The independent community needs much better and more targeted marketing. Some are starting to leverage social networking but much more needs to be done. Collaboration between companies and creating a pool of marketing talent that could be supported by the community as a whole would strengthen this immensely.
There's probably been more discussion on this than anything else in the theatre blogisphere. There was Ian Mackenzie's guest post at The Next Stage and the discussion it generated. There's The Art of the Business. Internationally, I've seen discussions at The Director Sector and at Life's a Pitch. Australia had this great site called Fuel4Arts but has recently broken it out, moving the articles to a research hub and creating a networking site for discussion. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The question of how to promote the work the independent theatre community is doing is a burning one, as budgets generally don't have a lot of room for marketing money. Using the web is attractive as it doesn't require a lot of money. What it does require is time, which is also at a premium. The other major issue is that most theatre artists have never studied marketing. It's not their area of expertise. Nor should we expect it to be.
There are great marketing minds out there, people who keep up with the research. The problem is that they can command large salaries from the commercial arena. Workers in the non-for-profit sector don't make much more than basic living salaries (and don't let certain politicians tell you different), so there's no reason for marketers to cultivate a talent in this area. Yet it's the small companies that most need to get the word out there as they haven't had an opportunity to develop a large, loyal base yet for the most part. I'm constantly amazed at how many people I meet who have no idea there's good, affordable theatre for them to see.
The salon I was at a couple of months ago suggested a marketing pool. This would be a organization like STAF that would be a specialist in theatre marketing. It would pay competitive rates to the marketers to keep them in the industry while still making it affordable to tap into their expertise. If funders buy into this, I believe it can help to address the new directions of thought I saw during the funding debate while serving the independent theatre community. And if independent companies could raise their attendance by 20%, this would make a huge difference in terms of production viability, not to mention audience expansion.
Catherine at Play Anon and I are talking about a conference that would allow for a discussion of this marketing question. I'm thinking there would be sharing of social networking ideas that other companies have found successful, as well as looking at how we as a community can expand our marketing efforts. I truly believe that this is probably the biggest issue facing the community right now. Based on the amount of blogging being done on the subject, I'm not the only one.
Thus ends my series on Toronto theatre. I'm hoping there will still be discussion on many of these points. I don't believe I have all the answers but I certainly want to keep questioning. In the current environment, our survival depends on it.