When production budgets are tight, creating an eye-catching publicity image in time for a Festival deadline can mean a quick dash for a stock photo. Lita Doolan discovers how to create a hot picture to boost your marketing campaign without blowing the budget.
She caught up with a thrilling mix of Designers, Theatre Makers and Marketing Experts to put together an essential check list.
‘Where possible, I would always advise to try and create the image yourself,’ Pete Simpson, Marketing Officer at Soho Theatre says. ‘Budgets are tight, but a good design can do a lot of work in bringing in audiences.’
With photogenic casts, vivid costumes and gripping story lines to hand, the opportunities for Fringe companies to stage exciting action shots are endless but there are some techniques to apply if you want to create an image that actually sells your show.
Dr Paul Rennie, Subject Leader in Contexts in Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, says, ‘It would be a disaster to try and illustrate the play, you’re never going to win that one. You can’t do it in a single image, so don’t try and do that. What you’re trying to do is to catch people’s attention so that they investigate further.’
A great starting point is given by Peter Darney, Artistic Director of Em-Lou Productions, ‘Think of the image as an investment. What will make it pop to your audience?’
‘My biggest piece of advice is this; this is obvious but think about the image that is going to sell your show rather than expresses your show. We’ve definitely made that mistake before of going, “this is really in the spirit of the show” rather than going, “actually, if that doesn’t convey something that makes people want to buy a ticket to then it’s pointless.”’ Poppy Burton-Morgan, Artistic Director of Metta Theatre, says. ‘Use as few colours as possible, keep things as clean as you can. Always go for something as simple.’
This reminds me of the performer Earl Okin, who used two colours on his poster designs, and managed to turn a profit at copious Edinburgh Fringe shows.
Pete Simpson advises consistency in using colours and fonts and says, ‘make them deliberate and keep them the same or complimentary.’
‘Certain colours recede, some advance. The combination of advancing colours; red, black and white, helped make Chicago’s second production a success.’ Dr Jonathan Lewis, Theatre Reviewer for the Newbury Weekly News, says.
With advertising space (both digitally and physically) being at a premium at Fringe Festivals the image is all important, so Pete Simpson advises companies to use an image to ‘…draw the eye of the viewer. In simple terms, get the cast to look at the camera and therefore make eye contact with the person looking at the image.’
This triggers the iconic posters of Emily Woof in her sell-out ‘Sex’ trilogy at Edinburgh Fringe in my mind. Her shadowy silhouette and focussed eyes stood out on the busy walls of the Fringe Club which had become an inch thick in posters.
‘If you take your own photo, think really carefully about lighting and location. If it was shot in your living room against a white wall, we can usually tell.’ says Alexandra Coke, Marketing & Programming Manager of Arts at the Old Fire Station. ‘Avoid dull or black backgrounds and if you’re indoors bring some LED lights for colour.’
‘Eye-catching doesn’t have to mean vibrant colours (but can do) or a shocking lead image (but can do), just look around at previous examples and try to imagine your poster next to all of them, then make it stand out from those.’ says Pete Simpson. ‘2018’s Queens of Sheba got a lot of interest off the back of the design (and because it was a great show). At Soho Theatre, we took Underground Railroad Game in the same year and it was vividly noticeable when seeing it amongst all the other posters.’
‘As we speed up we need visual manifestations that we don’t have to slow down to see.’ says Dr Rennie, ‘In one of my earliest memories of visiting London I remember seeing the excitement I felt in the world around me reflected in the posters on the Underground.’
One way posters can draw in the viewer, Dr Rennie explains, is to use sparkle or, ‘an energy of excitement through light…that can be rendered through the dot patterns of half-tone.’ Sparkle (a pattern of dots) is often used to enhance shadows or skylines and there is a setting for it on Photoshop. Now my own eye spots the subtle sparkle in the background of Soho Theatre’s Queens of Sheba poster.
Dr Rennie, whose book about the poster designer Tom Eckersley will be published by Pavilion in 2021, says, ‘No one should feel stuck. Look at the history of the counterculture which eventually became punk. Get a newspaper, cut up letters and make a ransom note. It’s cheap, it confounds orthodoxy and it is eye catching and compelling.’ Happily, there are lots of handbooks from the 60s and 70s counterculture that explain how to make your own poster and lots of vintage poster images to show how things have been done, and to give you ideas.
By adding all this energy of excitement to the design, a marketing campaign can transport your prospective audience to somewhere new. Just be sure the end destination is somewhere they want to buy a ticket to!