What Broadway Box Offices and Subways have in common.

A lot of people will tell you that our, ahem, “challenges,” are unlike the challenges faced in any other industry.

Well, I’ve got news for us . . . we’re not that special.

One of my entrepreneurial mentors, who has coached a thousand business owners over his career always told me, “Think your business is different?  You’re wrong.”

Of course, products may be different, demographics may be different, the sales cycle may be different, but the basic foundational principles of businesses are similar.

That’s why I love reading about the obstacles other industries face, in the hopes that I can use them as a case study for Broadway.

And poof, here comes one from our beleaguered subway system.

There was an interesting article in the Times not too long ago, about how station agents behind their glass walls have become less cost-effective over the years, as more and more riders use MetroCards purchased from a machine with their credit card, rather than throwing some coins down for a ride (83% of all rides are metro carded now).  Add in the riders (like me) who get the “refillable” card sent to them at home, and fewer and fewer folks have the need to conduct any transaction with a person.

But, NYC has been slow to adopt any changes unlike other cities around the country.

Starting to sound familiar?  Labor intensive?  Slow to change?  Tickets that can be received at home, or from a “machine.”

I know, you’re thinking, “Ken wants to cut jobs.  That’s a producer for you.  Cutting union gigs.”

And you’d be wrong.

The big takeaway from this article wasn’t just about cutting gigs.  It was about redeployment.

But they’re not talking cutting jobs.  They are talking about changing duties (and even the subway works union agrees that something should be done . . . before jobs ARE cut).

In the subway case, they are talking about allowing station agents to help passengers off the train, providing service to the riders looking as they stand on the tracks, etc.  They are talking about getting them out of the glass box and interacting directly with our consumers.

Why?  Because riders polled LIKE having the station agents.  And I bet our ticket buyers LIKE having our box office attendees as well.

As we become more and more cashless, and as we become more print-at-home, maybe an idea is to allow our box office personnel to become even more of an integral part of our promotion and advertising team (they are the few folks that actually talk to our customers).  Maybe we just get them out from behind those glass walls that, frankly, are so antithetical to any sales process (ever been to an Apple store?  It’s no coincidence that their salespeople walk the stores, conducting transactions from a phone that fits in their pocket).

Often when technology changes and customer needs morph, and either management or labor feels pressured by a change, both sides dig their heels as to why something can’t happen.

What I love about what’s happening underground is that the focus is not on cutting jobs, but about how to make their customers more content.

Because that’s the only way to guarantee a healthier business . . . in any industry.

Read the article here.

How my very first negotiation went wrong.

I was very excited when I started my very first big-time negotiation.  It was over twenty years ago now, and looking back, it wasn’t even that big of an issue.  Just a small contract with a vendor that my boss had tasked me with.  “Get a great deal,” he said.  He gave me a budget.  I wanted to come way under.

But this was my very first negotiation, so I treated it like I was arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court . . . with cameras watching.

And I thought I was ready.  I mean, I had watched enough LA Law as a kid (in fact, I wanted to be a lawyer at one point . . . so that’s all it takes to be a good negotiator, right?).

Nope.

And at some point in the negotiation, it started to go a little sideways.  I thought I was being treated “unfairly” . . . so I did what I thought I was supposed to do.  I blew up.  And I said some things that I thought would make the vendor give in.

You know what happened?  Instead of giving in, they dug their heels in . . . and while I did come in a sliver under budget, I know I could have done much better with a different approach.  And instead, I walked away with an ok deal and a vendor who didn’t like me oh so much.

Is the takeaway of this blog not to blow up during negotiations?  Actually no.  (There is a time and place for the right amount of steam-blowing depending on the issues and parties involved.)

The biggest lesson that I learned from my very first negotiation happened after the negotiation was completed.

The very next day, my boss called me into his office and said, “We’re doing a reading of a new show.  There’s no budget.  We need a favor from VENDOR.  Call them and see if they’ll help us out on this one for next-to-nothing.”

Gulp.

Here’s the thing about this industry.  It’s about the size of a pin head on a pin head.  That means you have to be very careful with how you treat people during your negotiations, because odds are, you’re going to be in another negotiation with the same parties very soon (the very next day in my case!).  And one bad negotiation with another party, can lead to a lifetime of them.

I ate major crow that day with the vendor and managed to salvage the relationship (took me about three lunches, a Yankees game and a popcorn tin at Christmas to do it), and it’s a good thing I did, because I’m still negotiating with them TODAY.

Negotiating is one of the most important skills an individual can possess.  Everything in our business (and in our lives) is a negotiation.  Whether that’s a theater deal, a deal with a writer/actor or designer, or whether that’s negotiating with an employee to make sure they finish a project by a deadline, or negotiating with a spouse on where to go on vacation, or who should walk the dog at night.

Without a doubt, a skillful negotiator can achieve success in their chosen area much faster than someone who just watched a lot of LA Law.

That’s why after my first botched negotiation, I studied the art of deal making like I was preparing for a Supreme Court case.  I read books, took seminars, engaged in live-negotiation exercises and more.  And, I’ve spent the last twenty years, honing those skills in all sorts of negotiations with agents, unions, theater owners and more, all while learning the very unique nuances of negotiating in the arts (which is different than any other industry).

Since negotiating is such an important part of what we all do, I’ve decided to make it the subject of my next webinar, The Art of Negotiating . . . in the Arts  . . . which will take place next Wednesday, January 11th at 7 PM.

During this one hour session (including a Q&A), you’ll learn:

  • The most important part of any negotiation.
  • How do deal with . . . ahem . . . “difficult”  negotiators (and we’ve got a lot of them in this biz).
  • When to walk away . . . no matter how hard that may be (this is so hard in the arts since we’re so emotionally attached to our projects).
  • The one thing you can do to get an advantage in every single negotiation you have.
  • The tricks skillful negotiators will use on you and how to avoid them.

The webinar is $149.  Click here to register now.

Or you can save over $50 and get it for free when you join TheProducersPerspectivePRO for only $97.

And when you join pro, you get full access to PRO including all the other webinars from this past year, contacts lists, my monthly newsletter, networking events (including one on the 21st) and more.  Click here to learn more about PRO (including video testimonials from members).

The average person will enter into thousands of negotiations every single year . . . from in-depth business negotiations (including for your own salary) to negotiating with an airline to get reimbursement when they lose your bag (I just negotiated a free ticket from a major airline when they lost my bag yesterday).

I guarantee you’ll end up getting more out of your negotiations this year when you take this webinar.

See you next Wed.

Sign up for The Art of Negotiating . . . in the Arts for $149.

Join PRO and get the webinar for $97.

 

 

My Theater Management Rule of Three.

As a Producer, General Manager, Company Manager . . . or Manager of Anything (including a family, by the way). . . keeping your company/actors/employees/KIDS happy and productive is an integral part of being an effective leader.

You’ve heard the expression, “Happy wife, happy life.”

Well, I always say, “Happy staff, happy accountants when they look at your P/L statement for the year.”

(Ok, that didn’t really have the right ring to it, but you get the idea.)

It was on my first tour as a Company Manager (the National Tour of Jekyll & Hyde in 1999-2000) when I came up with one of my principle rules of Theater Management, which I call the Theater Management Rule of Three.

It was a great check for me to make sure I was doing my job.

It went like this:

If ever I got the same question from three different people, I knew that I wasn’t delivering information that my company needed in an appropriate time frame.

Let me explain . . .

I remember the day I came up with this policy specifically and it had to do with one of the biggest concerns for Actors on the road.

An ensemble member came into my office one day and said,”Ken, when is the Boston housing selections coming out?”

I was a rookie manager back then, so I semi-blew him off saying to myself, “These guys know that I always deliver the housing options eight weeks before the date.”

And then another person asked.

And then another.

Finally, a bit annoyed, I shot back to the third Asker, “What’s the deal?  Why are you guys asking about Boston so soon?”

This chorus girl smartly shot back even faster, “We know Boston is going to be more expensive, and we want more time to think about other alternatives.”

Oops.

I worked like a mad dog for the rest of that day getting the info I needed and put out the housing choices the next day.  And then I apologized to everyone and told them I’d work hard to have my finger on the pulse on their needs better in the future.

And that’s why if someone asks me a question, it’s one thing, but if I get two asks, then I’m getting to tardy territory, and three . . . well, I’ve effed up.

Because, if three people have the same question, in whatever group of people you’re managing, then that means there are probably a heck of a lot more peeps with the same question . . . and you have a responsibility to get them some information and fast.

Don’t?  Well, those questions fester . . . and then, they end up coming up with answers themselves, which are never good.

Now look, sometimes you don’t have the information . . . and that’s ok . . . but that doesn’t mean you hide under a pile of coats until you do have the info.  No. That’s when you say, “Hey everybody, I’m sure you’re concerned about Boston housing. We’re working on it now and I will have it for you on XXX date.”

End of questions.

Companies want to know they are taken care of, which means answering questions before they even have them.

(BTW, the inspiration for this blog came from the fact that I just broke my own rule very recently.  In the last week, I got about TWENTY (That’s over 6x my rule of three) emails from people asking me about my annual holiday Producer’s Perspective Social.  Where would it be?  When would it be?  Would I be wearing my Santa hat again?

The fact is, we are having a social.  But over the past few years, the social has exploded.  And so many people who really would have loved to be there, couldn’t get it because the event “sold out” too soon.  And then some folks didn’t show, which made me feel bad for the people who we had to say no to.  And getting a proper venue has been super challenging.  It was starting to get a little messy.

I didn’t want to do away with it entirely, especially because I just love meeting people who feel the same way about the theater that I do.  So we decided to do a smaller one this year for just my ProducersPerspectivePRO members, my coaching clients, our theater and GM clients, some investors, etc. etc.  I invited them privately and wasn’t even going to talk about it on the blog, but then I got those questions and realized I broke my own rule. So, mea culpa.  And if you did want to come, there is still a bit of room. Just get a free trial to PRO and you’ll get an invite.)

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here  then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

– – – – –

FUN STUFF:

– WEBINAR ALERT: “Diving into Royalty Pools” next Wednesday, December 14th at 7PM ETClick here to register.  Or get it for FREE when you join Pro.

 Listen to Podcast Episode 101 with the Tony Award Winning Director and Diversity Advocate, Kenny Leon! Click here.

– Get everything you need to help get your show off the ground when you join TheProducersPerspectivePro for free.  Join the club today.

The ONE Most Important thing Broadway can learn from the Olympics.

I’ve been at this bloggin’ thing for a few Olympic cycles now, and I’ve written about what we can learn from the Games before.

And as I watched Simone Biles vault to heights never seen before (that girl has got some “ups” as my JV Basketball Coach used to say), and Michael Phelps swim faster than a fish, I started to put together another “Top 10 Takeaways” blog like the others I’ve done.

But one of those takeaways was way too important to get lost in the shuffle. (And sometimes, and this goes for your personal and professional goals as well btw, when a To-Do list is too long, you lose focus on getting the most important stuff done first.)

So I scrapped the other nine things the theater can learn to put an Olympic-sized spotlight on one.

And it’s a simple one. But often, it’s the simple things you can do that can have the biggest effect.

On the Olympic website, there’s a call to action banner that says something like, “Wanna be an Olympian?”

Click it and it’ll take you to a micro-site called the Gold Map, which then allows you to pick the specified sport you’re interested in and gives you all sorts of info about getting involved with that sport including where to train, local competitions, and much more.

Now, the Olympic designers know that the odds of this site leading someone to the medal stand is lower than the odds of me beating Usain Bolt in the 100m dash.

But that’s not their point.

The mission of this “Gold Map” initiative is to increase engagement. Because they know the future audience and supporters of the sport come from people who have played the sport.

Guess what?

The same is true for the theater.

An NEA report concluded that people who were involved in the theater/arts were much more likely to attend the arts later in their lives.

So the key to creating the next generation of Broadway audiences, investors, staffers, and more, is getting more people involved in the theater . . . wherever they are.

And that’s what our industry and all theater companies should focus on, no matter where in the world they are. Oh and a simple action item to start this ball rolling?

We should steal from the Olympics. Why doesn’t each show have a page on their website that says, “Do you want to get to Broadway? Here’s how . . .” With a link to a page that talks about community theaters and college training programs and books and podcasts from performers and more.

There are a lot of people out there interested in what you and I do every day. They just need a little help to find their way.

It’s up to us to show them the Yellow Brick Road to Broadway.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

– – – – –

FUN STUFF:

– Listen to Podcast Episode 85 with Producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron! Click here.

– Enter the Sunday Giveaway to win two free tickets and a signed playbill to An Act of GodClick here to enter.

– Get everything you need to help get your show off the ground when you join TheProducersPerspectivePro for free.  Join the club today.

 

Why a Rain Dance reminded me what Theater can (and should) do.

I was in suburban Massachusetts last weekend visiting the ‘rents, when I stumbled on a story of a small town Selectman that reminded me of what our shows should endeavor to do.

There’s a bit of a drought in central Mass, believe it or not.  In some locales, they’ve instituted daytime watering bans, encouraged people to cover their pools, and tried to educate the public on a myriad of other water conservation methods.

But, from what I’ve heard, it wasn’t quite working.  No one was paying attention to the flyers and signs and overly didactic articles about saving water (boring!).

So one politician from a small town with Native American roots tried something a little different.

He put on a show.

He contacted a Native American tribe from the area and asked them to put on a Rain Dance in the town square on a Saturday afternoon.  He publicized it as a free event for all ages.  Bring the whole family and watch this ancient tradition.  They added some food and arts and crafts, and all of a, sudden it was a Rain Dance Festival.

And a ton of people showed up.

Once in that small captive area, the town leaders were able to speak directly to the audience about water conservation, hand out flyers, and educate what was previously a reluctant group on the current drought, and what everyone could do about it.

And while the town citizens learned . . . they had fun.

This politician used entertainment as a way to get his message across.  And isn’t that what great theater is supposed to do?  It serves an audience spoonfuls of sugar with songs and dancing girls and big sets, but some of the best shows out there (West Side Story, Kinky Boots, etc.) deliver an important message to the audience without them even knowing it.

People go to the theater for one primary reason . . . to be entertained.  That doesn’t mean you can’t educate them at the same time, but the job of the Producer and the Playwright is to entertain first and educate second.

(By the way, the same way this politician used entertainment to deliver his message, so can CEOs, Pastors, Managers and anyone in a leadership position.)

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

– – – – –

FUN STUFF:

– Listen to Podcast Episode 85 with Producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron! Click here.

– Enter the Sunday Giveaway to win two free tickets and a signed playbill to An Act of GodClick here to enter.

– Get everything you need to help get your show off the ground when you join TheProducersPerspectivePro for free.  Join the club today.

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