Why a box office should be a bit like private school.

Ok, readers.  This is your official rant alert, so look out.  Ready?  Set?   Here goes . . .

I went to pick up four tickets to a big budget Broadway show recently that cost me about $500 buckaroos.

I approached that big scary glass partition (that I’ve blogged about before), and out popped a box office rep ready to serve me.  And serve me they did . . . wearing a well-worn sweatshirt and jeans, like they were working behind the counter at a Dairy Queen, not a Broadway box office.

Can you name me another industry that is trying to sell consumers a product priced over $100/each, with the average sale probably around $500,  that would let their front line sales reps wear a sweatshirt and jeans?  They have dress codes at The Gap, for G-D’s sake, why can’t we?

Maybe this was a fluke, as certainly not all box offices in town dress this way.  There are plenty of suit and tie BOs out there.    But frankly, this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen “dress down day” at a show, so I felt compelled to say/write something.

If you expect a customer to shell out megabucks for your product, you should dress to impress.  That’s sales training 101.  In fact, that’s sales training wheels 101.

And if you don’t want to make your employees have to figure out what to wear, then put them in a uniform, even if that’s just the same type of t-shirt.

It’s just respectful, especially when engaging in high-priced business transactions (or even when you just want them to buy an $15 Gap T-Shirt).

And treating our customers with respect is the best way to get them to “pay” their respects as well.

 

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Have you seen where the decisions are made?

There is a reason why Generals and Presidents visit the front lines, and it’s for more than just morale.  They visit so they can understand the conditions that face the troops.  The smart Generals, and the smart Presidents, learn a lot in those secret-until-the-last-minute-and-then-highly-publicized visits.  And they take that info home and develop new strategies to make their efforts more efficient.

Have you visited your front lines lately?

In NYC, Broadway tickets are distributed in a lot more areas than you think, and it’s important for Producers to take a tour of all the locations where their “birds” (street for ‘tickets”) are hawked.

What will you learn?

You’ll hear conversations from potential ticket buyers, as well as how the people peddling the tickets are pitching your shows.  You’ll see what advertising options are available, and what is influencing the buyer’s decision at that moment.  And I’m sure you’ll take that info home and figure out how to increase your presence in those areas to insure that you increase your sales.

Here are five spots that you should check out on your next rounds:

1.  Your Box Office

Duh.

2.  The TKTS Booth

I don’t care if you’re “at the booth” or not, you should spend a lot of time here.  The TKTS booth has the gravitational pull of the sun to theater lovers.  Rich, poor, it doesn’t matter. They flock to the booth.  I’ve learned more about what makes a consumer tick by standing in that line than I have in ten years behind a desk.

3.  Hotel Concierges

Full-price sales are the key to financial success on Broadway (which is why there’s a lot of lobbying going on to get the TKTS booth to sell FP tickets as well – and why shouldn’t they?).  Hotel concierges, most of whom work with a respected ticket agency like Americana, sell full price tickets (plus a markup).  So, doesn’t it make sense that you should see what’s happening at these desks that dot hotel lobbies around the city?  Just a poster up in their shop is a serious impression.

4.  The Times Square Information Center

Nestled in right next to the Palace Theatre, sits the Times Square Alliance’s Information Center, which has some cool museum-like artifacts of the old Times Square (check out the real live Peep Booths), a souvenir shop, and is also home to the Broadway League’s “Broadway Concierge & Ticket Center”.  In addition to tickets, the Ticket Center reps will talk restaurants and recommendations . . . and will do so in six languages.  And they even wear a uniform of all black that make us look like the 1st class industry we are (can someone explain to me why the TKTS ticket sellers aren’t required to where a TKTS shirt, a shirt and tie, or a See A Broadway Show t-shirt?  (Shoot, I know shows that would pay for those sellers to wear logo tees.  Ok, that’s pushing it, because TDF is a non-profit that can’t show individual show allegiance, but you get the point.)

Even though the Info Center is hard to find, there is a lot buying going on in there, so check it out.

They’ve even got a mini-stage, which made me wonder why we’re not doing live performances there a few times a week, and pulling people off the street to hear, oh, I don’t know, the lead from Mamma Mia! doing “Winner Takes It All”, etc.  Done at key times during the weekend, I bet it would get people into the center, and sell tickets.

5.  Sandwich Board Central

Out in front of the Marquis Theater, in the new pedestrian walkway, is a section of the city I call Sandwich Board Central.  Every Producer I know hates sandwich boards, until they see that they actually sell tickets.  I know what you’re saying, you’d never buy tickets from a guy passing out a flyer, but a lot of people do.  They only way to figure out why is to hang out in SBC for a while and listen.  It’s a specific type of buyer . . . and maybe you can learn how to get more of them . . . or better . . . maybe you can learn how to turn them into a buyer who gets their tickets before they see a sandwich board.

6.  Scalper Way

Up closer to the TKTS booth, you’ll find a bunch of folks, half of them looking homeless, screaming their lungs out, with a fan of tickets in their hand, trying to get rid of every show you can imagine, at every price you can imagine.  What they lack in teeth, they make up for in the old fashioned hard-sell.  And you know what’s amazing?  People actually buy tickets from them!!!  And that’s what I find interesting.  You can learn more from your enemies than you can from your friends.  So I do.

Purchasing a $135 ticket, or even a $50 ticket, doesn’t happen as easily as you might think.  There’s a lot of back and forth, and a lot more people wriggle off your hook than you think.

Paying a visit to the places where decisions are made can help you learn about the factors that go into these big decisions, and will allow you to make better decisions in how you bait your hook in the future.

 

 

Overheard at Angus: Volume VII

I eavesdropped on a couple of veteran producers the other day, one of whom was obviously in negotiations over a theater for an upcoming show.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Veteran #1:  I’m thinking of letting the audience drink during the show like they do at Rock of Ages.

Veteran #2:  Why not? Everyone’s doing it.  I bought my wife a sippy cup full of wine at Jersey Boys just last month. Boy are those theaters making more in bar revenue than ever before. The wine was 11 dollars!

Veteran #1:  11 dollars?

Veteran #2:  Yeah.  I had to ask them if it included a facility fee.

This conversation was funnier in person (partly because of the awesome pair of tweed pants Veteran #2 was wearing), but it also made me remember one of the downsides to capitalism in industries with challenging models.

The facility fee was tossed on top of ticket prices years ago to defray the costs of renovation, upkeep, etc. of these historic buildings.  It was getting more expensive to keep them in shape, so the theaters needed another revenue stream to offset some of the costs.

Now, at some shows, bar revenues are sky-high as drinking in your seats is encouraged.  I’d bet there is some serious found money being counted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this economic windfall was passed back to the consumer by eliminating the facility fee?

Or what about upping the price of the sippy cups by .50, as a drink tax (like a cigarette tax), and putting that towards the theater renovations, etc, making it an optional expense?

Doubt it’ll happen.  Once an income line hits your books, it’s hard to get it to disappear, even if 10 other lines follow it.

And that’s too bad . . . because the lines at our box office may suffer because of it.

My predictions for the 2.5 big Tony Award nominations.

It seems like just yesterday we were debating who would get snubbed in the 2008-2009 Tony noms (remember when Rock of Ages slipped in instead of 9 to 5?) . . . And already, it’s time to predict this year’s snubs!

Conventional Broadway wisdom says that there are only 2.5 Tony Awards that have a meaningful impact at the Box Office:  Best Musical, Best Play . . . and the half goes to Best Revival of a Musical.

So, I’m going to give you my predictions on what I think will be nominated for those 2.5 categories (as opposed to what I think should be nominated).

Best Musical

IMHO, there are three locks for the Best Musical nom this year:

American Idiot
Fela!

And the only completely original musical of the season . . .

Memphis

It’s the fourth slot that there’s some fighting over, especially since this season saw the elimination of the Special Theatrical Event category, which lumps at least four other titles into the Best Musical category.

So who will take the slot?

The two front runners are The Addams Family and Come Fly Away, with Everyday Rapture the next-in-line long shot.  My guess is that the Tony Committee will honor Rapture by nominating it’s star for Best Actress and maybe even Best Book, but they’ll leave it out of this category, which puts us back with the two choices that started this paragraph.

If I were one of the nominators sitting The Edison Cafe making the decision, I’d go with Addams Family solely to reward the original score and the original book over the beautifully danced, but is-it-really-a-musical, Come Fly Away.  You’ve got to give some points to Family for degree of difficulty, don’t you?

But, knowing what I do about the nominators and the process by which they choose these nominees, my gut says that they will nominate Come Fly Away, and for the third year in a row, snub the big, commercial choice (First Legally Blonde, then 9 To 5, and now Addams Family).

Best Play

Expect the biggest hit, A Steady Rain, to get a steady snub in this category.

Red is a shoe-in for a nod.  As is Next Fall.  The next two spots could go a bunch of different ways.  You’ve got the Brit hit, Enron, Mamet’s f’ing Race, and Superior Donuts, the follow-up play by the man who penned the biggest dramatic epic that we’ve seen since Angels in America.  And what about The Chris Walken show aka Behanding in Spokane, the buzzed about Vibrator Play, or the timely Time Stands Still?

I’m going with Time for the third slot.  And the fourth?

Tricky again . . . I’d like to say that it will be Donuts . . . but taking into account that nominators tend to forget the Fall (as we found out last year), I’m going to go with Enron (partly because bigger really is sometimes better in the eyes of nominators and voters).

Best Revival of a Musical

Sondheim will get another bday present with a nom for Night Music.  La Cage will get the second slot, and Ragtime will get the thanks-for-trying third nom.

But what about the fourth?  Finian’s or Promises?  Great reviewed versus great box office?  Fall versus Spring?

Put my money on Promises.

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Whew.  That was tough.  Thankfully, I’m only picking 2.5 of them.

The nominators are picking 26, and they’ll do it tomorrow.

On Tuesday, at 8:30 AM ET, the nominations will be announced live.  Watch on the web at TonyAwards.com.

But before then, tell me how you think I did with my choices in the comments below.

What do you think will get nominated?

I feel there’s something between us. Oh wait. It’s a wall.

A lot of customers I talk to are scared to buy tickets at box offices.

I wonder why . . .

Could it be the bullet proof glass and the creepy sounding microphones?

Broadway used to be a cash and hard-ticket business.  Barriers of bullet proof glass were necessary to protect potential smash-and-grabs.

But is this customer-service obstacle necessary in 2009, when the majority of tickets are purchased with credit cards, when we have e-tickets, when box offices don’t have to rack-and-stack as many performances in advance because the tickets can be printed as needed, and so on?

Yes, there are times when thousands and thousands of dollars worth of inventory are held behind those walls.

However, I’ve been to banks that don’t have the barriers box offices have. What about Walmarts?  Apple stores?  Jewlery stores?  God knows Tiffany’s keeps their valuable items behind glass, but you still get to talk to the seller face to face.  In fact, Tiffany’s is smart enough to know that their sales depend on that face time.

Surely there are plenty of other security measures we could put into place in the 21st century that could have the same, if not more of a protective effect as our ancient methods that undeniably have a detrimental effect on our consumers’ purchasing experience.

I’m all about safety.

I just want to make sure my customers feel safe as well.

And when I can create a closer bond between my customers and my sellers, there is a much better chance that my customers will come back.

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