10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 2: A Marketing Director

I got some great response from the first edition of 10 Qs for a Bway Pro, so I thought I’d roll out Volume 2 this week.

Last week we talked about advertising . . . this week, we explore the more ambiguous world of marketing with none other than that Broadway Marketing Guru, Hugh Hysell.

I’ve worked on a bunch of shows with Hugh, from babies to biggies, and Hugh always brings the goods.  Why?  You’ve got to love what you do if you’re going to do a great job.  And if you spend five minutes with Hugh, you’ll realize that Hugh loves his job . . . and those fingerprints of love are all over every show he does, not matter how big or small.

Here are 10 Qs with Hugh!

1. What is your title?

I am President of HHC Marketing, a multi-division marketing and promotions company specializing in Broadway and Off-Broadway.  HHC’s divisions include full service marketing for Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows, BroadwayBox (running the advertising department for their sites including BroadwayBox.com, LunchTix.com and TicketsThisWeek), and TheMenEvent.com (the city’s largest Gay email list, which I use to promote my full service clients).  I am also President of Teams on Broadway (our Street Team Firm).  Often, in playbill listings, we are referred to simply as “Marketing” and many shows refer to me as their “Marketing Director.”

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

On Broadway, HHC is working on Looped, Jersey Boys and Fela!.  Our Off-Broadway clients include The Temperamentals, John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean, The 39 Steps, Flying Karamazov Brothers’ 4Play, The Irish Curse, Looking for Billy Haines, Yank, Leslie Jordan’s My Trip Down the Pink CarpetSigns of Life, as well as some shows that have not been announced yet (sssshhhhh – I can’t tell you).  Teams on Broadway is currently providing the street teams for Fela!Memphis and The Miracle Worker.  Yes – we did the Princess Leia team for Wishful Drinking. 🙂

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I run a very active marketing company that seeks out, negotiates and administers marketing programs for our clients, often without spending a dime.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Creativity, people skills, charm, drive, follow-through, and strong attention to detail.  As a theatre marketer, as funds are usually quite low, one needs to be very creative and think out of the box.  Our goal is to form effective, attention-grabbing promotions that directly influence the ticket buyer.  You then have to charm promotional partners to help you make your plans come thru.  At the same time you have to be able to drive yourself to fully administer every minute detail of a promotion.  A marketer has to walk the line between being a creative artist, a charming pal, and an anal-retentive, highly-organized business person.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

As my mother says, life provides you opportunities for your transferable skills.  I was trained as an actor (BFA UNC-Greensboro, MFA University of Florida).  My acting career was largely in touring theatre where I used my creative skills in the rehearsal process, and anal-retentive skills to keep the performances solid over months and months of doing the same show.  I think these skills have been very useful to me as a marketer.  After I left acting, I knew I wanted to enter the business world of theatre, so I became an intern at Richard Frankel Productions, where I moved up to be Associate General Manager of an Off-Broadway show, which then went on to tour and then on to play in Vegas.  At the same time, I was producing a show in the Fringe that did very well, and I moved it to an Off-Off Broadway venue for an extended run.  That run proved to be my true training to be a marketer.  I had no money to promote the show, but with the advice of a Broadway marketer, I did lots and lots of promotions (bookstore, internet, nightclub, bars, barter ads, etc).  The show stayed alive, and I recouped my investment.  The marketer who mentored me (Scott Walton) later  hired me, and together we grew his company, and in 2002 I bought him out.  I have never taken a marketing course, but I do teach it at Columbia.  Mom is very proud.

6. What was your first job in theater?

My first paid job was as an actor with the Kaleidoscope Theater out of Providence, RI.  We did summer tours of kids’ shows to the music tents in New England (Warwick Music Tent, South Shore Music Tent, etc.).  I played a cat in Pinocchio and the Genie in Aladdin (with a 12-year-old Joey Pizzi as Aladdin and Pinocchio).

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theatre is adventure, escape, entertainment, enlightenment, education, magic, joy and sorrow all rolled up with beautiful images, soaring music and inspiring words  Life meets Art.  Love it.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Audience development.  The audience needs to grow (so there are more people to buy tickets).  With the arts being cut in education, we are not developing kids with art in their lives.  Without that exposure, how will they learn about art in themselves and thus appreciate the art of others?  We need theatre that cultivates new audiences, and allows them to discover the richness that theatre can provide.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

Make theatre cheaper to produce.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

The word ‘marketing’ can mean so many things, and even in the industry that title can refer to different jobs depending if you are working in the commercial or not-for-profit sector.  I would suggest that an aspiring marketer first get an internship in NYC within a theatre marketing firm, press office, or general management office. Learn how shows are marketed and why those decisions are made.  Knowing the current environment allows you to help it grow and adapt to the ever-changing consumer environment.

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 1: A Broadway Mad Man.

Today on The Producer’s Perspective we’re introducing a brand new feature, which is a spin-off on my Advice From An Expert articles.

In “10 Questions for a Broadway Pro,” I ask . . . yep . . . a Broadway Industry Professional 10 Questions!

We’ll talk to all sorts of people involved in the modern theater and get their perspective on their job, their role in the biz and what they’d like to see change.  We’re gonna hear from Casting Directors, Marketing Directors, Press Agents, and more (let me know if there is a position you’d like to hear from).

The inspiration for this feature came from my first gig on a Broadway show.  I was the Production Assistant on the Barry and Fran Weissler revival of My Fair Lady, starring Richard Chamberlain and a 23-year-old Melissa Errico.  My duties included everything from getting Richard his fresh-off-the-bone turkey sandwiches to typing up the rehearsal schedule on a Mac Classic.

And it was one of the greatest times of my life.

The best part about the gig was that I was exposed to a whole bunch of people and positions that I never knew existed before.  The job gave me a chance to see who was pulling the curtain strings of Broadway . . . and made me realize that I was even more excited about being behind-the-scenes rather than in them (I was on the actor-track).

I used to ask everyone involved in the show questions about what they did. Thanks to their answers, I learned so much about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do.

So, I thought I’d give you a virtual experience of what I went through back then, and introduce you to not only the biggest players on Broadway whose names aren’t on the marquees, but also help us all understand what exactly they do on a day-to-day basis.

First up is one of Broadway’s own Mad Men, Drew Hodges, the founder and CEO of SpotCo, one of the two Broadway heavyweight ad agencies.  (Drew also happens to be #21 on BroadwaySpace.com’s 50 Most Powerful People.)

Having sat in many an ad meeting with Drew, I can tell you that he’s one of a very rare hybrid that combines incredible business acumen with unbridled creativity.

Without further ado, here are 10 Questions with Drew!

1.    What is your title?

Founder, SpotCo Advertising

2.    What show/shows are you currently working on?

Next Fall, Million Dollar Quartet, La Cage, Memphis, A Behanding in Spokane, Chicago, The Pee Wee Herman Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Hair, A View From the Bridge, Billy Elliot, Fences, Time Stands Still, Red, In The Heights,  The 39 Steps, Avenue Q, West Side Story, Come Fly Away, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Present Laughter, The Miracle Worker, Blue Man Group, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Love Never Dies.  In no particular order.

3.    In one sentence, describe your job.

We create identities and sell tickets for live theatrical events.

4.    What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Creativity, marketing, problem solving, humility, humor, and fast thinking.

5.    What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I owned my own design studio doing advertising and design for entertainment – film, cable, and the recording industry – for 12 years. Before that, I got a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts.

6.    What was your first job in theater?

I did the poster for The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart for Tom Viola and Roger McFarland.  It’s a portrait of my right hand.

7.    Why do you think theater is important?

It creates joy and outrage, both often when we need it most.

8.    What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Conservatism, and too many cooks.

9.    If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

That every challenge be met with humor and poise, rather than blame.  The team is always better when unified and caring.

10.    What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

If you wanted to work in advertising for theater, there are several paths to take.  If you are a graphic designer, video editor, web designer, etc., we just look for a great portfolio that has vibrancy, a sense of humor as a person, and the ability to move fast.  A love of theater is not essential, and often times, I like that people bring a more diverse palette to our Broadway materials.  If you wanted to be an account person, a writer, etc., a passion for theater is a great help.  A sense of marketing, or marketing courses as a background are nice.  We have several people from the BMI workshop, and the producing program at Columbia.  We also have people who have worked at other more traditional ad agencies, and that knowledge can be a huge help, when combined with the joy (or the heartbreak) of theater.

Because Drew is the kind of guy that always goes a little further in everything he does, he also answered a bonus question.  When asked what kind of advice he would give to someone that wanted to be a Producer, he answered as follows:

Surround yourself with the best people, and be willing to understand that every friend you have will tell you your project is perfect.  You need to listen to real people, and if your advance is falling, people don’t like it as much as you think.  The opposite is also true- if your advance is climbing, no matter how slowly, people are genuinely loving your show and you should keep going.

Want to hear more expert advice from Drew but don’t have a show that he can advertise yet?  Listen to some of his American Theatre Wing panels here.

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