Broadway’s return isn’t about marketing. It’s about habit-ing.

While we don’t exactly know when we’ll be able to ‘light the lights’ on Broadway just yet . . . there’s already been a lot of discussion about how to get our audiences’ butts back in our non-socially-distanced seats.

“What do we say to our audiences?”  “When and where do we say it?”  “What incentive or offer do we need to provide?”

These are all classic marketing questions whenever you bring a product to market . . . but no one on Broadway could ever have imagined we’d have to ask them to figure out how we bring our product back to market.

All of these questions need answers, and I have it on very good authority (cuz I’ve seen the plans myself) that some of the brightest advertising and marketing minds on Broadway EVER are working on this challenge just as hard as the scientists all over the world are working on a vaccine.

And they’re going to crack it.  And I’m sure we’ll see a fantastic return to Broadway campaign . . . as soon as we know when Broadway is going to return.

That said, to return to the record breakin’ levels Broadway was pre-Covid, and to grow beyond them, we’re going to be required to be more than marketers . . . we’re going to need to be habit-makers.

Stick with me here . . .

If you’ve ever tried to make a change in your life . . . exercise more, eat healthily, stop smoking, etc., then you know, that kind of change is haaaaard.

That’s because what you’re doing is trying to create a brand new habit in your life.

And that’s like trying to turn the Titanic.

You’re set in your ways.  You are “at rest.”  And just like Newton taught us, “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.”

Of course, it’s not impossible.  You can get to the gym, change your diet, drop your golf handicap, whatever you want . . . it just takes a lot of effort . . . and time.

How much time?

Well, there are all sorts of theories on how long it takes to create a habit. Some say 21 days.  Some say 30 days.  Some say months . . .

One of the best books I’ve read that had a huge habit-making impact on my personal and professional life is Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In it, James suggests it takes about two months to create an automatic habit (like getting up early, writing every day, etc.).

And here’s the problem that is related to theatergoing . . . the moment you skip a workout, binge on some Oreos instead of almonds, etc., the harder it is to get back on track.  Especially if that habit is expensive and time-consuming.  You’ve probably experienced this yourself, right?

Now, what does this have to do with the price of a Broadway ticket in a pandemic?

For the core Broadway theatergoer . . . going to Broadway is a habit.   Some have a once once a month habit.   Others 4x a year.  But however often they go . . . it’s a habit.

And that habit was just broken.  Big time.

To put it in terms we can all understand . . . We’re not just skipping going to the gym.  The gym was shut down entirely.

Pretty easy to just sit on your couch and not sweat, am I right?

And, when this sort of thing happens, it’s not only that old habits are broken.  It’s that new ones are created.  And those new habits are usually whatever is readily available and easy (enter the couch and the Oreos).  And right now, that might be, oh, I don’t know, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime . . . YouTube!  (Don’t get me started on why theater and Broadway isn’t more available on streaming platforms . . . actually DO get me started! I’ll just save it for a blog next week.)

If all this wasn’t enough, the longer that time goes by before we try to restore a broken habit, the harder it is to get it back again.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

So, to sum up . . .

For the average theatergoer, the habit of going to the theater is broken.  And new habits are taking its place.  And these new habits grow stronger every day, as the old habit of going to the theater grow weaker.

We’re not the only industry that this is happening to, of course.  People are creating new habits of cooking, and breaking habits of going out (this survey says half of the people who are cooking more will continue that habit.)  People can’t go to the gym, so they’re exercising at home, or not.

And these new habits will affect the rebound of the restaurant industry and the gym.

In any business, making your product a habit with the most amount of people possible is what makes your product a smash hit.  Checking your Facebook page, your morning Starbucks, Googling something every time you need an answer . . . habits are why these companies are billion-dollar empires.

Our job now is not just to market Broadway, but we must come up with ways to restore the theatergoing habit to the people who have lost it.

How do we do it?  Good question.

Good news/bad news?  We probably have a bit of time to figure it out.

So tell me, how would you put the habit of going to the theater back into the lifestyle of our audience?

Throw some ideas in the comments below and I’ll do a follow-up blog with some ideas in the next few weeks.

(Oh, and I meant it about that streaming blog . . . expect a rant coming soon to this space.)

 

———————–
P.S. Join me and my guest tonight as we go LIVE on my Facebook page. I’m thrilled to be sitting down with Julie Halston (Tootsie, On The Town, Hairspray) at 8pm EDT here.

 

Cuomo had a big marketing problem. Guess who he asked for help?

The Governor of NY wants his citizens to wear masks.

And he ran out of ways to get people to do it.

That, my friends, is a marketing problem.  He’s trying to sell something.  And not enough people are buying.

So, he hired a big fancy ad agency to come up with a TV ad to get people to wear masks, right?

Wrong!

He didn’t hire anybody.  Instead, to solve one of the most important marketing dilemmas of all time, he asked his daughter for help.

And she came up with the idea for a “Make Your Own Mask Commercial” contest.

Here’s how it works:

You make a video telling NYers why they should wear a mask.   You upload it to a website.  They pick five finalists.  NYers vote for their favorites.  The top vote-getter has their video turned into a PSA commercial that runs on the air.  (And probably launches the career of a filmmaker.)

(You can learn more about the contest, including how to submit, here.)

Amazing, right?  Sounds like our Social Distancing Festival.

What I love about this idea is that it didn’t come from the Communications Director for the State of NY.  No.  When faced with a crisis, on pandemic proportions or even if you’re just producing a play, you don’t just ask the experts . . . you ask everyone!

The best ideas win, and just like in this case, the winners often come from the “audience” themselves, not just from people paid to think like an audience.

 

Oh, and also . . . please wear a mask.

And then submit a video about it!

 

Why Broadway May Have An Advantage Before It Opens Back Up

At the start of my first of seven (!) Zoom calls today, one of the participants said, “Ok, new Zoom rule – we are not allowed to talk about when Broadway is coming back.”

“Agreed!”

“Yes!”

“Love that!”

We all echoed electronically.

Then we broke that pact about seven seconds later.

We just couldn’t help it!

Since none of us can avoid this “Who shot JR” question I might as well talk about it here too.

Here are the two things that we absolutely know, for a fact, about Broadway’s return.

  1. We don’t know when Broadway is going to come back.
  2. It’s going to be later than everyone wants.

Sorry, but that’s ALL that we know.

So now what do we talk about?!?!?!?

I’ve got an idea . . . how about we talk about that 2nd thing . . . and how being later gives Broadway an advantage over any other gatherings out there.  And how that advantage could mean our audiences come back quicker than elsewhere.

See, here’s the thing . . .

Broadway is not going to lead the comeback of theater.

Hard to imagine, but Broadway is not going to be first.

We’re the epicenter, for goodness sake.  And our theaters are smaller.  And the lines for the bathrooms.  Scheez.

We shouldn’t come back first.

And, as we know, states are already starting to loosen their stay-at-home restrictions.  And, provided they go well (everything crossed!), after bowling alleys and hair salons will come churches and restaurants . . . and eventually, theaters.

That’s right, the theater will come back in the United States via community theaters, regional theaters, touring productions . . . before Broadway.

In fact, right now, theater IS back in other places around the world.  (Seoul, Korea has a production of Phantom performing now, as well as others!)

The upside to being last?

We get to see how everyone else does it before we even try.

Broadway will get to learn from all these theatrical test cases before we let one patron enter our blessed buildings.  We get to watch what other markets do and find out works, what doesn’t . . . and what we need to do better.

We’ll have tons of data on how to do it the right way.  AND, here’s the double-bonus . . . if the theaters open around our country and around the world and there is no increase in infection rate?  Well, they’ll be that much more comfortable coming to see a show in the theater capital of the world.  They’ll have dipped their toe into the gathering-market.

So, while it usually isn’t good for any business to be last-to-market, in this case, it may be a blessing.

 

Because of this, I’d have Broadway minds and Regional Theater minds working together.  Our success is their success and vice-versa.

(Action Item:  If you’re a theater owner, operator, or just plan TheaterMaker – reach out to a peer in another state, or even someone who might in “ordinary times” be considered a competitor and work together.  Never before has the theater world been so connected.  And it’s that connection that will get us through this.)


P.S. Tonight on the livestream, I’m joined by Tony-nominated Director Michael Arden and Actor Andy Mientus! Tune in at 8pm EDT to find out what they’ve been up to recently . . . click here to set your reminder!

 

[Your Input Needed] What Can We Do To Make Our Theatergoers More “Comfortable” Post COVID?

I need your help.

Scratch that.

Broadway . . . nope.  Scratch that too.

The theater needs your help.

The good news is that our city, state, and federal officials are turning their attention towards how we open up our country again.  While our eyes must continue to be on the ball of stopping the spread of this piece of @#$% virus, it looks like we’ve made enough progress to at least start thinking about how we open up our offices, our restaurants, and yes, our theaters.

(Although, for the record, there are some elected officials out there who seem to think that going bowling is more important than stopping the spread right now – and to the citizens of those states, I say this . . . just because someone says it is ok to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do that thing.  It’s legal to smoke, but that doesn’t mean anyone should do it.  Same thing here, folks – except this @#$% of a @#$%ing virus could kill you a lot faster than smoking.  Sorry to be so direct – but, well, there ain’t no time for niceties.)

The theaters will probably be the last to get the go-ahead from the Doctors and other folks whose opinions are not politically motivated that it’s ok to proceed with our plays and musicals . . . which is where you come in.

The world has shifted.  We’ve lost months.  And millions of dollars.  Thousands of jobs.

And we could lose hundreds of thousands of theatergoers.

To put it in marketing-speak . . . there is more friction now than ever before preventing the casual theatergoer from buying a ticket.

They’re scared.

Our job as theatrical Harold Hills (salesmen and saleswomen) is to simply REDUCE THAT FRICTION to not just telling them they are safe, but making them so.

While the theatergoer might be concerned with the cost of a ticket, I’d postulate that they are going to be more concerned with whether or not they can get sick as a result of buying that ticket . . . even when the doctors say it’s ok to gather.

So . . . what can we as theater producers, artistic directors, venue operators, etc. do to make our theatergoers more comfortable with not just buying a ticket, but actually going to the theater.

I’ve got some ideas.  And I’m going to list them below.  But this blog is not meant to be a “10 Things I’d Do To . . . ” entry.  Because we’re in unchartered territory here, to say the least.  And what do I know?

This blog is meant to be a giant whiteboard where you can scribble down your ideas.

That’s right . . .

I want YOU to give me YOUR IDEAS on how to make our audiences feel more comfortable when they come back to the theater.

Fill up the comments with suggestions, thoughts brainstorms, ideas, etc.  And there is no idea too big, too “crazy” or too challenging.  Just put it up.  Don’t even think about it too much.  Pretend that this is a sprint.  You have 30 seconds to come up with as many ideas as possible!  Go!

Let’s get 100 or more so we have more of a chance of finding the silver marketing bullet that helps keeps our customers safe when they come back to us.  And I promise to sift through them and pass them on to our industry leaders.

Because who better than to tell us what we need to do next, than you, people who actually buy tickets.

Ok, I’m going to kick this off with 10 free-associated ideas in no particular order . . . put 30 seconds on the clock . . . and here I GO!

HOW TO MAKE THEATERGOERS MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THEATERGOING POST COVID

  1. Signage in all bathrooms reminding not just employees to wash their hands but reminding EVERYONE to wash their hands.
  2. A pre-show email that offers free-exchanges for anyone not feeling feel, with a reminder of symptoms to look out for and a recommendation they take their own temperature before they leave the house on the day of the performance . . . even if they have no symptoms.
  3. Show branded masks distributed to theatergoers on the way in (I told you there was no idea too crazy!).
  4. No physical tickets so no ticket pickup – electronic tickets only.
  5. Asking for “Recommended Sanitation Guidelines For Large Venues” from the CDC, adhering to them, and asking for a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” that will show patrons we’re “Following the guidelines prepared by the federal government.”
  6. Opening the theaters earlier.
  7. Temperature checks of patrons at the theater.
  8. Hand sanitizer becomes the new Ricola both backstage and front-of-house.
  9. Merchandise sold outside the theaters or online only (this one was hard for me to type – because it would definitely affect a show’s bottom line).
  10. “At-Risk” social distanced performances . . . taking a cue from the grocery stores, certain shows (Wednesday matinees perhaps?) are designed for at-risk audiences and only 30-50% of the house is sold to allow for social distancing.

How I’d do?  Any have merit?

I’m sure you can do better.  So let’s see ’em.  Great ideas are out there.  The fact is, and we’re going to need them all.

So, ready, set  . . . GO!

(And please share this blog – the more ideas – the better chance the theater has in getting back to where it was the fastest!)

—————
P.S. I’ll be going LIVE tonight on my Facebook page with Tony-nominated Composer Joe Iconis (Be More Chill, Broadway Bounty Hunter). Join us here at 8pm EDT.

 

Why Politicians Need A Marketing Lesson To Get People To Stay Inside.

In his daily midday address the other day, the butt-kickin’ Governor of NY, Andrew Cuomo, once again tried to emphasize how important it was that everyone stayed the @#$% inside during this crisis.

“I’ve tried to say this so many different ways,” he said, obviously frustrated that he was still not getting his message through to all the right people.

And he’s not the only one.

“Staying inside saves lives,” all the Politicians and Docs have said over the past few weeks.  “Because sure, sure, 80% of the folks who get it will recover, but you could pass it on to someone that is one of the unlucky folks who don’t.  So stay inside to help others.”

Makes sense.  A very compelling argument, right?

Of course.  But unfortunately, it’s just not enough for a heck of a lot of people.

What all the folks behind those podiums are forgetting is that they are selling something.  It’s just not a product that comes in an Amazon box.  It’s a message.  And that message could be more valuable than Jeff Bezos’s entire net worth.

And to get people to “buy” it, they need to go back to marketing basics.

When designing a marketing campaign of any kind, you must remember The Non-Golden Rule . . . people do things for what’s in it for them.  As ugly as it is to admit . . . self-interest is the public’s primary motivating factor.

Gross but true.

So telling people how staying inside will help other people may not be the most effective way to get these folks to actually do it.

It should be part of the argument, for sure.  But in my opinion, the Politicians and Doctors are missing out on a very important part of the message. . .

And the lead that they’ve buried is this . . . even though 80% of the people who get this thing may not have to go to the hospital, they could be dreadfully and disgustingly ill.

I was reminded of this myself when I read Drew Gasparini’s Instagram Story the other day.  If you don’t know him, Drew is a composer-who-will-be-reckoned-with (he’s the guy behind the upcoming Karate Kid score and he was featured on my Podcast recently as #SongWriterOfTheWeek) who also just battled COVID-19 and is now, thankfully, on the other side.

But before he broke the virus’s back, this is what he went through:

It is not hyperbolic when I say this is easily the sickest I’ve ever felt to the point that my own mind was questioning whether or not I was going to be able to wake up the next day.

There was nothing to prepare me for how god awful it is.  I am on day 10, and I am very very slowly turning the corner but my experience was so bad that I am still very much just a shell of myself.  I have never in my life felt as sick or scared that my body couldn’t handle something in my entire life. Ever. Not even close.

Here’s what my week felt like:

  • Constant fever between 100-103 (treated every 4-6 hours with Tylenol)
  • Chills and aches. Sometimes it got so bad that I would shiver when I left bed to the point that I would fall to my knees and have a hard time getting back up.
  • No taste or smell (this is common with this virus)
  • The fatigue was (still is) so bad I could barely lift my head or open my eyes. The most I traveled was from my bed to the couch and I really weighed out the bathroom trips.
  • Perpetual nausea. It was constant, and painful as I tried to force nutrients into my body…
  • Anytime I did eat it would be immediate (overshare) diarrhea.
  • A cough, that once it started it would become a long coughing fit

– Drew

So tell me, readers.  Even if you knew you’d recover . . . do you want to deal with any of that, never mind all of that?

And I’ve heard even worse from others.  One friend and industry professional I know had to take pain-killers because his body aches were so bad.

Another threw up blood.  Another had blood coming out the other end.

I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to make me stay inside and bodywash with sanitizer.

And that message could affect the behavior of others in the way the politicians, doctors, and everyone wants and needs.

Hearing what the virus has the potential to do to YOU not only gets at the self-interest in all of us, but it also invokes one of the other primary marketing axioms . . . The Pain-Pleasure Principle.

People will always run to pleasure.  And run from pain.

The current marketing of this “stay inside” message hasn’t showcased enough personal pain to get some of the population to trade in the pleasure of going to spring break, gathering at friend’s apartments, etc.

In fact, the “marketing” has done the opposite.  The current message, and I’m quoting a website here, is “Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.”

While that may be true, and while it does prevent panic, from a marketing perspective, it doesn’t help keep people locked down.  If we want people to listen, we need to tell them, “You can get this.  And yes, you’ll most likely recover.  But in the process, it could hurt.  A lot.  So prevent yourself from the chance of (INSERT DISGUSTING SYMPTOMS HERE) and stay inside.  Doing so will keep you feeling great, and could also save the lives of your friends, family and fellow New Yorkers.”

(This theory is the same that was used in those very successful anti-smoking ads that show people speaking with no larynx, etc.)

I’m sure most of the people who read this blog are the part of the population who are staying inside.  But if you know people who aren’t, and you really want to get them to stay inside, use the above message on them, will ya?

And special thanks to Drew for his honesty.

– – – – –

Last night on our live stream we featured Actor, Producer, Artrepreneuer ALAN CUMMING!  Click here to watch the replay and hear him talk about . . .

  • How he’s utilizing this time of forced isolation to write his next book. . . and bake homemade crackers!
  • His number one tip to negotiating (you may be surprised by his response . . .)
  • What he’s learned from doing his podcast, Homosapiens.

And tonight at 8 PM EDT, we have stage director Leigh Silverman joining us!  Click here to get a reminder to tune in!

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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