Spinning off….

Well, it is with excitement, trepidation and a big, deep breath that I make this announcement: I am spinning off my own blog. The Art of the Business, which has, for the past 9 months been incubating on The Next Stage, is launching out on its own over at www.artof the biz.com.

Once upon a time, about a year ago, I lost my job, and decided that it was time for me to start doing this publicity thing (which I’d been doing more as a hobby business for about seven years) full-time. So, I took a small business course at BCIT, and wrote a business plan and launched Titania Productions on December 1, 2007. Back then, I had more time than business, and I had this idea that I wanted to write a monthly column of marketing tips and tricks for artists. I had already been in touch with Simon, who had been writing for Beyond Robson. We immediately connected on our joint passion to help artists become more serious about their businesses, so when I pitched the idea to him, he was all for it.

So I started writing, and the column slowly grew into more. I started recording podcasts, and the subject matter for the column started to expand into other areas of business. And I was seriously getting into the blogging thing. And then, about a month ago, I sent Simon an email saying that I was thinking of starting my own blog, and, to his credit, he was very supportive. And today is that day….

I want to say a very special thanks to Simon for being a great editor, and an even better friend. As a sounding board, a spell-checker, and a fount of information on the technical aspects of blogging, he has been invaluable. In my inbox at this moment, there are 196 emails from Simon, and about the same amount in my sent mail to him. It’s been a blast….  In fact, Simon is some of the inspiration for my first blog post.

I will continue to write a monthly piece for The Next Stage. But now the Vancouver Theatre Blogger scene is one stronger. Our quest to build an audience for local theatre and to help artists become better business people continues.

Dishpig and Mr. Fox: The Final Four Farewell

by guest blogger Rebecca Coleman.

Okay, first off, apologies for the liberal use of alliteration. But that stuff has been proven to get people’s attention. Except when it pisses them off. Okay!

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, we are losing Greg Landucci to Toronto. For those of you who may not be familiar with the guy that Simon and I now affectionately call “The Dooch” (he doesn’t really like it, we’re just trying desperately to be cool), Greg is responsible for two of the best frickin’ Fringe shows in the last two years: Dishpig (2007) and Mr. Fox (2008). He wisely teamed up with TJ Dawe, who helped him write and edit both scripts, and directed them as well.

Now for the good news: Greg is doing a final, Farewell-to-the-Wet-Coast remount of both shows. Starting tomorrow, and running in rep for the next two weeks, it may well be your last chance to see Dishpig and Mr. Fox. So, if you haven’t already seen them, or you want to enjoy them one last time, now’s your chance.

Read on below for information about the shows and tickets and stuff, but the first two people who email me (rebeccacoleman@shaw.ca) can have a pair of tickets to see Dishpig for FREE tomorrow (Wednesday) night. I won’t even make you answer some random question about where Greg went to High School or something lame like that. You just have to be available to go see the show tomorrow night. Because that’s the kind of person I am.

Now for the nitty-gritty details: (Click here to see a video of Greg talking about why you should see these shows)

Landucci as the Dishpig
Landucci as the Dishpig

Dishpig is the story of one guy’s journey to discover himself in a stinky, wet, disgusting hell filled with cooking grease and soggy bread, otherwise known as a restaurant dishpit. Landucci plays 15 roles, changing characters at lighting speed, and creating some pretty fast an furious comedy.

Praise for Dishpig:

“Wow! Dishpig is an absolutely assured piece of one-man theatre, so strong a show that it immediately establishes local talent Greg Landucci as an actor worth following…. Together, Dawe and Landucci have crafted a must-see piece about life in hell.”
-Peter Birnie, The Vancouver Sun.

“Greg Landucci is Dishpig and all the other characters in this fabulous hour-long take on life at the very bottom of the service-industry ladder. Graphic, vulgar, hilarious and surprisingly moving, Dishpig has emerged from the Fringe as a stand-alone evening that you’ll wish lasted much longer.”
-Jerry Wasserman, The Province/Vancouver Plays.com

Landucci sweats it out at Mr. Fox
Landucci sweats it out at Mr. Fox

Mr. Fox tells the story of Landucci’s tenure as the infamous “Mr. Fox,” the mascot for Vancouver’s very popular radio station, CFOX. Mr. Fox’s experience runs the gamut-from women coming on to him, to being kicked, abused, and nearly drowned, all while wearing a very heavy, drenched-in-sweat (not always his own) fox suit.

Praise for Mr: Fox:

“Greg Landucci does it again. Last year we were introduced to this human dynamo in Dishpig, his intensely observed study of life in the “dishpit” at a local restaurant. Its success led Landucci to dig deeper into his own life, and out pops the latest loopy chapter…Not to be missed.”
-Peter Birnie, The Vancouver Sun

“The remarkable Greg Landucci performs his solo script directed by Fringe stand-up fave TJ Dawe, the team behind last year’s knockout, Dishpig…. His charming, ingenuous storytelling and hugely energetic acting make Landucci an absolute crowd-pleaser.”
-Jerry Wasserman, The Vancouver Province

Both Mr. Fox and Dishpig enjoyed stunning success on the Fringe circuit, playing to sold-out houses, gaining critical acclaim, and multiple Best of Fests. Dishpig runs Sept. 24, 26, Oct 2 ,and 4 (9 pm). Mr Fox runs Sept 25, 27, Oct 1 and 3 (7 pm). All shows are at 8 pm, except where noted. Tickets are $15, and are available through Tickets Tonight: 604 684 2787, or online at www.ticketstonight.ca. Cash-only tickets may be available at the door. All shows are at Havana, 1212 Commercial Dr.

Rebecca Coleman is a publicist whose company, Titania Productions, specializes in marketing and media relations for theatre.

The Art of the Business Part 8: Becoming more Bloggable

Last month I talked about the basics of starting your own blog. In this month’s column, the second of three on blogging, I talk about how to use new media as a way of promoting your art event.

If you google Vancouver blog, the number one hit is Miss 604. Rebecca Bolwitt is a born-and-bred-in-Vancouver professional blogger and podcaster, whose Vancouver-centric blog garners 40,000-50,000 unique visitors a month.

I interviewed Rebecca about how new media is changing the face of traditional media, and how we, as artists, can use it to help market ourselves.

RC: How do you think blogs are changing the face of traditional media?

RB: Blogs are making traditional media know that they need to be more immediate. The thing about a blog versus a newspaper is that it [the newspaper] can’t change. The thing about blogging is that you can post a news story in the morning, and it can change through the day. You can have comments on it, you can continue the discussion. What blogging is doing for traditional media is that it’s making them realize that it’s becoming a two way discussion. You can hear back from your readers, and not just in traditional ways like letters to the editors.

Secondly, you can also go mobile—people can get updates on their phone, have online subscriptions—RSS—so the news goes to your inbox every morning, instead of your front door mat.

Thirdly, anybody can be a producer. Anybody can produce content, have people pay attention to it and watch it. Everyone can be a part of what the internet is becoming. And what the internet is becoming is something that traditional media outlets can no longer ignore—since it is so huge, it is so big, and it’s engaging people in conversation.

RC: Do you think blogs are gaining in credibility (as compared to mainstream media)?

RB: Yes, definitely. If I’m writing a post about Vancouver history, I research my pieces; from my dad, from textbooks, from online sources. I can quote them, and link back to my original source, which you can’t always do in a newspaper. People can also call you on it if you make mistakes. In that way, blogs can be very credible. We are gaining in credibility, however it is a very slow process.

A lot of people are scared of bloggers. People are still very hesitant to trust bloggers, because there are few bad seeds out there, and there are some who are doing it just for fun, but there are also those who would like to gain credibility in the mainstream realm.

RC: If I have an art event to promote, and I invite the mainstream media to come out and see it, we have a kind of unspoken contract that we will let them in for free, and they will give us some press about it. Does it work the same way with bloggers?

RB: Absolutely. If you are willing to give me access to your event and blog about it, certainly.
The thing about bloggers is, if you invite us to your event, we are very open and honest and transparent. That’s the big thing about blogging. If we’ve been invited to an event for free and in exchange we are writing a post about it, we are going to be honest about our experience. We can say if we had a bad time—or not. That’s just the way it is. We have no editor to report to, just ourselves, and as long as we let them know. I don’t want people to think I am being paid off to write positive reviews.

RC: How do I know that a blogger is legitimate? Anyone can have their own blog, what if they are just looking for free tickets?

RB: This is a very valid question. To know a blogger is legitimate, you need to know their first and last name, not just their handle. You need to know who this person is. Google them, and find out that they don’t also have a blog that is terrible and illegal. Ask around town and see if people know them, have heard of them. But most importantly, read their blog, and see what they’re all about. Make sure they are the right type of person you would want at your event—if it’s a fit. Also, if you are looking for the most reach, don’t be afraid of asking for their stats. Bloggers check their stats. How many unique visitors do they have every month?

RC: How do I pitch my event to you?

RB: If someone copies and pastes a press release in an email to me without even a “Hi, Rebecca!” or a “Hi, Miss 604!” I’m probably not going to pay much attention to it. You need to be personal. You need to know what the blogger’s about. Read their site.

Let the blogger have free access to it. For me, if it’s not on my radar as something I’m already going to attend or can/would attend, I would need that incentive.

To pitch an event to a blogger, you have to realize what they are writing about, You have read their site, and then contact them, either through email or a contact form on their site.

RC: Is it okay to ask a blogger about their stats?

RB: Yes it is!! 90% of bloggers look at their stats, and where traffic is coming from. A big thing for bloggers is to give them link love. What that means is, if you have a website link back to the blogger once they’ve written about you. That makes us feel really good. We like that people are paying attention, that they are open to bloggers, open to communication. It makes me want to deal with them in the future, and recommending them to my friends.

RC: What are some good blogs to pitch to?

RB: Try pitching to the group blogs in Vancouver. I also blog for Metroblogging Vancouver, and we have about 8 authors right now. Some focus on politics, some on food, so you can submit to us and someone will pick it up. Beyond Robson is another Vancouver group blog. The good thing about group blogs is that, more than likely, someone will be writing about your subject matter, and pick it up.

Other good ones to submit to are ones you read. If you read someone’s blog, and you have an event coming up, pitch it to them. If it’s a food event, find some food bloggers. If it’s a sporting event, find some sports bloggers. A good way to find popular blogs is to just google them. It means that they are doing it right, and have excellent SEO (search engine optimization).

RC: Any additional words of wisdom for using blogs/bloggers to promote your art event?

RB: The biggest thing in dealing with bloggers is reading blogs. Find some daily reads, the ones that you enjoy, and those are probably going to be the ones you are wanting to pitch to. You don’t want to send them a big huge press release, you want to be personal. NO generic “Dear Sir/Madam”. Be personable. Blogging is very personal, it’s a real discussion, it’s person to person, it’s comments, it’s transparent. Bloggers love free stuff, and when they get free stuff, they will write about it. Make sure you supply them with your website so they can link back to you, which will help drive traffic to your site.

In conclusion:

  • NO copy and paste press releases
  • Let the blogger know you’re reading their stuff
  • Make sure the event is a good fit
  • Link back

– Rebecca Bolwitt, Rebecca Coleman, Simon Ogden and Rob Parker of YaYah Studios will all be participating on a panel discussion tenatively called The New Face of Marketing: Facebook, Text and the Bloggers’ World at the Making a Scene Theatre Conference on Friday, November 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Granville Island.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

Miss 604 image via Miss 604

For a streaming or downloadable podcast of this post (the interview in its entirety), click here.

Is there really such a thing as “No publicity is bad publicity”?

By guest blogger Rebecca Coleman

Quite a little brou-ha-ha going on these days in T.O. The Summerworks Theatre Festival, which is an independent, juried Arts festival, is causing a big stir. Well, not the festival per se, but a show in it called The Pastor Phelps Project.

Here’s their media blurb:

Pastor Fred Phelps and the good people of the Westboro Baptist Church are here to explain why God hates fags and America is doomed. It’s homophobia versus burlesque in a musical cabaret showdown. Stare into the abyss of fundamentalism; sexy political satire with razor wire barbs.

Well, the fine people at Westboro Baptist Church heard about this, and felt, I imagine, attacked, so they are putting a group together and going up to Toronto to picket the show. They have a website: http://www.godhatesfags.com.

Well, all the picketing and media releases and backing-and-forthing has certainly translated into publicity for both parties. Witness today’s story in The Globe and Mail. The focus of the story and, seemingly, the moral of it, is that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

I’m not so sure. On one hand, I totally get how hard it is to produce a show, to do live theatre. There’s never enough money, you are competing with tons of other (bigger budget) productions for a limited amount of space – get people in through the door however you can. Resort to nudity and “sex” or “blowjobs” in the title of your play. But on the other hand, it makes me feel uncomfortable to do it.

In an ideal world, I would love it if people wanted to come to see our shows because of oh, say, the writing, the acting, the direction. But in a world where we are obsessed with what Pamela Anderson had for breakfast, that’s a tough one. We often feel like we have to resort to some more erm, shall we say, dramatic tactics to get people in through the door. That makes me sad.

Part of what also makes me sad is that there is no real winner in this situation. Yes, the folks at Summerworks will probably have overflowing houses. But equal attention is being paid to the guys at Westboro.

As a publicist, I was taught that if there is no conflict, there is no story. As a kid, I was taught to ignore bullies. Because if they don’t get a reaction, there’s no payoff.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

Facebook is my friend, except…

A couple months ago, I wrote a column on using the social networking tool Facebook to promote your artistic practice. I myself use Facebook quite often to promote plays I am doing publicity for. One of my current clients, Metamorphoses, is no exception. They are a brand-new company, and don’t yet have a website, so we are using our Facebook event page as a kind of website, with links, photos, etc.

The play (which, by the way, I think is going to be fantastic), is a modern retelling of 10 of Ovid’s Myths. The primary image that we are using to promote this play is this lovely photograph, courtesy of Pink Monkey Studios.

I uploaded this photo to the Facebook page, but today, it disapeared, and I received this email from the fine folks at Facebook:

Vaughn Jones as Eros the God of Love in Metamorphoses
Vaughn Jones as Eros the God of Love in Metamorphoses

You uploaded a photo that violates our Terms of Use, and this photo has been removed.

Among other things, photos containing nudity, drug use, or other obscene content are not allowed, nor are photos that attack an individual or group. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page at http://www.facebook.com/help.php?topic=wphotos.

Now, when I uploaded that photo, it never entered my consiousness that this photo might be controversial. And, to be fair, I did violate their terms of use, which, to be honest, I have never read in great detail. They own the site, it’s their call.

Looks like Facebook is your friend when it comes to promoting your artistic endeavor. Except if there’s a photo of a bum involved.

So, I got to thinking… if nudity is at issue here, where is the line drawn? If I am a painter of nudes, would the Facebook powers-that-be consider that to be deletable? How about a photograph of a naked, pregnant woman? I’d love to hear if anyone out there has had a similar experience with Facebook, and what it was about their art that violated the terms of use. And, interestingly, the poster for the show, which I also uploaded as the main image to represent the event, has the same photograph on it, but it was not deleted. So, image alone = violation of terms of use. Image with words and other stuff on it = okay. You understand my confusion.

The other thing that blew me away about this experience was how quickly they found and deleted my photograph. It was only about 24 hours. There must be thousands upon thousands of photos being uploaded to Facebook all the time, how can they possibly keep on track of them all? Again, please, if you have any experience with this, I’m dying to know…

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business, Part 5: Staking out your Spot on the Web

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring, through the column, ways to market yourself in more detail. This month’s column focuses on what is probably the most essential, the most indispensable marketing tool: the website.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you: if you are trying to sell a product or a service, you need a website. It’s that simple. This month, I go in a slightly different direction and enlist the help of an expert, but I’ll get to that in a moment. I will also provide a list of resource URLs at the end of the article.

First of all, getting a URL (Uniform Resource Locater), which is your address on the web (ie: www.titaniaproductions.com) is easy enough to do. There are tons of companies on the web who can sell you one. Probably your best bet for a URL is to use your name, if you can, or your companies’ name, or some abbreviation of either of those. Keep it simple. URLs have to be entered exactly right, there’s no margin for error, so the simpler it is to spell, the better results you will have with people finding your site. Also, if possible, ALWAYS go for the .com extension. Get a .ca as a second choice, but try to avoid, at all costs, .biz, .net, etc if you can. Most people are so used to typing .com, it is almost a default.

Quite honestly, I get over my head pretty quickly with this technical stuff, so I enlisted the help of an expert.

David Rankin is a Usability Consultant and an instructor in the Interactive Design Program at Capilano College, and also an (amazing) Jazz singer and guitarist, so I asked him a bunch of questions about building an artist’s website.

David Rankin as his alter-ego, jazz singer Artie Devlin

TAotB: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when designing a website?

DR: Design to meet the needs of your audience. In order to be successful, your site needs to be driven by your audience’s needs and not by your own preconceptions of their needs. This approach, called User-Centred Design, will help users find the information they are looking for on your site more easily, enjoy the experience of browsing your site and (if you keep your content current) will keep them coming back for more.

You can start by observing individuals who represent your target audience, using your site. Take notes. Ask questions. Encourage them to give you feedback as to what works or doesn’t work for them. Let them know the intention of this exercise is to make the site better and your feelings won’t be hurt if there are aspects of your site they don’t like or think could be improved.

Videotape the session if need be. Ideally, this process would begin even before building your website, using early hand-drawn prototypes and/or testing your competitors sites. Focus groups work really well too. Bring in a few representative users and have a discussion as to what they require from your website. Often people are more than willing to do this for a small stipend or for that magical combination – free beer and pizza. I assure you, you will learn a ton by going through this process and will come to understand the needs of your audience more completely. Once you have gathered their feedback, you can then go about the process of redesigning your site to better suit the needs of the people who really matter – your target audience.

TAotB: What kind of information would you include on a website intended to market an artist or arts organization?

Many artist websites would include some or all of the following:

• a short Biography of the artist
Photos of the artist’s work or performances, with thumbnails
• A Media page if there is audio/video content
• Reviews or Testimonials from clients
• A News section that highlights the most current information about the artist or organization that may be of interest to their audience (performances, openings, awards etc). Maximize the impact of a News section by having it on the homepage
• A Contact page so interested parties can get in touch via email, and optionally snail mail or phone. Organizations may also want to include a map of how to get to their actual physical location. Google Maps is great for that
• A Webmaster link to help users report any problems they may be experiencing with the site
• And a Homepage of course!

Some artists also include a Press Kit section containing downloadable high resolution photos, press releases, concert riders etc. You may also want to include a forum or blog on your site. These are good for keeping in touch with your fans and colleagues, but can be quite time-consuming to moderate and maintain.

If you are an organization, your site should always contain a Mission Statement that briefly describes to your visitors the purpose of your organization. Your mission statement should be short–a paragraph or two maximum. They provide context for the rest of the site, so I would recommend putting them on your homepage . By not having a Mission Statement or having it buried somewhere deep in your site you run the risk of confusing and alienating your audience.

TAotB: Do you know of any really successful artists’ website that you can recommend we look at?

Yes. I think Madeleine Peyroux’s website is rather well designed and elegant. Lot’s of negative space in terms of the visual design – yet tons of content that is very well organized.

TAotB: Should you get someone to build your site for you, or is it worth it to try doing it yourself?

DR: I would recommend hiring an experienced Web Designer to create your site. For most of you out there, your website will be your primary tool for marketing your services and as such, you should budget for it accordingly. If this isn’t an option for you, you could approach some of the local colleges and universities web design programs to see if their students may be interested in taking you on as a project. If you have the time and inclination to design your own website, I would suggest you do some research first. There are many excellent websites, free online tutorials and books on all aspects of web design. Whether you choose to hire an Web Designer or choose to build it yourself, always design to meet the needs of your audience and you will do just fine.

Thanks, Dave!

Click to find out more about the Interactive Design Program at Cap College.

So, until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

******************************************************************************************************************

Here are some URLs you might find useful to look at when thinking about designing your site:

ETSY: if you are selling a something you made yourself, ETSY is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade.

Doteasy: Sells URLs (just one of probably a million, but they are who I use, and I’ve been happy, so I thought I’d give them a plug).

Madeleine Wood: is a friend of mine, and an amazing painter. She is doing really well, and her excellent website has something to do with that.

Provost Pictures: is a company I have been working with for several years now, and we have just completed a complete overhaul of the site that I am quite proud of. This site also contains an example of a downloadable press kit. A big shout-out to Janet Baxter, who is our excellent webmaster, and also a photographer.

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business, Part 4 – Repeat After Me: “Facebook is my Friend”

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

You could not possibly be a bigger holdout than I was with Facebook. I resisted joining for a really long time. I thought “why do I need yet another time-waster when I’m online? I already check my email obsessively, do I need to have the temptation to be checking Facebook all the time now?” But, like most other people, finally I gave in. And yes, spent way too much time at the beginning updating my profile and searching for friends. But then I started to realize what a powerful marketing tool Facebook was, and now I use it at least half the time for that purpose.

In case you’ve been in a cave this past year without television, radio, internet or newspapers, Facebook is an online social networking tool. It’s free—basically what you do is sign up and get yourself and account. Then you get your own page, or profile, where you can put information about yourself, what colour socks you like, what you had for breakfast, what your dog had for breakfast. Then, you create a network by asking people to be your friend. Once someone is your friend, you can message them, send them virtual gifts, URLs, that kind of thing. Facebook also has groups and events that you can create or join. If you create an event or a group, you are its administrator, and that gives you the ability to message all the members of the group. It’s fantastic stuff.

A few words of practical advice about Facebook. First off, I wouldn’t encourage you to create a group unless you are pretty famous, or you have something quirky going on (I belong to “If Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea kissed me, I’d be a happy woman”, for example). You can also create fan pages, but again, I’d steer away from that unless you are Great Big Sea, or a decent-sized corporation.

What I do is create an event for all of my clients. Because my work tends to be rooted in dates (show runs, etc), creating events is perfect for me. It allows me to upload all the event information, pictures, and videos, URLs for media stories when they come out, and I am able to message anyone who said they are or might be coming.

If it’s your first time creating an event, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Be really, really careful about your dates. While you can go back and edit a lot of things on your event page, the dates you cannot.
2. Make your event accessible to the “global” Facebook community. I once made it available just to the Vancouver network, thinking that anyone from out of town wasn’t going to come to see the show anyway. But not everyone (even people who live in Vancouver) belong to the Vancouver network. Tricky…
3. When you invite people to your event, encourage them to invite their friends.
4. Know that only your opening night (or the first date you have on your event) will show up in the updated information on your Facebook account. After that, if someone wants to find your event, they will have to search for it. However, you can still message people during the run of the show to let them know it is half over, closing Saturday, etc.

Facebook is good for other kinds of artists, too. Musicians and filmmakers can upload videos, photographers and visual artists can make photo albums of their work. Dancers and actors can upload demos and trailers.

A word of caution: as with everything on the internet, be careful about how much personal information you include. Don’t have your home address up there. A lot of people I know don’t even have their email address. Make your privacy settings high, so that people have to be your friend (ie: authorized by you) to see anything on your profile.

Facebook is a lot of fun. But it can also be a great way of getting the word out, and building a buzz… And yes, I will be your friend, but only if you mention The Art of the Business.

So, until next time, here’s to more bums in seats everywhere…

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.