Posted: Jan 26, 2015
"I recently did the big gig to film my 3rd comedy special. Through the hard work of myself and others we managed to sell out 90 seats at the very cool Art Boutiki in San Jose, CA. I was supposed to cap the sales at 80, but we sold a few more to last minute people who emailed and texted me Saturday morning trying to get in after advance sales were cut off. :)
Over the course of a month or so, I tried a ton of promotion techniques. And with this post I want to give you a huge checklist of stuff you can do to promote your own gigs. Some of them worked for me, some didn’t. We’ll get into the hows and whys of each.
What You’ll Learn
I can’t claim to have invented any of this. Really, who can? Instead, I went to some sources of great information and compiled as many different ways to promote gigs as possible. Here are a few of them:
Now, if you look over a lot of the tips you find online for promoting your gigs, it’s a lot of “start a blog”, “team up with other bands”, and “build a mailing list”. Those types of tips usually fall under the heading of “Things That Should Have Been Done Earlier” and “Well, Duh.”
What we’re going for here is “Holy crap, we’ve got a gig in six weeks and we need to fill the room. What’s going to work right now?” That’s not to say you shouldn’t be building an email list and blog and such. You definitely should. I have, and those were valuable assets in promoting this show.
Also, my results here are things that worked for me for this show. Your results may be different as each town has strengths as weaknesses as far as promotion. And your art and fanbase may simply be better suited to something that didn’t work for me. So while I’m giving my results here, you should try out everything on this list. Keep the winners, ditch the losers.
You might start with the strategies marked “Use it.“, then move on to “Unknown“, and finally “Fail“. You’ll find the stuff that works for you and it’ll probably be different than what worked for me.
We’ll divide this up into Offline and Online promotions. “Offline?,” you say? Yes, offline. There are things you can do to maximize your impact by getting off your phone and laptop and talking to people in the real world. Of course, if you’re promoting an out of town gig, you may only be able to do online stuff. But if you get into town early or if you’re doing a multi-night run, get out and do some of the offline stuff too.
Ok, here we go… Ready?
Plan: With your normal handbill/club card type flyers, include a discount code of some sort. 2-for-1 is common. I did $1 off on mine. Also, color code your stack of flyers by grabbing a stack and running a highlighter pen down the side. Doesn’t stick out on a single flyer, but you can easily see where your stack came from.
Results: 6 people used the code with two of them being for ticket 4-packs. So these flyers and codes resulted in 12 tickets sold.
Why: None of these sales were random off a flyer. Instead they were flyers that people helping me specifically gave to people they know. In this case, my girlfriend’s co-workers and my mom’s friends. I think most of these people would probably have bought without the discount code too, but it was extra incentive.
Verdict: Use it. But don’t make it a numbers game. Handing out thousands randomly as an unknown quantity won’t help much. But having something concrete that was given to them by someone they trust will definitely help. It’s better than just an email because they can keep it in view on their desk to remind them to get tickets.
Plan: I visited six of the fanciest hotels in San Jose and gave them discount flyers. For three of them, I also gave them a pair of comp tickets to give away to whomever they’d like. I wanted to test just flyers vs. flyers and comps. All they had to do was email me the names of their comps and I’d have them ready at will call.
I was very surprised that only one of the hotels, The Fairmont, had a dedicated concierge. He was super nice and excited that I was giving him something cool to refer his clients to. All the other places had regular desk staff also acting as a concierge. Downsizing, I imagine.
Results: A fat zero on this one. None of the concierges contacted me about comps and I didn’t see anyone come through the door on one of the flyers.
Why: Hotels are obviously a transient clientele. And in the midst of Silicon Valley, there more full during the week with business travelers than on the weekends. So my attempt was at someone staying there on a weekend, who asked a concierge if there was a comedy show they could go see, and didn’t want to go to the Improv (which was closer to those hotels than my venue.)
I think the concierge route would be a better call for a regular monthly or weekly show that you could regularly keep in touch with the staff about. Also, don’t forget about the small places. The average Motel 6 in your neighborhood might let you put some flyers on the counter too.
Verdict: Fail. But could work in other cases.
Plan: A good ‘ol standby in the promo world. The venue was nice enough to print big posters for me, no charge. So traipsed around the neighborhood having them put up in store windows.
It was a good looking poster that pushed the unique angle for the event in giant letters “Comedy Special Taping”, plus logos of outlets that play my material for some social proof. I knew my name along wouldn’t put butts in seats, but I was hoping the other elements might attract a few.
I also went to poster the two large colleges near the venue. And I discovered that colleges don’t have the posting opportunities they once did. If you’re looking at your monitor right now and say, “Well, duh..”, yes, I haven’t done that in awhile and I’m old enough to remember layers of flyers on most surfaces at school. :-D
One school had just one place to put up a poster and you had to give it to the kid at the desk to put it up. Tried twice and I’m pretty sure they never got it up.
The other school had just one general place. But I also visited the bulletin board in the Music and Theater departments and got some up there too.
Results: Nothing as far as I can tell.
Why: The problem with postering is that most cities have signage laws now and you can’t hit the telephone poles like you used to. So it’s hard to get that critical mass of visuals that really call attention to the event. Getting the repeat exposure is key to having someone remember the event and actually get tickets to it. Especially if you’re not a known quantity. I’m sure the Cirque du Soleil posters next to mine did just fine.
Verdict: Fail. Except I was postering in the same neighborhood where my girlfriend works. So it gave me an excuse to have lunch with her.
Plan: Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Thumbtack Bugle has been around forever. You can hire them to do your postering for you. They’ll hit tons of places and get more flyers up than you can on your own.
However I didn’t use them this time around even though I planned to. Once I’d done a little flyering myself, I didn’t have the time frame, budget, or number of flyers I’d need to contract them to do more. I didn’t want to spend money on something I figured probably wouldn’t bring much of a return.
Plan: Contact local charities that match your views and offer them some free tickets to anyone you’d like to give them to or they can resell them and keep the profit for their charity. You can also offer them a spot to set up a table and collect donations or whatever during your gig.
I contacted five charities in my area with free tickets. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the table space part because I ran short on time and would have had to do more back and forth with the venue to get it arranged.
Results: Only one of the charities got back to me and said they’d love to have the free tickets. Then they never sent me names.
Why: While a nice gesture, I don’t think they really cared. Their need to get the word out about their charity. Table space would have helped them do that. The hope would be that they send an email to their local people saying “Hey, we’re going to be at Phil’s show this Saturday collecting donations! Come join us!” However, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes they prefer to show up and build their audience off yours without bringing in new people.
Again, I think this type of thing can work better on a regularly repeating show. And charities also work great as a show angle themselves. If you’re building the show around the charity you’re more like to get some help from them (sometimes) and create some excitement in your own audience for the event.
Verdict: Fail. But can definitely work if done better than I did it.
Plan: Find student clubs at colleges near the venue and offer them free or discounted tickets. You can also offer to do a promo gig just for them a day or two before the show. I contacted 4 or 5 clubs at Santa Clara University and about a dozen at San Jose State University. You want to contact clubs that in some way jive with who you are as a person and performer. For me that was contacting clubs that dealt in comedy, music, and geek stuff. SJSU actually has a Jedi Club. No shit.
If you’ve got a religious or ethnic affiliation, there are loads of clubs you’ll be able to contact. I offered the clubs a ticket discount with a code specific to their school so I could track it.
I didn’t offer the promo performance at first, waiting to see who would respond on the ticket discount first. Then I’d up the ante. I might reverse that process the next time.
I also contacted the music and theater departments as well as the campus radio stations offering ticket discounts and giveaways.
Results: Only one club got back to me, a performers group at SCU that does a weekly open mic. They gave away a pair of tickets at their weekly event. Those people didn’t show up. The radio station at SJSU gave away 2 pairs of tix and kept a pair for the some of the station staff to come by. The station staff came, but the winners did not.
The RTVF department at SJSU also had me email them a flyer that they posted for me in their building. However when I was at the campus hanging other posters, I realized they hung just one themselves. I augmented that with a few of my own on other boards.
So out of all that, I got a total of 2 people from the radio station at SJSU.
Why: “Free” always leaves the option of not going. I never count on more than half of any free giveaway people to show up because they don’t have any skin in the game. As to why the other clubs weren’t interested? College students are notoriously disorganized. I expect some of my emails are only being opened now.
Verdict: Fail-ish. None of it sold any tickets and most of the comps didn’t show. But it was good for two more in the room.
Plan: Contact companies in your area and give them a ticket discount code created just for their company so you can track it. I live in Silicon Valley and some of the biggest companies in the world (Ebay, Cisco, Google, Adobe) are right in my back yard. I contacted nine companies. The biggest challenge was finding someone appropriate to contact. I got as close as I could sending the info to the human resources department for each company.
In another case (and this falls under the heading of “Tell Everyone”…) my parents were buying solar panels for their house and mentioned my event to the sales guy. He said that the company usually gets everyone together for some activity once a month and my show would be great for that. I hooked them up with half price tickets and they bought 20. I believe about 16 of them showed up. Yay Solar City!
Results: 20 tickets sold to Solar City, 4 tickets sold to Santa Clara University employees (my girlfriend works there) and nothing from the other companies I contacted.
Why: I had a tough time finding the correct person to send the info to. Companies are very guarded with their human resources info these days because they don’t want every yahoo sending a resume. So I imagine this plan would work better by going through people I personally know and making the offer to the companies they work for. My girlfriend told her coworkers and we sold a few that way.
Verdict: Use it. But go through the channels of people you know to invite the companies they work for.
Plan: Put your fans to work and save yourself some legwork. I sent out an email to all my fans in the area asking if they’d like to be on my street team for this gig and help me do some promotion.
Results: An official street team never came together for this event. My email was met with deafening silence. However, putting out little posts online asking folks to help out in a casual way was much more effective. And my mom and girlfriend were actually very helpful getting flyers out to their friends and coworkers.
Why: I think for most artists’ audiences, the term “street team” is a death knell. If your audience is under 18 and looking for something to belong to, then go for it. Otherwise, it’s rare that people have the time (or think they have the time) to help you when they can’t even get their own stuff done. Being on a “street team” sounds like it’ll be a lot of work, even if it isn’t really.
But if you present it in a more casual way of “Hey, would you mind reposting this info on your Facebook for me?”, you’re more likely to get some action.
Verdict: Use it. Ask for help, but don’t call it a street team unless your audience is young or joiners.
Plan: I announced that advance ticket holders would get a special gift at the door. I planned to give everyone a CD compilation of some of the Bay Area’s best comedians. That gives the audience a cool perk and turns them onto other performer’s they may not have known about. It also lets me do something generous for the other comics in my area. I posted in our area comedy Facebook group that I wanted everyone to send me a quality audio clip of some of their best stuff. No more than 2 minutes. Lots of people thought it was a great idea. 3… count ‘em…. 3 comedians actually sent me something.
Results: Since most of the comics couldn’t get it together to send me a clip, I used the ones I did get and added two of my lesser known EPs on the disc. One a small collection of spaghetti western instrumentals I released last year. The other a small collection of comedy Xmas music since the event was in November. Everybody that received them loved getting them.
I’m sure it didn’t sell any extra tickets, but it did make people even happier when they go there, which will bring them back next time.
Verdict: Use it. From a Disney-esque standpoint of “plussing” an experience, I think it did its job.
Plan: Personally, I don’t enjoy working the media to get coverage. I don’t mind doing interviews and stuff. I just don’t like the hounding to set them up in the first place. ArtistData.com and Songkick’s Tourbox do a good job of taking care of local calendar listings and such. So for the bigger fish I hired a publicist that I worked with on some tour dates over the summer. She’s newer in the biz, so her price was only $350 to work the show.
Results: In the “you get what you pay for” realm, I got one interview with the local weekly arts rag. Radio didn’t seem interested at all. The one interview I got came out two days before the show when we were nearly sold out anyway. And I’m pretty sure it didn’t move any additional tickets. Though I got a few nice emails of “Hey, saw you in the Metro!”
Why: The press has always been a mystery to me. Something in the approach wasn’t right, but I don’t know what it was.
Verdict: Fail. It didn’t sell any tickets and it cost me a large chunk of cash to get it. I’d almost rather tell them afterward how well it went so they might approach me the next time instead.
Plan: A sponsor doesn’t just need to give you money. Need printing? Have a company use the deal they’ve already got with a print shop to get some for you in exchange for exposure at the show. Get a wine company to donate some booze. Tell the local hair salon they can come and do a hair demo if they’ll give you a free haircut.
Results: I didn’t do any of this for this event. Haircut? Perish the thought… ;-) And the venue did the poster printing and such for me, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I wasn’t really in need of a sponsor for this show. But it absolutely does work and I have many friends that have gotten little deals here and there.
Verdict: Unknown. (It works. I just didn’t do it for this event.)
Plan: You’d be surprised how easy and cheap it is to run commercials on cable stations. Do your fans also watch AMC or Lifetime? You can advertise during their favorite shows and target them right to your geographical area. Check out SpotRunner.com to see how its done.
Results: This is another one I didn’t do. Limited time, limited budget. It does take a little bit of time to put together the commercial itself and make sure its up to broadcast standards. And while the spots are cheap (as little as $5 depending on what time/station) you still need to have a bit of a budget to run enough of them to make an impact.
And you’re better off hitting really hard in one spot than spreading them out. If you know your fans also like Anthony Bourdain, then run 3 spots during one episode his show instead of spreading them out elsewhere. Repetition is the name of the game, so have a narrow focus and hammer hard.
Plan: This is another old-school promo technique. You and your bandmates or helpers grab those giant stacks of flyers and show up at other gigs your potential audience hangs out at. Get inside and talk to people and give them flyers if you can. If you can’t get the flyers inside, hit the exit traffic as they leave the show. This can also be done with sample CDs or download cards.
Results: I didn’t do this one either. I was playing a venue that doesn’t normally do comedy. And I couldn’t very well promote another venue outside the two main comedy clubs in town. Just bad form. We only had two other big comedy shows coming up in town at a venue I could have flyered. I totally missed one and the other was happening two days after my event.
This is totally a numbers game though. If you can get inside the venue and talk to people in person (and maybe get their contact info) you’re going to do much better. Especially if you can follow up with them.
If you’re just standing outside blowing out flyers to the streaming hordes, you can expect to find more of them on the ground than actually coming through the door at your gig. A fraction of 1% will actually get used.
Why: Those folks just came out of a show and they’re entertainment needs have been met temporarily. They’re not looking for the next show to go to. They’re looking to get home as quickly as possible.
Verdict: Unknown (But I don’t recommend it. – To be used as a last resort.)
Plan: The venue is probably playing music before the show and in between bands. They may as well be playing yours. You might also get them to do some CD or download card giveaways at shows before yours.
Results: Here’s another one I didn’t do. I should have at least had them playing my stuff before my own show. A bunch of people asked why that wasn’t happening. Didn’t think of it. :roll: Nor did I send it to them to play or giveaway at other shows. This particular venue does a lot of shows that may or may not jive with my work, so I put it on the back burner and never got to it.
Why: Having your music played is always a good thing. But unless someone actually says, “Hey, this is Roadside Attraction you’re listening to and they’re going to be playing here next Saturday!”, then it’ll do about as much good as getting played on the radio when they don’t announce your name. That being said, I’ll repeat, it never hurts to have them playing your music.
Plan: With a bit of budget, you can be a sponsor of many non-profit radio shows. That means they have to thank you at some point during the show.
Results: I didn’t do this one either. And I’ve never done it in the past, so I don’t know what it costs or how much its worth. Though if you can do it regularly it’s probably useful. Especially with the repetition and personal handling you’d get on something like a podcast.
Why: I don’t know how well this would work for a one-time event. But if you’re doing a series of shows in one town you can target to that town. Or if you’re touring, you might go with something on a medium sized podcast. You won’t be able to afford to be on WTF or Adam Carolla without a hefty budget.
Plan: I don’t think I really need to explain billboards, right? Yes, they’re expensive. But if you’ve got the budget and you can get one in a good place, it might be worthwhile.
Results: I didn’t even consider this one for this gig. Double my budget might have been able to get me one billboard.
Plan: Have a pre-party where you gather everyone for food and drink and then hustle them over to come right into your show. Make sure to do it either at the venue or somewhere very close that won’t involve driving. After parties work as a bonus too. Make sure to advertise that it’s included in their ticket price. I paid a bunch o’money to see Prince once because I got to go to soundcheck and would have gotten into the after-party had they had one that night.
Results: I didn’t do this for this event because I had too many logistics to deal with getting the production stuff ready. But I have used it in the past and it’s a good way to get the audience more involved with the event and your community of fans in particular. Pre-parties work way better than after-parties.
Why: Not only do you want people to see your show, you want them to get to know you outside of it too. And more importantly, they get to know each other. When friendships and relationships happen at your shows, they’ll have an even strong tie to your art.
Verdict: Use it. (I didn’t use it this time, but have in the past.)
Ok, that’s it for the offline stuff. Take a deep breath and relax for a moment. We’re 4400 words into this puppy…Read Part 2 HERE."
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