The Publicity Battle

In former ‘golden ages’ of circus, the marketing machine of advance teams, arriving in town to plaster posters and spread the word, were the driving force drawing bums-on-seats.  Prime sites for prominent advertising were highly sought after; advance teams were fiercely competitive, with many circus historians reporting sabotage and defamation of rivals’ efforts in pursuit of paying crowds.

Nowadays however, the battle is more to find information about circus performance.  One of the factors that drove me to create this site was a desire to build a resource for others like me, who search the internet for information on contemporary circus arts with little success, and also to promote work that seems to have forgotten how to promote itself (or, more accurately, has often failed to move into the digital era).

Trying to search online for travelling circuses near me is most often a futile task, and always a long-winded one.  Even when the advance teams have been sticking their bills (and posting them through the closed doors of abandoned storefronts, in an ingenious manner that sees them taped to the inside of inaccessible buildings), today’s consumer wants to look online for more information, at hand at any chosen moment, and this is sadly lacking in most cases.  A recent example would be Circus Vegas playing in Edinburgh, who had minimal visual advertising in a city full of Fringe Festival publicity, no website and, rather confusingly, two Facebook pages that are both unmaintained and drawing questions from a potential public that remain unanswered.  Since I posted my Edinburgh Fringe circus run-down, the most popular daily search terms driving traffic to this site have been Circus Vegas Edinburgh – people are clearly struggling to find information in an internet realm that the show’s promoters are failing to tap.

Many UK circuses do, of course, have their own websites, with varying degrees of polish and pertinent information – the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus (both managed by British impresario, Brian Austen) have very professional looking sites with plenty of information; Happy’s Circus is rather dated and plain; my current favourite is Giffords Circus, with a website that is an artistic delight in itself.  For modern audiences, the advance teams need to be supplemented by webmasters and social media mavens and, still so far, many classical British circuses are lagging behind the technologies.

Contemporary circus companies, whose members have often come through circus school training programmes rather than a vocational upbringing with an existing troupe, have more of an edge in the publicity market these days.  Often playing in theatre venues, or as part of wider arts events, this current breed have learnt from the press and marketing strategies of other establishments, and from the theatre and dance practitioners who are commonly collaborators and partners in their productions.

Even so, it is often a long job trying to source all the information needed to publish relevant and useful reviews.  Few shows provide programmes with performers’ details, and I tend to resort to forensic googling, tweets and emails to obtain cast lists and company histories.  I’m happy to do this job (and, the longer I’m at it, the wider my existing reservoir of knowledge will become), but I also hope that circus promoters will up their game in order to engage a 21st Century public in their promotional tactics.

YouTube videos make great teaser trailers, which some companies have started to make use of; social media presence keeps a conversation going with audiences even out of season; websites need SEO to gather traffic.  In the past, competition over touring circuits and stands caused circuses to restrict public access to their touring plans until the advance teams arrived in town for the next show.  Today, I would expect that the benefits of high profile exposure would also negate the risk of crossed paths (as recently occurred when Zippos Circus cancelled their Ayr shows on discovering Circus Vegas had booked to play the town in the preceding weeks)?

As a start, I have begun to compile a list of websites for UK circuses – a quick click through will illustrate the various levels of professionalism in their presentation!

(If you have any more to add, do drop me a line…)

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