Interview with Phil Newby, Head of Marketing at The Roundhouse

A while ago I wrote a few pieces on theatre trailers and a few days ago I received an email from The Wooster Group saying they’d like me to talk to them about it. Which is exciting, if a little belated (watch out for that interview on a DIFFERENT subject coming out soon). BUT why am I wittering on about all this you may very justifiably ask…?!

WELL… it reminded me that I had this gorgeous set of Q&A’s languishing in My Documents which is a crime because Phil’s responses are too interesting for just little old me to have seen them.

So I’ve decided to share them in their entirety…I know it’s quite long but please do read on, he jolly well knows his stuff.

What is the ethos behind theatre trailers for you. What’s their job?

The holy grail of marketing has always been that much-talked-about, but often little-understood phenomenon: word of mouth. Until relatively recently, this might have spread though phone calls, conversations in pubs and so-on, but as we all know, nowadays what we’re really talking about is online sharing through social media. For me, video trailers are the most effective tool to facilitate personal recommendations – people are much more likely to share a video with their friends than a web page with copy explaining what a show is all about, and therefore by offering video content, you’re giving audiences the tools they need to become ambassadors for your production or your venue.

I recently attended a conference where someone quoted an incredible figure: we are now watching 11,000 years of online video every month in the UK alone, with sharing of video content growing exponentially in volume and speed. As arts marketers, we need to tap into the huge potential of this, both to sell tickets for our shows and to engage audiences in new ways.

What type of trailer have you found works most successfully?

As with all marketing, the focus should be about clear communication. A colleague of mine remarked recently that a lot of theatre trailers are now produced to look like film trailers – super-quick edits, a focus on action over depth and so on. But whereas film marketing often takes this overtly opportunistic approach to marketing, as arts organisations we need to build trust and long-term relationships with our audiences, and so this approach can be really damaging for audience development.

For me, the goal with online video marketing creative is to remove the element of risk for the potential booker, to give audiences a clear and full insight into the show they’re thinking about booking. They can also be a chance to give audiences a deeper insight into the artist or the work, or even compliment the work itself. This is absolutely the case with our promo films for PolarBear’s upcoming show.

I think it’s also important when creating film content around a production that collaboration is encouraged between the artist and the filmmaker. This is the key to creating something that sits between a traditional marketing trailer and purely creative output, which is where we feel the PolarBear films sit. We’re also lucky enough to have an in-house production team here at the Roundhouse which allows to to pursue this kind of collaborative approach to content production.

Do you have examples of a trailer selling tickets, is this something that venue’s measure?

This is something that we’re really interested in, but it’s incredibly difficult to track sales conversions on the back of video views due to the distribution of content across the digital space. However, we do have strong evidence that consumption of online video is a strong driver of attendance and is also the most effective type of content we can use to drive clickthroughs from emarketing and social media activity. For example, during our summer installation, Ron Arad’s Curtain Call, we found that 20% of all visitors to the microsite we created for the campaign watched the marketing trailer – a total of almost 13,000 views. More interestingly, we noticed that consumption of the video peaked strongly just ahead of our busiest weekend in terms of attendance, supporting the idea that audiences do rely on video as a key tool in decision-making around attendance and for recommendations to peers.

Who is most likely to pay attention to them? It seems to me that it’s NOT industry types, is this true?

I would hope that marketing trailers are produced with the target audience in mind, and that they are successful in capturing the attention of that demographic.

Is there a particular age demographic that respond to them more/less?

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, I see trailers as tools for encouraging online sharing, and I think that this is something that people enjoy across a wide range of age demographics. So the answer here would be no, I don’t think the format itself works better for one age demographic than another, although the content created should appeal to the demographic you’re aiming to reach.

Polabear is using video trailers as an enrichment to his show not just to sell tickets. Is this something that you see happening more in the future?

Absolutely. Online video is a great way to encourage audiences to book for shows in the physical space, but it can of course be much more than that, and we’re increasingly thinking about that in the approach we take. PolarBear’s films are a great example of how digital content can offer a deeper insight into artist and their work, while also functioning effectively as a signpost to an upcoming show.

It’s also important to produce content that has a life beyond the campaign itself, as the consumption of the content will hopefully continue to happen over a longer period, so it should always be created with a longer view in mind, one that helps create a legacy and speaks to a global audience.

Here at the Roundhouse, we think of online video as more than just a signpost to an event in the physical space. We’re keen that our digital output is a way for us to break out of the bricks and mortar of the venue itself and engage audiences beyond our usual geographic reach in new and innovative ways. This might involve live-streaming an event in our venue to reach audiences further afield or give an opportunity for more people  to access a sold-out show, but it is best exemplified by projects like Blackbox, our series of performances commissioned, filmed and broadcast exclusively for online audiences. There is no physical audience for these performances and they are providing audiences online with an entirely new way of experiencing performances.

How do videos fit into a viral networking campaign?

Video is obviously a really powerful tool if you want to create a viral response. A recent campaign I worked on before I joined the Roundhouse is a great example of the kind of reach that can be achieved for a minimal investment.

The campaign in question was for English National Opera to launch Two Boys, a new opera by young New York composer Nico Muhly. The plot of the opera was inspired by actual events in which a teenager became involved in a dark web of shady characters online, with incredibly sinister consequences. We were really interested by the idea that we often offer up much more to strangers online than we might in real life, and felt that this was the hook to get people interested in the production – particularly a younger demographic.

We worked with the agency Don’t Panic to cast and shoot a short, simple film on a very limited budget which took core social media behaviours – friend requesting, liking, poking, following etc – and brought them out onto the streets to find out how people might respond to these behaviours in real life. The results were both amusing and thought-provoking, and were something that everyone could identify with. In the end, the video attracted over 1,000,000 views in just under two weeks, peaking at number two in the UK viral video charts for over 7 days. It is still being shared now and has been endorsed by figureheads from each end of the social media spectrum, from champion of cult content Charlie Brooker, to Head of Social at Ogilvy, Maz Nadjm, as well as receiving coverage through BBC, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, and the Evening Standard.

But, importantly, what we found was that it didn’t ultimately help to sell tickets for the show, and this is a key lesson for anyone relying on a viral idea to generate a direct sales response rather than thinking of it as a broader brand piece. What the viral did do very effectively – and continues to do so –  was to speak about the ENO brand on an international platform in a way that the company was keen to push – a creator of new, exciting and innovative work for new audiences. And it achieved a reach that would ordinarily be way beyond the reach of any arts organisation.

Have you carried out any sort of feedback AFTER the show, to see if people feel the trailer was a successful representation of the work itself?

We survey all our audiences online after they have attended a performance. It’s certainly an interesting area and I think it would be really valuable to start pursuing this in order to fine-tune the way we present our work to audiences through video trailers.


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