Warning: this is a frightfully mundane blog post.
This is, in no way intended to entertain or delight, but thought it would be a useful, practical advice for small circus / theatre companies who are about to take their work on the road.
Before a tour begins, all of your venues will need some printed publicity materials. This is a step-by-step guide from my experience, from design to delivery. Please do contact us if you have other recommendations- we’d love to hear them.
Most venues want your print 6-8 weeks ahead of the show, if you’re there for one or two nights. Some venues will do a mail-out to audience member who have seen similar work there before- so it’s good to leave plenty of time for them to do so.
I’ve always worked with a graphic designer to get files ready to print; most recently, with Rebecca Pitt and Howie Bailey. Both were great- really communicative and willing to collaborate.
Rebecca was recommended to Gameshow. My favourite example of her previous work is for Fiji Land:
Rebecca drafted up a few versions of a poster for This Is The Moon, That Is The Earth, based on Gameshows brief (they had chosen their main image, and had the supporters’ logos ready to go). From their favourite of the 5 options, things were tweaked slightly, and the back of the flyers designed until everyone was happy. I really like how the white border on the left is integrated with the overprint box at the bottom (more on that later). All in, the process took a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, Circus Geeks worked with Howie, who also designed all the digital/ visual effects within Beta Testing. That means that he totally understands what the show was about and who it is for already. He went for a glitch effect in line with the shows visuals, which will hopefully to appeal to an audience of young adults & teens- especially those of a geeky persuasion.
We set up a shared document on Google Drive, put all of the text (including a Welsh translation of our copy) into it, Dropboxed him the photos taken by Joe Clarke last month, and we were more or less there. With a few tweaks, we were ready to go to print.
Rebecca charged an hourly rate which she updated with each draft. With Howie, we agreed a fee in advance.
Before designing print, check all the images you hope to use are high enough resolution for the size of print you are going to get. Check the wording of credits for supporters or funders of the show before you go to print. Get someone else to check over your copy both for wording and punctuation. Nothing is sadder than excitedly getting your flyers from the printers, to realise that there’s a typo, or that the photos are pixelated.
Admittedly, I don’t have the broadest experience in printers, for the simple reason that the first one I ever used are simply fantastic. Urban Print & Design, based in Essex, were recommended to me by Adrian Berry at Jacksons Lane back in 2008, and I’ve worked with them ever since. They are so incredibly helpful; they’re quick; and they’re good value.
There are a few decisions to make regarding the print. The most basic is size- we went for A5 flyers and both A4 and A3 posters. Some venues prefer bigger displays in their foyers, whilst others ask local shops to display posters- in which case smaller ones tend to be better.
I opted for leaving a blank space for venues to overprint their details, on the front of posters and the reverse of the flyers. I prefer this to listing all the dates & venues for the tour- if someone picks up a leaflet in Cornwall, it’s unlikely they’ll be interested in seeing the show in Kent. I feel that having print with a ‘tour list’ makes your flyer unnecessarily busy. However, if a show were doing just 3 or so venues- I might be tempted.
The downside of leaving an overprint space is that venues have to either put the print through their photocopier with their info added, or pop stickers on each. It’s important to note that gloss or digitally printed posters/ flyers cannot be overprinted. They should be matt, litho printed, and in a paper weight which will not block up small arts centre’s machines (ask your printer for advice on this). I checked that either overprinting or stickering was ok with the venues first. Occasionally, a venue will stipulate that you do the overprinting (or they will charge for it) in your contract, so check this before you sign!
Because getting posters printed in litho is very expensive for relatively small quantities, Urban offered to merge the poster files with the overprint files. I used Mail Merge (or rather, a Mac equivalent) to create these, from a spreadsheet of the venue’s info with date/ time/ booking info/ social media handles. Urban then digitally printed the files, with individual venue info on each.
For Circus Geeks’ print, we also asked Urban to overprint the flyers as well as the posters (for which there was a small extra charge, but I think it’s worth it for venues to receive it all ready to go).
Once Urban have printed, they deliver to London by courier the next lunchtime. I sent the files on Tuesday, and received the print on Friday.
Circus Geeks print came to just over £1000 (15250 overprinted flyers, 600 A4, 380 A3 in a mixture of English & bilingual Welsh-English plus 27 front of house displays)
Gameshow’s was £270 (3500 flyers, 220 A4, 150 A3)
I asked each venue exactly how much print the wanted before ordering. This informed the quantities I got printed, rather than trying to guess in advance. This means not having to turn extra boxfuls into impromptu furniture, or a sad trip to the recycling bin.
Venues asked for between 150 and 2500 flyers- with the majority asking for 500 or 1000.
Poster quantities were a little more consistent- most wanted 20-30 x A4, and 10-20 x A3.
For Circus Geeks, I also asked Urban to run off 5 photos in A4 size and a sheet of review quotes, so that they can create a front-of-house display in their foyers ahead of the show. I also popped in 1/3 sheet of Blu-Tack so that there really are no excuses not to put it up straight away!
Finally, I added in a note with a run-down of what’s in the box; and a chocolate bar. Theatre’s marketing managers are often overworked and underpaid. A) They deserve a treat, and B) You really want them on-side to help publicise your show in their local area.
Previously, I wrapped print in brown paper, and reinforced the corners with tape. This is really time consuming if you’ve got a lot to send- I really don’t know why I stuck with it for so long.
This time, I bought boxes from Globe Packaging (12 x 9 – which is A4 size- x 5 inches deep). They were £8.10 for 25. Other packaging wholesalers seemed to be a pretty similar price & service. In hindsight, the 5 inch deep boxes are a little shallow- I should have gone for 9 inches. The 5 inch ones are great for venues who want relatively small quantities- maybe up to 350 flyers plus posters. For those venues wanting more, I re-packed the larger boxes, which the print was delivered in.
I also bought a tape gun- it’s highly recommended. It doesn’t always work as well as it should, but it saves lots of frustration from falling to find the end of the roll.
After boxing up, I wrote the name of the show on 2 sides of the box. I’ve often seen inside marketing deparments’ cupboards, where there are stacks of boxes of print for all the shows they have on that season. Writing your show’s name on the sides means it can be easily found in a stack.
When I toured my own work, I liked to order print far in advance, and send via Royal Mail.These days are definitely over; partly because I no longer live in a house with a basement, so the time between printing and sending would mean eatings meals off the top of boxes, but largely because it’s a massive pain to carry, queue, repeat.
I read this really helpful blog post from Andrew Minalto, written for Ebay sellers. It compares Royal Mail with other courier services, sending many sizes and weights of items. In short, items up to the size/ weight of a pair of jeans are cheaper to send by Royal Mail. After that- they don’t stand a chance.
My boxes mostly weighed between 3.5kg- 6.5kg, with those requesting 1000+ flyers coming in a couple of kilos heavier. Rather than weighing each parcel, I counted out 50 flyers/ 10 posters/ front of house displays/ the chocolate/ the empty boxes , and weighed each of those– then whacked it all in a spreadsheet along with the quantities each venue wanted, and let Numbers do the work for me.
Last week, I sent Gameshow’s print for their first 2 venues by Royal Mail, as it needed done urgently. They were around 6kg and 9kg. Both cost £16.40 each with their express48 service.
After reading Andrew’s blogpost, I looked round a few of the recommended couriers/ courier brokers, and I found Parcel2go to be the best option. After inserting the info for each parcel (which can be time consuming, but you can upload a spreadsheet with all the info- I would recommend downloading their example sheet and working from there, which will save time later on)- it then offers you several service options for each parcel.
Some of these options offer a slightly cheaper service if you drop them at a local shop. I definitely wanted them collected (-no exaggeration- the parcels weigh twice my body weight). Thus, my cheapest option for some was Parcelforce Multi 12 Noon for the bigger boxes (although they have a £10 pick-up charge for the whole batch so may not work out cheaper on small quantities) and Hermes were cheaper for the 5 inch boxes- although the delivery will probably be slower than next-day.
The most I paid for any parcel, including one which was 3 boxes taped together, weighing 21 KG, was £5.99 + VAT. All the larger boxes were this price, and the smaller ones were slightly less- £4.57+ VAT.
Using couriers will save Circus Geeks & Gameshow at least £220, as well as an awful lot of time and backache on my part.
ParcelForce were not very attentive during pick-up; when they sticker their barcodes on the parcels they were responsible for. As a result, the wrong flyers have gone to the wrong venues, which… is pretty frustrating. Parcel2Go don’t have customer service phone line- it’s all via live chat. Eventually I managed to get them on email- but progress is slow, and they are not forthcoming in their help. It’s meant I’ve had to ring round all the venues and find out who has which box- which I hadn’t banked on doing this week (or ever). It’s made next day delivery into next week delivery- if we’re lucky. It’s perhaps useful to point out that it wasn’t Parcel2Go at fault; but as the broker, it’s their responsibility to clean up the mess- and their customer services are somewhat lacking.
– Think about who your audience are at the design stage
– Build relationships with a designer & a print company.
– Print in matt if you need venues to overprint
– Box up
– Don’t use Royal Mail
– Make life as easy as possible for marketing departments
– Get friendly with spreadsheet software and let it do the work for you