License a show? License a logo.

I was reading a small town newspaper (!) over the weekend, and I flipped through the arts “corner” (It probably used to be called a section, but no longer) to see if there were any theatrical goings on.

There was a concert on the common.  There was a sculpture exhibit entitled, “Small Town Shapes.”

And there was a community theater production of a musical that was on Broadway not too long ago.

It actually took me awhile to recognize what the musical was, however, because they were using a different title treatment, and a different logo than I was used to.

And that’s pretty much standard operating procedure for licensed musicals.  A company licenses a musical.  And they create their own marketing materials to advertise it.

But why?

Wouldn’t that company be better off using the materials created by the Broadway production?  They were created by the best in the business, after all.  And, millions on millions (and sometimes kazillions) of dollars have been spent branding that image into the brains of potential theatergoers.  Wouldn’t a theater want to capitalize on that?  And wouldn’t it save them time?  And wouldn’t the musical benefit as well, by continuing the branding they started . . . if the same artwork starts popping up at community theaters, dinner theaters and high schools all over the world, doesn’t that help further brand your property?  And doesn’t that mean potentially more licensing revenue for you and your investors?

When you license/franchise a McDonalds . . . or a Lucille Roberts . . . or a Starbucks . . . you don’t create your own art.  You use the package that’s given to you.

In other words, you connect your branding dots.

When a script is licensed, it should come with a marketing packet with all the materials necessary to market that show.  (And maybe you even charge a fee – the licensing theater is saving time at the very least, if not lots of money.)  And, the theaters licensing that production should be obligated to use it.

I floated this idea a while ago and a few Producers told me, “But do I want my logo on a production of my musical when I can’t control the talent?”

Um.  Yeah.  Yeah, you do.  I think people understand when they’re in a high school auditorium, and they set their expectations accordingly.

This may not happen with all plays and musicals.  But it can happen to yours.  When you strike a deal with a licensing company, make the artwork part of it (which means you have to make sure you own it when you have your advertising agency create it).  Whether you charge, or make it obligatory for licensed productions is up to you.

Licensed productions are usually short(er) runs . . . a month, a few weeks, or in the case of the show that appeared in that arts “corner,”  just a weekend.  They need all the help they can get in getting started.

Using the original branding can give these productions a jump start on selling your show.  And the more money they make, the more money you’ll make, either in direct percentage royalties or in other theaters saying, “So-and-so just cleaned up with NAME OF MUSICAL!  Let’s do it too!”

You’ve done the heavy lifting on creating that artwork.  And you paid through the nose and out the ear for it.

You’ve branded it.  Now let them come.


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  • If the rights to these logos were apart of the overall licensing of the show perhaps more groups might use them. You have to pay extra for any show logo you use. and only a couple of companies offer logo packages.

    We use our own logos to brand the production to our theatre. Once our season brochure is out you will know automatically that the show you are coming to see is at our theatre and not part of the touring Broadway league, a high school or other theatre production.
    We recently had this debate last year when we produced LES MIZ and the director wanted to use the original Logo and we chose to use a logo that incorporated the loge in a way that fit with our overall theme of the season. He felt that ticket sales would suffer. the show was the most successful in our 96 year history.

    I think it is important to remember that many community and school groups are hard pressed to cover the costs of royalties and the technical elements of the show. for many groups purchasing the logos would be a luxury.

  • Jared says:

    What do you do when the show has had multiple high profile productions? If I’m doing, say, La Cage, which of the three show logos do I use? And what if, as is becoming more common these days, the Broadway logo incorporates pictures of the Broadway talent. A community theatre can’t very well use a “Producers” logo that has Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick’s smiling faces on it.

    And finally, what if the whole point of the production is to offer a different take on the material? Say your theatre as come up with some sort of high concept reworking of a classic show like Oklahoma or West Side Story. In that case, it may actually hurt your production to use the original show logo, because then you set audience expectations to see a certain interpretation of that material. If people think they’re getting one thing and are actually presented with another, the unmet expectations tend to leave them feeling dissatisfied. And then you have bad word of mouth, which is one of the fastest ways to kill a show.

  • Mark Briner says:

    I agree with you 100%, and always license the logo as a regional producer. It is, however, quite aggravating that the cost of licensing a show period has become astronomical, even on student, children’s, and school productions with relatively small houses and low ticket prices. For the price one pays per performance to license the show these days, the fee should include a complimentary logo included to help attract the top sales that the royalties are based on. The licensing agents have become greedy beyond belief.

  • Charlie Fink says:

    Wish I could post a picture of my 2009 production of Hedwig. That show, like Rocky Horror, begs for a new art treatment every time. One size does not fit all.

  • Drama Teacher says:

    I teach theatre at a public school way out west in NJ (closer to PA than NYC) and we did a very well known musical last spring. We did just 5 performances, our house seats just 230, and the top ticket price was $12 (for a non-senior citizen adult purchasing day-of at the door). The licensing and royalty fees cost us $415 per show. If we had sold out every show to non-senior citizen walk-ups, then that would have been 15% of our gross. Perhaps my marketing to the surrounding area could have been stronger, because the licensing & royalties ate up closer to one-third of what we took in. Ouch.

  • Jack Thomas says:

    Theatre Logos provides this service for their participating show clients. This was created by Michael Fellmeth, VP at Dramatists Play Service, so many of their client shows may be those published by DPS. The fee charged to the show is very modest, and is split 50/50 between Theatre Logos and the production. Many of the local and school productions of ALMOST, MAINE by John Cariani have used the original NY logo. (Of course, a lot of them make minor variations on the original art and don’t pay for this. But as long as they do the show, I’m OK with anything that encourages productions of Cariani’s play.

  • Dawn says:

    If you’re trying to publicize a known show, and you want to bring in audience that’s familiar with it, yes that would work. But sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to use the original logo. The director may have different themes they are trying to emphasize that contradict the original logo, or could at least be highlighted better with something custom for the production.

    Some recent examples from my theatre group, we had a production of Urinetown that was framed in the Occupy movement. The bathroom scrawl Broadway logo wouldn’t have been as effective as our protester with a plunger. We also had a Jesus Christ Superstar that was modernized and put in a Guantanimo type of setting. The flashing lights type logo would not have been appropriate.

  • RR says:

    Several good points made above but the most importantly is that an image that is right for one production is not necessarily correct for another. This transcends to Broadway as well. Would the original logo for “Cabaret” been a perfect fit for the Sam Mendes production? What about the Hal Prince vs. John Doyle productions of “Company”? Some logos become out dated over time while others are constructed to fit a certain tone that the director and producers are bringing to their version of this story. This is the essence of theater: That we can take the same piece of writing and manipulate it to tell a story that is both the same and different. This may not matter for all community or school productions who may financially benefit from the logo but certain small town artists will relish the opportunity to use the logo as an opportunity to tell the story they want to tell but also to give a graphic design artist who may lack other opportunities for expression, a chance to demonstrate his craft.

  • GH says:

    I’d argue that the logo used in the Broadway run inherently carries the Broadway brand. So when a Broadway tour is on the road at the same time or within a few years of that the title is being licensed, as a Broadway road presenter, I’d probably prefer that I’m I’m the only one in the market able to use the original production’s logo, since the quality of the touring production is going to be on par with Broadway, while the local productions might not.

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