Posted by: nancykenny | January 15, 2011

The Publicist’s Dilemma (Part 1)

There’s been some great discussions online lately (and I recommend you go through the comments section too!) about the place of criticism and critics in the arts.

As a publicist and producer, I have to say that critics are very important to me. Word of mouth is the best way to sell anything, including a show, and so I need reviews in order to pull quotes. The “Hey look at what people are saying about the show!” approach. As a producer, I do the same thing for grant applications and sponsor/donor drives, though it’s more of a “Hey look at what these people are saying about us!” approach.

Critics are by no means the be all and end all to my publicity campaign, but they are one more tool in my belt. And the more “legitimacy” society gives to the media outlet that reviews my shows, the more importance I will place on the critic and the quote.

Do I necessarily agree with this way of thinking? That people need to be told by someone else whether they should see a piece of theatre or not? No. As a person who loves the theatre, I like to see everything and make up my own mind. I might read reviews before I see a performance of something, but it won’t affect whether I go or not because I will always go.

But my job is to sell a show to people who aren’t like me. People whose entire lives do not revolve around the theatre. People who need to know that if they are going to be spending $20-$25 on a performance that they will be entertained. You know, sane people.

And so, I go back to the people they can hopefully trust, either because of the critic or the medium they are involved with.



  1. I think this is a fundamental insight that plenty of marketers and publicists overlook: “my job is to sell a show to people who aren’t like me.” Exactly!

    Personally, I’m still unsure how much affect “public” critics have in driving attendance. Is a review anything more than an extended piece of advertising or does it really have much more impact than, say, an arresting ad in a major daily. I have had great reviews not affect attendance and have bad reviews not affect it either.

    One hypothesis: a great review gives self-interested parties a reason and an excuse for pimping their own show. E.g. “You can believe me when I say it’s a great show because so does this guy….”

    Hmmm, there’s got to be some way to test/measure this…

  2. Great points, Sterling! I also do not know how much reviews affect attendance. At least not for regular shows. For Fringe, often it can make or break the show.

    That said, if it’s a good review, I will use it. And if it’s a bad review, I will find the good in it and use that! 😉

  3. I think maybe for new theatre companies reviews might help get the name out there, but really from my point of view it really doesn’t matter a lot. when I did Ernest and Ernestine at Arts Court – we had many great reviews, also Sam did a lot of publicity before the show in the local papers. We still did not get the audiences we deserved. In my time doing Shows at Arts Court I find it’s very difficult to get people to that venue (unless it’s fringe) as a lot of people really don’t know it exists. Maybe they do more so now since it’s been in the news for expansion (hope so – it’s a great veneu). I’ve done many shows at Arts court the majority of which have only half to less filled houses. which is really unfortunate. I am hoping this changes with the recent publicity in news about the building expansion.

    OLT on the other hand – last year had barely any reviews, minimum advertising – SOLD out houses every weekend and almost capacity during the week due to really great programming on the part of the reading committee. Now granted they have 98 years behind them……..maybe can’t use them as an example.

    Thirdwall also seems to be doing well this year. Have they had sold out houses – depends on the show. If it’s something people want to see (and in my experience they really do want to be entertained, laugh, or solve a crime), that is what sells. Vimy was pretty “mainstream” as GCTC goes – hence why it sold out. Will the other shows? Don’t know. This I am sure will be an on going debate. I agree with Nancy that she has to focus on people not like her. You do as much as you can and hope the peeps show up!

    • Nice comment, Chantale. I will agree with you that OLT is a bad example. Because of its longevity, people have grown accustomed to having it around. It’s an institution. And one of the reasons why Evolution Theatre is thrilled to be an Arts Court resident because now people can begin to associate us with one place.

  4. […] means that in my case, for the reasons I explained in Part 1, I have to read the reviews about myself during the run of a show. And let me tell you, it’s […]

  5. […] Publicist’s Dilemma (Part 3) For Parts 1 and 2 – go here and here […]

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