The one thing we know for certain is that most arts marketing copy is not very persuasive. How do we know it? Well, because the average response rate, even to highly targeted mailings, is just 5%. And also because we asked the audience.

Armed with a pink highlighter pen and asked to mark all the bits that put them off, focus group respondents liberally cover arts print in day-glow stripes. Given a green pen and asked to mark the bits that make them want to visit, there are, erm, not so many.

So, what works and what doesn't? 

Copywriting Dos and Don’ts


  1. Write copy you’d feel comfortable saying aloud.
  2. Write like one person speaking to another. Be conversational. Talk to people not at them. That means informal, short sentences.
  3. Be personalBut instead of being personal to them, make sure its personal from you.  People buy from people.
  4. Quote the fanaticEverything has someone who believes in it. What inspires them will inspire the audience.
  5. Reveal a little of the magic.  Give them a peek behind the scenes: how the artists work, what approaches have been taken and why?
  6. Be evocative – don’t just describe the plot – give them a sense of how it might make them feel – help them imagine themselves there.
  7. Dumb up. Assume they are just as intelligent as you are – they just lack knowledge.
  8. Think about rhythm, pace and staccato.  And start your sentences with And/But. Forget that’s meant to be “wrong”.
  9. Use popular cultural references.  When obscure jazz is described as “it will remind you of tango and Fred Astaire dancing in the movies” the reader gets it.
  10. Sell the whole night outThat’s what people buy.
  11. Ask yourself:  Does this add a reason to go? If not, should it really be there?


  1. Copy and paste.  Start with a blank space and use your own words.
  2. Assume prior knowledge“the obvious choice to play this role” or “his instantly recognisable sonata” immediately makes people feel they are not in the know enough.
  3. Use unexplained jargon.  Mozart Piano Concerto K. 466 “which one is that – what does it sound like?”.
  4. Don’t sell – just tellToo many adjectives and liberal use of superlatives make you sound like a desperate salesman or a DFS advert (Sale Must End Sunday!).
  5. Don’t quote only the fantastic snippets of reviews.  Longer with fewer dot gaps…and more measured has more credible impact (too many also becomes less credible).
  6. Don’t shout.  Interrupting the flow of a your letter with a screaming press review is like suddenly yelling at someone mid-conversation
  7. Don’t use PSs. They are hackneyed and false.
  8. Don’t use too many different typefaces, fonts, italics, bold, CAPS, “parenthesis”.  It doesn’t grab attention, it just gives the reader a headache.
  9. Don’t just list the featuresWhat is the benefit?  It may be a state-of-the-art new theatre but it’s the huge stage, great designs, sightlines, comfort and technological advances and a passionate artistic director that are a benefit.
  10. Don’t just give a synopsis. What it might it make you feel?
  11. Don’t use exclamation marks. We are not Tony Tiger!!!!!!!!!!

Top 10 tips for getting started...

  1. Change venue
  2. Change your font, switch from pen to pencil
  3. Start in the middle
  4. Write anything – edit later
  5. Ask someone who knows about it
  6. Don’t start with a previous version – start from scratch
  7. Be prepared to discard your finest moment – you’re trying to stimulate a desire to join in, not win literary awards
  8. Leave the reader with a take away – easy to remember and pass on
  9. Don’t start at a screen – talk aloud first – imagine you’re telling someone
  10. When you’ve written it – read it aloud. Does it sound like a person would say that?