- By Chrissie
- July 14, 2014
We are about 6 weeks from the fall conference season and conference prep has started on my end, albeit, it’s the basics at the moment: designing conference ads, thinking through possible tours, peeling through old lists. That said, I thought I’d share some of my best planning practices for touring artists.
Decide whether you will have a booth presence at the fall conferences. Ideally, you did this in May as most conferences sell out by July, however, if you did not – if you were waiting on budgets or to see if you were selected to showcase – you may still be able to snag a coveted booth. Take into consideration the cost of the booth, the cost to register staff, and if you are not from the area, the cost of travel and lodging and per diem. Additionally, furnishing your booth and/or purchasing an ad in the program book will add some dollars to your marketing budget. More on that below.
The day I see booths like this at a performing arts conference, I will fall over. GORGEOUS. Image by Sparks Online.
Decide if you’ll independently showcase. You’ll want to talk to the producers, understand the costs, what comes with the slot (and what does not), and if you’re prepared for the work that is involved on the front end and back end. This means the work involved in promoting it as well as the follow up after the showcase. Again, some of these slots have filled although you’ll still likely see producers advertising open slots. While independent showcases do not require a booth, a juried showcase does, and you’ll want to consider the benefits of having representation in the exhibit hall.
Booth materials and your EPK: If you’ve purchased a booth, now is the time to take inventory of your booth supplies. Think hanging banners and pop up banners, printed brochures, rosters, business cards, and the like. The last thing you need is the 11th hour Staples run the day before you leave when you still have to pack your clothing and print your boarding pass. I use MKJ Creative for my agency’s graphics and I have used Allen & Goel and Graphic Imaging for banner printing and promo items. Another fun resource is Zazzle. Be mindful of your brand image - what you put forth should be consistent and visually convey your brand's promise, personality and values.
Regarding your press materials, there are some programming colleagues who do still want a hard copy of your work, although more and more, I hear, “Send me links to promo and the tech.” I always have a short stack of materials handy – a few DVDs and study guides of a showcasing artist, a few postcards/one-sheets of the others, a stack of roster brochures, and business cards. Again, be mindful of your brand and also consider how you craft the language both in print and in your conversations. What are you really selling? And how are you positioned against your other artist colleagues? What do you offer that is different? Finally, don’t forget a routing sheet in some form, paper/pen, your fees, and your laptop if you prefer.
I know, hard copies seem archaic. Bring a few (like 5-10)...you might get lucky and not have to schlep them home!
Book your hotel reservations and stalk the airline prices.
August and early September
The conference schedule is typically finalized by August so I make my own little schedule in Google Calendar, adding in things like the keynote, the mentoring, the opening party, the hall hours, etc.
The organizations that run the conferences will publish the list of attendees starting in late July/early August. You’ll want to review the lists, cross reference it with presenters' series, determine the best matches for your program and your possible tours in the regions, and make a list of colleagues to call. Summer is still a tricky time to get anyone on the phone however; it’s certainly worth trying. I try for appointments and also to leave myself some open time.
As for email, I’m mindful about how I use it. It’s a great marketing tool and that’s how I approach it. One or two emails to the attendee lists a month to three weeks out via Mailchimp and those who have opened/clicked will be my priorities. I also use it as a follow up after a call. It doesn’t replace a phone call or an appointment. It’s a marketing tool.
We love Mailchimp!
Also, be sure to make your airline reservations 4-6 weeks prior to the conference. Prices are so temperamental however I've found the best deals are in that window.
The week before/a few days prior
I tend to focus on a few colleagues that for whatever reason I haven’t been able to get on the phone or nail down…they are my priority. Additionally, I determine my out of office plan – To whom can I delegate what while I’m out of the office? If anything needs shipping, I send about a week prior so I'm not paying for FedEx Overnight nor is it isn’t sitting alone in a hotel mailroom for a month (although if you have larger booth shipments, check with exhibitor services. You don't want to miss a deadline for onsite storage at the convention center). I pack my conference duds, anything that stays on me (lap top, notebook, routing sheets, financials/fees), and triple check for boarding passes and ID.
I can't stress enough the importance of planning and lead time. I've been doing this for years now and while a lot of it has been streamlined, I still stick to this schedule. I've been at Staples at 9pm the night before I've had to get up at 6am for a flight and it's no fun. While we can always troubleshoot on site, I'd prefer to have my ducks in a row before I head out as I am sure most people do. Stuck with your branding and marketing? I offer consulting services and you can have a look here. Good luck!
Where we'll be this fall:
Arts Midwest, Minneapolis, MN, September 17-20, booth 323A
Mid Atlantic Performing Arts Market, Lancaster, PA, November 10-12