Planning to Fail – The Tribulations of a Burlesque Producer

Last week I missed my blog after a rather frustrating few days leading up to my last production of the year Maison de Tease. Instead I had a rather unprofessional rant on my personal facebook profile, about how hard it is to get bums on seats to shows, even when it feels you are doing all the right things. It sparked some interesting conversation though, some productive, some not so much, and surprisingly it has given me this week’s blog subject… Marketing Failures.

Although I’ve had some epic failures in the past (and publicly at that), I don’t often talk about them nor see others talk about theirs. It’s not considered polite to talk about the negative things that happened, the money you lost, the stress you go under. It’s not professional, it’s seen as bitching and moaning, fishing for sympathy, and the like. Sadly, it also means that people don’t understand the realities of producing and therefore don’t have the opportunity to learn from others mistakes. Many of us are making the same mistakes others before us have made. And many of us that have gone before just sit and shake our head and say, “been there”. Instead of shaking my head, this blog may be the first in a mini-series of blogs, focused on my negative experiences, in the I hope others can learn from them and do it better.

Here is the backstory. I had a show advertised for two and half months. I had organised paid advertising online, digital and print including our local lifestyle magazine. I have shared it (hopefully) an appropriate amount of times, invited friends, asked them to share it, talked to people about it, offered discount codes, sent out e-letters to my mailing lists, did postering and of course targeted the area directly around the venue. It wasn’t until the week of the event that ticket sales finally got going, which of course puts us producer-types into a frenzy of panic. I got told by some that some of the factors for it not selling may include that the venue was out of town (there’s 130,000 people in less than a 10km radius so that’s busted), that it was too expensive (for gourmet food, show and booze for $75, so that’s a negatory there), and the fact that I offered no “show only” option (that’s not the desired format of my show so why would I do that?). In saying that though, all of that may be more than valid reasons if I was marketing to a typically burlesque audience – you know…. the people who come to shows regularly, who seek them out, who have an idea what burlesque is etc. Well, that is not my market. I’m marketing to a largely +45-year old  audience who want to go out for an intimate dinner and a show evening in an incredible speakeasy style venue. The show is designed to be an event for the audience I am targeting.

What I did wrong in hindsight, was that my marketing was not targeted enough to my audience, often it was promotion not marketing (will discuss that in a future blog) and the value of the event was not articulated to the audience well enough. This is where many shows may suffer in ticket sales. For example, my target audience isn’t actually on social media that much and when they are, they don’t actually follow my performer/producing antics either. Using my facebook insights, I can now see that my main audience on social media is 25-34 year old’s. Failure number one right there. I was pushing social media marketing and not reaching my target audience, because that is not who follows me. If it had been a cheaper, more casual night, my social media marketing would have been on the money for reaching my desired audience.

Failure number two – The lifestyle magazine was a clever idea but it came out the month of the event i.e. 10 days before the show. Let’s face it… my target audience is probably less spontaneous and more likely to be planning at least a fortnight, if not three weeks, out from going to an “event” such as this. Failure number three was my biggest error in that I relied too heavily on my previous success with this show. I expected repeat customers. In a typical burlesque audience, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem because most of the people that make up that market know that each show is worth coming to see the next one because of the variation in the line-up. My audience does not; despite my previous efforts to educate them in that fact I clearly did not do a good enough job. Where I ultimately failed myself was that I treated this show like the already established, already developed market that I am so used to working with. Reality is…. It’s not. It’s a newbie market, with limited understanding on burlesque and burlesque shows and while they may enjoy them immensely, it may be treated as a “been there, done that” item and not go to the next similar event.

So here is my lessons learnt that maybe you can learn and improve on:
• Don’t ever stop pushing for new markets and audiences as this helps the industry grow – this isn’t limited to producers, but also to performers as all have a duty to grow the industry through your fan-base.
• When it’s a relatively newbie (read: uninitiated) market, then don’t be complacent because you caught them once. Keep marketing to your target demographic.
• Don’t rely on your regulars, or the market you “think” you know to be bread and butter. Always aim to bring in new people.
• Always look for new ways to market your show to your audience.
• DO YOUR RESEARCH on your target market and demographic to find the right avenues to get the message to them.

What’s the result of my marketing failure this time? Well I had a less than full venue and I didn’t cover all of my costs. But that is the reality and risk you take as a producer and yes, sometimes that means paying people from your own pocket. If you are not willing and able to pay people from your own pocket under normal circumstances then you shouldn’t be in business. Risk is about both reward and loss. We should aim for reward but always be prepared for loss. It does take time to get into the reward side of things and perseverance, calculated risk taking and wine is required to get there. On a more positive note though, there were definitely rewards for this event. We did have a damn good time. We put on a great show. We got rave reviews. All the performers and audience left happy. In the end the primary goal was achieved. But let’s be honest. It would have been nice to make some dosh, right?

One thought on “Planning to Fail – The Tribulations of a Burlesque Producer

  1. Very interesting reading your blog above , your honesty regarding the leadup to the show and the show itself gave me an insight as to what you go through… It is never easy but what is great is that we learn from how we do things and hopefully makes it easier the next time around All I can say is that from an audience point of view…..our table of 5 had an absolute ball, we enjoyed all the performances, all so different from other shows and I think you would be hard to please if there wasn’t something there to enjoy. Of course The Lounge is one of my favourite places and just lends itself to this type of show. Also the food platters infact the whole package.. Just want to say to you . … don’t ever give up on your dreams…. Clarice Scarborough

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