The 3 things wrong with Broadway marketing.

Some of you out there probably read the subject of this blog and thought, “Only 3?”

And you’re right, I could probably write another 4,000 posts on my issues with the state of Broadway marketing alone.  For this blog we’re going to focus on the three biggest problems I see that get in the way of shows making bigger splashes in this amazing, crowded pool of live entertainment in NYC. (Notice how I didn’t say a bigger splash in the Broadway pool – because, like it or not, Broadway shows don’t just compete with Broadway shows – they compete with every entertainment offering in this city – from live music, to stand-up comedy, to sitting on the TKTS steps and people watching for free!)

And I’m also going to try to suggest a solution or two for these issues, because I don’t believe in ranting just for rant’s sake.  If you’re going to say something’s wrong about any subject, from Broadway marketing to politics, then you should also try to propose a solution – even if you have no idea if that proposal will work (try that in your life – you’d be surprised at how quickly you can change things for the better if for every criticism you make, you come up with a wacky way to make it better).

Here we go . . .

1.  We’re fast, but not fast enough.

A new Broadway show is like a newborn babe.  Those first few days of a baby’s life are so important, as is the beginning of a new Broadway show, and any business for that matter.  But what makes our businesses different than others is that, because of the challenging economics (translation – because things are so f*#$ing expensive!), we can’t afford to sit on our hind parts for a second.  Too often I see fantastic concepts and ideas get tossed about in meetings that are just not executed fast enough.  And by the time the wheels of action have started turning, it’s too late, and another week has passed, and more potential has vanished.  We’re a perishable inventory industry.  Every second that goes by is another seat we could have sold.

One of the reasons we’re slower than others is that our teams are so much bigger.  Seems like it would be the opposite, right?  That a bigger team should lead to more action?   Not the case.  More producers, more staffers . . . sometimes means more indecision, and an approval process that takes longer than a trip to JFK during rush hour traffic.  And those massive teams that crowd around ad meeting conference tables also incites, “I don’t have to do anything about this idea because someone else must be taking care of it.”

And then that idea doesn’t happen.

I recommend having small, independent PACs (Producer Action Committees) on your show with just a handful of folks whose responsibility it is to throw the match on great ideas so they catch fire quickly.  Never leave a meeting without the idea, a deadline, and who’s taking the lead and you’ll find you get things going much, much faster.  And faster marketing means faster ticket sales.

2.  Why is everything so expensive?

I’ve seen a whole host of interesting marketing ideas get tossed out into the ethos by Producers only to come back with a price tag that doesn’t make economic sense to pursue.  So the idea gets tossed into the trash instead.   Often that price tag comes from the advertising agency, or another larger company that has a huge amount of overhead and infrastructure to support, and so the price reflects just that.  Don’t blame them for the high costs.  They have their economic model that they have to support.  But don’t not do the idea just because you got one quote that you didn’t like.  Get another.  Or better . . . do it yourself.    (I find this especially true for video marketing ideas – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told an idea I’ve had cost several thousand to produce but we’ve done it for a couple hundred, or in some cases, nothing.)  We live in an age that you or someone you know can make and edit your own videos, build and market your own websites, hey, even place your own advertising.  So if one price doesn’t make you happy, find a way to get it cheaper.  But get it done.

3.  Been there, done that.

With any industry that has great risk attached, there’s always a fear factor of doing anything new.  It’s hard to get anyone to color outside the lines or “think outside the box,” because, well, what if this new idea doesn’t work?  It’s just safer to go down the same road we’ve always gone down, right?  Well, yes, it is safer.  It’s also boring.  And  it’s also one of the reasons our attendance has flatlined.  Couple that with the fact that there are only three advertising agencies in town that focus exclusively on Broadway shows and it is no wonder that Producers eat from a similar marketing menu with each production.  In 2014, marketing is the Producer’s greatest responsibility – even more so than raising the money.  And that’s right, it’s your responsibility, not your agency’s.  It’s a Producer’s job to be up on the latest in advertising trends.  It’s a Producer’s job to ask your agency to try new things.  The industry has spent almost one hundred years building a very particular, inflexible, and resilient box.  It’s your job to think outside of it.

I get a lot of my ideas from Entrepreneur Magazine, from high end department store marketing (luxury goods), and from Hollywood press agents.  I even got one marketing idea from my doorman.  Ideas are everywhere, if your eyes are open to them.


Faster, cheaper and newer.  I guess that’s the summary of this post.  And that could also be a summary of how to make any business more efficient.

Now it’s up to you, no one else, to make that happen.


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  • Greg Wright says:

    As a marketing professional (for a trade association), I have to say that poor show marketing is so frustrating to me. And like you said, it doesn’t have to be expensive to do. There are so many ways to market shows today and not rely on expensive tactics. From what I have seen, I feel like shows are stuck doing what’s worked in the past, but may not translate to today’s audience.

  • I suggest producers suck it up and open box offices early, a la Disney, so that people that wish to avoid fees may purchase tickets as soon as possible. It would also help to have the theaters properly decked out with marquees as soon as the theater is booked, if there is no current show running there. Keep the box office open on Sundays also, what’s the point of frustrating ticket buyers in town for other shows when they want to buy your show?

    Yes, this would cost a few extra sheckels, but the presumption is we’re building a hit here, right? If not, why are you producing it at all? Plus, with the box office open early, you have a chance to experiment with whatever new and wonderful promotions you come up with, and who knows? Maybe you’ll hit upon something worthwhile? Could happen, right?

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