When I officially came on board as publicist at North Coast Repertory Theatre in 2016, the theatre had already been established for over thirty years in downtown Eureka, but had done little to hone their image into a consistent recognizable brand. Each show was basically being promoted largely by that show’s individual director and the theatre didn’t have an official photographer – which meant that the imagery used in posters ranged wildly from clipart, to text based, to photographs snapped in the lobby.
The First Step: Marketing a Season Line Up
My first move as publicist, was to start crafting full-season posters. The banner graphics for each show in a season are tied together by some common themes. In this example (Season 34) the client suggested that the key theme tying all the shows together was someone going on a journey.
Each of the banners for the 34th season features a figure on the left. Because English readers tend to read a story from left to right, the subconscious mind tends to see the figure on the left as a protagonist and the rest of the graphic as the story in front of them. Each of these banner backdrops is designed at a high enough resolution to be reused in posters and billboards later in the season. We also establish recognizable text based logos for each show that can be used on posters and publicity photos later.
Second Step: The Photographer
This step was one of the most vital. Not only did we need to establish a reputation for quality art, but we also wanted photos that immediately triggered an emotional response from the viewer. Snapshots in a lobby are incredibly hit-and-miss, so we went out and hired an expert – Evan Wisheropp from Evan Wish Photography. Evan’s expertise in lighting had already paid dividends for the Haunted Mill Tour project, and he had a very good eye for recapturing photo and lighting effects from different eras and genres. Evan’s photos began to immediately set NCRT ahead of the sea of graphics bombarding people on the internet.
Third Step: Posters & Supporting Graphics
My first move on posters was to request permission to switch to a landscape format for the posters. This fit well with the season banner graphics and made NCRT posters a little more distinctive and recognizable. We also immediately moved toward having a single character in each poster break the “fourth wall” and make eye contact with the camera. We carefully judged what emotions we wanted each character to evoke in the viewer. Was their eye contact pleading for help? Warning of imminent violence? Trying to seduce? Once the perfect photo was selected for a show, we reinforced that brand through Facebook posts, business cards, and a billboard over the NCRT marquee – and of course matching Facebook cover photos shared with the cast.
Fourth Step: Additional Publicity Photos
NCRT had been submitting publicity photos to the newspapers for years. But often these posed shots didn’t really make a statement about the play or tie to the existing branding in any way. We started having more thorough photo shoots on the finished stage, and marking each photo with the text logo that was originally created for the banner. This helped to reinforce branding that the viewer had already been exposed to. We also moved the official archive photo shoots for the theatre to an earlier weekend so that we could take advantage of those professional shots in publicity for later weeks in the run.
In the first year of this marketing program, NCRT recorded their highest grossing season in their 33 year history. The 34th season surpassed those numbers and was capped off by winning “Best Place to See A Play” in the annual Best of Humboldt competition in the North Coast Journal. By establishing a consistent high quality brand, NCRT was able to build an enthusiastic audience base and build excitement for upcoming plays.