there are easy, do-it-yourself resources for site- building if you look, and having a professional website with photos and information is the first step in branding yourself. Write a basic press release for every production you produce and send it to the entertainment writers. Find online bloggers if you live in a big city. RSP gets publicity from some local mom bloggers who do giveaways and review our productions. Find ways to share your story and ask people to share your mission and activities in their own online networks and groups of friends.
BB: Can you explain different kinds of marketing plans that theatre companies use?
HW: There’s the obvious stuff that doesn’t always need a specific plan. We’ve already talked about Facebook and other social networks, as well as press relations. I do recommend scheduling things out to make sure you get press releases and email newsletters out in good time. Beyond that, it’s a matter of observing customers and taking action based on what you find. Where do customers go for information? You go there, too. Why do customers come to your shows? Use their motives in your promotions. What kind of customers are you missing? Go to their neighborhoods and events and set up a booth. It will vary on a case-by-case basis.
BB: Any advice you wish to share with our readers?
HW: No matter what part you play in the theater community, there’s a role for you in Marketing and Public Relations. Maybe not a full-time paid one, but if you’re an actor, promote the shows you’re in online. If you’re a patron, tell your friends about your favorite shows and theater companies or volunteer to usher at a theater. If you’re a blogger, blog about your favorite performances. In a time when arts education is lower on so many people’s priority lists, it’s up to you to fill the gap and share the magic of live theater.
Sierra Repertory Theatre Marketing Director and Runaway Stage Productions Publicity Director, Harmony Wheeler has a resume that includes work for the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation for the Arts, the Gallo Center for the Arts, MJM Entertainment Group and Biola University Communications and Marketing. She graduated in 2011 from Biola University with her degree in Journalism, Public Relations, and she currently covers the Northern California beats for BroadwayWorld.com. Wheeler’s byline has appeared in The Modesto Bee, The Chimes, StaticMultiMedia.com, BullyPulpit.com, TUFW Alumnus Magazine, Christian Book Previews, The Christian Communicator, and Church Libraries Magazine. Her photos appear in The Dominican Dream, a book available for purchase through Biola University's Journalism Department. Her photography and video work can be found at http://photographybyharmonywheeler.shutterfly.com/. To learn more about Harmony Wheeler, or to contact her for work possibilities, visit www.harmonywheeler.com.