By Pat Shaver

Just as it does with shows and performances, Theatre Cedar Rapids has had to channel creativity into marketing and promotion efforts.

The nonprofit theater last month began airing an advertisement for the “Wedding Singer” and “Hairspray” shows on Pandora, a free online personalized radio web site.

Though they don’t have hard numbers from results from the advertisements, Casey Prince, TCR executive director, said it led to about 1,000 click-throughs.

“It’s led to some pretty fun awareness. Because it was targeting two musicals in particular, we could sell to specific demographics,” he said.

In planning the Pandora advertisement, they focused on age, gender, geography and musical interest, he said. The Pandora advertisement allows listeners to click directly from their computer, smart phone or other connected device onto it and get more information about the show and the option to purchase tickets.

“We didn’t pair it down too far the first time. There were quite a few genres we were interested in. We did really focus on a female audience within a certain geographic footprint,” Mr. Prince said.

More than 100 million people in the United States are registered on Pandora. The company was launched in 2005 and as of August 2011, was available on more than 400 connected devices. Pandora’s library has over 900,000 tracks.

Mr. Prince said TCR has made other efforts in marketing through national online coupon brands like Living Social and Groupon.

The efforts have paid off, for the most part, he said

“So far, every show we’ve taken a new risk like this, we’ve stayed relatively within budget and hit ticket projection,” he said. “So far, so good.

“Like a lot of small organizations, we don’t necessarily know yet what the metrics are to determine what the long-term ramifications of using Pandora last month or how big it was for us,” Mr. Prince added. “We don’t know that yet.”

With the coupon deals, they are trying to reach a new audience and also offer specials for regular customers.

“When we do it right, we engage a lot of new patrons. Really, what we’re trying to do is reach new patrons and reward those that are close to us,” Mr. Prince said.

The theater continues to heavily market through traditional means. They place print ads to promote shows, and when they can afford it, will advertise through television advertisements. Volunteers put up posters, yard signs and hand out fliers, Mr. Prince added.

“As a nonprofit we have to get very creative not only in how we promote ourselves, but also with the means we promote ourselves,” Mr. Prince said. “We don’t let our creative process stop at the curtain; we try to carry it through the whole business model.”

With a limited budget, Mr. Prince said, they form partnerships with local businesses to trade services.

“If you see us on TV or our costumes smell good because they were dry cleaned, it’s probably through the creative trade process with a local business,” he said. “Without trade, you would not see our commercials on TV.”

A postcard or phone call about upcoming events is still an effective way to market the theater. With printing costs increasing, though, Mr. Prince said e-mail blasts have helped cut on costs.

“If you want to indirectly support the theater, give us your e-mail address to keep informed electronically,” he said.

Another challenge at TCR is convincing people that it is an important service.

“There’s a very large percent of the population that from time to time are interested in our product or a program of ours but there’s a very small portion that views the theater as a commodity,” Mr. Prince said. “It’s not a gallon of milk that everyone needs to pick up from the store every week. Because of that we have to reinvent ourselves every time we have a new show.”

Much of the publicity the theater gets is about some if it’s larger productions. A review or an article might get into a newspaper about the “Wedding Singer,” for example. However, Mr. Prince said, the theater does more than just big productions.

“Sometimes our most important work is the stuff that the fewest people know about,” he said. They have summer camp programs for children and are developing theater programs for children on the autism spectrum.

For 2012-13, Theatre Cedar Rapids will feature 12 productions.

TCR’s season will kick off the season with “Disney’s Camp Rock: The Musical” in August. Another family-friendly performance is the musical version of “The Wizard of Oz” taking place next spring. The season will wrap up next July with “Spring Awakening.”

Other shows include major musicals like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Legally Blonde,” as well as family shows, political drama, a world-premiere play and a festival of new work by Iowa playwrights.

Subscriptions will go on sale to the public June 1. For a complete list of 2012-13 season shows, go to www.theatrecr.org.