Institutions can have personalities, too.

I recently got an email from a non-profit here in the city asking me for money.  The message said, “Please give me money.  Signed, Institution.”

Then I got an email from the Scott Elliot, the Artistic Director of the outstanding New Group, asking me to subscribe.  In addition to a much more personal letter (it was signed simply, “Scott”), the email also featured a nice photo of Scott.

Obviously, you know which one I was more inclined to support.

But it goes beyond that.

In addition to this appeal being much more likely to succeed because of the personal nature of the communication, the strategy of attaching a person (with a face) to a institution has many more long term benefits.

Subscribers, donors, etc. are much more likely to support people . . . not buildings and not companies.  That’s why it’s essential for every non-profit, every building, and every company to have a face, or a personality, that represents the human component of what they do.

When I was in London recently, I went to see Deathtrap at the Noel Coward Theatre. When I opened my program, guess who greeted me with a letter?  Cameron Mackintosh! (Cameron owns the Noel Coward).  And the letter wasn’t just a “welcome to my theater” letter, but rather a letter that talked about the show, the actors, and more.

There are many companies around the country and in this city that are already using this strategy, but there is more that we can all do . . . and more rewards to reap from it.

Think you’ve got this covered?  Try my test to see if your company is successfully using personalization properly:  Ask 10 people who are casual visitors to your space what name comes to mind when you say the name of your venue. If they all don’t say the name of your Artistic Director, CEO, or whomever you want them to say within 3 seconds, you fail.  🙂

If you failed, or if you haven’t started yet, here are five things that person can do to expand his or her presence:

1.  BLOG IT UP!

I think every Artistic Director should blog, and it should be available right on the home page. Describe your daily successes as well as the challenges you face.  Give insider scoop on upcoming shows (photos and more), etc.  In blog form, these entries might seem more journal-like, and less solicitation-like, and you might find yourself raising money passively throughout the year.

2.  SIGNED, YOU.

Every letter, ticket confirmation, and donation request should come from one voice . . . yours.  And include photos.

3.  GREET THE PEEPS.

As often as you can, park yourself in front of the ticket takers and shake hands, get recognized, and meet as many of your customers as possible.  And don’t just talk to the Richie Riches.  Today’s single ticket buyer could be tomorrow’s subscriber.

And if you can be there at the end of the show to listen to people’s thoughts, complaints, feedback, etc., even better.

4.  SHOW FACE.

Take advice from Scott and insert your photos into your correspondence. I’d also put photos of you and your team by the box office, and other key places.  You want people to recognize you when you’re at the Duane Reade.

5.  ANSWER EVERY EMAIL

Your email should be plastered all over your site.  Let your subscribers, patrons, and more have direct access to you.  And respond. It’ll mean a lot to them . . . which will no doubt mean a lot to you.

Are these things that difficult to do?  No.  Do these things take time?  Yes.

But I have a feeling you think your institution or your company is worth it.

Who should I surround myself with at the start?

Shows, theater companies, technology companies, etc. are all the same.

They tend to start with one person’s idea.  Maybe that idea is birthed in a dressing room or a dorm room, and then hopefully it grows beyond those walls, and turns into a billion dollar business.

I was talking to an associate recently who was about to birth a new theatrical concept here in the city. It was in its embryonic stage and he was looking for people to hire to help blow up this start-up.

Should he hire the best PR firm?  The best lawyer?  The best designers in the world?

While surrounding yourself with the best of the best is usually a great concept at any point in a company’s life, there is a price tag attached.  And yes, I’m talking about a literal price tag that most emerging companies and artists can’t afford.  But there’s also a price in whether or not the best of the best, who have a zillion other clients (probably bigger than you), have the time to devote to your new idea.  Will they have the passion to work through the night?  How important is it to them?  Will they work harder than you?

Maybe they will, and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

But in my experience, at the genesis of an idea, it’s better to surround yourself with people like you, whether or not they have the fanciest stationery or the longest resume.

Zuckerberg, Gates, etc. started their companies with the people that were in spitting distance of them, who they knew would work harder than anyone to learn what it takes to create a great company.

They chose sweat over style.

And when things started to get real, yo, they brought on the best later, when they could afford it, and when they could demand the attention they deserved.

What do a golf swing and marketing have in common?

Underwater-golfWithout follow-through, you’ll find yourself under water.

Take this example . . .

I snapped the photo below outside a mall.  This simple un-manned flyer distribution setup was attached to a very expensive and fancy display of an “outdoor living room” (click here for a shot of what one of these suckers looks like).

It had to have cost a few grand just to set up this fountainous outdoor display, not to mention whatever weekly fees the company was paying the mall for the placement of their setup right outside the main entrance.  Unless they were selling a living room a day, they couldn’t afford to keep a sales rep. on site during mall hours, which is why they adopted the “Please Take One” flyer box.

Except the box was empty (and it was noon on a Saturday).

Despite the fact that the heavy lifting on this idea was already done (the money was spent, the display was installed, etc.), someone had failed to follow through and make sure they were getting the most from their efforts.

Whatever initiative you’re about to start, make sure you have a system in place to monitor it and ensure you’re getting the most for your money.  If you’re not going to make a commitment to follow through on whatever your idea is (whether it’s a marketing idea, or an idea for a new product, or even a script), then don’t bother teeing off in the first place.

Photo

Overheard at Angus: Volume VI.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken you all on a trip to Angus to hear what’s being gossiped over lunch or pre-theater din-din.

The last time I was having my usual burger, my dining partner and I heard this little gem of a conversation being bandied about over a couple of brandies.  Knowing (as you do) my affinity for focus groups and research, I think you’ll see why I felt I had to pass it on to all of you.

Brandy Drinker #1:  I just did a focus group for one of my shows.  Learned some great stuff.

Brandy Drinker #2:  I just did one, too.

Brandy Drinker #1:  Oh yeah?  Which company did you use to run them?

Brandy Drinker #2:  I did them myself.

Brandy Drinker #1:  You what?  How’d you do that?

Brandy Drinker #2:  Simple.  I have a 15-year-old daughter.  I took her and ten of her 15-year-old friends out to dinner.  I told them about the show that I was doing, and then I asked, “Would you stamp your feet until your parents took you to see it?”

Brandy Drinker #1:  What did they say?

Brandy Drinker #2:  They said they wouldn’t stamp their feet.

Brandy Drinker #1:  Oh.  That’s too bad.

Brandy Drinker #2:  Not really.  They said they would tell their parents that they hated them unless they got them tickets.

Brandy Drinker #1:  Next round is on you.

It worked once. It’ll work again, right?

Lightning in a bottle is hard to capture once.

So, when people try to use the same bottle to catch another bolt, I always get nervous (this is one of the reasons I won’t be coming out with another interactive show anytime soon).

The popular fiction biz depends on trying to catch secondary bolts.  John Grisham writes a best selling legal thriller like The Firm and immediately his publishers put  him on a schedule of producing a novel a year to earn his paycheck, praying that his readers “subscribe” to his novels.  And all of the novels have similar settings, and similar structure.

But were any of his later books ever as good as The Firm?

That’s what made me nervous when I stepped into the Mark Taper Forum this past Sunday to see the Deaf West production of Pippin (a show that I’ve never been a huge fan of).

This production has the unique distinction of using “deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing actors as voice and American Sign Language are interwoven with music, dance, and joyous storytelling.”  (i.e. there were two Pippins).

Unique, right?  Absolutely . . . except that there was a revival of Big River on Broadway a few years ago brought to us by Deaf West and The Roundabout.  So, I walked in with an expectation of what I was about to see and hear . . . something I knew was special . . . but something that, well, I had already seen and heard.

Get this.  They exceeded my decent-sized expectations.

Maybe it’s because Pippin lends itself to a more theatrical treatment like this than Big River.

Maybe it’s because the newly redesigned Mark Taper Forum provided one of the most comfortable theatrical experiences I’ve ever had (the lobby, the seats, the restrooms, and even the ticketing-system were extraordinary).

Maybe it’s because I had been disappointed by the actors-as-musicians Company after seeing Sweeney Todd.

Or maybe it’s because the creative team led by Jeff Calhoun knew that they couldn’t just serve up what we’ve seen before, and they worked their asses off to prove that they weren’t trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

They were trying to create the lightning.

So if you want to do something similar to what you’ve done before, or what someone else has done before (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got the next Blue Man Group!”  Or “I’ve got the next Mamma Mia!”), go for it.

But go for it twice as hard as you went after it the first time.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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