How to flyer at Edinburgh Fringe
Flyering is a tried-and-tested method for raising awareness of your show to attract audiences. On the surface, it sounds pretty simple, too: give out bits of paper with your show info on, how hard could that be? Yet flyering can be physically and mentally challenging and many, many people do it in a way which undermines their chances of successfully generating awareness of their show.
As someone who works in Marketing and User Experience Design, I hate seeing enthusiastic and talented performers get ground down by flyering because of simple mistakes. In this essay, I break down each step of flyering in detail to explain how to do it better, before sharing some tips and tricks to be mindful of while developing your paper promo strategy.
By the end, inexperienced flyerers will learn to promote their shows more effectively, avoid some of the more basic traps they can fall into and hopefully look after themselves better while on the Royal Mile.
Before we dive into technique: this essay is for novice flyerers whose primary goal is to promote their show as best as possible. If you're in a performing arts school production and you're mostly in Edinburgh to have a good time, feel free to do all the inefficient stuff I complain about later on if it brings you joy. Conversely, if you're a veteran and you disagree with me, tell me! Write your own article or drop me an email and I'll incorporate your feedback.
The easiest approach to flyering (and the focus of this essay) is working in a public space with lots of passers-by. More confident marketers can also approach static groups or tables for more detailed conversations. I strongly recommend building up to this by doing the simpler kind of flyering first, primarily because the direct approach technique is less efficient unless you have a very high quality rate for your interactions.
Step 1: Position yourself where your audience go
Work out when and where your audience will be, go to a spot where they are able and willing to receive your flyer, and stay there.
Be where your audience is
If you're a dark, intriguing drama, you're targeting a very different crowd than a loud, in-your-face stand-up comic or a youth theatre group doing a creative retelling of Shakespeare. Think about your ideal audience member. How do they spend a day at the Fringe? What time do they get up? What other shows are they seeing? Where do they hang out in between shows?
Find a sweet spot
If people are in a rush (or have people behind them who are in a rush), they do not want a flyer. Do not create a bottleneck for people who need to be somewhere else — this generates ill will. Conversely, if people have room to roam around, most people will tend to avoid people handing out flyers. Explore your surroundings and find a location where the micro-geography funnels people towards you, so they don't just wander away, but where they're not hurried along.
Other flyerers will move around as you work; if an area gains too many people flyering, passers-by will tend to avoid the cluster. Likewise, try not to be too close to street performers. Performing in the street is a tremendous skill and they deserve their space. Besides, they probably draw a different crowd than you're looking for and being near them will change the flow of pedestrian traffic. Even if there's audience overlap, it'll be distracting and throw you off your game.
Once you've found a good space, root yourself there for a bit. Moving around is inefficient — travelling alongside people takes time and can read as threatening, while going past people minimises your interaction time and usually causes you to miss the person behind them. Picking one location where people flow past you is easier and means your attention can be focused on pitching. Rather than trying to flyer every person who passes your spot, pick a direction and try to flyer the people who are coming from that direction.
Step 2: Pitch your show to people going past
When you see someone you can flyer, smile, make eye contact, hold out a flyer and pitch them your show.
Who can you flyer?
Do not flyer people who are running, have no free hands or are talking on the phone. Do flyer people who are in casual conversation, people who pull away from you and especially people who you think look grumpy. When you are nervous, you will interpret neutral expressions as scary — and some people just have scary faces! — but actually, most people are okay with being flyered, even if they aren't interested in your show specifically. It's incredibly unlikely that someone will strongly object to being flyered, and if someone does abuse you for doing it, they are the one behaving unacceptably.
Make eye contact
We are social creatures and people form emotional attachments with people. Even if you're exit-flyering another show handing out flyer after flyer by the second, try to make a connection with each one. Eye contact is incredibly powerful for this. If someone completely dodges your gaze, they probably don't want to be flyered; if they do, they're open to hearing you out.
When something unexpected intrudes into one's field of awareness, it takes a second to parse what's happening and decide whether that intrusion is welcome or unwelcome. If you flyer people who are already walking past you, the act will feel more intrusive, less expected, because of how it interacts with their personal space, and by the time they understand what's happening, they have probably gone past. Minimise the amount you intrude by flyering people early, as they're walking towards you.
Hold out your flyer
In most instances you have seconds to get people to take a flyer from you. Don't make it difficult for them: hold it out away from your body where it is visible and grabbable. I've seen physical theatre shows doing dances in the street, waving flyers about so vigorously that an interested person is more likely to come away with a black eye than a flyer in their hand — make your flyer accessible!
Pitch your show
What is your show about? Why should someone want to see it? What differentiates your show from any other show that people could see? Depending on the pace of walking traffic and how much interest someone expresses, you need to be able to convey this in five sentences, and in three sentences, and in one sentence, and in three words.
One of the most common mistakes I see performers make in flyering is confusing attention for interest. It is easy to get people's attention: set off a firework in the middle of a crowded street, and people will be paying attention to you. Interest is much harder to create. Most people will not be interested in your show; the first thing your pitch needs to do is tell the kind of person who might like the kind of thing you're advertising that this is their kind of show. In other words, what is your unique selling point?
For some shows, the selling point is easy: if you're in a queer cabaret, putting ‘queer’ front and centre in your marketing and your pitch is a very clear way of communicating to other queer people that your show is for them! If in doubt, your pitch should start with the genre and medium of your show. Is it comedy, drama, true life? Is it sketch, standup, physical theatre, a play, mime, a capella? Most people have certain genres and artistic mediums they are drawn to and others they would rather die than sit through.
For MATES: The Improvised ’90s Sitcom, “The improv sitcom! Award-winning comedy show!” is my go-to. If I have a little time, I add “could we BE any funnier?” from our flyer copy, which gets a laugh almost every time. If people stop to ask for more, I get out the venue and time and then mention that we were Theatre Weekly's Best Improv Show at Ed Fringe 2022. Our show is an unusual combo of two genres; putting those first helps grab people who like one or both of those things, then ‘award-winning' conveys quality.
Step 3: Repeat as many times as is feasible
Once you've gotten in position and given your first flyer out, you're done! Pat yourself on the back, pack up and go for a pint. If you like. But if you want your flyering to be effective, you probably have to do a lot of it.
The magic formula
The number of people who see your show is equal to the number of people who know about your show, multiplied by the percentage of people who might be interested in your show, multiplied by the percentage of people who have a positive emotional response to your marketing. In other words, Audience = Visibility × Appeal × Sentiment. Flyering affects both visibility and sentiment and you want to maximise both — high quantity means nothing if every person who sees your flyer is turned off by the way you handed it to them.
Repetition affords you the opportunity to develop your technique. Experiment with your pitch — not just the words, but your tone of voice, how much oomph you put into each person, etc. If you fluff something, if it doesn't go well, no matter! The next person you can try it out on is just a few second away.
Obviously, a successful attempt at flyering someone is one that results in them taking your flyer. But unsuccessful attempts still exist on a spectrum. Did you make someone smile? Did you make them laugh? Or did you make them avoid you? Try to get better at making the experience of being flyered by you a positive one, and over time your hit rate and your show experience will benefit.
Don't overdo it
If you're working alone, pace yourself. Flyering for hours and hours every day might deliver you an audience, but if it uses up all your energy or crushes your spirit, was it worth it? If you're in a cast, agree a reasonable amount of time to spend flyering and then stick to it. Nothing breeds resentment faster than one person dropping the ball when it comes to promoting the show and letting everyone else pick up the slack.
Tips and tricks
Experiment until you find what works
Edinburgh Fringe is (or used to be) the place you came with Work In Progress shows, because there's no better time to workshop new material and experiment with your style and technique than when you have a show every day. Take the same approach to flyering. Play around with pitches, locations, vocal tones. Maybe you work best having fewer, higher-quality interactions walking around outdoor seating and engaging people who are sat drinking? Maybe you could flyer near a venue with a similar show?
The tiniest changes can make a big difference: I saw an uptick in the number of positive responses when I switched from saying “Improv sitcom — the award-winning comedy show” to “The improv sitcom — award-winning comedy show” — not something I'd have thought of planning the pitch in advance, but a valuable discovery. On day one of the Fringe, I started with “Award-winning comedy show — the improv sitcom!” — same words in a different order — and got a way worse reception. Why? Leading with a promise of quality means nothing if you don't care about the thing you're hearing about, and people are bombarded with promises of five-star, sell-out, award-winning shows — I needed to differentiate us from the crowd first.
Keep an eye out for patterns. You might observe, for instance, that people moving in one direction are interested in flyers, while others aren't. In that case, face that direction for a bit! Develop and then test your theories. Doing so might improve your results, or it might not, but keeping things fresh for your own benefit will also help you to keep going as the festival goes on.
Your pitch is not a question
A lot of people tend to offer their flyer as if they're asking a question: “Sketch show tonight? Free stand-up?”. I can see why this happens: it feels politer, less intrusive somehow. It also makes you sound uncertain about the thing you're presenting. Think of a market stall trader hawking their wares — you never hear “Punnet of strawberries, two for a pound?” belted out with a rising inflection at the end of the sentence. Realising this several years ago was a revelation for me and since consciously rephrasing my pitches as statements, I've seen a massive increase in my success rate flyering. If there's one thing you take away from this essay, try this.
Don't tread on other performers' toes
I've been in the middle of conversations with people about my show and had random people barge in and try to sell their own show instead. This is abhorrent behaviour and will win you no favours. Slagging off other shows, no matter how light-hearted your tone or how receptive your audience is, is similarly gross and will absolutely turn off punters.
Exit flyering another show whose audience overlaps with yours can be incredibly effective (provided their show is good). Many shows will be happy to allow it and may want to do the same after your show in turn. However, some will have other shows of their own to promote, and others might have venues with strict rules about what can and cannot be promoted while onsite. Ask permission and respect the answer.
Don't go around someone else's venue putting your flyers on their chairs without asking. Don't put stickers over print that cost someone else hundreds or even thousands of pounds. The performing arts lives and breathes networking and if you gain a reputation as the kind of person who would screw over someone else to try and get ahead, you will quickly find it coming back to bite you in lost opportunities and goodwill.
Advertise your show, not the Fringe
Walking around Bristo Square or along the Royal Mile, you see a lot of people doing weird stuff to try and flyer people. From ostentatious displays like walking around in costume acting creepy or chanting in the street, to more passive approaches like lying down on the floor with your head covered and holding up flyers in the air, these seem like they get a lot of attention, but minimal genuine interest.
I would love to hear from someone who does this and finds it an effective way to flyer. More often than not, this approach to flyering does a great job of advertising the vibe of Edinburgh Fringe, but unless you're very good at spontaneous street performance, it doesn't benefit (or can even damage) public perception of the quality of your show. As I said above, performing in public is challenging and those who do it well have years of practice.
Even if you are great and it's very relevant to what your show is about, performances which involve your whole cast are also very inefficient — if ten of your cast are reciting lines from your show out loud to passers-by, that's ten people who could instead be covering the town in flyers to maximise visibility.
Likewise, avoid flyering messages which centre around the fact that you're flyering. Offering people “free bit of paper” or saying “take my last flyer please” might get a cheap laugh and even a flyer in a hand, but it's a very low-quality interaction. It might work for fresh-faced tourists excited for The Fringe Experience, but it's not a sustainable way to generate a relevant and engaged audience — and experienced Fringegoers will find it more irritating than charming.
Take rejection gracefully
People are mostly going to turn you down when you offer them a flyer. When it happens, take the hint. They might have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to come and see your show, or they might be the perfect person for your show, caught at the wrong moment — you'll never know, but they don't owe you a reason.
If you are extremely charismatic, you might be able to get away with pressuring people once in a blue moon, but you're far more likely going to make someone hate you and never come to the thing you're asking them to engage with. The social contract at a Fringe Festival allows you to offer something once; take no for an answer.
Don't not flyer other flyerers…
…but don't get in their way when they're trying to work. A significant proportion of audiences in Edinburgh are made up of other people doing their own shows, and getting seen by other artists is good for your reputation — they're more likely to talk about you on social media and their opinions are more likely in turn to get amplified by the community and the algorithm. However, be respectful of their time and mindful that they're also here to promote a show. Don't engage someone in conversation for twenty minutes unless they seem genuinely interested in making a new friend.
Keep your spirits up
Flyering can easily get dispiriting if you're not getting a positive response. As your enthusiasm drains, varying your situation is a great way to refresh your mood. Change direction or move to a new spot; switch up your pitch; even just switching which hand you hold your flyers in can help.
If you're feeling tense, take notice of your body. Are you frowning? Are your shoulders raised? Are your arms stiff? Take a brief breather, force yourself to relax those muscles.
When things go wrong, you can get trapped inside your head. Take a breather and turn your attention to the world around you. Check out a street performer; watch someone else flyering and see how they do it; enjoy the sights of this beautiful city. If you can't help but dwell on a mistake, remember that each person you interact with is coming at your situation completely fresh — they don't know you haven't been having a good day, or that you just stumbled over your words.
Finally, if nothing else works, take a proper break. Give yourself fifteen minutes to leave the area, sit down, get a drink. Staying well-fed and hydrated is also super important throughout your Fringe experience, but especially while flyering — it's hard work!
Many people find flyering boring, tiring and intimidating; while learning to flyer more effectively helps with this a little, ultimately it's always means to an end. Treating it as a practice that I can improve, taking pride in my achievements and enjoyment in the process, isn't just useful for getting bigger audiences — it also helps me stay motivated and enjoy my Fringe more. And in the end, what's the point if we're not having a good time?