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Ria Lina: A punter’s guide to Fringe marketing and hype

By | Published on Friday 7 August 2015

Ria Lina

As well as navigating the thousands of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, festival-goers have to process the flood of flyers and raft of reviews to, in order to navigate the thousands of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Ria Lina shares some of the secrets of Fringe show marketing – so you punters can spot the tricks.

As a punter, fresh-faced and culturally open-minded, it can be a minefield navigating the thousands of shows that are put on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year. Thank goodness for flyers and posters. How else would you divvy up your meagre ticket budget without small slices of the rainforest to help you decide? But knowing how to read a flyer and discern which acts are actually worth your time is a skill in itself. Here are six Fringe marketing taboos that all performers engage in, but no-one will ever admit to.

1. Quote manipulation
It’s impossible for every reviewer to like every act. That’s just the nature of personal taste. So many of the quotes you see – and the reason they are often only two or three words long – have been carefully selected from a much larger piece that isn’t as complimentary as the quote would have you believe. So this review:

“She looked incredibly hot under the glaring stagelights; not unlike a rabbit in traffic to whom you constantly resist the urge to shout ‘Watch out!’” Review Weakly

Would become:
“Incredibly hot…watch out” Review Weakly

“As funny as anything” Trying Times

Probably started life as:
“His routine on wooden spoons made him about as funny as anything you would find in a cutlery drawer, and made me wonder why I didn’t stay in and watch my drainer.” Trying Times

Lesson: The longer the quote, the more believable it is. (NB Before you start Googling all my quotes, “Blows Expectations Away” Loaded Magazine was referring figuratively to my comedy, not literally to…something else)

2. Quotes from ‘peers’
Often newbies come to the Fringe but don’t have any reviews to quote on their poster. More often, acts that aren’t funny (yet), come to the Fringe but don’t have any good reviews to quote on their poster. Thus the trend of getting quotes from other performers was born. And many of these are legitimate quotes. The act has gone up to someone famous, who was in the room while they were onstage, and asked them for their opinion. They then stored those words in their short-term memory long enough to run to the green room and scribble it down.

But even more oftener than that, the ‘quote’ is something that has been said either in passing, or as Mr TV-Credits has introduced the act onstage at whatever charity/new-act competition they happened to be hosting. And please be aware: any good host will pretend that every act he introduces is amazing, but that doesn’t make it true. And it doesn’t make him your friend. So quotes like:

“This guy is frigging hilarious” Mr Panel Show

Was probably followed shortly after by:
“so please put your hands together and welcome to the stage…”

Lesson: A quote from a reputable publication is worth two from a unbeknownst-putz.

3. Ignoring bad reviews
So you’ve come up halfway through the Festival in order to take advantage of existing reviews to help you decide what to see. This is smart. By now, if a show doesn’t have a little piece of paper stapled to the flyer with a few stars or quotes on it, that probably means…it hasn’t been reviewed yet. BUT, it can also mean, it has been reviewed but the review wasn’t good enough to publicise. Things to bear in mind:

• A quote with no stars doesn’t mean none were awarded, it could mean the review was 3* or less.
• A raft of 4 and 5 star reviews doesn’t mean there aren’t 1,2, or 3* reviews out there.
• Anything less than 3 is usually not advertised. So if a flash (stapled paper) has a 3-star review on there, the rest of the reviews were worse.
• Just because a website/blog name has ‘Fringe’ in the title doesn’t mean it’s reputable. Remember, ‘fringe’ means outskirt.

This is the time where you will start to hear phrases such as “it was a two-star review but it read like a four”. And this is probably the case, the star rating system remains a mystery to this day. Well, except to the editors that devise them.

4. “Selling-out” (vs a “technical sell-out”)
As I found out last year, there is a difference between a “sell-out”, where every seat in the place is taken, and a “technical sell-out”, which is where every ticket allocated to various box offices is sold. Apparently both qualify a show for the sell-out board in the front of the venue, but one doesn’t make you some of the £6,000 back that the show cost to produce.

As a few tickets are always held back for last minute press or industry requests it is always worth waiting around right at the last minute and confirming that there is definitely no way you can possibly get in to see my show. Because I for one would much prefer you in one of those empty six seats than…well the empty seats.

5. Putting their name in their title
Oh it’s so cute. And clever sn’t it clever? David Jones is going to spend an hour talking about himself in his debut hour “Jonesy-ing about”. We’ve all done it (I’m no exception, my show last year was called ‘School Of Riason’) but the truth is, we’re all ashamed that we have.

Yes, it’s hack, we know it is. And we never hear the end of it from our peers who haven’t done it – but not the peers flyering their hearts out on the Royal Mile with us – the peers that never bring a show to the Festival ever. So they can have whatever opinion they want about my show title because ‘School of Riason’ was seen at Ed Fringe and subsequently commissioned by Radio 4. And their show? Oh that’s right, they didn’t write anything to put their name to.

But on a more constructive note, a title should tell you what the show is about, whether their name is in it or not. eg ‘School Of Riason was a comedic treatise of Gove’s education policies and my subsequent decision to homeschool my kids for a year (totes hilar right?). So if the title is just some clever way of repeating their own name without any insight… don’t feel guilty about going to see Scunthorpe’s Saturday Drama School production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’: at least it says what it is on the tin.

6. Award winning shows
Every year a handful of shows will get nominated for the few big awards that are the cherry atop a performer’s festival sundae. This will almost certainly guarantee a sell-out for the rest of the run. Does it mean the best acts were nominated? No. Not according to every other act at the Festival.

Does it mean those acts are good. YES. Yes they are. Go see them. Enjoy a money-worth guarantee because even utilising all the skills you’ve acquired here today, you are still going to end up sitting through at least one hour of sewage dressed up as Arts Council Funding during your trip.

So that’s it. That is the best tutorial I can give you in how to navigate Fringe marketing strategies to ensure yourself the most culturally-enlightening experience for your dollar. But in the spirit of the Fringe I am going to give you one last tip (like a blogger’s loyalty card reward: read a list of six, get a seventh free)

7. Reverse Psychology Quotes
NEVER, EVER go see a show where the flyer specifically indicates the show might be shit. It isn’t funny. If the flyer says:

“This is the worst show I ever saw” Mr. D-List Celebrity, now deceased
it most definitely is.

Save your money for someone who at least is trying to pass themselves off as the real deal, because you never know, in another year or two, they might just well be.

Ria Lina utilised all these strategies to try and get people into her show ‘Ria Lina: Taboo Raider’ at The Stand 2 at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: rialina.com