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Jackie Baldwin jackie@story-lovers.com
Kate Dudding kate@katedudding.com

Marketing
The information below contains excerpts from the many discussions held on the Texas Woman's University School of Library and Information Studies STORYTELL Discussion List regarding marketing for storytellers.

Any self-employed artist will have to shrewd about marketing, and about positioning oneself and promoting one's experience and value: it is, after all, running a business. Some key steps are:

  • Find a good niche where you offer something that meets a need.
  • Build relationships with those who have that need.
  • Build on your successes with those people to meet even more needs by creating additional programs, products or services for them.
  • Keep in touch.

You can sell your services and compete with others in at least two ways: price and value. If you undercut everyone in price, you may get more work, but you’re likely to burn out and end up hating storytelling. If you add value to your services, you are more likely to sustain a pleasurable career. That is, in addition to your storytelling, you offer "extras" that are tempting, useful, and of genuine benefit to those who hire you. Sponsors will be more likely then to hire you with your "value added" options, even if it comes at a higher price.

So how do you do that? Think from your sponsor’s point of view. Remember things you’ve done in the past that others appreciated. Talk with your past sponsors and ask them to give you some feedback on their perception of you and what you offer. Find out if there’s anything you can offer in the future that will make their life easier and your appearances better/more beneficial/of greater practical use or convenience? Make suggestions for things you’ve thought of and ask for their reactions.

Now, make these extras and your greater value feature prominently in your publicity. You can't afford for customers to only notice your price and compare you on that alone. You have to ensure that prospective clients can't fail to be clear on the extra special service you offer, and exactly how it will benefit them. You must put the benefits right up front, in words that customers will understand (i.e., everything must be from their point of view, not yours). You can even, if you want to break into much bigger markets, market all your benefits without ever mentioning that you are a storyteller until the final words of your brochure - to some customers, they're more concerned with what you achieve than what methods you use, e.g., a school might hire anyone who can increase literacy and keep kids occupied for an hour, no matter what method they used. Not that you should hide the fact you're a storyteller, but understand that that's your point of view, your label for yourself, not necessarily that of your customers. Make sure you know exactly why your typical customers think you're valuable. If, like many people, your typical customers don't yet know how great storytelling is, then the word "storyteller" won't even be on their list of benefits they are prepared to buy.

All of this is basic marketing, and is necessary for any business to understand. Since most people hate the idea and practice of marketing (believing it, falsely, to be necessarily and unpleasantly commercial), most storytellers market themselves really badly, and therefore lose lots of gigs to those who even have a little bit of marketing sense. One of the first steps in marketing is really pleasant: having conversations with past and prospective clients, and asking them what they really get from you, or would like to.

In addition to the above, there is much more information on marketing from Tim Sheppard at: www.timsheppard.co.uk/story.

For some more promotional ideas from Bob Shimer, see: www.drango.com/tips/promo.htm.

FOLLOW-UP AFTER A PERFORMANCE

Send thank you letters with an evaluation form and an SASE. You should get a very good return rate, perhaps 80%.

I also include other things in that mailing – like bibliographies that might be of interest, or webliographies, things like that. I've had good feedback from that extra bit.

Recently at a school gig, the principal made copies of my evaluation form and distributed it to the teachers, then mailed them all back to me. What a guy! I got tons of great quotes because of his efforts. For him, I'd included some lesson plans and a bibliography – these weren't required parts of the gig, but he appreciated it.

It's a good idea to do a new quotes list after a couple years, especially if you're promoting to a place you've been before. So sending out the forms at least periodically is a good idea.

I like the audience response forms, too. While we want to know that we're pleasing the ones who pay us, we also need to know how the audience feels.

BABY BOOMERS AND OTHER COMPETITION

Most retiree storytellers lack experience and are doing it as a hobby. They love storytelling and want to provide the community a "service" and so tell at schools, parks, around town, wherever, at a "bargain" price. Retirees taking up storytelling is not new. But the demographics of our aging population suggest that this scenario will be more likely to happen in the future. A challenge to plan for, to be sure.

Folks won’t pay more than once for a bad teller. Hone your craft, make sure your reputation is solid and folks know what they are getting. Suggest a sample CD from you for the customer... suggest they get one from the "retiree" also. I encourage folks to do a "juried" selection process and know what they are hiring.

I don't know if they will charge less. If they are good, they deserve the gigs as much as the teller with 20 years experience. They deserve the good fees as much as anyone if they can produce. Frankly I know a teller that has told for a good while and it one of the worst I have ever heard.

GETTING RETURN BUSINESS

First, a bribe is effective. Make people want to return the feedback form. Make their work filling it in a real bargain compared to what they get in return. Make it clear what benefits they will get from whatever you are giving them - don't assume they'll know why they would love what you're offering. Giving a CD was mentioned, but that's extravagant with both your time and money. A high-value but low cost alternative would be to give a link (after receiving the form back) to a secret web-page on your site (i.e., one without any links to it) where they can download a really useful 'special report.’ This report would be a practical, helpful, useful article of three pages or so that is appropriate and relevant to the receiver. That means you need to think, or ask, what they would find helpful and perhaps have more than one to choose from depending on the type of gig. Such an article shouldn't be difficult to write, it's just a result of your experience and knowledge, and some storytellers give these out free anyway. For instance, a guide to making the best use of storytelling, or a tip-sheet on follow-up activities after a storyteller has visited. You could even get permission from someone else to distribute their article, and use that.

Second, do a phone interview and write down their comments (or record if you can't write that fast). Your phone call gives a chance for the person to re-experience the good feelings from your gig as well as wanting to be polite, and that will make their comments full of emotion and emphasis - really great for quotes! Also, of course, it gives you a chance to dig deeper into any answers and get more detailed feedback about any issue that pops up, including problems. The whole thing can be pretty brief, not unwelcome, no need for a bribe, and leave the person with nothing extra on her to-do list.

Third, another strategy is to get in quick, to strike while the iron's hot. For this you can't ask too many questions or too much detail, but use the energy and immediacy of the gig and people's response. You demand the feedback on people's way out, either literally or for some point in the aftermath/wind-down period. You'll get stronger emotion while it's still fresh. Of course this can be an awkward time to ask, but if you keep it short you can still stand your ground. You could combine this with the oral approach to avoid the person having to write things down, and could use a dictaphone to capture it for later transcription. You could still have good set questions you always ask, to keep consistency and quality.

Listen to your hosts carefully. Identify what they need and let them know you can fill that need. Then do it.

Other details to consider:

  • Keep good records of what you've told so you can offer different stories next time. Be sure your hosts understand you have more than one set of stories.
  • Offer a variety of thematic programs (Christmas, solstice, women's history, etc.).
  • Contact venues where you've been before if you'll be in the same area.
  • Call people you've worked for to let them know of your new programs.
  • Be forthright--call to let repeat hosts know their usual date is still available but may fill.
  • Send a newsletter to keep your hosts and potential hosts aware of what you're doing.
  • Schmooze before and after the performance. But don't waste your host's time.

Provide high quality programs wherever you go. This includes being specific about what you do when you are booking the gig, arriving at least 25 minutes early (earlier for libraries), introducing yourself to the host, being totally prepared, setting up and packing up efficiently and quickly, writing a thank you note when you get home and most of all, establishing connection with your audience through your stories and your presentation style. Oh, and cheerfulness and flexibility let your audience and host know you're glad to be there.

Many schools may want you back but not right away, maybe not even next year. They want variety. It can be hard to explain that you have different shows and it is the kids that want you back.

The experienced teller will do well to promote themselves. Small newspapers will put press releases in and I have had little trouble getting things in if they are worthwhile. Set yourself up for being known! Send out info, press info, post cards, letters, e-mails, etc. Hand out tons of business cards - this is the best advertising you can do!!! Make sure everyone knows you are a teller.

In addition to the above, there is much more information on getting return business from Tim Sheppard at: www.timsheppard.co.uk/story.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Tim Sheppard has wonderful advice on his website about fees, marketing and promotion under "Getting Professional": www.timsheppard.co.uk/story/faq.html.

"Marketing From the Heart" This online article by Doug Lipman appeared in Storytelling Magazine.

"Finding Your True Market", by Doug Lipman, is a set of handouts created for Doug’s Finding Your True Market workshops given in various sites across the U.S.

David Holt and Bill Mooney's book The Storytellers Guide (August House $23.95 ISBN 0-87483-482-1) covers many of these issues.

Harlynne Geisler's book Storytelling Professionally - the Nuts and Bolts of a Working Performer, available on at its publisher: Libraries Unlimited, is well recommended for practical advice on the business of storytelling.

David Helfick's book on How to Make Money Performing in Schools (ISBN 0-9638705-8-0 self-published by Silcox Productions, P.O. Box 1407, Orient, WA 99160 for $18.95 plus shipping & handling) is also well recommended for practical advice on the business of storytelling.

Sage advice from Chris King can be found at: www.creativekeys.net/StorytellingPower/article1002.html.

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Copyright 2007 by Jackie Baldwin and Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.