Like all marketing for events, venues can never assume that people will come, it is up to venues and producers to sell the event. The following are some learnings from previous experience and offerings on best practice in the area of marketing for literary events.
3 Points of Contact
Audience ideally need to experience 3 different forms of contact to come to an event:
- To see it somewhere-an advertisement/online/a poster
- To hear about it from someone-a friend, the radio, a colleague
- A printed document-a brochure or flyer into their hand
Tickets usually sell in stages so the venue/producer should consider:
A launch event: Most literary festivals have a launch one to two months prior to the event. This is a critical opportunity to create awareness of the programme, attract media attention and start the sales process. Book launches are also common for any writer or publisher. Venues should consider having a launch event for a series, if it is new or if there is a group of events to sell. People need to be aware that the box office is open, and having a launch in the venue where the box office is located, is also a good selling technique.
Assign comps to influencers 3–4 weeks before: Most venues will have board members and sponsors who they usually assign comps to. Comps should be kept to a minimum for events, but it is also important to know the marketing value of comps. In the case where someone is an enthusiast, be it theatre, literature or otherwise, they will spread the message before the performance or show. For this reason, it is a good idea to ‘blanket book’ your comps so as to generate a wave of talking about the event that will generate interest and further sales. In the way that opening nights work, people have a sense of occasion about attending something. Offer the venues usual comps and then consider adding additional people to the list who may benefit the event in terms of promotion. For literature these invitees could include:
- A local bookshop manager
- A key librarian
- An organiser of a festival or an event in the locality
- A representative from the local ETB
- A politican or a counsellor
- A member of the community who is very proactive in local events/community projects
- An arts journalist
- Artists or writers in the area
Venues will know their own local personalities in the area. If venues offer comps and they are accepted, use the connection to distribute flyers/brochures within their companies/offices/areas of influence.
Sales in Tandem with Online Marketing
Sales for events should be tracked to see what may have influenced the sales. Festivals will request regular box office reports to see when their sales are spiking. The only way to know what truly is influencing the sale of events is to test marketing techniques and look for results at the box office or in your social media channels.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram should be used to promote events and build relationships. The venue should have a plan for their social media and how to develop it. When working in new partnerships the venue should link with the social media presence of the partner organisations and use those channels for support. Where writers or publishers are concerned, venues should also be aware of guests and their publishers, they should share relevant press on them to build interest in the events.
If posts do not get many interactions (comments, likes or shares), this points to a problem with the nature of how the social media is working. An audit should be performed on the social media performance of the venue to consider how this might be improved. There can be a saturation of material online for potential customers but there is still a value in reaching people this way to connect and build an awareness of brand and identity.
Sales in Tandem with Print / Sales in Tandem with Brochure Distribution:
If venues print a brochure, venues should look at what happens the week after its launch or distribution. If there is a spike in sales then venues know that there is an impact from this kind of activity. Venues should also be mindful though of patterns in sales, for instance, is there a particular event that sells well annually? If so, the sale of this event may not be brochure related, it may be the nature of the event itself, who usually attends? Are they families? Are they a community group? Printed material is useful for selling but there can be a complacency about it if there is no investigation into what specifically sells well from the printed materials. A few points on printed materials intended for literary events:
Where are they distributed for literary events? Libraries and bookshops should get special allocations of flyers or brochures. If there are writers groups or bookclubs in the area these should also get the materials. It is worth asking local libraries etc. what days or times groups meet and having the materials out for them to co-incide with their meet-ups. If there are any promiment book launches or literary events, these should be targeted for flyering.
Printed materials should also be put in: Staff rooms of local schools and training centres, canteens of local businesses and workplaces and popular cafés or bars where people socialise.
Consider doing a marketing exercise such as dropping a few copies of a particular book into a café or eatery with a flyer for the event so that customers may peruse it on their lunch breaks etc. *Read Me, I’m Yours initiative used by Dani Gill at Cúirt was successful and gained online interactions, building annually.
Group Sales and Subscription Packages
For literary events, venues should try to entice bookclubs and writer groups. Offer a discount for groups if venues do not already and consider that some bookclubs may comprise 7/8 members, so venues’ ‘10 people’ discount may not apply to them but maybe venues could extend it as a gesture of good will at the start of a literary series to encourage participation?
Success for group bookings will require ringing people such as librarians and accessing names of individuals running groups who may be interested. Venues can also access or find writer groups locally on Facebook. Good bookshops should also be able to give venues a sense of activities that may be happening.
The most essential part of this process is one-to-one contact. This can be time consuming but if venues connect with people who can bring customers, it is worthwhile. From experience, blanket emailing lists of people does not work well, unless venues are working off a very up-to-date list that venues know is responsive and active. Consider starting a dedicated ‘literary’ emailing list. Even if this is 50 names that venues know are active and interested in literature, then it is far more valuable than an email list of several hundred who may not engage. Create this list and add in local librarians, bookshops, writers and readers. Due to data protection, other organisations will only be able to forward items sent by venues to their following. Venues should still circulate things through these channels but venues should work on their own list and capturing their own customer data.
Subscription packages are a great way to sell events – particularly series of events. There can be incentives in terms of making the entire subscription cheaper than booking three individual events, for example, inclusion of a signed book, drinks reception, etc. to make the subscription feel inclusive in itself.
Writing Groups and Bookclubs
Engaging them: Writing groups and bookclubs can be very informal. They are often social events as much as literary experiences. They are frequently run among friends and in private homes. Consider what this means for the venue. Can venues even identify 5–6 active bookclubs in the area and work on attracting them to an event? If there is a lead in time, venues could approach the groups and propose one of the books written by one of the guests? Maybe the local bookshop would offer a discount on bookclub orders? Maybe the library could agree to partner with venues and promote the books by invited writers to specific groups that meet in the library?
Hospitality ideas for groups: Could venues have an offer of tickets plus wine or cheese for bookclubs? Would venues consider hosting an afternoon tea or supper club for bookclubs? This could be an interesting event to host as a literary event. Hospitality is a draw for people and works in encouraging attendance. If events are already set and are main auditorium events, consider offering packages to bookclubs or groups to enjoy hospitality while at the venue, this makes the experience an evening out and creates an atmosphere in the space.
Where appropriate, secondary schools may be interested in attending events. Many contemporary Irish writers are on the syllabus now, so venues should take advantage of this and consider having a dedicated marketing campaign to get some school groups in. This will require time and someone acting as a school liaison to follow up on names of teachers etc. Flyers or brochures should be dropped to staff rooms as well as emails sent to secretaries.
Do not underestimate the selling power of local libraries. In the regional library of Longford, the library has the second highest number of visitors nationally, second only to Cork city. This is an amazing achievement and shows that there is great local engagement with literature through the library service.
Look at how the venue can partner with the libraries. Libraries shouldn’t be seen solely as outposts to give materials to. Allow some time to talk to local librarians, ask them what people are reading, what they like themselves, if there was a 10% discount for librarians for the literary events would they come in pairs? Find out if venues can partner with them to get bookclubs involved, to set up promotional stands or corners for the literary series etc. Consider hosting an event in conjunction with the local library during the year to build the relationship.
This document was produced by Dani Gill and Siobhán Kane as part of the pilot phase of the Literature Audiences Development programme initiated by Words Ireland. The programme involves connecting Literature Audience Development officers with regional arts centres to help venues to build their literature programmes, increase audiences for literature events and create paid opportunities for writers.