GUEST BLOG by Nathan Johnson: Elevating the Brand of Broadway

I didn’t grow up a Broadway fan. I wasn’t the kid that collected Playbills and hung them on my walls. I didn’t take holiday trips with my family to New York when I was young to take in a show. We typically found ourselves running away from the freezing Minnesota winters to warmer climates. Occasionally I would see a traveling Broadway tour (which I almost always enjoyed), but between family, friends, and extracurriculars, my life seemed pretty full. I was quite alright without adding “Broadway” to the mix.


So, in 2007 when I married the love of my life, actress Laura Osnes, and we moved to NY, that all changed.  Laura is a “Broadway Baby” through and through. She doesn’t like Broadway, she LOVES Broadway. Needless to say, my education started immediately.


Over the course of the next few years, I had some incredible experiences in the theatre. I assume if you’re reading Ken’s Davenport’s blog, I’m preaching to the choir. You probably already know that good theatre can challenge, inspire, develop empathy, and even cause us to just escape with a good laugh.  There’s just something about experiencing live theatre at that level that is impossible to get elsewhere.


While I felt at home in a Broadway house, many of my friends and acquaintances outside of the theatre community didn’t seem to care about taking the time to go to sit through a show. Their lives were full. From their perspective, Broadway seemed like something that was for the older generations, tourists, and for the super-committed thespian fan. Their perspective sounded a lot like me before meeting my wife. I couldn’t help but see that there was a major glitch in how Broadway was perceived by much of my demographic.


I am a photographer and business owner. After a brief stint of acting, and realizing it wasn’t for me, I began photographing a lot of actor headshots and portraits and eventually began shooting Broadway campaigns. I was fortunate enough to work with Ken on his incredible production of Spring Awakening…a production that made me ugly cry in my seat.


Five years ago I opened a photography studio in West Chelsea called Drift Studio (driftstudionyc.com), and have developed a great client list, including most of the major publications (Vogue, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Nylon, Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, Esquire, to name a few). Each of these companies do a pretty bang-up job at creating the level of content that cuts through the noise to reach a younger adult audience to bring them the newest of Hollywood, fashion, and music goings on (ignore the fact that the print divisions are going the way of the dinosaur). Why wasn’t Broadway included in the mix? You might see the occasional feature on one of the theatre elite, but it was a rarity. Why wasn’t anyone creating the type of Broadway content using Broadway talent to reach my peers? Why was almost all of the content that I was seeing so fan-focused?


Over the course of the next few years, I was fortunate enough to connect with others in the industry who felt the same way and wanted to do something about it. So we began to team up to create the kind of content that we wanted to see. Through a series of companies and brand partnerships, we have worked to create hundreds of photo editorials, feature stories and even events to try and make a connection with a new audience. Currently, much of our original team is at TodayTix, of which I am a Creative Director of a new venture called The X (cultureliveshere.com).


It is my hope that we, along with other outlets, elevate the brand of Broadway in a way that is exciting, glamorous, relevant and sexy and engage a new demographic of theatre-goers who deserve to know the power of the live theatre!


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Nathan Johnson is a NYC based photographer and founder of Drift Studio.

GUEST BLOG by Sara Fitzpatrick: 5 ways to make sure you’re ACTUALLY connecting with your audience online

The Internet is the child of Al Gore and that’s why we capitalize it like a first and last name.

The Internet is the end.

The Internet is the beginning.

The Internet has made virtual space more valuable than physical space.

The Internet is___________.

All these statements about The Internet are equally true… including the blank statement. So if The Internet is and is not all of these things, how do you use it as an effective marketing tool? This has become an increasingly important question as the days of treating digital as an afterthought are gone. The Internet is constantly evolving, but here are some approaches I’ve discovered from my fifteen years of digital marketing to make sure I’m actually connecting with an audience online.

1. Exercise empathy

If you’ve ever secretly wanted to be an actor, here’s your opportunity to get method.

Start looking at things from the audience’s point of view. The days of big brands shaming people into buying a lifestyle are gone. Now, it’s about welcoming them into your brand world and engaging them in a dialogue. This is not to suggest people will ever stop buying things out of a place of deep shame, that will never get old for some of us! But thinking that people want to hear a monologue about a brand from a rigid entity is outdated and ineffective. Modern marketing engages your audience in a conversation where they feel welcomed into your brand world.

So, if your marketing strategy is based on a dialogue, you need to define your voice. But how do you do that?

2. Create and abide by your brand guide

Your show is meant for somebody and the better you can figure out who that person is, the more effectively you can reach them.

What does your show’s brand pyramid look like?
What are its key attributes?
Who are your competitors?
What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
What does the consumer look like for your show?
What are the visuals, tone and creative that will best convey your brand message to your most likely consumer?

When you’re able to clearly abide by that brand voice you can generate tailored, high-quality materials. The digital space may be a person’s first touch point for your brand, so pay attention to what you’re saying. The quality of your content online is more important NOW more than ever, which leads us to the next guideline–

3. Weight quality over quantity

Your brand voice in the conversation will come through in the content you create. Be thoughtful; it’s easy to understand why consumers are increasingly wary of anything online. Create quality content you stand behind. Once you’ve created this content, you need to be strategic about where it goes.

Advertising is not always content and content is not necessarily advertising. What’s impactful in print may equally fall flat on a smartphone. The time and effort spent creating content that tells us what your brand voice is will be wasted unless you’re also smart about where it’s being heard. Different advertising and social media platforms have taken on distinct personalities; personalities you need to consider for your messaging.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that even if someone isn’t “following” you, it doesn’t mean they’re not engaged. Consumers are using social media as a research tool for brands instead of blindly following them—which is another reason your brand voice needs to be consistent and true. A new user is as likely to see your Instagram post as a loyal fan. “Followers” don’t carry the same amount of weight as they used to because they don’t necessarily translate to popularity or customers and vice versa. And speaking of followers….

4. Beware of fake news

Bots and followers leave everyone with that uncanny valley feeling: looking at a face that appears human but isn’t actually a flesh-and-bone human being. It’s a vile and insidious feeling. You’re unable to trust that anyone is who…or even what they say they are. I feel horrible even talking about it, I need to go buy something.

Buying followers and utilizing bots is a big example of putting quantity or quality… or quantity over reality. We don’t buy bots and I would never recommend it to anyone. Not only because it’s an ethically grey area, but because it’s not actually helpful in gathering insights for your brand. It really has more to do with how the audience is reacting to your product. How is the audience growing? What are the elements of your marketing matrix that drive traction and interaction? What are the messages that spark the most engagement? Fake follower data isn’t going to help you with that.

And alongside bots, the last important trap to avoid in your path to becoming the Beyoncé of branding-

5. Just because your friends are jumping off the bridge…

Just because everyone is buying New York Times triple trucks in July, doesn’t mean you should too. ALWAYS consider your brand voice and be loyal to it. Like your savvy customers, you can see what the competition is doing as research, but that doesn’t mean you should blindly follow and do the same thing.

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Sara Fitzpatrick is the Founder and President of ARTHOUSE, a full-service media agency that partners with forward-thinking web advertisers in the strategy and design of innovative brand campaigns. Their services include branding, content creation, social management and media buying with a focus on how creative drives campaign success.

You can hear her podcast interview with Ken here.

3 Reasons Why Ad Men & Women Make Great Musical Theatre Writers

Quick . . . riddle me this . . . what do Tony Award winners Rick Elice, Lynn Ahrens and Joe DiPietro have in common?

Answer?

Before they wrote the books/lyrics/etc to shows like Ragtime, Jersey Boys, Memphis, Once On This Island and more . . . they all worked in advertising.

That’s what I call a trend, my friends.

And where there’s a trend, there’s me, trying to figure out why it is the way it is.

I dug into this idea with each of the above writers on my podcast (click the links above to listen), and a few other writers who also worked on Madison Avenue (including School of Rock and Little Mermaid lyricist Glenn Slater).

My research led me to three reasons why working in advertising is a great foundation for writing musical theater.

Here we go.

1.They learn to write fast. If you have a job, and your boss says an assignment is due tomorrow, you do it, right?  It’s not so easy when you’re your own boss (even though the rewards can be so much bigger than a weekly paycheck). When you’re an advertising writer, you have a certain period of time to write copy, a jingle, etc. and then you have to present it to the client.  It’s an assignment.  You have a deadline. All of the musical theatre writers I spoke to said that learning to write quickly (instead of writing to be perfect) helped them not only get their personal projects done faster, but it also . . . and here’s the big one . . . prepared them for the “preview process.” One of my more widely read blogs talked about how I believe the true judge of a creative team is how they handle the preview period. Because writers who write fast have a much higher chance of turning out great material under pressure.And writing for advertising teaches you just that.

2. They learn to write without ego. I work with advertising agencies all the time on my shows and some of my small businesses.  When designing a campaign, the first drafts usually look or sound nothing like the final.  Commercial edits, radio copy, website layouts, etc. all can change 180 degrees after a client gets a hold of it. I’m constantly sending stuff back and saying, “No.  Not right.  Try again.  Use this.  Bigger.  Softer.  Do it over!” In fact, just this morning I was working on a Broadway TV commercial and we asked for a change . . . when it has to be delivered to stations later today! (Remember that write fast thing?) When you’re forced to change your work so often, you get numb to people telling you they don’t like it.  (Notice how I said “they don’t like it,” which is much more different from “it’s not good.”  HUGE difference.)Learning to write without ego, and just write, write and write without self-judgment or worrying about other people’s judgment helps Authors be more productive, which gives them greater opportunity to better their material.

3.They learn to write for others. Ok, this is my favorite. What’s your goal when you write to advertise a product? You write to sell that product.  You write to communicate a message to other people.  You write to get emotion out of your customer, not to get emotion out of yourself.  And if you’re successful, those people who hear your message will act on that emotion and make a purchase.  That’s the goal. Don’t accomplish that, and you won’t work in advertising very long. Too many musical theatre writers I know write only for themselves.  They sit in a room, write tome after tome and say, “Oh!  This is brilliant!  I love it!  Look at what I’ve done!”And maybe it is brilliant.  But it actually doesn’t matter what you think.  It matters what an audience thinks.  Yes, love what you do, be proud of what you do, but your sole goal as a writer is to communicate a message to your audience, and get them so riled up that they act . . . and after seeing your show, they tell other people to do the same.Training in advertising reminds you that all writing, from musical theatre to novels to poetry, is about the customer.  Because yes, theatre is art, but it still has to be sold (at a very high price).

If you want to pursue a career as a musical theatre writer . . . study the greats, take writing classes, join a writer’s group . . . but also consider a marketing class.

Because there’s no doubt that the success of the above Tony Winners has something to do with the fact that all of them know how to sell.

 

5 Takeaways from a Non Broadway Marketing Conference.

Unless you follow me on Facebook, you wouldn’t have even known that I was gone.

But two weeks ago I was in San Diego, with 6,000 (!) other marketers at one of the biggest internet marketing conferences in the country world.

And I’d bet two tickets to Hamilton that I was the only guy there who marketed the theater.  Which is exactly why I went.  And oh the things I learned!

But don’t worry, like Prometheus stealing fire from Olympus, I took all sorts of tips and tricks from the Digital Marketing Gods and brought them back for you (just like I did on this post).

You ready for a few marketing truth bombs?

Here are 5 Takeaways for you:

1. Conversation is the new lead.

Many of the speakers talked about how important it was to start a conversation with your potential customer before asking them to make a purchase. Chat Bots, Facebook Messenger, and the good old telephone were just a few of the strategies we discussed to start conversations and thus increase conversions. But no matter what tool you use, it’s clear that today’s consumer wants a “Hello, how are you,” before they get a, “Do you want to buy this?” And if your marketing doesn’t offer them a chance to talk to you, then you’re losing out.  (This is one of the reasons we have “Live Chat” on our Once On This Island site.  Go check it out!)

2. Not everyone with a credit card is your potential customer.

We all like to think that our “products” (e.g. shows, in our case) are for everyone.  But they’re not.  And we’ll often take money from anyone that wants to pay our ticket price. But we shouldn’t. Getting the WRONG people in to see your show will only generate bad word of mouth.  Target the people that are predisposed to like your show, and forget the rest. Your peer reviews (which, bonus tip, are more important to millennials than any other generation) will be better, and so will your bottom line.

3. Marketers need to hang out with more real people.

When I’m at a Broadway ad meeting, and a debate breaks out about something as simple as the size of a logo on a Post-It pad, I often wonder, “When was the last time anyone at this table actually purchased a theater ticket?” At the conference, we were challenged to not only put ourselves in the minds of our consumers but to find a way to spend more time with them.  Why?  Because let’s face it, I have no idea what it’s like to be a family of four from New Jersey looking to see a show in January.  So I should find out . . . by starting one of those aforementioned conversations!

(TIP:  One of the best ways to find out what challenges your audiences face is to . . . ready for it . . . ask them!  An email or social media post that says, “Hey, what keeps you up at night?” or “What would make you go to the theater more?” It might be enough!

4. Perfect is the enemy of speed.

One of the greatest advantages digital products have over traditional products is that they can be launched, and then, if there is a problem, the “producer” can fix it on the fly.  The conference speakers all preferred us, entrepreneurs, to “ship,” when the product is ready, not when it’s perfect. Writers should do this too.  Get your work out there.  Fix it as you go.  If you’re a playwright, and you haven’t had a play produced, get help and get it on a stage somehow.  And don’t try to be perfect, because it’ll be another twenty years before you’re ready to do something with your script.  And PS, it still won’t be perfect!

5. Customers only post things on Social Media when it elevates their status.

Take a moment, and think about this one . . . true right?  No one is taking photos of themselves, sitting in a middle seat in the back row of a Spirit Airlines flight.  But get an upgrade? Flash!  Instagrammed! You only post photos and videos of yourself that you believe will make you look good to your friends, family, and followers. So, if we want more Instagrams and Tweets and Facebook Videos, then we need to give our customers social media photo ops that do just that.

What photo ops can you give your fans to make them look like superstars?

 

Those were just five of the takeaways my team and I ran away with.  Truth is, we had about twenty pages of ’em.  If you want to see the rest, well just watch the marketing of one of my shows.  So much of what I learn is embedded in my projects.  Truth is, I don’t come up with a lot of my initiatives on my own.  I steal them. 🙂

But that’s ok . . . and it brings me to the biggest takeaway that I learned at one of the very first conferences I ever attended . . . and it’s this:

Every business, no matter what the industry, is the same.  “But my business is different,” is a BS excuse from someone who isn’t doing their marketing work.

Applying the classic principles of sales and marketing works for all businesses, including Broadway.

 

 

 

 

What does a Broadway Producer do? I’ll show you . . . LIVE.

In 2010, back in the early days of this blog, I got an email from a young lady who asked me, “What does a Broadway Producer do?”

I took her question, and sent it around to my Producing Peers and asked them to answer it in one sentence.  I posted all of the responses in a blog, that has since become one of my most read entries to date.  You can read it here.  (By the way – Young Inquisitive Lady who emailed me . . . who has probably now graduated from college and is hopefully producing somewhere . . . if you’re reading this, drop me a line and let me know what you’re up to.)

Flash forward eight years later, and just last Saturday I was interviewed by ABC radio and guess what the host asked?  Yep.  He didn’t know what a Producer did either.

I gave my usual answers about how a Broadway Producer is like a CEO or Chairman of the Board, or like any entrepreneur who starts a business.

And then I ended with why I love my job . . . because every day is different.  One day I’m getting the rights to a show, the next day I’m working on a new marketing initiative, then I’m opening a show, raising money for the next one, meeting songwriters, interviewing directors, courting stars, etc., etc.

And no matter how challenging each day may be, it’s all awesome.  Because it’s all about the theater.

The interview ended and my big takeaway was that despite my ten years of blogging, people out there were still wondering what Broadway Producers actually do!  Since part of my mission has always been to help demystify Broadway and the profession of The Producer, I knew I had to figure out another way to pull back the curtain.

And blogging and podcasting weren’t going to cut it this time.

So, starting today, I’m launching the most behind-the-curtain view into what I do.

Yep, I’m launching a series on Facebook Live called . . . #EveryDayIsDifferent.

Starting TODAY at around noon, I’ll host my first Facebook Live episode. And every weekday (and occasionally on a weekend), at least once per day, you’ll get a Facebook Live from me, telling you where I am, what I’m doing, and why #EveryDayIsDifferent.

You’ll catch me at ad meetings, agent meetings, openings, focus groups, investor meetings, and everything else that I do (and maybe even a glimpse into how I balance my work with my life/wife/soon-to-be-born Broadway baby).

I’ll explain what I’m up to and why I’m doing what I’m doing, daily.

For those of you who remember the 100 Days to Godspell, “Day By Day” blog (seen here), it’s a bit like that . . . but live and on camera.  (Ok, I just got a little nervous when I typed that – what have I gotten myself into!)

And this is a terrific time to get a glimpse into the day-to-day of what a Broadway Producer does, because we’re going into awards season with Once On This Island and I’m getting into the production phase of Gettin’ The Band Back Together.  (And I’m also announcing a new musical in development this very week so stay tuned!)

There will be lots of stuff going on, and you’ll get to see it all, including the good days, the bad challenging days, and everything in between.

So you wanna see what a Broadway Producer does?

All you have to do is click here and like me on Facebook.  You’ll be notified when I go live.  And if you miss it, the video will be stored for later, so you can watch it whenever.

Got it?

Just click here.  Like the page.  And remember, #EveryDayIsDifferent.

See you . . . (gulp) . . . live.

P.S. Want to learn how to produce a play? Click here for all the tips, tools and training you need.

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