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Marketing for the Arts: Lauren Thompson & Lunchbox Theatre

Marketing for the Arts
By James Hutchison
Cover Photo: Ben Wong as Charlie, Jamie Matchullis as Jennifer, Kelsey Verzotti as Jade and Chantelle Han as Lilly in the Lunchbox Theatre production of Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets – Photograph by Benjamin Laird

“Have fun and be creative. If you won’t find it interesting to read why is your audience going to find it interesting to read? If you don’t like the way it looks, chances are your audience won’t like the way it looks. So, trust you and do what you want to do. Marketing in the arts is the place where you can be creative and do your own things. Financial people have to follow a budget – have to follow numbers, but marketing is that world where you can have your creative juices flow, if you will.”

I sat down with Lauren Thompson, the Director of Marketing & Communications for Lunchbox Theatre, to talk with her about her approach to marketing and some of the things she’s done during her time at Lunchbox.

Marketing in the Arts

I was doing a little reading and it was talking about people needing to think about the theatre experience beyond the performance. It’s not just the show. It’s the whole atmosphere. It’s everything.

Lauren Thompson: It is everything. I had a lot of fun with Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets this year. That was Dale Lee Kwong’s play that went up over the Chinese New Year. I specifically remember that one because it was this culture that I didn’t know a lot about. And it was so specific to Chinese New Year and those traditions. Dale was super supportive and teaching us everything, and she gave me this forty-page document about all the traditions that they do and what red and gold means and what these symbols mean and why they do these things.

I really wanted people to enter the theatre and read these quotes and fun facts along the wall about Chinese New Year and just be immersed in this culture and this new experience. And on Instagram I did little fortune cookies, so you had a little image of a fortune cookie and you had to slide the image and it would be a different fortune every day. It was just fun posts that aren’t directly promoting the show, but it’s creating awareness and fun and excitement.

You have a ten-dollar Thursday night. What was the genesis of that?

In Calgary people are waiting for word of mouth. So, we need full theatres that first week to help get the word out, and by the time the first week’s over and the word of mouth has gotten out our second and third weeks fill up. The first Thursday night show of every run was our lowest selling show. So, we were hey, what can we do to entice people to come see the show and see what works? We didn’t know if it was going to work the first year we did it, but it did, and it blew up, and now it’s consistently the first show that sells out.

Of course, nowadays social media is one of the main ways to help spread the word. How do you incorporate social media into your marketing?

Social media is basically doing some of our word of mouth for us, but we can help facilitate that word of mouth a little bit. We can put out a photo, or we can put out a comment and people will share that comment or photo with their own tag and their own comment in it.

You know what I’m seeing that I really like? I’m seeing you and Theatre Calgary, and ATP, and The Shakespeare Company, and Vertigo are all using your social media to help each other.

This past season a few of the marketing directors from the different companies Theatre Calgary, ATP, Lunchbox, Vertigo, and I think Stage West just got together to chat and see how things were going and what are the trends and we realized – the same thing is happening across the board – and that we weren’t alone. And then the conversation turned to how do we support each other and get the word out about your show even though our show’s on. Our show has the same actor that is in your next show coming up, so how do we do something about that, and let’s talk about that, and it’s become so wonderful to have that community of people who want to see all of us succeed.

Do you have any tips or lessons learned based on your experience that people could take away in regards to marketing?

I do, but there are a million others. I would say, be open to ideas is number one. Be open to exciting new technology that’s coming out to apps to trends. The trends that are coming out are trends for a reason. Try them and see if they work for your company and your audience. Everything moves quickly. So, react to it all. And take it on your own spin.

Tip number two would be have fun and be creative. If you won’t find it interesting to read why is your audience going to find it interesting to read? If you don’t like the way it looks, chances are your audience won’t like the way it looks. So, trust you and do what you want to do.

Marketing is the place where you can be creative and do your own things. Financial people have to follow a budget – have to follow numbers, but marketing is that world where you can have your creative juices flow, if you will.

It’s a bit of magic.

Totally. My third one is to have a consistent voice. Know your brand. Know your company and your voice regardless. It might have a different tone for your different mediums. Our Instagram has a different tone than our Facebook, but it’s still a consistent voice, and I still know what the brand is and you’re always pushing that. Whatever you do it has to fall under that umbrella.

Okay then, let’s talk about next season. I really like the art work. Tell me the story behind this.

So, last season we found a new graphic designer. And she did all of the artwork for the 17/18 season. The two-tone kind of colours and the single image kind of graphic look and it was similar to what Lunchbox had been doing but just a little more mature, a little more modern. And this year our programming is taking a new shift, so we went to the graphic artist. Her name is Kimberly Wieting, and she’s an individual contractor, and she’s incredible. Her company is Gritt Media. We sat down with her, and Samantha McDonald our Artistic Producer and I chatted about the season. We gave her a brief synopsis of everything and said, “Tell us what you want to do.” And she pitched this concept of this image on image and black with a pop of colour: it was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. And it’s just a totally different look for Lunchbox.

And it’s like we’ve said, Lunchbox has been around forever. Everyone knows Lunchbox, but now you’re looking at it differently. And we want them to. Our shows are different. Our production quality is different. Our outlook on what we’re doing, the projects we’re taking on, the scripts we’re developing, everything is different, and we’re shifting, and we want the imagery of Lunchbox to shift with us, and we think it’s gone in the perfect direction.

Sounds like such an exciting time to be a part of Lunchbox so, what’s going on with you?

I’m going to leave! I’m moving to Amsterdam this summer. I really just needed a change. I don’t know how else to explain it. I looked into visas, and most visas in most countries are the working holiday visa, and they’re only valid until you’re thirty. So, I said, I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have a partner. I don’t really have anything tying me down. I can come back to this wonderful community – that I know will take me back when I come back – and I just need to go. I need to do this.

Well, good for you for doing this. Do you think this explains part of your success as a marketer? I mean just even in your own life the willingness to take a risk – to try something new – to see how it works?

Maybe. And I’m realizing more and more, I react on my gut a lot. I follow my gut, and looking back on things and the decisions I’ve made – even the gut decision to take the job at Lunchbox – I’ve always followed that, and it’s always led me in the right direction. And my gut is telling me to go to Amsterdam, and so I’m just going to do it. And we’ll see what happens.

Lunchbox Theatre is located at the base of the Calgary Tower and specializes in One Act plays that run approximately one hour. Regular season shows run Monday to Saturday at 12:00 pm with a 6:00 pm show on Thursday and Friday. Individual tickets are just $25.00. Group discounts, play passes and regular tickets can be purchased on line at Lunchbox Theatre or by calling the box office at 403-265-4292 x 0.


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