The Advantages of Comp Tickets as a Marketing Tool

By: Mel Joelle

“Comps”, “Papering” or “Dressing the House” is a term used in local theatre circles as a means of getting butts in seats. This is a relatively common practice used by theatre producers to fill unsold seats, usually during previews, but sometimes through out the run of a show. Reasons for this practice are varied, but again, the goal is to get people into the seats.

Using comps is a great way to create buzz for you’re soon to be open show, especially during previews. Comps work in two ways in this regard. First, it offers the opportunity to get people into to see your show in the hopes that they walk away loving what they saw and that they will go and tell everyone they know that this show is a must see. Buzz! Another reason why it is important to have people in the seats during previews is that it gives the actors the ability to gauge how a live audience is going to react. From an actor’s perspective, the show will always change depending on the type of audience. Actors need to get a feel for when audiences might laugh, cry or gasp during the production and it allows them to “find a groove.”

Offering comps can also be important when and if your show is going to be reviewed. The problem with trying to pack the house when you know a reviewer is going to come is…you have no idea when they are going to review. Sometimes you may not find out until that person walks through the door and hands you a card and asks for a press packet. So here in lies the rub. How do you determine how many comps or discount tickets to offer before you open? You should have some idea of what your preview performances are going to look like, and if you know that you are not going to have a full house, then start early on making sure that your house is full when you open.

The worst thing that could happen is that you offer comps or discounted tickets and you end up having full houses for the first couple weeks of your run. From a marketing standpoint, you have closed out your inventory and if people are turned away, you have created demand. There is something to be said for a ticket that is difficult to get.

Offering comps is another way to help increase your audience. There is no need to offer comps to your subscribers, as these people will be coming to the show anyway. Try taking a small amount of comps and offer them to a third party ticketing company which will market your show for you to their subscribers. The hope is that these new people come to your show and are left wondering why they have never heard of you or seen a show of yours before. The next time they may choose to come back on a different date that you may or may not be offering these specials, which will ultimately benefit you as you have added to your current clients. And it sure wouldn’t hurt, nor would you be surprised, if they left and told several of their friends about you. Again, your creating Buzz.

When I was acting in Chicago we used to offer industry comps to other theatres, actors, writers etc as a way to help fill the house. Another great way to spread the word about your show and to get people talking. It’s also good way to cultivate new relationships that could prove beneficial down the road in working together on something much bigger.

We have also used comp tickets as a way to barter for goods, supplies, set pieces, donations and a litany of items needed to get a show up and running. Certainly, bartering free tickets for advertising space is one of the best things we have ever done. We worked with a local restaurant and offered them a handful of tickets throughout the run of our show that they could give to guests as they saw fit. In return the offered to drop our postcard with the check to everyone who came in.

“Comps”, “Papering” or “Dressing the House” need not be looked at as lost revenue and should be looked at as an advertising expense. It’s up to you to get creative with how you use these barter bucks.

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