It’s much easier to market to people when they are in your house.

Advertising isn’t about impressions.  It’s about conversions.  Someone could offer me a free 1,000,000 piece direct mail for Godspell to citizens in Sri Lanka and it would be just about worthless, because the odds of a Sri Lankan citizen buying tickets to a Broadway show, are, well . . . like the odds of you buying a ticket to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka.  Not impossible, but not likely.

The key is finding the people that are most inclined to buy a theater ticket, and advertising to them.  Advertising to 1,000 people that are constant theatergoers is more lucrative than advertising to 10,000 people who aren’t.

So where do you find them?

Well, I’ve got one place you find theatergoers . . . in theaters. (Insert “Duh” here.)

Last week, 250,000 qualified customers walked in and out of our theaters . . . wouldn’t it make sense to increase our advertising efforts there?

I’ve written about this subject before, but I was reminded of what a poor job we do it marketing to the people “in our house” after seeing Tower Heist this weekend at my local Loews.  Everywhere I turned, I saw advertising for other movies.  There were cardboard cutout displays and posters in the lobby.  There were hanging signs near the concessions booth.  The popcorn sellers were all wearing Arthur Christmas T-Shirts.  Before my movie I saw previews.  My jumbo sized soda cup was branded.  And more.

Now, I do not . . . let me repeat and in bold . . . do not . . . think that the theater should go to such extremes to advertise inside its theaters.  To do what our slutty but more successful brethern in the film industry do would be like hanging up a Verizon sign inside the Louvre.  Blechy.

But, there are things we can do that are more subtle that could have the same desired effect.

  • Could a flyer or flyers be given to every customer who picks up tickets at the box office?
  • Could the merch bags be stuffed with offers from other shows?
  • Could a “theatre host/concierge” walk through the lobby, talk to patrons, and recommend other shows, and hand out information/offers upon request?
  • Could there be signage for other shows, but just not in the actual theater itself – what about the restrooms?
  • What about flyer stands for other productions in the lobby by the box office?
  • Union regulations abound on Broadway, but why not allow customers to purchase tickets for other shows in the box office via the B.O. staffer or by ATM like device?

There is absolutely a line that we don’t want to cross with promotions inside our theaters. No question.  But IMHO, we haven’t even come close to it yet.

What are your ideas for advertising to theatergoers once they are inside our four walls?


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  • Elliott Masie says:

    I totally agree! There are few times when people are more OPEN or RECEPTIVE to thinking about (and even buying) future theater tickets – then when they are in a Broadway Theater.
    There are ways that we could create a Ticket ATM – with even discounts for people that are already INSIDE – that could lead to more…
    And, there are so many ways in which one could even create tasteful plasma displays in the lobby or bar area – with some cross awareness marketing (ala a Digital Playbill).

  • Sue says:

    Movie theaters show films from a whole slew of producers. I could see Broadway theater owners cross-promoting shows in their other houses, but what would motivate a theater owner to sell tickets or put out flyers for shows in which they have no vested interest –other than “it’s good for Broadway”? And what about producers who do not own theaters? By the way, I hear those cardboard POP (point of purchase) displays are very, very pricey.
    Why use an ATM-like device when laptops, tablets and/or smart phones are with everyone? What would motivate me to buy tickets to another show when I am at one already? Maybe offer me “premium” seats at a regular price, if I make the purchase right there in the theater on my phone with a special code or something. Have to figure out a way to prevent me from putting that code on facebook…..
    (That being said, I wish audiences had to check their phones at the door on the way in!)

  • Laurent says:

    To some extent, the Shubert houses are now doing this by showing videos of their shows in lobbies of all their theatres. As to selling other theatre’s shows, the Disney shows can be bought at either Disney show’s BO. (I’m sure we’ll be able to buy Newsies at the New Amsterdam and Minskoff!) Yes, this cross “pollenation” is a fine way to help in ticket sales and probably smart. Many people come to town to see one show, but COULD buy another if marketed correctly in the first show’s lobby.

  • Brian Hajjar says:

    Mr. Davenport,
    I agree with with all of your suggestions!!! And I’m also a firm believer of not having other shows being advertised in the performance space. (Imagine a Wicked poster hanging inside Circle In the Square; and they happen to be neighbors. HAHA)
    I think that handing out flyers would be a great idea! Instead of handing them out at the box offices though, why don’t we put them in the merch bags? (Then, they bring it home with them).
    When it comes to signage, maybe you can have a poster case in each stall that has a broadway show poster. Flyer stands are nice too! They don’t take up a lot of room, and they make quite the impact when in the lobby! Also, maybe a flat screen in the common area with info about the current show (who’s playing who? who’s the understudy? who’s the conductor? Fun facts? etc).
    Brian Hajjar.

  • I like where you’re going with this. May I suggest an adjacent idea? (this may exist, perhaps I’ve not laid eyes on it)
    What about cross promotions in sales? If I buy a ticket to (I’ll go with Disney) Mary Poppins, couldn’t I be offered a ticket to the Lion King? Let’s say (purely hypothetical) Mary cost me $100 on its own, and the King the same. Offer me both shows for $175.
    Surely, this would be another example of a situation in which the producer or the theater would likely desire a vested interest in both shows, but it opens a world of increased sales. It could be offered at the initial time of purchase, or imagine if I showed up at the box office to pick up my tickets for Mary and was offered the King at a discount right there and then.
    Some thoughts…

  • “Slutty” Hollywood brethren. LOL. You kill me.

  • Lauren says:

    Mr. Davenport,
    Would it be possible to generate databases for mailings from (URL’s) online sites who sell tickets?
    Then, a very, very, highly stylized, and creative…and I hate the word “brochure”, but for now, let’s go with that…allow those brochures to be sent to those who have purchased tickets. Of course, it would have to be sent to those demographic theatre goer’s who attend…say more than just once in a certain period. Otherwise, we’d loose funds on the mailings.
    You have been quoted as saying that it’s the 30-40% that pay full ticket price? So…what do we do to keep drawing them in? Is it not necessary? And, what about other demographics? Are we focusing on the theatres at universities? Alright…so a college student isn’t the full-ticket pricer you desire. But, that’s a huge populous out there.Then again…there’s student’s parents. They don’t seem to mind paying their kids full-price “ticket” for four years…

  • says:

    I’m surprised there isn’t a loyalty card system between the Broadway Theatres with something like Groupon or something.

  • Bryan David says:

    Dear Mr. Davenport, et al:
    “Downsizing becomes a trend” indeed. All of the Twelve (yes 1 dozen) Two-Act musicals I have written feature a single ‘main-set'(a dining room or ‘an-island think sand and a hammock!)a platform, fog (the ‘expensive’ special effect!)single ‘street costumes’ (yes one per act, both acts!) It’s about the script meaning NOT the ‘Star’ nor the ‘Set’ nobody flies (a few ‘charters’ do die, (I think that’s still considered ‘dramatic’ if it’s done right!)
    I could not agree with you ‘vision’ on the less IS more! More profit for the Investor(s)/Producer and equally if not more important LESS expensive tickets for the Theatre goer., (bring the whole gang, you can afford to!) AND it can tour without 55 Trucks to lug it across the globe and back. Just one man’s opinion!
    Bryan David
    Playwright & Lyricist
    “Whitechapel” ©
    The Life & Times
    ‘Jack The Ripper’
    A Musical Love Story! ™
    © Copyright 1996/2007
    Bryan David/Brandon Kress
    All Rights Reserved

  • Rich Mc says:

    Great blog tonight; however, my take differs slightly.
    I think the in-theater focus should be on cultivating and obtaining information from audience members for a Producer’s Next Play,(& encouraging WOM on current play) rather than promoting Broadway as a genre.
    The concept is that the Producer views the
    audience as her ‘House Files’, analogous to a retail or on-line store. Think Amazon. The objective becomes creating voluntary & ongoing relationships with each theatergoer, to acquire knowledge of frequency, interests and motivations to attend a play, plus
    standard demographics.
    Start the ball rolling by inserting a brief, incentivized questionnaire/leaflet into every Playbill with request to either fill out during intermission and drop off after the performance, or completing/submitting it interactively via the included URL.
    Follow-up could be regular opt-in, targeted e-mail newsletters (via collected contact information), special promotions or acquiring new,
    devoted fans of e.g., Producers Prospective.
    Over multiple productions/time, a vast theatergoer data-base could be compiled yielding savvy Producers untold benefits.
    Happy Thanksgiving,

  • Since the theater owners hire the box office staff, it’s difficult for producers to implement cross-promotional initiatives around ticketing. Jujamcyn, Roundabout, and MTC, do a good job of promoting their shows at all of their venues. In fact, Jujamcyn advertises its five productions on its ticket envelope while most other Broadway houses use the standard Telecharge envelope. Roundabout and MTC have posters and flyers for all of their shows at all of their venues. LCT doesn’t cross promote as well as the other nonprofits on Broadway and the Suberts and the Nederlanders don’t brand their shows nearly as well as Jujamcyn. Other theaters should look to their successes.

  • Bryan Austermann says:

    Hey Ken!
    I just saw Traces tonight Off Broadway and loved it!! As soon as I sat down and opened my Playbill, I thought of you and this exact blog!
    It’s not quite what you are speaking of here, but there was an inserted flyer for Rent at New World Stages right next to an “At This Performance…” slip.
    I like to keep my Playbills in good condition so many times (especially if I’ve seen a show earlier that month) I don’t go through the whole Playbill page by page, so I miss most of the advertisements. This one caught my eye because it was a separate thing which had been clearly inserted and was taller than the Playbill. It was one show promoting another, which is great! And Rent was the only other show I was talking about when leaving the theater besides Traces, so I think it worked!
    Just thought you might find that to be interesting!

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