I found myself in Brighton on Saturday flyering for Andrew Pepper’s show (House of Pepper – fantastic show, over now – those of you who didn’t pick up a flyer – lol.) We trod the streets of Brighton together, Mr Pepper looking resplendent in a pink furry coat and he got a lovely audience on Saturday night. And I had a great time. Because, unlike many artists and performers, I love flyering.
I suspect that many who see flyering as a necessary evil rather than a source of pleasure harbour distaste for the business side of showbiz. It often gets expressed as artistic self-loathing. ‘Come and see ME, buy tickets to MY show? How could I be so impossibly cocky and self-centred? For three whole hours? Interrupting people as they go about their day? How rude is that?’ Or alternatively, despair. ‘There’s only so much rejection I can take. I spend all that time getting cold and miserable, when I could have been warming up, and I’m only going to play to a handful of people anyway because nobody has looked at my flyers, so what’s the fecking point?’
So I offer this as a gentle response:
1. Great flyering benefits everyone
You’re at a festival to build fresh audiences for your work and many people come to a festival to discover something new. That’s a win/win right? Remember the buzz when you first met a performer you didn’t know, had a nice conversation, took a punt on their show, had a great time and walked away feeling pleased you’d discovered something for yourself? It made you feel good, even a little bit cool to be on the inside track? Plenty of people want that experience, performers have the power to give it to them. But first you have to….
2. Help people make a choice
You can’t control people’s tastes or choices, but you can create favourable conditions for the right people to come to your show (see below). Think of yourself primarily as an ambassador for the joy of festivals. Your sole aim is to make every interaction pleasurable while helping a potential audience member decide if your show is right for them. No more, no less. Whatever the outcome, if the conversation sparks joy, you’ve got energy in the tank for the next conversation. And that’s how you keep going. Which is what you need to do, because ultimately although it’s quality not quantity, flyering is also a numbers game and persistence pays off.
3. Go where the action is
Position yourself in an area where there are people looking for shows, and open to conversation – not eating, rowing with their kids or shopping for groceries. Particularly if you want people to come to a show the same day it’s much easier to find potential audience from those who are already engaged in the festival – so work out where they gather, usually near a Box Office or a big venue bar.
4. Engage before you pitch
This is the process known in business as ‘qualifying’. It avoids the time consuming and slightly soul-destroying routine of performing your entire pitch to a polite member of the public only to be told, “that’s lovely dear, but we’re going home on the 3pm train”.
The first step is eye contact. If you look interesting and come across as relaxed and charming, most people will respond positively to a smile and a friendly hi. Start with questions which help to ascertain their level of interest generally before you pitch your show specifically. “Are you looking for a show this afternoon?” “Do you enjoy cabaret?” If they look more interested, you can try “Hello! Would you like to hear about my show?”
If you get an answer like, “No, we’re only here for the day” just say something affirming and nice “Ah, hope you’ve had a great time”, and smile. It’s important you do this, rather than just ignore them because they are not buying. If you get stuck in a pattern of entirely transactional exchanges, it affects your energy, joie de vie and ability to generate more conversations that can bear fruit.
Over time, you can evolve a gambit related to your show, which can help you filter and connect to the right audience. For my first show “A touch of Mrs Robinson”, I found my best strategy was to spot glamorous women my age either on their own or in a couple and ask “Do you have a touch of Mrs Robinson?” If it drew a peal of laughter, as it often did, it was clear they knew the character and liked the premise of the show. Door open to tell them more.
5. Aim for conversation not a sale
A lot of the art of flyering is knowing when and how to keeping a conversation in play. Some people will smile and move on, interaction over, and it’s right to withdraw gracefully and start a new conversation. However, this kind of exchange is surprisingly typical:
“Are you looking for a show this evening?”
“No, we’re already booked”.
“Oh, what are you seeing?”
“Bourgeois and Maurice”
“Ah they’re fantastic. Have a great time!”
“Yes, we haven’t seen them before”
“Really? I last saw them in Edfringe they did this amazing song about XYZ, but I think they’ve got a new show now”
(a bit of chat about B&M)
“What’s your show then?”
“House of Pepper. Just tonight and one more tomorrow. Andrew Pepper’s a friend, he does a great show, I saw it in London…”
“Ah well, we’re not doing anything tomorrow….”
“If you like B&M, you might enjoy this….cabaret, razzle-dazzle, song and dance etc. (whatever the pitch is).”
“Thanks, let’s have a flyer then….If we can’t come I think I know someone who’d like it”
“Great, thanks so much. The theatre’s just here, you can get tickets there, 7.30pm, see you if we see you!”
The point is, let the other person drive the conversation. Often people need time to get to know you and feel respected as ordinary human beings, rather than just ticket fodder. They’ll let you in if they’re interested and if they’re not, you won’t sell a ticket by pushing harder. Your common ground is shared enthusiasm for the festival. Focus on that. Read the cues. Allow them time and space to get to know you and make their own minds up. Also give yourself permission to take time out to enjoy a conversation if you’re having fun. The Gods will decide how many tickets you sell. Meanwhile everyone can get a free gift of your warmth, energy and positivity.
5. Make it easy for them to say yes
Once the door is open, all the stuff you have done in advance – a good pitch, an attractive flyer, a clear show description, good quotes or testimonials, will help people commit, as will a nice ‘look forward to seeing you later’. But it’s also knowing things like where the box office is located, and directions to the venue (I usually never flyer anywhere that isn’t within a single street direction of either venue or box office). Sales can happen right up to the last minute, so it’s a good idea is to ask someone to help while you’re in the dressing room. The style can be a little more direct, “Hi! Fancy a show? This is starting in 20 minutes!! Check out the flyer!”
And then someone says, “Oh yes I met him/her this afternoon, they seemed really nice….” Job done.