Where the @$&# is Broadway anyway?

If you asked a NYer where Broadway was, they’d probably point you to the street that runs the length of Manhattan.

If you said, “No, where’s the Broadway they talk about in books,” they’d probably look at you funny,  maybe point you to Times Square and say that’s where most of the theaters are.

They’d have to explain that Broadway doesn’t have an exact physical destination.

Which is why I think it’s time we give it one.

I did something I’ve always wanted to do this weekend and made the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, two tourist destinations that do a very good job of telling you exactly where you are and making a tourist attraction out of it.

How do they do it?  The old-fasioned way.  With a sign.

The Hollywood sign is one of the most famous landmarks in the LA area.  It screams from the hills that you have entered the land of the silver screen.  It even has a website!  And on that website the sign is described by Hugh Hefner as “not simply a sign but a symbol of inspiration.”

In Vegas, when you’re driving down the strip towards the man-made mecca in the desert, you are first greeted by the infamous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign which was put up in 1959.  It even has a Wikipedia entry!  And more importantly it has a place where you can stop your car, get out, and have your picture taken next to it.

On Broadway . . . we’ve got . . . eh . . . uh . . . huh.

We don’t seem to have a symbol or sign that we’ve entered the theatrical capital of the world.  Sure there are street signs that say Broadway, and there’s the statue of George M. Cohan in Duffy Square, and maybe even the Red Steps and the TKTS booth (but I’m not sure we want a discount destination representing where Broadway begins).  But nothing that says, “Broadway is here!”

So if we don’t have one, maybe we should make one. Maybe it’s a marquis that sits in Times Square.  Or a lit sign on 42nd St.  Or maybe the sign is written in the sidewalks (which reminds me of this blog I wrote about our own Walk of Fame).

Is this cheap?  Or even practical?  Probably not.

But I guarantee that we’d have a ton of tourists taking their pictures in front of it, and it might even inspire a few more to actually take in a show while they are in town.

And maybe, if we’re lucky, it would even have its own Wikipedia page.

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5 Ways to get higher open rates on your email blasts.

Yesterday we dismissed the myth that the size of an email blast list determines its value.  Since we know that the true success of any advertising campaign is the number of conversions and ROI (return on investment), it’s essential that we examine ways that we can increase those conversions.

And before we get to the message inside the blast, we’ve got to make sure as many people are opening it as possible.

Here are five tips you can use to increase the open rates on your email blasts, whether a third party is sending them for you (Telecharge.com, etc.) or whether you’re blasting the subscribers to your own lists.

1.  Customize your “From” field.

Most third party email blast providers (like Benchmark, the service I use and recommend) allow you to send emails from whatever name you’d like.  Make sure it’s not coming from ’emailblast@yourcompany.com’ or anything impersonal like that.  It should come from you or your show or maybe even a character in your show.  The more personal your communication, the better. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s as instantly recognizable as possible.

2.   Avoid Spam flags.

A lot happens to every email you send before it (hopefully) gets to your intended recipient.  Their ISP scans that sucker a few times looking for signs that you are a spammer.  If it sees one of those signs, your email will be sent to your recipient’s Spam folder faster than it would take you to throw up after eating a whole can of Spam by yourself.  Or worse, the ISP may just bounce your email back at you!  How can you decrease the chances of being seen as Spam?  Here are some things to avoid in your subject lines specifically:  exclamation points, dollar signs, all caps, words like “free,” “discount,” “special,” “save,” etc.

3.  It’s all in the timing.

There are not only better days of the week to send emails to increase your open rates, but there are also better times of day.  The tricky part is determining the best day/time for your specific message.  My research has shown more success on mid-week email blasts for the best open rates when pushing a sales message, so I focus on Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday when I have a choice. Since most folks get their emails at work, I try to avoid Mondays (when their inboxes are overloaded from the weekend) and Fridays, when people are trying to get out of work.  Weekends are more successful than they used to be, but I try to steer clear of selling on a Saturday or Sunday.  I time my messages for the middle of the day (around lunch time), in the hopes that the recipient may open it while they’re munching on their salad or sandwich, since they have more time.

4.  Your subject is not a subject, it’s a headline.

A well written subject is the equivalent of old-fashioned direct response copy (click here to read one of the most successful headlines of all time).  It’s an ad for the ad.  Don’t just slap a few words together to say, “save $20 on tickets to XXX show.”  Your subject has to rev up your reader so that they are compelled to hit that “open” button.  Spend time on your subjects.  And watch what subjects intrigue you as you open emails every day.

5.  Test it and tweak it every time.

Split test your emails with two separate subjects, if you can.  If you can’t split, then try different ideas with each blast and see how your open rate changes from blast to blast. Testing is the key to improving anything, not just advertising and not just open rates, but this is one of the areas that we seem to ignore in this industry more than anything.  If we are so dependent on email blasts and open rates, then we have to try different things with each effort and adjust accordingly.

Email marketing isn’t going anywhere.  It’s still your show’s strongest asset, whether you’re buying email blasts from third parties, or sending them yourself (I hope both).  If you focus on improving your open rate with these tips (that, by the way, don’t cost you any more) you can make that asset even more rewarding.

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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