Building Killer Graphics For Your Event

David Hamilton Marketing How-To

Want to build enthusiasm for your play or festival? The marketplace is saturated with bad posters. If you want to get your message out there, you need a poster and graphics that are a cut above the rest.  Follow these simple guidelines to distinguish yourself from the pack.

Step 1: Determine Your Marketing Strategy.

This is a vital first step that oddly enough often gets missed. It’s easy to just pick a scene or element from your event and build a poster around it, but it’s like firing arrows blindly into a pond. You might spear some fish, but it will be by blind luck and saturation – not actual skill.

Evoke an Emotion.

Determine what emotion you are looking to evoke in potential audience. Are you playing upon their excitement or fear? Are you trying to trigger nostalgia? Are you catching their attention with lust? Do you want your audience to feel comfortable or uneasy? These emotions will help determine every aspect of design, from photos, graphics and color scheme to the selection of fonts. If you are trying to get folks to a haunted house you need to make their skin crawl but if you want to get them to a summer arts festival you need to make them feel at home. Determine what you want the subject to feel after they see your poster.


Haunted Mill Tour Cover Photo

What Makes Your Event Special?

Ask yourself what is the key selling point that you would use to pitch this event to a stranger. Does the play have a very talented cast? Will your festival have excellent beer and wine? Is your performance intelligent? Gutteral? A rare opportunity? This key selling point will help to determine your most prominent photo or graphic.

Step 2: Get That Perfect Photo / Image

Consider a Photo Shoot:

Look at your marketing strategy. Is it important that you show your performers? Your venue? Your product? If the answer is yes, then go out and hire a professional photographer. It doesn’t cost much and it makes a huge difference in the finished product. For an explanation of why this is important, read my blog entry Why You Should Spring For
A Good Photographer: Part I.

If you do end up with a photo shoot, be sure to tell the photographer exactly what feeling you are hoping to inspire with the finished product. A good photographer can do a lot with backdrop, textures, and lighting effects that will make the designer’s job a lot easier. For example, Evan Wisheropp’s fantastic photoshoot for Richard III at NCRT spawned a series of three posters and eight iconic Facebook cover photos, like this one featured below.


Explore Stock Image Galleries:

If you don’t need a photo shoot, look at a stock image gallery like Often you can get a perfect photo or graphic to get across all of the feelings that you want. Try different combinations of search terms, throwing in words about mood, color, lighting and image styles. In this particular example, we have two historic photographs from the public domain, a texture and two picture frames from Shutterstock, and a gorgeous ship photo, also from Shutterstock. If you’re going to design photos regularly, a stock photography subscription can be your best friend.


Commission Original Artwork:

Sometimes you have a vision in your head that doesn’t exist anywhere and you need to either build or commission an original piece of artwork. If you go this route, make sure that your marketing strategy is completely clear before anyone picks up a pen. There are few things as frustrating as waiting two weeks for a piece of art that just won’t sell your product.

The best part about this route is that it opens an entire world of possibilities. Want an original Art Deco piece to sell your show? Build it. Think that your actors would look great in a spoof of a classic Star Wars poster? Draw it. Often it’s good to be careful not to directly incorporate the text into the artwork. Building the text in the computer generally provides more versatility. That said, if you think your title would great woven into a forest, go for it. Just realize that it will set certain elements early in the design process and may be difficult to change.


Anything Goes Cover Photo

Step 3: Textures and Backdrops.

Even if you have a photoshoot, often you will need to go out and find that perfect texture for the background of the poster. This is where a stock photography database will be your best friend. Input a variety of search terms that work well for the feelings you are trying to evoke. Often your background textures will use the words “grunge” (for that fatigued look) or “retro.” Try playing with color choices, light, fabrics, metals. Sometimes, the proper look will be achieved by combining two of the textures together. In the case of this graphic for NCRT’s 1980s style production of King Lear, the background is a combination of a prison wall for the grunge texture, and a colored dust burst.


King Lear Cover Photo

Step 4: Choose Your Perfect Fonts

The perfect font really ties together a poster. Ideally you want something that isn’t terribly overused. Avoid heavily saturated “character” fonts like Papyrus or Comic Sans. Quite often, I go to an online font database and try a variety of search terms. Think about the exact feelings that you are hoping to inspire. Do you want the font to feel modern and clean? You’ll probably want a san-serif font. Want comfortable and nostalgic? Either try a serif font or go for a fun retro font that fits your theme. You won’t have quite the search term freedom that you get with a stock photography site so pick major groupings like “Greek” or “Comic book.”


Marjorie Prime Cover Photo

Most of the text on your poster will be in a font that is fairly subtle, but it should still make a statement. Also consider the spacing that you want between your letters. Capital letters with a lot of spacing between them tend to bring up images of the Roman empire. Tall thin letters closely packed have connotations with old time newspaper headlines. Figure out exactly what message you want to get across on a subliminal level and then go find the right font to do it.

Step 5: Test Your Message.

Once your poster is assembled and you’ve added your finishing touches, send a screenshot to five friends and ask them for a first impression. If their first impressions are in line with your marketing goals, then your poster is a success. If not, take their feedback with a grain of salt and make a few adjustments. Don’t ask them for specifics – just ask about the feelings that the poster evokes.

Follow these guidelines and your poster will be a successful and pivotal part of your marketing campaign.