Audiences Shouldn’t Trust Wikipedia More Than a Theatre Company

When actor Kevin Spacey took to the stage at last year’s Content Marketing World conference, he reminded the audience of marketers that their customers want great content, no matter the platform. YouTube and Netflix are two bold examples of platform agnostic approaches to content consumption. Audiences no longer discern between watching “House of Cards” on an iPad or “Between Two Ferns” on a Smart TV. Audiences just want to consume their content. If your brand isn’t providing it, they’ll look elsewhere.

For a theatre company, its primary product – art on stage – remains platform specific, despite the always-encroaching live streams in movie houses. Ideally, audiences will continue to appreciate the unique nature of watching theatre live on stage. However, the content surrounding a play or musical should be far from a fixed experience. And audiences are craving context.

Triple Play, a nationwide project created by Theatre Development Fund and Theatre Bay Area investigating the relationship of audiences to new plays, unearthed important details about what audiences want when experiencing a world premiere. New play audiences cited “a strong interest in knowing why playwrights chose to write about certain topics, suggesting that this deeper context would make the play itself more appealing,” according to Howlround.

When audiences crave context, and when the in-house programs or pre-show emails don’t provide it, they will seek it out on their own. Imagine looking around the theatre before the curtain comes up and realizing more and more people are Googling your play title rather than reading your program. It’s a reality.

If audiences trust Wikipedia more than they trust the theatre company, the game is over. Keeping in mind that audiences don’t care about platforms, it’s the theatre company’s job to ensure contextual content is at every possible touch point.

With the need for robust content comes the need for dedicated brand storytellers. This past year, we at Center Theatre Group created a dedicated content team within the Marketing and Communications umbrella, positioning itself to better serve an audience that is increasingly reliant on content before, during and after a touch point with the organization.

Through this specialized team, Center Theatre Group is striving to better serve the organization’s needs for content generation and take a platform agnostic approach to those materials. Various members of the content team attend departmental meetings throughout the organization, so as to understand all messaging needs. Historically, content was created for a single use — articles written for a show program or learning guide were often not shared across platforms, creating a roadblock for patrons to have a deep dive experience.

Denver Center for the Performing Arts continues to deliver on its vision of being “the most engaging theatre organization” by creating local and national content, as part of its dedicated online News Center. The non-profit arts organization hired former Denver Post theatre critic John Moore with a mission to develop a positive, insightful experience for audiences. And Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts recently expanded its scope of owned messaging by creating positions for a Chief Content Officer and Editorial Director, both aiming to create quality content that engages patrons as well as attracting new audiences.

These new structures understand that audiences want more than a listicle when approaching live theatre. Authentic experiences aren’t limited to the stage. Once a content marketing team is in place, they must avoid falling into the trap of looking for keywords or quick hits to bolster search results. Strong storytelling and varied message length and form are essential to the success of a brand’s owned messaging.

YouTube has spent a significant amount of time working with its most successful content creators in developing the “Hero, Hub, Hygiene” framework. Gone are the days of “viral videos” being key to a brand’s content strategy. This insightful model is built like a pyramid: “At the top is the Hero content: this is your beacon seen by the masses, but most of the content you create can’t, and won’t, fall into this category. From there you have your hub content – there is far more Hub content than Hero, but often is a content series, or video created around brand events and/or product launches. Lastly, the foundation of the content pyramid is the hygiene content. Hygiene capitalizes on existing user interests and is designed to pull users in based on search.”

The next time you are in a theatre, will you pull out your iPhone to search for a synopsis or the playwright’s perspective? Or will that theatre company have a deep dive experience at the ready?

“Stay true to your brand and true to your voice and audiences will respond to that authenticity with enthusiasm and passion.” —Kevin Spacey

I originally wrote this article for the National Arts Marketing Conference.