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Ross Lehman, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Mary Beth Fisher, Jordan Brown, Rebecca Buller, and E. Faye Butler in the trailor for "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at the Goodman Theatre. (Graphic by Cameron Johnson)
Ross Lehman, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Mary Beth Fisher, Jordan Brown, Rebecca Buller, and E. Faye Butler in the trailor for "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at the Goodman Theatre. (Graphic by Cameron Johnson)

Forget That Print Ad, Tease Them With a Video

Before the show opened, the team of ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ at the Goodman had to market it in 15 seconds. Here’s how they did it.

To create attention-grabbing teaser trailers that don’t rely on “B-roll” production footage.

To appeal to digital viewers’ emotions through storytelling, improvisation, bold imagery, and more.

Shorter teasers; staff collaboration; using in-house talent.

Long-form video; sticking to the same old interview-and-B-roll format.

Using video to introduce new audiences to new work.

So you’re killing time on your phone, waiting for the bus, scrolling through your Facebook feed of cat memes and what-I-made-for-dinner photos, when a video image of a young, shirtless man comes up. You slow your scroll just a bit. The playback starts. He’s dancing. It’s funny—it’s adorable. Maybe you want to know more about this. Your thumb comes to a stop and you’re watching Goodman Theatre’s teaser trailer for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

Those first five seconds of video have become vital for theatres in piquing the interest of a widening digital audience. “Our world is increasingly visual—and digital—and so we felt strongly the need to get something out in front of people on the web and social media that was a quick teaser, something to whet the appetite,” says Lori Kleinerman, director of marketing and public relations at the Chicago theatre.

The two biggest trends in digital this year, according to Erik Gensler, president of the digital marketing consulting firm Capacity Interactive, are mobile and video consumption. “Facebook just announced they are getting eight billion video views per day. According to Google, performing arts patrons watch five million YouTube videos a month.” More than half of those views are occurring on smartphones or other mobile devices—and if you can get their attention, mobile users tend to be less distracted and more likely to watch a video through to the end than television watchers or web browsers.

But how can theatres grab that attention before their biggest asset—the production—is ready for its close-up? And even when approved film footage from the production, commonly referred to as “B-roll,” is available, is it eye-catching enough to snag the mobile video viewer? Thinking outside the proscenium box, some marketing teams and creative artists, including those at the Goodman, are shooting past the B-roll.

At Capacity Interactive’s Digital Marketing Boot Camp for the Arts conference in October, Gensler led a session, “Cut a Print Ad, Create a Video,” giving examples of arts organizations meeting this challenge with animation, props, and staged scenes with actors, not necessarily performing the show on the set.

“You can get to the spirit of the show through music and style, and not be so literal,” says Gensler. “The talking head, the authoritative figure talking about the show, has become less successful. In social media, you have to be a ‘thumb-stopper.’ You have eight seconds, and if you haven’t grabbed them, then you’re done.” Gensler suggests that theatres put more in-depth content on production pages, where potential audiences can find it once they’ve been hooked by the teaser and want to know more.

The Goodman began making video trailers for social media about three or four years ago, according to Kleinerman, though the process has evolved over time in favor of several shorter teasers, relegating longer-form video pieces for web and e-magazine content.

“We were making pieces that were five or more minutes long—mini-documentaries that were mixtures of interviews and B-roll,” says Goodman creative director Kelly Rickert. “They were great, but we saw a lot of fall-off; we could see people weren’t sharing them and weren’t tracking to the end. We’ve learned to be more efficient and lean.” Kleinerman notes that they often need three pieces of video a week “to feed the social media machine.”

“We make a strategy first,” Rickert says, roping in not just marketing and graphic design departments but the director and often the playwright or costume and scene shop staff as well. “We consider what audiences will respond to, the essential elements of the show. For a piece early on that may not have actors yet, we’re asking what the story arc is in 30 seconds, what’s the tone and mood.” That could involve stock footage or video created during a pre-production photo shoot, as in the case of Vanya and Sonia. “That happened organically,” says Kleinerman. “It occurred to us to shoot the photo shoot and see what that gets us—and Paul Elledge, our great photographer, said, ‘Sure, bring the camera.’ We got Spike basically flexing his muscles. It’s super-short and hilarious.”

The teaser, released four months before the show, got nearly 24,000 Facebook views—a significant number for such early marketing.

The Goodman team has also taken the camera into auditions, filming kids describing the plot of A Christmas Carol for some charming teaser footage for that holiday perennial. In another case, for Disgraced, a talking head actually worked well: Actor Bernard White discussing his character over B-roll attracted more than 50,000 views. “We have to recognize that various shows are more conducive to certain kinds of video,” says Rickert. “Bernie knew the show so well, and his character was so compelling, and that came forward.”

Concedes Kleinerman, “There isn’t one thing that works every time. It’s trying to find the secret sauce to make it a compelling piece for the audience. The important part is that it’s really good quality.”

Gensler agrees. “Video has to be as good as what’s on your stage. You can’t get away with cheaping out on video content. Hire someone good to do it. Hire someone with a voice. More people will see videos than will see what’s on your stage. Why put out something without high production value?”

Though high-quality video production can seem prohibitive for many cash-strapped arts organizations, Gensler suggests that the cost per acquisition more than justifies the expense. “You might spend $1,000 creating the video, but that will lead to 10,000 people who are now in your marketing pool,” he explains. “We also know…that video increases order value and conversion rate. The people who are watching video are spending more money on that site.”

Making a good video is only the start, though. Theatres also need to calculate ROI (return on investment) on that video, then know what to do with the information—another obstacle to many theatres’ success in digital video marketing, Gensler says. “If you don’t have the internal knowledge or ability to measure how it’s working, the incentive to change is harder.”

Having mastered share-ready digital teasers, the Goodman is working to incorporate these methods into even more of their communications and outreach with the support of a grant from the Wallace Foundation for audience development. “What’s so cool about the Wallace Grant,” says Kleinerman, “is that it’s for research. So we can learn a lot about engagement and helping people really understand what new work is about—and is one idea we’re working with.”

“I like to say that every organization must become a media company,” says Gensler. “Some cultural organizations have changed slightly and appended digital—but the ones that are truly succeeding are the ones who are being driven by digital.”

Sarah Hart is a former managing editor of this magazine.

  • Michael Clayton Copeland

    This is EXACTLY what we did last week for our upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliet” here at the Dallas Theater Center! I’m not sure we’ve ever reached 1200+ views on YouTube faster! And tickets are really selling. Our teaser trailer:

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