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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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.

Panel Alert: How to Produce an Off-Broadway Show

About a decade ago, when I was contemplating how I would get into the game of commercial theater producing, I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t write a ten-million dollar check.  Nor did I know enough people that would allow me to amass that type of money.

So, producing a Broadway show right out of the gate was out.

Maybe my assessment of my ability to write checks or raise money at that stage was a bit of what a self-helper would call a ‘limiting belief,’ but hey, it was true.

I’ve always been a ‘one small step-at-a-time’ guy, anyway . . . so I set my sites on Off-Broadway productions that I knew I could finance (if I found product that was good enough), and that would also get me greater control so I could do some of the crazier ideas I had up my short sleeves.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and I encourage new Producers to follow a similar path.

If you’d like to hear just what it takes to produce Off-Broadway and want to hear how others got in the game, The Off-Broadway Alliance is sponsoring a panel discussion called “Producing Off-Broadway – Think Outside The Box” on Sunday, June 6th at Noon at the Snapple Theater Center on 50th and Broadway (doors open at 11:30 for comp coffee and networking opps).

The panel will feature my Off-Broadway producing peers Amy Danis, Scott Morfee, Eva Price and Orin Wolf.  It’ll be moderated by Jeremy Gerard of Bloomberg News.

Unfortunately, I can’t make the event because I’ll still be in Florida with Miss A, but if you’re got a hankering to produce Off-Broadway, you should skip your Sunday brunch and get to the Snapple center.

The event is free, but you have to make a reservation to get admission.

Click here to reserve a spot before June 4th.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what that image is . . . you’ve got me.  It was just the first one that popped up when I Googled Off-Broadway.

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Another study on Broadway performance schedules. Results revealed.

As a follow-up to their recent report on the Broadway audience’s preference for certain performance times, Telecharge dug a bit deeper and did another study to determine “whether there was a consumer preference for matinees on Wednesday, for 7 PM curtains on weekdays, and 2 PM curtains on Saturdays.”

I was going to summarize the results for you, but frankly, the report is so fascinating that I’m printing it verbatim, with a huge hat tip to Telecharge for sharing their results with the community.

It’s info like this that will help us break through the ceiling that we’ve been hitting our heads on over the last few years.

Here is what Telecharge found out:

SUMMARY

  • Wednesday is not necessarily the preferred day for a weekday matinee. Nearly 80% said they would see a matinee on another weekday other than Wednesday.  Friday was the day selected by most of those expressing a preference.
  • The majority of respondents would prefer more weekday curtains to be at 7PM and would be more inclined to go on another night if the show was at 7PM.
  • While most customers prefer the 2PM curtain time on Saturdays, when offered a range of times, nearly one third preferred a later time.

DETAILED RESULTS

7PM Curtain Time

  • When asked whether curtain time was a factor in the choice of the day of the week on which you saw a Broadway show, 52% said yes, 48% no.
  • 72% would be more inclined to see a show on another day of the week at 7PM.
  • 69% would prefer if there were more days of the week when shows performed at 7PM.
  • 36% would prefer 7PM shows on Thursday
    • 21% prefer Monday
    • 16% prefer Wednesday
    • 13% prefer Friday
    • 14.5% prefer Saturday
    • 10% skipped the question (No other question saw as many customers skip answering.)
  • 53% care when the show ends, 47% care when it starts
  • 67% want to eat before the show, 20% after
  • 56% choose performance based on seat location, 39% on price, 5% on performance time.
  • 42% of respondents were not from NY or NJ.
  • 26.5% of respondents work in NYC, twice as many as the other groups.

Wednesday Matinee

  • 69% said Wednesday would NOT be their first choice for a daytime matinee performance.
  • 79% would see a matinee on another weekday other than Wednesday.
  • 50.5% said the day of the week did not matter
    • 37% prefer Friday
    • 7% prefer Thursday
    • 3.5% prefer Tuesday
  • 59% said 2PM is their preferred time
    • 19% prefer 1 PM
    • 4.5% prefer 12 noon
    • 17% prefer 3PM
  • 59% care when the show starts, 41% care when it ends
  • 39% want to eat before the show, 55% after
  • 36% of the respondents were not from NY or NJ.
  • 14% work in NYC

Saturday Matinee

  • 72.5% said 2PM was their preferred time for a matinee.  16% had no preference, 12% said they wanted a different time.
  • 49% said a different time would not work better, 34% had no preference, 17% wanted a different time.
  • 56% preferred a 2PM matinee
    • 31% prefer a later time (2:30PM, 3PM or 3:30PM)
    • 13% prefer an earlier time (1PM or 12 noon)
  • 55% care when the show starts, 45% care when it ends
  • 56% prefer to eat dinner after the show, 39% eat lunch before
  • 44% of the respondents were not from NY or NJ.
  • 13% work in NYC

Observations

A majority of customers who saw 7PM shows are more concerned about when a show ends, while a significant majority of Wednesday matinee customers (and a smaller majority of Saturday matinee customers) care what time the show starts. Most matinee customers want to eat after the show, while a majority of the 7PM customers want to eat before. This means that some shorter shows could start their Saturday matinees later depending on the audience they attract but probably not a weekday matinee.

The strong preference for the 7PM curtain, the predilection for eating before, coupled with the focus on what time the show ends could tell us that 8PM curtains may work for short shows but not long ones. Maybe customers want to see three-hour shows at 7PM, but would still be interested in seeing 90-minute shows at 8PM.

7PM Curtain Time

Half of respondents said that curtain time was a factor in their past purchase decision, but we also wanted to know if they would be more inclined to go on another night — if it was at 7PM — in the future.

We assume that people who attend on a Tuesday night know that 7PM curtains are not the norm for Broadway, or that they have chosen that day specifically for the 7PM curtain time. But do ticket buyers know that Tuesday curtains are at 7PM? Outside the Broadway community and regular Manhattan theatre goers (remember that Manhattanites preferred a Thursday curtain), this might not be the case at all. If half of respondents said curtain time was not a factor in their decision, was it because they did not know that the show was at 7PM and not at 8PM when making their purchase?

We see lots of evidence customers do not have the level of information we think or hope they have. How many people in the industry knew Finian’s Rainbow had preview pricing, lower prices on Wednesday evenings, and 7PM curtains Tuesday-Thursday? The answer is not everyone. If we didn’t know, why would we think that customers did? Once a customer has attended a show at 7PM, maybe they would prefer it (as many Tony voters do) and would like to see more 7PM curtain times.

Wednesday Matinee

Among customers who expressed a preference (50%), the strongest preference was for Friday matinees (37%).

Most customers said that Wednesday is not their first choice for a matinee. A substantial number reported they would see a matinee performance on another day of the week, but when we asked which day, the answers varied (and 50% had no preference). There does not appear to be any special significance to matinees on a Wednesday, and customers would be willing to go on another day of the week. If some shows want to experiment with matinees on another day, they will probably not lose sales if they allow enough time to sell the performance in advance, and they might pick up additional business if they choose a day when there are more tourists in the city.

While respondents expressed the strongest preference for Friday among weekday matinees, there are issues to consider. Aside from the challenge of back-to-back days with two performances, school groups and bus tour operators may not find this day of the week appealing. When asked, some bus companies said they would not want their buses attempting to leave the city at 5PM on a Friday, nor will all schools want their kids in the city that late on a Friday. Many shows that perform on Sunday night sell a significant percentage of their tickets between Friday and Sunday; therefore, swapping Sunday evening for Friday matinee has risk. Changing the weekday matinee from Wednesday to Friday — if you do not rely on school groups or bus companies — may be a strategy to consider for shows looking to improve sales on their weekday matinee.

Saturday Matinee

73% of respondents initially said 2PM was their preferred time for a Saturday matinee, but when asked if another time would work better, only 49% said a different time would not work better. When given a choice of times, 56% stayed with 2PM, and others split between earlier and later curtain times. The answers are similar to those for time for Wednesday matinees. This suggests a small degree of ambiguity on the optimal time for a matinee, whereas the answers on day of the week for a weekday matinee were more definitive.

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