What “Google Glass” has to do with the launch of your show.

Do you remember Google Glass?

It’s ok if you don’t.  Glass didn’t last long, even though Google itself thought it was going to be the next iPhone and would revolutionize how people “see” the world.

Glass was a wearable Star Trek looking device that gave you a camera and some simple google apps (maps, etc.) right in your eyesight.  It responded to voice commands and a simple tap, and there were rumors that it wouldn’t be too long until you’d be able to walk down the street with your Glass on, and it would facially recognize people as they passed.

And it flopped.  Big time.

I had one.  Two actually, being the early adopter that I am (after I did this, a lot of tech companies put me on their list to get stuff first).

And when I picked mine up at the Glass headquarters (seriously) and put it on for the first time, I remember asking my sales rep (who was more like a brainwashed Google rep), “Do you really think people are going to wear this down the street?”  “Oh yes,” he replied, sounding somewhat like a robot, “The Glass revolution is already underway. And it’s here to stay.”

Those Glass headquarters are now a Tesla dealership, I think.

What blows my mind as I look back at the launch and crash of Glass is two things:

  1. Google, one of the smartest, forward-thinking, revolutionizing companies, got it really, really, wrong.

  2. Google, one of the biggest brands in the world, with the ability to put a marketing message in front of millions and millions of people, couldn’t make a success out of a product that people didn’t want.

I got pitched a show recently, with an admittedly A-list creative team, and big brand as the underlying source material.  And the Producer actually said the words, “This can’t miss!”

While I admired the confidence, I passed because of the arrogance.

Because If Google can miss?  Anyone can miss. And to think that your pedigree and built-in-marketing-machine is enough is one of the biggest mistakes any Producer can make.

A brand and a team yes, even a star, can help mitigate your risk, but it can’t eliminate it.  And the most important ingredient in your show is your story.

And the irony is, if you find a story that captivates your audience, they won’t even care about the brand or who put it together.

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Three reasons why NOT to start that show, project, or business.

I’m either the best person to write this blog . . . or the worst.

Because, look, I have a lot of ideas . . . and I like to launch. 🙂

And while that has paid off for me more often than not, it also got me in trouble earlier in my career, stretching me too thin and not giving me enough time to focus on the more important projects.  You know, the ones that could have the biggest impact on my professional and personal life.

See, time is the most valuable of all commodities (not money!), so I have to constantly remind myself that no matter how cool I think an idea is, sometimes it is best to NOT pursue it, regardless of whatever exists in your damn DNA that makes you want to get every single ideal out there in the world.

I have been working on this a bunch, especially since I’ve bumped into quotes like these while looking for content for my  #mymorningwhiteboardquote series for my insta:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.” – Tony Blair

“Focusing is about saying no.” – Steve Jobs

Ooohhh, but it’s so hard, isn’t it?

That’s why I’ve come up with this list of 3 reasons why you should NOT start a new show , script, or any kind of business, even if the idea may be a good one! (I’d suggest you keep this one by your desk.)

1. It’s going to take up more of your time than you think.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve signed up to produce a show or write a script and thought, “I’ve done this before. How hard can it be?.”  Once I even opened two shows a night apart from one another, thinking, “It’s just producing a show.”  Ha!  What an idiotic statement that was.Every project is different.  And every single one has its own unique challenges that require you to exercise some muscle you probably didn’t even know you had!  So be ready to work just as hard on your 100th show as you did on your first, and for it to take a lot more time than you think.  (Oh, and don’t be seduced into thinking a smaller show or project is easier to create – I find the smaller ones take even more time – but often can’t produce the same rewards as a bigger one.)

2. It’s going to need you to pay a LOT of attention to it after it gets on its feet.

A project’s launch is just the beginning.  In fact, let’s compare it to an actual launch . . . of a rocket!

For months or years before a rocket’s launch, a tremendous amount of time and effort is spent designing that rocket.  But right after the NASA folks hit that launch button, the real energy is spent getting that rocket in the air.  Those engines have to roooooooar!

Getting to opening night is not where the bulk of the work is done for a show or any business, even though it may seem that way.  The real work is done after the doors open for consumers.  That’s when you have to make sure your audience is satisfied, both creatively and from a customer service perspective.  And of course, it’s where you have to market your butt off.

I don’t care HOW big your brand is.  Nothing is going to sell itself.  Expect to have to put on your salesman hat and bark like you work at a carnival game if you want your show to be a success.  And that’s gonna take time.

3. You think it’s going to make a bazillion dollars.

This is the easiest reason of all to NOT start a new idea.

If your #1 motivation is making money, do us all a favor, but especially yourself, and stop.  Because it’s just not going to work.  Shows are about audiences.  Businesses are about customers.  Making money is about you.  And that is inherently the opposite approach to how to build a successful business.  It’s too selfish.  And it won’t work.

Every time I’ve pursued an idea solely because I thought it was a moneymaker, it has not made money.  You shouldn’t build a thing unless you believe that thing will make someone else’s life better somehow.  Now, that does not mean you should avoid thinking about your potential customer base, or the commercial viability of what you are putting out into the world . . . it just can’t be the only reason you’re doing something.  Because it’ll fail.  So put it down and focus on something you love and you know other people will love instead.  The irony is, that’s when the money will pour in . . . when you’re not thinking about it.

If you’re reading this blog, then you probably have ideas . . . ideas for shows, screenplays, or even restaurants, apps or how to fix healthcare.  Some of them you should buckle down and do . . . now.  Many even many.  But others, you should kill.  If only just so you can focus on the other ideas and make them even better.

Life is short.  You do NOT have to time to do everything.  And if you want the type of success I know you do, you’re going to have to say no . . . not only to other people . . . but more importantly to yourself, and that great big idea-generating brain of yours.

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If you like the quotes above, do follow me on Instagram.  I put a quote on my whiteboard every day, which is right in front of my desk, so I stare at it all day long.   I do it to keep me on track.  And I post it on Instagram to help keep you on yours as well.  Follow me here.

What this Tracy Chapman song has to do with your show.

I wrote a letter to singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman in the mid-90s.  It was on early in my career and I was looking for popular artists who might have an idea for a musical.  And her 1988 hit, “Fast Car”, told me two things . . .

1 – She had a gift for melody.

2 – She wrote story songs.

Broadway wasn’t cool then, so my inquiry hit a wall (also known as a manager who couldn’t see that one day Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Sara Bareilles, Sting, and more would have shows on Broadway).

Tracy had another hit song, that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, as I’m crotch deep in the development of six new musicals.  The song?  “Talkin’ About A Revolution.”

Why?

The biggest hit that Broadway has ever seen and may ever see is about a revolution:  The American Revolution (If you don’t know the show I’m talking about, then you should get out more . . . or just read this blog more.)

One of the other biggest hits that Broadway and the world has ever seen is also about a revolution:  The French Revolution.

And there’s another musical that’s coming back to Broadway in 2021 (in a very buzzy all-female version directed by Diane Paulus) that’s also set in Revolutionary times.

What makes revolutions such good settings for shows?

Revolutions are started by groups of the super passionate people who are willing to put their lives on the line (literally) to achieve their goal of rewriting history.

Can the stakes be any higher?

Like medical dramas or legal eagle shows on TV, revolutions just make a writer’s job a little easier, since the setting already has the baked-in requirements of a successful musical (passionate heroes and high stakes).

Am I suggesting you find an actual revolution to write about or produce?

No.  (Although it wouldn’t hurt – I still think there’s a good Civil War story to be told on a stage.)

What I am suggesting is that you find the revolution IN your story.

Doesn’t Billy Elliot start a revolution inside his household and in his town when he wants to dance?

Belle’s relationship with the Beast has the townspeople picking up arms against her new furry friend.

West Side Story, The Lion King, Little Shop of Horrors, Beautiful, etc, etc. all have revolutionary characteristics if you look closely enough.

And the shows that I’m working on . . . Joy (a single mom who starts a revolution when she fights to get herself on QVC to sell her own invention, after it failed with someone else, and changes the face of retail for herself and for women worldwide), Harry Belafonte (a singer who used his popularity to work with MLK, JFK, RFK, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malcolm X, Mandela, and more and fight for equality in this country and the world), Ma Vie En Rose (an 8-year-old child born a boy, who is a girl, and fights against his family and community who deny who he really is), and Harmony (about a singing group fighting starting a revolution against a revolution), etc.

When you are looking for shows to adapt for the stage, find a revolution, and your job will be that much easier.

Oh, and Tracy, if you’re reading this, the offer still stands.  You’ve got a musical in you.  I know it.

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If you want to hear what several Tony Award-winning writers look for when they adapt stories for the stage, click here.

 

How a TV Ad Got Me to Buy This, but I Still Won’t Buy TV Ads

I bought a car last week.

(Makes no sense having a car in the city, I know, I know, but you have a kid and a dream about driving her to a water park and see how quickly you’re visiting TrueCar.com.)

And with a car comes . . . insurance.

Ahhh, insurance, an industry that spends more on advertising than most.

So this is the story of how advertising got me to buy a specific brand of car insurance.  (Side note:  One of the best ways I learn how to be a better marketer is to take a moment before I make a purchase and ask myself, “How did marketing get me to the cash register?”)

When I knew I was getting a car, I set out to get three insurance quotes to compare.  Now, guess which insurance companies I choose for those quotes?

Go on, guess.  Seriously.

Would you be surprised to hear that I got quotes from:

  1. Geico
  2. Progressive
  3. Allstate

You got at least two out of three, didn’t you? And probably the top two.

Why?

Because Geico and Progressive not only advertise all the time on Television, but they also have the most unique ads in the insurance space.  (Flo, the Progressive lady, and in Geico’s case, just plain lunacy.)

So bam . . . for a guy who doesn’t watch that much TV, I narrowed my choice down to the two companies that advertised the most and in the most clever way.  (Allstate is right up there as well – and I had used them in a previous life.)

What does this say about marketing?

TV advertising DOES still work.  Commercials seep into your brain over time, and when you’re ready to make a purchase, that product can be top of mind . . . whether you realize it or not.

So you’d think this Jekyll & Hyde-like self-experiment would have me buying TV ads for my Broadway shows, right?

Wrong.

Actually, the opposite.

After several years of buying TV ads for my shows, I can tell you right here and now, I won’t do it . . . ever again.

Why not?  Especially when it worked on me for car insurance?

That’s the point.

Geico has been making me laugh for years.  And so has Progressive Flo (Side note: Comedy converts).

Key word?  Years.

Years are what big awareness campaigns like TV advertising need to make the number of impressions a company needs to make a sale.  The consumer has to see that soft-sell ad so many times for a product of top of mind.  And because the profit margins of insurance companies (and other big brands) are higher than ours, and because their products can be purchased and used anywhere, as opposed to Broadway, which is consumed in one place, these companies can afford to keep advertising and just wait, wait, wait, until you need them.

In my case, it took years.

But they got me in the end.  And now, I’ll be a customer for years.  Not just for one night out.

New Broadway shows aren’t insurance companies.  They are startups.  They are brand new to the market.  They don’t have years to wait for a consumer to need them.  And, no one ever needs a show like they need insurance, food, etc.  We’re optional.

Awareness bombs like TV are wasted on new products of any kind, but especially niche ones like Broadway shows.  What we need is a targeted approach to getting the right people to see a show and fast.

Now look, I love the medium of telling your story through video to capture a sale . . . but traditional TV advertising is way too expensive to justify for 90% of Broadway shows.

So I’m done.

If it were cheaper?  Sure.  If it were more targeted (hello, Programmatic TV buying through the Hulus of the world), sure, sure.

But as an awareness builder?

We don’t have time or money for those kinds of campaigns.

For a new show, you’re much better off putting that money into something more trackable and sales-focused (on Once On This Island we skipped traditional TV in the lead up to the first performance and opened with the same advance that we expected to have with TV).

Huh.

I just realized something.

I wrote a similar blog about print advertising a few years back.

It looks like TV is the next traditional form of media to fall.


Want to hear other Broadway A-list experts chime in on this and more marketing matters?  Click here.

A List I Dreamed About Being On, but Never Thought It Would Happen

One of my missions as a Broadway producer is to make the world understand that Broadway is a business like any other.  It’s not a hobby.  It’s not a game.  It’s not some crazy place where wealthy people throw their money around just to attend an opening night party at Sardi’s.

Sure, parties and perks are great, but Broadway is a business like any other.  Our product just happens to be one of the greatest art forms around . . . the theater.

On the flip side, I’ve tried to introduce tried-and-true business practices into all of my shows because I believe all products are the same, no matter the industry.  And they all respond to the same marketing techniques, sales processes, etc.

That’s why I go to general marketing conferences, attend entrepreneurial masterminds, and . . . read Inc. magazine.

I’ve gotten tons of tips from Inc. mag over the years, from tools on project management to inspiration from the interviews with CEOs.

And every year when they published their “5,000 Fastest Growing Companies in America,” which previously featured companies like Microsoft, Zappos, and GoPro, I imagined, “How cool would it be if a Theater Company was on this list amongst all these tech and retail companies?  And how cool would it be if MY company was that company???”

Well . . . it happened.

I’m so honored to report that Davenport Theatrical Enterprises was just named to this year’s Inc. 5000!  And I’m so proud to represent our industry by being the first Broadway Producer ever on the list!!!


Woo-freakin’-hoo!

Of course, I couldn’t have grown even a smidgen without the help of my incredible staff, as well as all of the artists and audience members all over the world who have been a part of my shows.  Backstage, onstage, or in those seats.

And a special thanks to Inc. for helping me achieve my dream of putting Broadway right up there with “real” businesses.  It’s huge for me.

See, I’ve always believed the more theater there is in the world, the better off the world is.  All I’ve tried to do over the last 15 years as a Broadway Producer and Theater Maker is put more theater out there, whether through my own shows or by helping other Theater Makers with their shows.  And I’m thrilled that we’ve grown the way we have because that means the theater has grown along with us.

And now I’m thrice as committed to growing even more over the next 15 years.

Thank you, everyone!


Interested in learning more about the business of Broadway and getting some of the tips and tools I’ve taken from the traditional business world for your show?  Click here.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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