Reviews and Pull Quotes: Telling The Truth and Courting The Indifferent



Urban legend or not, this was the marquee tagline someone told me about years ago, something a theater company posted after their show received unanimously bad reviews. I like the integrity of it: not including the negative assessments on the marquee or poster, but still wanting to tell the truth.

This morning—bright, warm, beautiful summertime Sunday morning—I received an e-mail from a company I know a little. I like the people I know in the company, and I’ve liked their work. Relatively small, storefront company. They opened a show a few weeks ago. The subject line of this morning’s e-mail: The Critics Love Us!

A lie.

From the brief scan–the maybe 30 minutes each week that I put into reading long and capsule reviews—I knew that this wasn’t true. While praising some performances and some aspects of the script, the reviews I had read were (as most not-a-rave-not-a-skewering reviews are) complimentary about some parts of the show but were overall—and unanimously—mixed in their assessment.

It happens. And singling out the nuggets of critical praise makes perfect sense, especially when an ideal theatergoer post-opening might agree with the praise and disagree with the negative. We’re in theater: we’ve been both promoting and finding out about shows through pull-quotes in ads all of our lives.

Except that it’s 2011. No longer is the full review published in one day’s newspaper and then only available to those who seek it out on microfiche in a library. After receiving the e-mail this morning, thinking that I had read less-than-loving reviews, I was able to find three reviews in five minutes that validated my memory.

The reviews are out there. Quote the best parts, fine—but lying to your audience can bite you back. It’s B.S-ing. When the critics love a show six months from now, why should an audience believe what they read? If you’re a donor and miss a few shows, and the year-end appeal letter uses these same quotes, the sense of trust your donors have or lose depends on them not taking a few minutes to do a little due diligence and to find out that you lied. And if they feel they’ve been misled in the appeal letter, or if a funder feels misled when reading a grant proposal and then googling, the result can be far more damaging than a bad consumer review.

What’s the solution? Tell the truth. The truth is that a critic liked a performance, or liked the play: pull that quote if that’s part of your marketing strategy.

And then go after the—it must be—99% of the town you’re in that is indifferent to theater reviews. If you eat at a neighborhood restaurant, do you know whether it has been praised or damned by connoisseurs? Do you know whether the designer of the shirt you’re wearing now was reviewed well or poorly the season your shirt was released? When you look at a skyline, do you know which buildings architectural critics have loved and reviled? What are the multitude of ways of reaching that more-than-a-niche who are indifferent to reviews?

More to come on that.

  • June 26, 2011
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