– Persuading Presence

Creating a Poster: Who and What is Involved?

image:Jennifer Covert. Photo credit: Ben Ballon © National Arts Centre
Jennifer Covert. Photo credit: Ben Ballon © National Arts Centre

Jennifer Covert works in the National Arts Centre (NAC) Marketing Department. The walls of her office, like many offices, halls and meeting spaces at the NAC, are lined with some of the great posters from the NAC Archive.

The creation of posters is a vital part of Jennifer’s work. Her job is to ensure that single tickets sell well for NAC English Theatre productions.

Jennifer gave us her take on the following questions:

Why is a poster needed?

An event is on the horizon. It is a wonderful performance in a venue that seats 300 people…or 750…or 2500. No matter the hall size, the event needs an audience:

  • to enjoy the performance
  • to help the artists deliver their best work through appreciative attention
  • to help defray the cost of the performance through the purchase of tickets
  • to raise the profile of the artists, the venue, the art itself
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Who gets the ball rolling?

The marketer, (in this case, that’s me!) is responsible for ensuring a poster is ready to go for each event – and there are many events over the course of a season – so I’m always thinking about:

  • the different aspects of each event
  • my target audience
  • the goals for each event in terms of creating “buzz” and selling tickets

What does the marketer need to think about for each specific poster?

Question like who? what? where? when? and how much? recur throughout the poster planning process. Most of the poster’s textual content evolves out of answers to these questions.

But, there are other fascinating questions that lead to the conception and creation of posters, like:

  • How can we entice our prospective ticket buyers to be intrigued about this event?
  • What is the essence of this event? Each NAC artistic discipline presents itself differently. If the poster is for a dance event, the marketer might think in dance terms about movement, speed or flow, in relation to the poster that is going to represent the performance.
  • What is the most important visual element that we want this poster to convey?
  • What are our options for conveying the essence of the event through the poster? The use of visual metaphor, playing up story, star power, atmosphere, tone?

Who else has input about the “look” of the poster?

At the NAC, the marketer discusses the upcoming poster with the artistic director of the relevant discipline. Discussions between the artistic director and marketer enable a gathering of information that guides the poster design. The artistic director looks at the above questions with a sensitivity to the artistic aspects of the event, seeking a concept for the poster that is reflective of the production or performance. Additional questions arise, like: what is the event about in terms of narrative or theme; how is it being presented stylistically; who are the artists involved; what is important for the public to understand about this play or concert or dance presentation?

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Like everything else in theatre, developing the poster is a collaborative effort. We work with an advertising agency to generate the poster design. The ad agency provides the design expertise, we (the NAC Marketing Department) are the experts on our audiences, and the artistic director is the expert on the play or performance in question. Graphic artists come up with the final “look” but in each case we need to give them specific information so that they can represent what we want to say about our production.

I can say something about this whole process at the NAC with reference to the 2008 production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by Peter Hinton, Artistic Director of English Theatre.

We met with Peter to discuss the Macbeth poster so that we could reflect in it his production vision. He had a particular take on the play: he set it in the 1930s, during the reign of Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne in order to marry the American divorcée, Wallis Simpson. The poster needed to clearly show that this would not be a traditional look at the Macbeths, so that our patrons would know what to expect. However, we didn’t want to give away some of the very interesting choices he’d made, like casting children as the Witches.

After you’ve had the “concept” discussion with the artistic director, what happens?

The next step is to have a conversation with the advertising agency responsible for creating the poster. We provide the agency with a full creative brief, a document outlining content of the production, relevant images, marketing expectations, poster text and budgeting considerations.

A designer in the advertising agency’s art department begins work on the poster, typically submitting several design ideas back to the marketer. A number of people in the arts organization need to see these composite designs, and then the approval process/tweaking begins. The chosen idea goes back to the designer who completes the work, although to-ing and fro-ing continues to happen until the final design is approved.

A poster travels through many hands on its journey, and past many sets of eyes, all of which check for errors, particularly with regard to text and logos. Spelling mistakes can be disastrous, as can inaccuracies in dates and times. Problems must be corrected before printing begins, or costly changes have to be made.

The finished poster is then sent to a printing house and hundreds, sometimes thousands, of copies are made. Commercial distributors make sure the posters reach the restaurants, libraries and public areas where passers-by and potential ticket buyers will see them.

The poster should ideally be on the street six weeks before the event. For this to happen, we start our work two to three months before the posters appear. A lot of work has to happen before the poster begins to do its persuasive job!