Are we addicted to email blasts?

I remember exactly where I was when I saw my very first Broadway email blast.

It was while we were in pre-production on Gypsy with Bernadette Peters in early 2003, I think.  Telecharge had just started sending out email discount offers in the 1-2 years prior (check out this old but fascinating graph we put together about when all the discounts started and what effect that had on sales in the next ten years).  We weren’t so happy with our advance sales, so my General Management boss, Nina Lannan, called up Telecharge, set up an email blast, and poof . . . instant sales, and a bigger advance.

It was that easy in those days.  Emails equaled sales.

Of course it was easy, because getting discounts for Broadway shows in your inbox was a novelty.  It was a new phenomenon.  And whenever anything is new, it is interesting.  Of course, we were just following the model established by the airline industry several years prior.  (I’ll never forget getting my first “Smarter Living” email which offered last minute airfares – oh the possibilities of where I could go with less than three days’ notice!  Newsflash:  “Smarter Living” emails are no more.)

And so, with that, email blasts became a regular part of every show’s media mix.  But not just Telecharge blasts . . . Playbill blasts, Theatermania blasts, Ticketmaster blasts, SmartTix blasts, NYTix blasts and yep, even YourBroadwayGenius blasts and Best of Off Broadway blasts, which caters to more niche markets.

Every show buys the basket of blasts now. And we pay ridiculous amounts for so many of them.  See, the vendors jacked up the prices over the last decade like drug dealers who got their clients addicted with a free taste.  And since the “high” from an email blast was guaranteed, Producers kept paying.

But all of a sudden, that high isn’t so euphoric anymore.  Thanks to spam folders, the “Promotions” tab on Gmail (remember when I wrote about that?), and all these vendors sending out blasts for a different show every single day (!), not to mention every industry on the planet offering steals and deals through emails, it’s hard for a show to cut through.

So returns have dropped.

Oh, and don’t let folks suck you into the “We have 500,000 people on our list so you’re getting 500,000 impressions.”  Wrong.  Email blasts have about a 10-13% open rate.  And that’s if it’s a good one.  So a 500k list could mean only 50k impressions.

Yet, we’re still lining up at our dealer’s corner every time we do a show, seeing if they’ll give us a hit.  Just one.  Cuz I really need it.  Bad.

I was just offered a blast the other day at an ad meeting for Daddy Long Legs.  The price?  About $7k.  And sure, we could use it.  For Off Broadway shows (and Broadway shows, actually), email blasts are the new print ad.  Even if they don’t sell, they are interactive impressions directly targeted at the theatergoing public.

But $7k?

My ad agency looked at me.  Waiting to see what I would do.  I started to sweat.  My mouth went dry.  I started to hallucinate as I imagined the sweet, sweet sales coming in to the box office.  Oh, it would feel sooooo good to see that happen.

And then I realized.  I was addicted.  Addicted to seeing sales as a direct result of my activity.  When in fact, the ROI on that “high” might not be as good as, well, other advertising options that don’t have a direct response component.

Because these prices have gotten so high for these email blasts that they are no longer a no-brainer.  That $7k could have bought a small but decent radio buy for an Off Broadway show.  And maybe even some TV in target markets where I know my customers are coming from.  But, if I chose these other options, I wouldn’t necessarily see the swift bump a blast gives you at the box office.  And someone who buys because of TV or radio or print or any of the other forms of media available to me might not be as trackable as an email blast . . . but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

I turned down the email blast. And I put it into other media instead.

I’m going through withdrawal at the moment.  And it’ll be tough.  Honestly, I’ll fall off the wagon . . . because there are times when those blasts are good, important, and even essential.

But they are not what they used to be.  And just because you see sales as a result of a marketing initiative, doesn’t mean that’s the initiative you should do.

My name is Ken. You know the rest.


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  • Rich Mc says:

    Good move, declining the e-mail buy. Agree, too much $$, and a ‘blast’ is not what this show needs. IMOP, a tough show to sell, based solely on the title. Sounds too much like a creepy spider (why didn’t you rename it??) No one remembers its history/origin; advertising must instead reflect its superb content, maybe thru rich media.In this case spend more, get better ROI. Good luck.

  • Sue Cohen says:

    “Impressions” are what those email blasts are yielding? I’m cracking up over that term. Appropriate I guess, and humorous to think they are probably teaching that in b-school marketing classes right now.

    I’ll be calling your office soon to order DLL tix for a small group. Can’t wait!

  • Rob Brown says:

    With all the shows you have done, and all the other producers you know, I am sure you have the best e-mail blast list – and an e-mail coming from you (as opposed to “Dear Occupant” type generic blasts), should get much higher open rates and at least you know the blast is going out to real theatre-loving people. Do you trade lists with other Broadway ticket sellers? Bi-pass the dealers and go direct. Ken Davenport is BREAKING BAD.

  • It can be so show-dependent. Out of about 10 eblasts I did Off-Broadway, there was only one I’d call a bust – returning 150%. Almost all returned at least 500%, and a couple 1000%. You have don’t have enough money to make a splash in outdoor or print, so having something so targeted is great – but if your agency is coming at you with a blast they don’t really have much confidence in or experience with, don’t do it. There’s a reason you weren’t offered it pre-opening.

  • Joe Marino says:

    Half the problem is admitting you have a problem.

  • Ken, this is like Facebook invites. I used to get one or two and check them out. Now I get about 20 a day and don’t look at them at all. Unless it’s a friend of course.

  • Michael Reed says:

    Do you have the option to buy a larger subscription to something like Bronto? In my experience they’ve been great to work with and don’t remember them being so expensive. I’m not as familiar with how these email buys work in your world so maybe that includes design cost too. Interesting stuff!

  • Kit says:


    I work in the email marketing business doing the graphic design and coding of emails campaigns for car dealerships and manufacturers all across the country. If a company wants $7k for one email blast then the Broadway world needs to run as fast as possible to other avenues. That kind of market up on pricing nothing more than a cash grab.

    A single designer can brainstorm, create art, and code a beautiful email in a couple of hours. Even less if they been doing it for a while and know their software and limitations well. The cost of sending it out and tracking the email is almost zero. At $7k you’ve just paid $3,500 an hour for that campaign. Absurd! Presumably you’re paying a premium for the “list of emails” that it gets sent to. If you can compile an email list for cheaper, do it.

    Ken, if you are wanting to send out emails, but loathe the ridiculous cost of the ad agencies with whom you work closely, then send me an email and we can talk. It should never cost that much for a one-time email blast of any size. Good luck in all your endeavors.

    • Some of these lists have half a million people on them – and all previous theater ticket buyers in NYC. You are paying for the exclusive use, because for the eblast to consistently pay, they can only send them out once a week or so – I’ve paid $9000 for an eblast – it returned about $50,000 in sales. Totally worth it.

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