Episode 10 Transcript – Damian Bazadona
Ken: Welcome back to the Producer’s Perspective Podcast! If you ask people in the industry what is one of the biggest changes we’ve all experienced over the last couple of decades, everyone will answer one thing . . . the internet. They’ll answer that even if they don’t know what the internet is. That’s the one big change, the one thing that’s changed the most in the industry over the last couple of decades. When you think about it, we’re all living in a very unique moment in history since we all witnessed the birth of the internet, how it’s changed the world and, of course, the business of Broadway. Well, today on the podcast I’m lucky enough to be talking to the guy that taught Broadway how to use the internet. And that guy is Damian Bazadona, the president of Situation Interactive, the industry’s leading digital marketing company. Welcome, Damian.
Damian: How are you, Ken?
Ken: Some of Situation’s clients? Well how about that teeny, tiny show called Wicked? Never heard of it, right? Or that little company named Disney? Or maybe that thing on the Upper West Side called the Metropolitan Opera? So those few clients will give you an example of the type of company that Situation is. They are leading the charge in bringing Broadway into the 21st century. What’s really cool about Situation, and what demonstrates how much of a pioneer they are in the space, is that they are one of the few theatrical vendors out there who have broken through into other areas. Situation has worked on projects for USA television, the Museum of the City of New York and even last year’s Super Bowl. How cool is that? Yet despite all of those high profile gigs they still keep their feet firmly planted on Broadway and that’s because of the passion of their founder, Damian, who is here to talk to us today. So, Damian, first question. You ready?
Damian: Let’s do it.
Ken: Some people say Al Gore invented the internet. On Broadway I actually like to think of you being the inventor of the internet. So you are the Al Gore of Broadway, I’ve decided.
Damian: Thank you.
Ken: We’re going to get started with a very, very difficult question. How did you get started in the Broadway space, especially with technology on Broadway?
Damian: Ben Mordecai, for those of you who don’t know, is a producer from many years ago connected with me. The first show I worked on, that I got connected to, was really King Hedley. I don’t have a background in theater. In fact I had probably seen two Broadway shows in my entire life prior to working on King Hedley. I got tickets to The Lion King, which I had to wait a year to actually see . . . I got them for Christmas and I couldn’t go until the next January, that’s how hot the ticket was . . . and I had seen Rent and maybe Phantom around that time, so two or three shows at most that I had seen. My background is that I’m a live entertainment junkie, it’s in my DNA. And I was a DJ and promoted nightclubs from when I was 15 all the way into my early 20s, so live entertainment as a whole is in my DNA. So my connection into theater was that I tripped into it. I had done some small projects in theater but King Hedley was the first thing that really drove me into the industry to learn about Broadway as a whole, and that really was my connector in, and so I worked on that. I was the guy who wore the tuxedo on opening night and there were essentially three people who wore tuxedos, August Wilson, me and Ben Mordecai, because I thought you wore tuxedos to opening nights. I learned very quickly. I got there half an hour early because I thought you were supposed to. So I came in a true fish out of water, but I fell in love. It’s one of the best gifts that have happened in my life, to have been introduced to theater.
Ken: Do you think your perspective, not being a theater guy, has given you greater insight on how to better it, in terms of its marketing?
Damian: I think so. Now I’m connected to the industry, but I’m always connected to the people. I get a drive off looking at the pulse of the audience. A lot of times, where I sit in a theater, I want to be able to see the audience, feel the audience. That’s what really drives me, personally. I love the rush of the live experience. I think most people aren’t as connected, we’re all on the inside. And I think when you talk to people, going to Broadway is a big deal for people in their lives. If you think about the average person that I know about in the industry, they haven’t bought a ticket through a ticketing system, maybe ever. They just haven’t gone through the process. They probably see 10, 20, 30 shows, some of them per month, never mind per year, so I think the idea of respecting the tradition and understanding the mindset of what it means to be lucky enough to go to a Broadway experience, understanding that and valuing it, is kind of hardwired into my brain because in my whole life most people outside of my theater life are once-a-year Broadway people. It’s a big event for them. So I think understanding that mindset personally allows me to respect it more and that I’m lucky enough to get to work in this industry. It’s awesome.
Ken: So King Hedley was what year?
Damian: I want to say around 2001, somewhere around that period of time.
Ken: So what were you doing then? Was the online revolution beginning? Is that where you started? What were your day to day tasks in 2001 for online and digital marketing?
Damian: King Hedley was the first show that I worked on and I was part of another company at the time. I had a business partner in another company at the time. I remember I went to one of the ad meetings, it was at Serino/Coyne. There were probably 25 or 30 people sitting around the table, I think this was months before the production started, and it was a two or three hour meeting. And my business partner looked at me and said, “No way, I am not doing this.” We didn’t know what our payment structure was, we knew nothing, so he said, “I’m not doing this.” Shortly after that, not because of the show, I ended up splitting up with that business partner and part of my agreement when leaving was that a couple of clients came with me, and one of them was King Hedley. Broadway was one of my first clients when I split off and started Situation Marketing. So back then I was a one man band. I would literally make the website and do all of the promotional outreach. In theory, it wasn’t so different then, strategically, than it is now. Strategically, it’s all based on marketing principles. Who are we trying to find and how are we going to find them? The significant difference today is obviously that the toolkit I have has changed dramatically. But back then, for the first three years, I was a one man band. I would build the website, I would do all of the marketing and media, I would use my credit cards to buy media, I would do everything, essentially, by myself, and that’s where I learned how to program. I’m self-taught about a lot of those pieces. I have a marketing degree, that’s my background, and I was fortunate enough to pull that together with the technology. So I did that for about three years.
Ken: What were shows even doing then? I don’t even remember. Of course I was involved with them, but what were we doing from an interactive standpoint?
Damian: Google was a big driver then but there were others, like Yahoo! A lot of the similar players were around. You did a lot of promotion when things were starting up. You would be able to do a lot more on trade. Online in 2000, 2001, did not really have established currency. There were no set rates. It was kind of the Wild West so we could do anything. It was banner advertising, search marketing, I did a lot of grassroots-type promotion stuff, stuff that you can’t do anymore now because they charge for them. So we would be able to do you a deal like, “I’ll give you a pair of tickets to see August Wilson’s King Hedley and in return you give me all this other stuff.” That stuff used to go a long way. Now they monetized it all so you can’t really do the stuff you used to do. For King Hedley I built a mobile site for the PalmPilot. I still have a picture of it, which I think is kind of funny. There were no social platforms, there was no real mobile. Mobile didn’t come around until the past five or ten years.
Ken: Did King Hedley have a Myspace page? I’m very curious.
Damian: King Hedley did not have a Myspace page. I don’t even know if Myspace was around then. I don’t think so.
Ken: I think that was actually before its time. It didn’t last long. So now you have a big agency, but I consider you different from other “big three,” if you will. How does your agency and your business differ from the traditional Serino/Coynes or the traditional ad agencies of any business out there?
Damian: You have to remember the way we operate the company. We’re not just a theater shop, in a really good way, although personally, theater is actually my favorite group of clients. The agency operates under this principle that we believe the world is a better place when people are doing things rather than having things. We believe, just holistically, the people that we hire and me personally, that things that are experiential are just good for society. That being said, it informs all of the different types of things that we work on. Yes, we do a lot of work in arts, culture, theater, from Broadway shows to the opera to ballet to dance, but also think of the other experiential brands and attractions. The Super Bowl, travel, tourism, certain retail-type experiences, that whole universe. So one of the big differentiators is that we really look at experiences as a whole, not specifically just theater. I’ve always liked to think of that as one of our differentiators because our knowledge isn’t just, “How do I find a theater person to go and see a show?” Our focus is, “What are the motivators that get them off the coach and to a location?” And for Broadway our growth path requires audience development. We need mindsets that are working to find new audiences. I like to think of that as one of our differentiators to the other agencies that are out there. The other huge differentiator is that we just do digital. If it doesn’t come off of a web server, I can’t track it and I’m reluctant to do it. And I feel like everything, over time, is beginning to move to a web server of some kind. But the other three agencies we value as our friends and I think they do amazing work. We work in partnership with them.
Ken: When you were coming up and saying, “Hey, King Hedley, you need a mobile site for the PalmPilot,” in this business, which I always say is ten years behind every other industry, how much resistance did you get?
Damian: A lot of resistance, but not in a bad way. I think people took us in very well. I was 25, 26, I was relatively young, and trying to say, “Here’s why you need to be doing digital stuff,” when a lot of people weren’t digitally native, and trying to say, “Digital is important, digital is important.” And I think part of it was a trust issue, so I played the long game. And one of the strategies that I employ to this day, which has come with maturity over time, is that, yes, we do digital stuff, but I think people hire us for our strategic thinking. So I feel like, over time, the way you get people to feel comfortable with digital is to talk to them at a strategic level, and then the tactical things can be explained later. This is the problem with digital, this jargony bullshit, and when you talk through people I think it just throws up all sorts of red flags which just innately happens to anything. You go to a doctor’s office or to buy a car and someone starts talking above you in language you don’t understand it puts up all types of red flags and defenses so we purposefully try to talk about what we do, back then and I still do it now, in human language. I don’t talk down to people, I talk like a human being, because I understand CPNs and KPIs but normal people don’t talk like that. So part of it is just making it relevant to the people we’re talking to. That is probably the single biggest way that we saw growth happening. Plus, the other thing, is just look at online purchasing. The most fascinating thing to me in theater is the growth of online ticket sales was really a consumer-driven demand. It’s not like a bunch of people in the theater business said, “Let’s find a better way to sell tickets online.” Consumers forced it, which happens with a lot of issues, and it’s just sort of improved over time. There have been massive technology improvements. I think the ticketing system has come a really long way and I’m sure it’s been very difficult because they’ve had a lot of people to please along the way. So we’ve come a long way, but I just think it’s fascinating how fast that happened. It happened really fast. It used to be like 5%, it’s just crazy. And now it’s bam, bam, bam. So that, to me, is sort of exciting. That’s part of the trend that forced us front and center. The other thing to say is that this business is all about relationships, and it’s a long game. It’s about how you treat every single person that you cross paths with. I still can’t believe, sometimes, that we’re here. I’m happy that the industry has allowed me to come in and hang out. No one’s thrown me out yet. And I feel more confident in my own skin now, having done it for long enough. I cross paths with so many people and I go to sleep with a very clean conscience that I treat people with respect and most people reciprocate the same. This industry is about relationships, so it starts there.
Ken: Let’s talk about some of that great work. Over the past decade or so what have been some of your favorite initiatives that you’ve pulled off here? The one I remember, of course, is Next to Normal, tweeting the entire show out when Twitter was still blowing up. That’s just one example. What are your favorite initiatives?
Damian: I think the Next to Normal one was great for two reasons. One was the basic idea. We took the script of Next to Normal and literally delivered it to Twitter. When you’re trying to bring new audiences to the table I think the idea of bringing the show itself in a new form onto a new platform at a given moment in time is exciting and the results showed it, the amount of activity we got around that. I think the concept was very exciting and then watching it hit a million . . . we had more followers than Starbucks. It was crazy how fast that picked up. We got lucky that so many things came together, that part was exciting. With David Stone, when we had the conversation about it, it was just so great that we agreed up front that it wasn’t about hard selling tickets. It was about storytelling, and ticket sales would follow. Everyone was on the same page. I have such a great memory of that because it was an innovative thing. The producers supported it and really helped drive it and the whole team got behind it, so I thought that just worked. We put a camera in Hair . . . at the end of the show everyone goes up and they dance and we had this idea of putting the camera in, where you can then, every night, record people dancing on the stage . . . which is an amazing experience, to dance on a Broadway stage. People pinch themselves to do that. So this idea of having a camera there to record it every night to capture that and then allow people to share themselves dancing on stage at Hair through social channels and just watch that response? You saw traffic double, you saw a whole bunch of things happen. That was exciting to watch that play out and also, behind the scenes, Joey Parnes, a whole bunch of people pushed so hard to make that a reality. That took a lot of, “Hey, guys, we’re going to have a camera in the theater. How do you feel about that?” A lot of people put a lot of effort into that. That, to me, is exciting, when you have all of these people come together and do something big. Because it opened the door to all other types of opportunities. I think those are two of my favorites. One of my other favorites is we worked on Reasons to be Pretty. And Reasons to be Pretty is about . . . what does he say? That his girlfriend looks normal or regular, whatever it was. The whole idea of the show is about vanity and a whole bunch of other things. But during the show we launched a social experiment. Before the show starts the voice of God comes on and normally it says, “Shut your cell phones off.” Ours says, “Before the show starts, we’d like to do a social experiment with you. Take out your cell phones and text the word ‘Pretty’ to 42903 to get started,” and people text, and then it hits you back with a question that says, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how good looking do you find yourself?” 1 being Carrot Top, 10 being Angelina Jolie, so let’s just say you reply back with “7.” Then it hits you back with a text message that says, “Look around the theater and pick another random person. How good looking do you find that person?” So you say 7 or 8, whatever you say. Then it says, “Great, now shut your phone off and enjoy the show.” And as you walk out of the show everyone gets a text message that says, “Just so you know, the average person found themselves better looking than the person sitting next to them.” What I loved about that campaign was that some nights we’d get 25% of the house playing. That is an enormous direct response number, like off the charts. I’ve always felt this way about theater, which I hope is where things are going. I wish the communal component, the communal conversation that’s happening with pieces of work, I wish there were more platforms to share that community piece in real time. When I saw Doubt, I was looking around the theater, thinking, “What did everyone else think?” So imagine you could visualize that and show that in an interesting way that night. Or you go to a show and go, “Who else is around?” Like imagine you could tell tonight that 34% of the theater was from your home town or whatever. Or tell me about the history of my seat. There’s something about that communal element, that the curation of the audience is as important as the curation of the stage. So those are my favorites.
Ken: Anything that you remember that you loved and thought was really going to work and then just didn’t? Anything that you were disappointed in? I often talk about how you never know, you come up with great ideas that don’t work or ideas that you think are never going to work and all of a sudden explode.
Damian: We did a test for Spider-Man with credit card free reservations where the idea was that they had an enormous theater, and a fair amount of it was dead. So what if we allowed people to use their cell phone to text in . . . and we did it on the website too . . . so you could essentially reserve a ticket without a credit card? Because it didn’t really matter to me. If you were on the fence and you said, “Oh, I’ll reserve a ticket,” the ticket was going to go dead anyway. We thought that this idea was interesting because the average site only converts 3-4% of visits. You have 95% of people sitting on the fence. So give them a ticket, like a table reservation at a restaurant. Why not? We did a test and the response, if you entered in that reservation, the response, the percentage of people showing up was through the roof. Sometimes it was 50-60%. If you put your cell phone number in, you showed up at the theater like you said you were going to and we were like, “Wow, this could be enormous,” and we really pumped it and it never hit the volume of people doing it that I thought it would have. We’re testing it now in other markets. I think there’s something there. I admit, sometimes I get fixated on an idea and I can’t get off it so I just keep pushing because I want to figure it out, but I’d say 99% of ideas don’t fulfil my vision of where they could be. There are two things I think we’re good at. One is that we are very clear with clients on hedging the risks that we’re doing, so we’ll create an idea but we’ll find efficiencies to say, “Even if this is a bust, here are the opportunities that we’re going to make sure happen,” and our clients know that in advance. There are a lot of interesting ways . . . and I think are amazing at this too, actually . . . to this idea of how you can minimize risk on things. I think that’s important. That’s part one. The second thing is that I have a very short memory, purposefully. I don’t give a shit about what didn’t work. I care because I’m going to learn from the mistake, I know in the back of my mind, instinctually, what worked and what didn’t, but I take it as a win that we lost. You kind of have to, because the money’s gone, but I always say that as long as you’re clear on a huge idea you have to be clear on the risks, because if I can talk to a client and go, “Here’s the risks. We all know it, we’re all in it. If it’s huge, great. If not, so be it,” and as long as we have that conversation and we both sign off then it doesn’t matter because we’re both in it together. That’s what I love about producers. They know there’s no guarantee. Someone was asking me the other day, “Dan, are you sure it’s going to work?” No, if I was sure I’d create twenty Lion Kings.
Ken: Something I talk about being different today than it was ten years ago is the speed requirement to reacting to the market, that consumers move faster than they ever have before, and one of the best examples of that was the If/Then phenomenon and the Oscars. Can you talk a little bit about what happened and how your team responded to that? Because from what I know and hear, you were really helpful in using what happened at the Oscars to your advantage.
Damian: Well, first off, that is a great example because it’s all about communication and planning. I think that’s the biggest thing and I think on that show in particular the team is just a well-organized machine. We knew that Idina was going to be on the awards, that’s great, so then what happens is it triggers a whole set of things, so you’re prepared. Our main conference room turned into a war room, we were prepared. We had like five different people set up. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. I wasn’t even there, I was watching at home. And when Travolta . . . you’re just sitting there. I looked at my wife and I was like, “Who is he talking about?” I couldn’t even really believe it. But instantly our team was off to the races and we had a designer in there, we had a staff of people that can do all of the functions that are needed, a good photo card, a copywriter, the social expert, all of those different components. And within seconds we had all of these different things in action. I always think that the speed with which that happened is the most impressive thing. It’s difficult to run an agency like that, with that in mind, so your point is spot on – the speed at which these things happen. One of my favorite examples is I worked on Rock of Ages. They performed at the Super Bowl, a couple of performances at the site, at MetLife Stadium, and between sets I was walking with one of the cast members who was in costume. There was myself, my head of client services and the cast member and we’re walking back to their changing room, which happened to be right next to the red carpet, and as we were walking straight towards the red carpet Mitt Romney was walking right towards us, no security, no nothing. My head of client services . . . this all happens within five seconds . . . says, “Hey, Mitt. Do you mind taking a picture?” And sure enough, Mitt puts his arm around the actor and they give a big smile. “Say cheese!” Click, we got this great picture. It’s Mitt, his wife and the actor, and within seconds we had a post on Facebook, it was like “The left and right coming together,” the whole thing. That was my head of client services, it wasn’t a creative strategist or something, who took the picture, who had the insight. Jeremy said, “I’m going to take this picture,” the actor knew exactly what to do, we sat there, we wrote the quote, and the producers gave us the freedom to post. So think about that structure, that’s incredible. I think part of it is you try to create a system that just builds trust and understanding of the brand. That’s why it’s important to understand your clients and have trust with your clients. But that speed, imagine it in a corporate structure. That’s difficult.
Ken: Where do you think the theater is going, in terms of its use of technology over the next ten years? What’s the next big thing?
Damian: The next big thing is, because theaters are now connected like they’ve never been before in a whole range of ways . . . look at variable pricing and the speed at which that begins to happen. You’ve got Wi-Fi in the venue, all these different touch points, it’s changed the entire game. So the fact that we’re more connected, I think what’s exciting is that the best is yet to come. So part of me feels that for the in-venue experience, for example, there’s a lot of opportunity there. Theaters now, by the end of this year, I would say about 75% of Broadway will be Wi-Fi connected. So think about what that means. You can go into a venue, you can get Wi-Fi in the bathroom or anywhere else, all of these theaters are going to have that. But now, all of a sudden, when you walk in, I can determine whether you’ve been here before. Let’s just say you’re a subscriber. We can say subscribers get exclusive content, they can order drinks, you can do all of these different things because of the way we’re setting it up. The canvas is unlimited. What we’re trying to do is ask, “How can new technology enhance the experience?” I don’t want technology to get in the way of the experience and that’s where a lot of the conversation goes to. People go, “Ugh, Wi-Fi in the venue, now everybody’s getting on their phones.” It’s actually, in many respects, the complete opposite, because with a lot of the clients we’ve worked with, Wi-Fi goes on during certain periods of time and we shut the Wi-Fi off once the show starts. It serves as the vehicle to tell people, “Stop.” Just think of all of the things you could do. It’s really exciting. We’ve had a range of conversations about what that could mean, we’ve had a range of conversations about what virtual reality could mean, certain tests have been done. But I think we’re going through this canvas of really cool testing which is about to start happening, things we weren’t able to do in the past. It’s really access to the data, which is kind of exciting, that we just never had before. So I think the speed of innovation is going to start to really go quickly, that’s the exciting part. And the venues are onboard. You can get this sense that there’s this feeling of, “We don’t want to be called irrelevant.” The conversation always goes to a place of, “Technology is going to kill the live experience,” but I fundamentally disagree. It will kill it if we allow it to kill it. You can use technology as a vehicle to improve it. It could and should be an amazing experience.
Ken: You obviously work with a lot of producers and what I love about you . . . and you describe how theater is about relationships . . . is that you have fantastic relationships with everyone in this business. You’ve managed to push the business into a new era, but at the same time not piss anyone off in the process, which I think is amazing because you’ve helped the industry as a result of that. So you’ve worked with all of these people, I’m sure you have your favorites and your least favorites. I won’t ask you to name names, not on the record anyway, but tell me what characteristics you think a good producer needs to function today. Not ten years ago, what today’s or even tomorrow’s producers need in order to be great ones.
Damian: A) Confidence. That is, by far and away, if you asked me for all of the attributes, the first one, because confidence comes into everything. The average producer, think about how many people you’re overseeing in one way, shape or form. You’re the leader so you’ve got all of the cast, the creative team, you sit in these rooms and have these big meet and greets, there’s a hundred or more people walking around, and that producer is the leader. And that confidence is everything, come hell or high water. So confidence is the first thing. The second thing is having a really strong, smart team around them. That’s generally how I judge people. I can just tell by the people that they hang around and the people that are around them. Really great producers generally have a very solid team around them because they have to know they can’t know the answers to everything, they need to just really delegate. That’s the thing that I think kills the productions, is too many decisions. It just crushes the process, because what it does is it roadblocks the speed. Think about how much we talked about speed. You have to just be nimble because no plan survives first attack in entertainment, that’s golden rule number one, and all of a sudden you have these opportunities and these threats that just land on your plate, and you need to have an infrastructure and a team that can go quickly and do what they have to do. I think it’s clear lines of command. So let’s say there are multiple producers, there has to be one decision maker there and the power will be with the decision maker. I would say confidence, leadership structure, the right team around them. I think those are the big ones. Personally, for me, I think a sense of not just kindness, but kindness and respect, and giving team members respect. I’ve always felt like most of the people that I’ve seen over the years, the people I have most respect for, they talk to the most junior person in the room the same way they talk to the most senior person. Because the reality is the senior people sit at the table and they jibber jabber about what’s going to happen, but the junior people are the ones who are doing the work. I was exchanging e-mails at 3 or 4 in the morning last night, so we’re going all day and all night. I can’t make somebody work until 3 or 4 in the morning, they have to want to do it. And you’ll be surprised that it really is an easy for a producer to rally the team. They’ll get a lot out of their team and how you do anything is how you do everything, so if that producer does that really well, it will be the same right down the line. Not to a point of being a doormat, it’s really more respect than kindness. I don’t mean you should be nice, I just mean you should be respectful and that respect will go a long way. I’ve seen producers not do that and all that happens is they get up, they walk out of the room and everyone is just not into it. It’s easy to fake your way into this business in some respects because there’s this infrastructure. Everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, of course we’re doing that.” I can give you 20 things that we’re doing so you can fill out a report and feel like it’s good but you want people who really give a shit.
Ken: If you were producing a really small show . . . if someone came to you and said, “Damian, I’ve got a really small show. I’m trying to get it on the market, I’ve only got a few bucks,” what would you tell a young producer or playwright that was self-producing their own work to do to get the word out there?
Damian: I’m a stunt guy, and I think you fall into this camp too. It’s hard. If I was self-promoting, there’s no one answer to that, except to say that I don’t think it matters how much money you have. I’ve never correlated big ideas to dollar signs. We’re sort of in the same camp on that. It’s about being disruptive, but true to who and/or what you’re trying to say. There are tons of examples I could think of, but I think those are the core things I would say. The most important thing, which I feel sometimes gets lost in the mix, is to create an amazing show. That is all that matters. I have so many people who I’ve met with that start with the size of the audience that’s going to like this show and that is just a red flag to me. Tell a great story. If you’ve got a great story and you invest in it, people will come. You have to believe that. The reality is that if you don’t have a great story you don’t stand a chance. I think that’s the biggest thing. I tell young producers, “If you’ve got something great, I would do that,” and, honestly, every single person that walks in the theater, I treat them like gold, because you can do that. It’s simple. It’s easy to shake a person’s hand in a small venue and say, “Thanks for coming.” They go, “Wow, it’s really cool you did that.”
Ken: That’s a great answer, especially coming from someone who’s built a business and a career on being so digital. You went offline, offline communication, shaking hands, which is what I say all the time, that our job is to get people to go to a physical location and have an experience live. We still have to focus on that, regardless of how many AdWords we buy.
Damian: I totally agree.
Ken: Okay, last question. I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin shows up on your doorstep and says, “Damian, you’ve been a very, very good boy. I’m going to grant you one wish. You can change one thing about Broadway. Anything you want. Only one. The thing that keeps you up at night, drives you crazy, makes you mad. Whatever it is you want, but you only get one thing to change with the snap of a finger.” What would you change?
Damian: That there’s never an empty seat. I have qualifiers to that but I would say that the thing that makes me the most frustrated is the fact that we have as many empty seats as we have when there are so many people who would give so much to have sat in that seat. That just kills me. You see a show, in February, and you walk around and you see it, it’s just horrible. We work with a fair number of schools and I could tell you, the teachers there, the faculty, the people in the kitchen, they would die to go and see that show, and it just kills me that those seats just go dead. It’s a waste. So I would say that would be the one thing I want to change.
Ken: Any ideas on how to do that?
Damian: I think the first place to start is recognizing that two million seats are going to go dead every year, period. It’s statistically the same every single year, it’s flat line. Every year, 15%. Not 13%, 14%, 18%. 15% goes dead every single year. So if we accept that, then all of a sudden there is an argument to be made that you could start taking those 15% of tickets and take them off the rack and begin to think about these 15% of tickets from the point of view of audience involvement. The change would be dynamic because right now you’re getting zero for them. So then all of a sudden the value of that ticket is based on the audience, not necessarily on the ticket price. So how do you value that audience member? That’s just math. So the median show is going to have that 15%, so imagine you’re a show coming in in the fall. Would you take 15% of your inventory off sale and charge your marketing and advertising teams to say, “Who is it that we actually want in our show?” Because, again, these tickets are dead anyway. Statistically, these will be gone. So that changes the dynamic. That doesn’t mean that you have to give them away for free but the conversation goes, “That’s interesting. I want to get this type of person and this type of person.” The barrier for those people coming is that we have a ticket price that they don’t value, yet we want them in the venue. So flip it around and go, “How much am I willing to pay for that person?” It’s all incremental; it kills me. That model, I think, would be very interesting because you start to go into different markets and that, to me, is the path for audience development. You start to look at that and you go, “Wow.” I have conversations for people who will say, “I want to buy a ticket. I’m raising money to buy student tickets to a show.” And they’ll say, “Our student rate is $45 a ticket,” and I’m like, “I could drive a truck through your orchestra, but I can’t get you the $45.” The reality is I know I’m not the only person. They’re turning people away for no reason, and I understand why, because the feeling is that it’s going to distress other portions of the ticketing ecosystem and result in lost revenue. Let’s just stop that. And also . . . I could go on about this forever . . . the way that we think about audience development is last minute. “So we’re going to have tickets next Thursday. How can we get seats in the venue? How can we get people in the venue?” And it’s just crazy-pants to me because I could have told you that a year ago. And there is a chance, a small chance, that you might be that hot show that defied that, so what was the risk loss? You had put in people that you know would be great ambassadors for that show so that’s the risk loss? If you’re that hot, that 5-10% would be peanuts, so it’s irrelevant. I think that’s my long answer to it.
Ken: I think all of you out there listening can see why Damian brought us into this decade and why he’s going to certainly bring us into the next one. That’s a fantastic answer about audience development and, again, has nothing to do with digital, which is why Damian is such a big strategic thinker and why, to your point, you think clients come here, and I agree. Thank you so much for being with us. All of you out there, thanks for listening again. Don’t forget, send any suggestions you have for figure speakers and go to TheProducersPerspective.com and subscribe so that you don’t miss out on the next podcast. Thanks so much. We’ll see you then!