Do you have the guts to market your competition?

Whenever I visit a city around the country or around the world, I take a look at the theatrical landscape . . . especially online.  I spend some time surfing for sites where I can get information on all the shows/theaters in town.

And as you can imagine, if I’m not in one of the major cities, these sites either don’t exist, or they aren’t too consumer friendly.  This isn’t anyone’s fault.  There just isn’t enough of a revenue model for a plain directory in a smaller city that could keep these sites looking like

So the city ends up with a very fractured online market . . . which doesn’t help anybody, and leaves the entire market vulnerable to a 3rd party discount site or broker site that has a business model producers may be trying to avoid.

What can be done?

Well here’s a move that is not for the weak at heart, and perhaps only for the strong of subscription.

I posed the following query to a leading non-profit in a medium-sized city recently.  What if, Mr. Non-Profit, you listed every theatrical offering in town on your site, instead of just yours.  That’s right, instead of just your shows, you list them all, big to small and everything in between.  Why, says Mr. NP?

Well . . .

  • You’d position your institution as the authority in your market – the go to place for theater info.
  • Your organic search traffic would increase based on the new content
  • It’d be an altruisitic play that would make you look good to your consumers and the other theaters.
  • There’s money to be made if you established an affiliate program
  • You’d defend your market against an incoming site that offers consumers something you don’t want to offer them (discounts, etc.)
  • And more, I’m sure.

It seems antithetical to put your competition in the same place as your product, doesn’t it?  And honestly, I’m not 100% sure it would be worth it.  But I’m not talking about putting your competition and your shows on the same shelf.  I’m just talking about putting them in the same store (the SEO play could be worth it alone).  Remember when started listing other sellers besides Amazon for their products . . . even at cheaper prices?  And last I heard they are doing fine.

Google’s mission statement is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

People find Google pretty dang useful.  I’d wager some money that they’d find your theater pretty useful if it had all of your market’s information.

By the way . . . I full expect that no theater in the country will ever do this.  But it’s fun to talk about.


(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • John Hassig says:

    Fantastic idea. Online content, of course, is only as good as the individual entering it. I think an alarming trend in online information about the arts is the rise of information being fed by scalpers. They are becoming much more savvy in creating websites that appear legit (using the show name or theatre name in the new website) while charging 2-3 times face value for tickets in some cases. Fighting good information with bad is difficult when the law is on the scalper’s side.

  • Paul Mendenhall says:

    I think this is an excellent idea. Will anyone do it? Probably not. In my experience, most theatres haven’t got the sense not to cut their own throats on a regular basis, let alone do something that might help other theatres as well. I’ve seen even the most reasonable attempts to organize mutual promotion and sales be undone by the sheer business stupidity of theatre people.

  • This is so tempting to do, but it’s testing integrity in Theatres today. There’s just so many out there that just want money, but they’d like to be taken seriously as well. I fear that these listings should continue in the Playbills and stay hidden long enough to rake in everyone’s goods, for competition’s sake.
    I’m not saying that this is not a tempting proposition, it will make bank. But I am concerned over what strategy people will use to direct profit towards their direction. John Hassig said it, “Fighting good information with bad is difficult when the law is on the scalper’s side.”

  • Mac McCarthy says:

    This is a great idea, and I’ll tell you why: Anything that increases awareness of the performing arts in your community, that creates the impression that you *have* not just one, but many performing arts in your little community, anything that generates more *interest* in performing arts in your little community — is good for all the purveyers of performing arts in your little community–including you.
    People go to the theater when they visit New York City — why? Because they have suddenly, unbidden, decided to go to a play? No! Because NYC is *famous* for its theater — not just *one* theater, but dozens – and then dozens of Off Broadway, and dozens more Off-Off. Do you really think they are *competing* with each other?
    NO! They are *stimulating demand*! When you check the entertainment pages of your local newspaper and see *lots and lots* of options — it gradually turns you into a person who wants to see some of this entertainment. And some people will want to see all of it! If the paper has *one* play and *one* movie and *one* art exhibit — people sigh and turn to something else.
    The *definition* of a “vibrant art community” is having lots of venues doing lots of things. If you are the *leading venue* in your community — there is nothing you could do that is MORE USEFUL to *yourself* than promote all the other theaters — because you are promoting the idea that there’s lots of great theater in your town — and every person who buys into that vision and starts going to the theater will, of course, start by going to *your* theater, because you are the top dog.
    (Even people who can’t afford to go to your pricey play and decide to go to cheaper or closer community theaters will, by their good experiences there, dream of the day when they can justify ponying up the more substantial bucks needed for your touring show.)
    Performing arts, like most arts, are in that peculiar situation in which the whole can be far greater than the sum of the parts. Where every time you get someone to go to a theater–any theater–you increase greatly their chances of one day going to *your* theater.
    Remember, “vibrant” doesn’t mean people go to one play a year. It means people go to many plays, often.
    Wake up! This is a briliant idea, and every major venue in every small and medium-sized city in America who champions this idea will benefit many times over! This isn’t a question of guts — this is a question of recognizing a golden opportunity!

  • Ed from Connecticut says:

    Great idea, Ken.
    In the right size market, where the conditions that you describe exist, it could work wonderfully.
    Several years ago I oversaw the strategy of a marketing campaign for a mid-size city (which had an abundance of arts, thanks to the presence of a large and well endowed major university) and the only trouble we had was the squabbling over, as you put it, “shelf space”.
    Who would be most prominently featured and why? Was the criteria fair? Well, we let the downtown merchants group have a say as to the criteria to be used and that helped get the buy-in we needed from the restaurants and retailers.
    The program worked very well. I persuaded the city’s major newspaper, TV station and radio station to become sponsors and help us promote the events in the city.
    Together, we brought tens of thousands of attendees to events downtown each weekend where, of course, they also dined and shopped.
    And a side benefit was that crime downtown actually declined, too!
    I don’t see why something similar couldn’t be done the way you described it because I can tell you I have seen a similar version work.

  • Miguel Gonzalez says:

    Reminds me of the AVENUE Q campaign in 2004 when they “welcomed” each new musical that year with a loving spoof ad in order to attempt to stay in focus due to their early open that season.
    Brilliant producing. Brilliant outcome.

  • I think this is a great idea in many ways, but I see one major glitch: It’d be a fair amount of work for the company that does this (“spoken” by a guy at a regional theater with a small staff)in order for it to be ACCURATE and CURRENT. And if you make a mistake, or if another company makes a change that messes up your “referral” and you don’t catch it, guess who gets blamed? Or if someone goes to Theater X based on a link from your site and hates the show . . . guess who gets a black eye? And I’m sure our artistic director would only allow links to theaters she considered “worthy” in terms of quality. If a different (“non-worthy”) theater in the area isn’t listed . . . guess who gets a black eye?

  • Don says:

    Wonderful; for the betterment of all theater, which is something we all are for, yes?

  • Andrew Beck says:

    This summer, four of the major theaters in the Berkshires (Williamstown, Barrington Stage, Berkshire Theater Company and Shakespeare and Co) have initiated a joint program where if you purchase tix to perfs at three of the four, then you get a free tick to ANY of the four–its designed to encourage visitors (and locals too!) to try some of the other venues they may not regularly attend. It will be interesting to see how well it works.

  • Mike Vogel says:

    Great marketing idea: a rising tide lifts all boats.
    Speaking of marketing–what a great article on you in the NY Times City Critic column–it made me (and everyone else) smile.
    Beside great publicity for both your Be a Broadway Star game and Godspell, it brought to life how you make everything exciting and fun.
    Maybe your next board game should be entitled “Aspiring Broadway Writer.” Shedding tears should be a piece of cake.
    Mike Vogel

  • shari graber says:

    It works well. Our two local little theaters have done this for awhile, and another “avant garde” theater recently joined. It really does not constitute competition unless, for some poor planning, they are running the same shows. I mean face it, in a small area like here in Norfolk/ Virginia Beach, there is a lot of crossover in actors and behind the scenes in all the theaters.

  • shari graber says:

    To clarify, four of our local theaters offer comps to the others with a subscription.

  • Dave Charest says:

    This is a great idea. But here’s why I’d be hesitant…
    I wouldn’t want to list things strictly for the sake of listing them. We do a lot of work to build relationships based on trust with our audience. I wouldn’t want to list a show we know nothing about because in way it comes across as recommending, and if we recommend something of poor quality it betrays that trust.
    I’d have no problem recommending or listing shows from people/companies we respect though.
    Am I just being too protective of our audience? Or do you think this is something that should be considered?

  • Kathryn says:

    The email newsletter I send out for my community theatre includes notices of other local productions (current or upcoming). We also have a bulletin board in our lobby where we put up posters of other productions.
    We have a lot of crossover with actors between the local theater groups so I think it’s good to promote their efforts. I also think of this as service to our patrons to let them know about other events they might enjoy.

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