The Society of London Theatre’s (SOLT) report on the habits of West End theatregoers gives us plenty to sift through and chew on. I suspect much will be made about the importance of word of mouth creeping up to become far and away the most powerful factor in encouraging theatre ticket sales. That the organic buzz generated by fellow theatregoers remains the biggest influence in deciding whether to attend a show can’t have escaped cash-strapped theatre marketers or critics; both have been pipped by the authority of peer-to-peer approval. The idea that good work can still find an audience (even in an age of restricted marketing budgets) is an encouraging one. What I do wonder, though, is how many theatremakers will spot this as a ripe opportunity to step up guerrilla marketing activity. Leaving traditional (and expensive) advertising methods aside for the moment, SOLT’s findings actually suggest that it’s becoming more and more essential for theatres to harness a coherent social media strategy. It’s no coincidence that the increasing sway of word of mouth matches the rise of social networking outlets. Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare et al have become prime playgrounds for cultural chatterers to swap and find recommendations: 41% of West End theatregoers, for example, are members of Facebook; a fifth of those have joined an online theatre-related group and a further 55% credit that social network for influencing their theatregoing choices. Theatres have generally been slow to cotton on to the impact a social media presence and online community-building can have on drumming up ticket sales. And yet, long-running shows – musicals in particular – have already benefited from user-generated content (from fan pages and groups to viral videos) generating positive word of mouth. In truth, while theatremakers downplaying the importance of social media is one thing, ignoring it altogether – especially when it’s free to use as a marketing avenue – is pure folly.
In the spirit of low-cost strategies yielding high-impact results, Emma Courtney raises interesting points about the power of cultural branding on towns and cities (p6). Can the arts be the quickest way to positively rebrand the areas in which we live and work? It certainly worked for London’s Southbank. Just two decades ago, this was a dank and unappealing stretch of the Thames, that happened to be dotted with a few arts venues. Now, it’s been successfully rebranded as the city’s arts mile and visibly the best place in the capital to catch an art show, film, play or concert. Proof, if needed, that co-operative efforts between arts venues and local authorities can make for powerful branding.
This week Nosheen revived her obsession for 20th century American drama with a double bill of the new Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams productions at the National Theatre. She was disappointed with ‘The Unnamed’, Joshua Ferris’s follow-up to his cracking debut ‘And Then We Came To The End’, but left giddy by ‘Crash’, the Gagosian gallery’s tribute to J.G Ballard.