by Alessandra Izzo aka Ally Cat
Back in early 2014, I bit the bullet and decided to put on a pole show. In the years since, I put on many more under the “Pandemonium” umbrella, with each show having its own theme and flavour. Last year marked the tenth pole show I produced (Imagine), and hopefully it won’t be the last. In 2018 I’ve decided to take a break to focus on other things.
The event landscape changes constantly, and it’s so hard to predict what is going to happen when you decide to run a competition or a showcase. There are so many decisions to make, and sometimes it feels like the success or failure of your event hinges squarely on luck (partly, that’s probably true). However, for any of you out there planning on putting on a show, here are the biggest mistakes I’ve made – hopefully they will give you some food for thought in your own journey.
1. Charging too much for tickets
Back in the days of the first Aerial All Stars, the Melbourne market would pay over ninety dollars to see a pole competition. These days, there is a pole competition every month. People can’t afford to go to every single one, nor do they want to! So if you’re charging over ninety for a ticket, be prepared to fight for your sales. Only the most hard core polers will pay that without flinching.
The standard cost of a pole event these days is around fifty dollars, and you’ll want to match or beat that to stay on everyone’s radar, no matter how outstanding you think your event is going to be.
2. A poorly run marketing campaign
Some of my biggest transgressions with marketing have included: spending way too much time and money targeting the wrong people; not giving myself a long enough lead time; relying on viral marketing and performer promotion; not paying enough on my sponsored advertising; only publishing “buy tickets now!” posts without creating interesting and engaging content; relying solely on social media to generate my sales.
You should be trying to connect with people any way you can, and you absolutely must start campaigning with plenty of time to spare. That means a MINIMUM of two months before the event. Four is better.
These days I always try to provide interesting and engaging content (competitions, giveaways, videos, memes, performer info – not just “buy tickets now!” posts), post on social media pole groups, and connect with studio owners to spread the word for me in their student groups. On top of this, a paid advertising campaign is still essential.
Unfortunately social media is so crowded with pole event posts, it’s far less effective as a marketing tool than it used to be. Obviously it’s still a critical avenue, but these days it is essential to find a way of becoming a “must-see” event and standing out from the rest. What’s your point of difference? Why should someone come to your show as opposed to the one next month?
I get that most of us don’t have a marketing degree, nor the budget to pay for a PR campaign however this makes it all the more important that you educate yourself on these things or find someone to help you who is a marketing whiz.
3. Doing too much yourself
This can be a result of a lack of people around you to help (help usually costs money, event budgets are tight) or because you don’t trust others to do the job properly. Ultimately for me it’s come down to a little from column A, a little from column B.
When you do everything yourself, be prepared to miss things, run out of time to do things well, or just not work as efficiently as possible (since you’re approaching every task from the echo chamber of your mind).
An event can be run fairly effectively when two people are doing the work together, however even then it’s tough. If you can find a few others to lighten the load, the whole job will get done better.
4. Scheduling errors
Scheduling is the bane of all event organisers existence. Will someone else put an event close to when yours is booked? Will you clash with some other major event which will reduce your audience? My biggest scheduling mistakes have been to unwittingly schedule a show for the middle of a long weekend, running a show in St Kilda the weekend of the St Kilda Festival, and booking something in then having another major pole event crop up three weeks after mine (that hadn’t been in the calendar when I booked my date).
Do everything you can to research your date to prevent these things from happening – however sometimes this just comes down to luck.
5. Assuming the “big names” will bring the crowd
In the early days, I filled my events with the “big names”. While it made for great shows, I eventually learned that they were not who sold tickets. In fact, the amateurs are the ones who bring along every single person they ever met, including their next door neighbour from when they were five. The pro’s perform all the time, so even if they do promote for you (and they may not), all their friends and supporters can see them perform next month if they miss your event.
6. Assuming the community will support you because you are doing something “for them”
This is probably the thing that took me the longest to come to terms with. I think as event organisers we all feel like we are “doing something” for the community. It truly feels like that, even if to everyone else it just looks like another bloody pole show. There are so many comps out there these days that offering up more awards, or even just providing another opportunity for performers to get on stage, isn’t seen as something of value by the people you are selling to. Only the most evangelical polers will appreciate that you are doing something for them, because everyone else has better things to worry about. Realistically, ninety percent of your audience just see pole as a fun hobby, they don’t spend their lives immersed in the pole community like you do.
7. Doing a flash sale late in your sales cycle that sells tickets cheaper than your early bird prices
I made this mistake once, and got schooled. This is the biggest transgression you can make if you plan on running a regular event. Your early bird ticket buyers need to be rewarded, otherwise they will join the ranks of the last minute buyers.
Ticket sales are probably the biggest cause of anxiety among event producers. The last thing you want is sales to be almost non-existent right up to the event itself. This will happen if you have rewarded last minute buyers by giving them a flash sale. Buyers who have spent close to one hundred on their tickets and then suddenly see a rush sale of tickets for under fifty dollars will not forget you did this the next time you decide to run an event.
If people aren’t buying your tickets because they are too expensive (see point one), the only way around this is to spread secret “family & friends” codes among your performers and industry contacts. Don’t publicly release these, and NEVER make that discount better than the early bird price.
8. Not listening to criticism when it’s offered
I’ve had people tell me my ticket prices were too expensive. I’ve had people tell me they hadn’t seen my marketing campaign and didn’t even know my event was on. I’ve had people complain about the standard of a performer, or the performance overall. I’ve had people complain that a performance was too short, or too long, or on the wrong day.
Some things are out of your control. However, I strongly believe that negative feedback can be the most useful type of feedback. Your audience and those around you are the best people to help you improve your future event. You’ll find that the overwhelming majority of people will tell you great things about the event – this could be because it was wonderful, or it could be because people prefer to give compliments. Offering critique can be met with a pretty frosty reception or even create relationship problems.
Listening to negative feedback has helped me realise that some of my personal beliefs were ill-informed. The community isn’t happy to pay sixty dollars for a ticket to a pole show. They actually didn’t see my advertising campaign, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to support me. Putting an event on a Saturday rather than a Sunday will be far easier for most people to attend.
The best thing you can do is cop any negative feedback on the chin, and be publicly gracious towards whoever is offering it since your handling of this type of thing will be seen by others and their opinion of you will be shaped by it. Then, reflect on it. Were your ticket prices too expensive? Did the night drag on too long? Should you reconsider getting that performer back next time? Just because one person said it doesn’t make it true – but not listening to it could also be a mistake.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ally is a restless entrepreneur and passionate creative with a Piscean idealism and an aversion to authority. Having practiced as a Naturopath and Massage Therapist for 6 years, she abandoned clinic work in 2014 to spend more time doing what she loved most: working with her pole family at Bottoms Up! where she has taught since 2009, and instructing 80’s dance fitness under her own creation RAD Fitness.
It didn’t take long before her creative juices led her to conjure up Pandemonium Events, and under this brand she has produced and co-ordinated ten pole, aerial and variety performance nights.
Besides teaching and producing, Ally loves being on stage. She competed in the Victorian Pole Championships in 2013 and then again in 2015 where she won the VPC Amateur division and went on to compete in the national finals. She also joined APDM Editor Jane Blair and their Bottoms Up! family in a Rocky Horror group performance at Encore! 2016 (nominated as a finalist for Best Group Performance at the Victorian Aerial Awards 2016) and competed in the Pro Comedy division of Pole Theatre in 2016 and 2017. She was also honoured to be awarded the 2016 Trailblazer of the Year award at the Victorian Aerial Awards.
Having toyed with the idea of starting a pole magazine herself in 2011, Ally watched the growth of Australian Pole Dancers Magazine with much interest, contributing articles to the publication before formally becoming a partner in November 2015. She loves being part of APDM as she feels it is something that the entire pole community can use as a means of connecting with one another, learning from one another and growing together.