Harry Potter and The Elusive Sponsor.

Getting a sponsor for a Broadway show seems like the stuff of fantasy. At every early ad meeting for a show that I’ve worked on, someone usually pipes up that we should find a sponsor to pay for some major expense, and trade away their name in our media, tickets, etc.

It’s always a great idea, and everyone around the table usually nods their head, yes.  Because in theory it makes perfect sense. Broadway shows are a highly visible, high-class product, and other big brands would definitely benefit from associating their wares with ours.

So why is it so rare?

Why, to give you a specific example, did not one of the 15 Marketing Directors for big brands fail to even return my call when I reached out to them with a very unique Broadway branding opportunity?

Here are a few of the excuses I’ve heard over the years from potential sponsors:

  • “It’s hard to associate ourselves with a product, before seeing the product.”
    • Brands don’t like to put their money or their name on something until it has already been introduced to the public.  It makes sense. If a show isn’t well received, does that feeling transfer to the brand? Besides, if a show gets out of the gate and is a hit, we usually don’t need the sponsor.
  • “There are not enough eyeballs.”
    • Even the most sold-out musicals can’t put more than 16,000 bodies (or 32,000 eyeballs) in the seats every week.  A lot of the live event sponsors like to sponsor one-time events that have 20,000 people plus in one night (think concerts, sporting events, etc.) PLUS millions on television.  Thems a lot of eyeballs!
  • “You may close tomorrow.  Then what?”
    • Since we can’t guarantee the length of the run, it’s hard for them to quantify the exposure of their brand.  And at the big brand level, it’s all about dollars and guaranteed impressions.
  • “I can’t advertise in the theater.”
    • Current contractual relationships between most theaters and Playbill, or their program provider, prevent the advertising of other commercial products inside the venue.  No signage, no manned or womanned display booths getting our customers to sign up for services, etc.
  • “It’ll take me too long to get this approved.”
    • Big businesses plan their quarters, their years, and sometimes their decades of underwriting in advance.  Often shows approach potential sponsors just a few months before opening, and at that point, discretionary underwriting funding is gone.

So what are we to do?  Is sponsorship an impossibility?

No.  Of course not.  We’ve got to come up with answers to these “my dog ate my homework” excuses, because there are work-arounds for everything . . . if we’re all willing to do the work.

– Want to know what the product is before you sponsor it?  Try a revival.  Or do you want to come to a reading?

– Not enough eyeballs?  The average Broadway musical probably spends $5 mill a year in paid media.  Get on some of that.  Or try a tour.  And we’ll start working on new media options for you.

– We may close tomorrow?  Put up less money if the risk is greater, but don’t stay on the sidelines.  Or find a show specialist that can tell you what shows have a potential of going down quick and which don’t (we all know, don’t we?).

– You can’t advertise in the theater?  The shows have more ways to reach our customers than ever before, so we can get to them (or start lobbying the theater owners).

– Too long to get approved?  We’ll start coming to you earlier.  We promise.

Everyone wonders why CBS continues to broadcast the Tony Awards every year despite disappointing ratings.  From what I hear, it’s because of the type of viewer that tunes in.  Tony Award watchers and theatergoers are highly educated and usually high-income individuals (Now it makes sense why Lexus, Cadillac, etc. advertise during the telecast, doesn’t it?).  And while there may not be a lot of them watching, they can afford big-ticket items.

Our audiences have significant value to corporations of all shapes and sizes.  We just have to do better at communicating our value, and finding more value for them.

Like Harry P himself, we’ve got to find a way to put them under our spell.

I’m going to cut this post short now, because I’ve got 15 corporations to follow-up with.

“When I say Broadway, you say . . .” Survey Results revealed.

My staffers and I got into a discussion last week about what the word ‘Broadway’ meant to our ticket buyers.  What sort of images did it conjure?  What did they associate with it?  In other words . . . what did the brand of Broadway actually mean?

We decided to find out.

I sent a couple of my loyal staff members (and the ones with the warmest coats) to the TKTS booth to ask 100 female theatergoers the following question (we asked only females because they drive the majority of the ticket purchases):

“What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say the word . . . Broadway?”

Below is a list of the responses (only responses given by more than one person are listed):

Shows 15%
Plays 9%
Musicals 8%
New York 8%
Music 6%
Dancing 5%
Wicked 5%
Fun 4%
Singing 4%
Lights 3%
Theater 3%
Chicago 2%
Crowds 2%
Fabulous 2%
Lion King 2%

Pretty interesting, huh?

Kudos to the three shows that got on this list.  When your show equals Broadway, you’re doing pretty well.  The other good news is what was NOT on this list: expensive, uncomfortable seats, etc.  Actually, only one person out of the hundred associated the word Broadway with “expensive,” and that one comment was the only negative word associated with Broadway in the survey.

Since we found this information to be so valuable, and since my staffers’ coats were really warm, we decided to ask another question in the same style, to the same people.  Ready?  Here goes:

“What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say the word . . . Off-Broadway?”

Below is a list of their responses:

Plays 12%
Don’t Know 9%
Cheap 6%
Not as fun 6%
Theater 4%
Altar Boyz 3%
Fun 3%
New York 3%
Shows 3%
Small 3%
Avenue Q 2%
Comedy 2%
Dancing 2%
More shows 2%
Shoes 2%

Pretty scary, huh?

9% of the individuals surveyed couldn’t even come up with a word to describe Off-Broadway!  And not only were there negative associations in this top group, as opposed to Broadway’s survey which had only positive, but these negatives continued on with the rest of the sample.  Words like “sad” and “meh” and “wannabes” were amongst the single responses we recorded.  In total, over 30% of the people surveyed had a negative first thought about Off-Broadway.  (For those of you who think we misspelled “shows” and put “shoes” instead, unfortunately, you’re wrong. Google Off-Broadway.  The second search result is the reason why 2% of our survey said shoes.)

The takeaway from this survey is pretty obvious: Broadway’s brand is healthy and positive, while Off-Broadway’s image is damaged . . . kind of like Martha Stewart when she went away to prison.

But Martha came back . . . and so can Off-Broadway.  It’s just not going to happen on its own.

A model for the rebranding of Off-Broadway tomorrow . . .

What is the first word YOU think of when you hear Broadway?  Off-Broadway?  Comment below.

(Special thanks to Lindsey and Ashley for braving the elements for this sake of this study.

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