10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 2: A Marketing Director

I got some great response from the first edition of 10 Qs for a Bway Pro, so I thought I’d roll out Volume 2 this week.

Last week we talked about advertising . . . this week, we explore the more ambiguous world of marketing with none other than that Broadway Marketing Guru, Hugh Hysell.

I’ve worked on a bunch of shows with Hugh, from babies to biggies, and Hugh always brings the goods.  Why?  You’ve got to love what you do if you’re going to do a great job.  And if you spend five minutes with Hugh, you’ll realize that Hugh loves his job . . . and those fingerprints of love are all over every show he does, not matter how big or small.

Here are 10 Qs with Hugh!

1. What is your title?

I am President of HHC Marketing, a multi-division marketing and promotions company specializing in Broadway and Off-Broadway.  HHC’s divisions include full service marketing for Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows, BroadwayBox (running the advertising department for their sites including BroadwayBox.com, LunchTix.com and TicketsThisWeek), and TheMenEvent.com (the city’s largest Gay email list, which I use to promote my full service clients).  I am also President of Teams on Broadway (our Street Team Firm).  Often, in playbill listings, we are referred to simply as “Marketing” and many shows refer to me as their “Marketing Director.”

2. What show/shows are you currently working on?

On Broadway, HHC is working on Looped, Jersey Boys and Fela!.  Our Off-Broadway clients include The Temperamentals, John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean, The 39 Steps, Flying Karamazov Brothers’ 4Play, The Irish Curse, Looking for Billy Haines, Yank, Leslie Jordan’s My Trip Down the Pink CarpetSigns of Life, as well as some shows that have not been announced yet (sssshhhhh – I can’t tell you).  Teams on Broadway is currently providing the street teams for Fela!Memphis and The Miracle Worker.  Yes – we did the Princess Leia team for Wishful Drinking. 🙂

3. In one sentence, describe your job.

I run a very active marketing company that seeks out, negotiates and administers marketing programs for our clients, often without spending a dime.

4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Creativity, people skills, charm, drive, follow-through, and strong attention to detail.  As a theatre marketer, as funds are usually quite low, one needs to be very creative and think out of the box.  Our goal is to form effective, attention-grabbing promotions that directly influence the ticket buyer.  You then have to charm promotional partners to help you make your plans come thru.  At the same time you have to be able to drive yourself to fully administer every minute detail of a promotion.  A marketer has to walk the line between being a creative artist, a charming pal, and an anal-retentive, highly-organized business person.

5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

As my mother says, life provides you opportunities for your transferable skills.  I was trained as an actor (BFA UNC-Greensboro, MFA University of Florida).  My acting career was largely in touring theatre where I used my creative skills in the rehearsal process, and anal-retentive skills to keep the performances solid over months and months of doing the same show.  I think these skills have been very useful to me as a marketer.  After I left acting, I knew I wanted to enter the business world of theatre, so I became an intern at Richard Frankel Productions, where I moved up to be Associate General Manager of an Off-Broadway show, which then went on to tour and then on to play in Vegas.  At the same time, I was producing a show in the Fringe that did very well, and I moved it to an Off-Off Broadway venue for an extended run.  That run proved to be my true training to be a marketer.  I had no money to promote the show, but with the advice of a Broadway marketer, I did lots and lots of promotions (bookstore, internet, nightclub, bars, barter ads, etc).  The show stayed alive, and I recouped my investment.  The marketer who mentored me (Scott Walton) later  hired me, and together we grew his company, and in 2002 I bought him out.  I have never taken a marketing course, but I do teach it at Columbia.  Mom is very proud.

6. What was your first job in theater?

My first paid job was as an actor with the Kaleidoscope Theater out of Providence, RI.  We did summer tours of kids’ shows to the music tents in New England (Warwick Music Tent, South Shore Music Tent, etc.).  I played a cat in Pinocchio and the Genie in Aladdin (with a 12-year-old Joey Pizzi as Aladdin and Pinocchio).

7. Why do you think theater is important?

Theatre is adventure, escape, entertainment, enlightenment, education, magic, joy and sorrow all rolled up with beautiful images, soaring music and inspiring words  Life meets Art.  Love it.

8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Audience development.  The audience needs to grow (so there are more people to buy tickets).  With the arts being cut in education, we are not developing kids with art in their lives.  Without that exposure, how will they learn about art in themselves and thus appreciate the art of others?  We need theatre that cultivates new audiences, and allows them to discover the richness that theatre can provide.

9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

Make theatre cheaper to produce.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

The word ‘marketing’ can mean so many things, and even in the industry that title can refer to different jobs depending if you are working in the commercial or not-for-profit sector.  I would suggest that an aspiring marketer first get an internship in NYC within a theatre marketing firm, press office, or general management office. Learn how shows are marketed and why those decisions are made.  Knowing the current environment allows you to help it grow and adapt to the ever-changing consumer environment.

Are discounts eroding our sales?

Ohhh, if I had a dollar for every time I heard this question, my shows would never have to discount ever again!

While discounting has always been used to launch new products as well as entice people to buy old products (remember when your Mom used to cut coupons?), it wasn’t until the internet exploded that discounting exploded right along with it, like an unsliced hot dog in a microwave.  The days of delivering discounts by direct mail alone quickly began to disappear . . .

The airline industry was the first industry I remember trying to get rid of their perishable inventory on the internet, with their last-minute-price-slashing email blasts.  And we followed suit.

Discounts to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows are now much more available than they ever were, thanks to sites like BroadwayBoxPlaybillTheatermaniaBestOfOffBroadway, and so on.

So, the question is . . . “Is all this discounting doing more damage than good?”

Let’s take a look at some numbers!

Here’s what I did:

I found out when the major email blasts and discount clubs started to appear on the scene and graphed  figures before and after, eight years in each direction (the first thing you’ll notice is that there is this cool discounting zeitgeist type thing that occurred right about the turn of the millennium), and differences in growth during each of those eight year periods.

Here are the figures we examined:

  • Gross sales
  • Number of Tickets Sold
    Average ticket price
  • Price of top price ticket to Phantom of the Opera (We used Phantom since it has been open the entire span of time of the data and since it seemed a pretty good archetype)

Here are the results:

GRAPH #1 – GROSS SALES

graph 1

  • In the years from 1992 – 2000, the total gross sales on Broadway grew 120.22%
  • In the years from 2000 – 2008, the total gross sales on Broadway grew 59.69%

GRAPH #2 – NUMBER OF TICKETS SOLD

graph 2

  • In the years from 1992 – 2000, the total # of tickets sold on Broadway grew 54.20%
  • In the years from 2000 – 2008, the total # of tickets sold on Broadway grew 7.82%

GRAPH #3 – AVERAGE PAID ADMISSION

graph 3

  • In the years from 1992 – 2000, the average paid admission to a Broadway show grew 33.37%
  • In the years from 2000 – 2008, the average paid admission to a Broadway show grew 44.32%

GRAPH #4 – PRICE OF A FULL PRICE TICKET TO PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

graph 4

  • In the years from 1992 – 2000, the top full price ticket to Phantom grew 30.77%
  • In the years from 2000 – 2008, the top full price ticket to Phantom grew 41.18%
  • Inflation rate 1992-2000: 22.23%
  • Inflation rate 2000-2008: 25.05%

Ok, so a quick recap:

  • During the eight years pre-discounting zeitgeist, the growth of the total overall gross, and the # of tickets sold were much higher than post-discounting zeitgeist.
  • Average paid admission seems consistent with the rise in price of the full price ticket, which also grew at a greater rate in the most previous eight year period than the earlier period.
  • Our increasing ticket prices are outpacing the rate of inflation (a different blog topic would be to compare our expenses with the rate of inflation with our ticket price.  10:1 that our expenses are increasing at the higher rate).

So what do you think?  Do the above graphs indicate that discounts are eroding our ticket sales?

Before we draw any conclusions, we must remember that there are other events during the past sixteen years that have impacted the above charts.  Broadway, as well as the world, shifted dramatically, on Sept. 11, 2001.  It just so happens
that the major discounting efforts started just prior to that date, and then even more (i.e. Seasons of Savings) were the direct result of it.  And let’s not forget the dot.com boom and bust in the late 90s.  Certainly that had an effect.

But back to the original questions!

Could the discount efforts have really slowed our growth?  How would the industry have grown without sites like BroadwayBox, etc.?  Would the growth rates have been even worse?  Was the discounting necessary in today’s Walmart
society?  And if discounting has slowed growth, what can we do to reverse the trend?  Or is the growth slower because we are getting closer to the ceiling for the Broadway audience?

Oh the questions, the questions!  One thing I know for sure is that the above charts are just a few clues in the mystery of whether or not discounts are actually eroding our sales, and we shouldn’t jump to too many conclusions in a brief blog.

I will say this . . . it’s obvious to me that discounts haven’t helped.

But I’ll also say . . . I don’t think we had a choice.

In today’s society, thanks to the internet, it’s much easier to competitive shop.  And that has made a lot of us feel more entitled to a discount (my nose would be growing if I didn’t admit that I google Staples Coupon or Avis Coupon before buying paper or renting a car).  Also, those discount sites are opportunities for shows to get free media.  Cut your price, they’ll put you up on the site.  What’s better for shows with limited budgets . . . paying to buy space to sell a full price ticket or getting free space and selling a lesser priced ticket?  Either way there is a cost, but one is much less risky (this is just one of the reasons why Off-Broadway shows full price buyers are only 25% of the audience as opposed to 50% of Broadway shows).

Consumers changed their behaviors.  And now, to get back to those past growth rates, we’re going to have to do the same, because we’re not discounting properly yet.

What’s next for us to tackle?  Yield Management. Just like we learned from the airlines in sending emails for perishable inventory, it’s time to tackle different prices for different weeks of the year, different days of the week, etc., depending on supply and demand.

Here’s a bonus graph for you.  It’s the Dow during the same sixteen year period.

graph 5

  • In the years from 1992 – 2000, the DJIA grew 210.06%
  • In the years from 2000-2008, the DJIA grew 20.08%

I left off what happened in the year following January 1, 2008, because, well, we all know what happened then . . .

Special thanks to all my friends across the industry who helped with the research for this blog, including The Swami, Laura, Hugh, Darren, Jennifer, Karen (one of my assistants) and The League.

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