Favorite Quotes Vol. XXVIII: How to plan publicity.

Cameron Mackintosh is to Broadway what Henry Ford was to automobiles.

The Mac Man came on to the scene in the ’80s, and revolutionized how our shows were made, marketed, and merchandised.

So to quote a marketing phrase from the ’80s, when he speaks, I listen.

There was a nifty article about the 25th anniversary of Les Miz in the London Telegraph yesterday that had a great honest quip from Sir Mackintosh about how to get great press.

He was remarking on how Susan Boyle’s YouTube shattering performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” (almost 50 million views) put Les Miz back on the map, and gave it a “popular” hit, which reignited interested in the classic show.  When talking about the unplanned performance, he said:

It was the publicity shot anyone would dream of, although of course it would never happen if you tried to make it a publicity stunt.

We’ve talked about this idea before when it comes to creating viral videos, and the same theory applies to press.  What gets a show press is not a press agent, so stop blaming them if you can’t get your show in the NY Times.  What gets press is a great story.  And great stories are true, organic, and emotional.

A press agent is just the conduit between the story and the outlet.  A press agent is like the fleet-footed messenger bringing news from the General to those on the front lines.  Yes, some run faster.  Yes, some know shorter routes to the right people.

But if the news about your product isn’t worthy, no one will listen to them, no matter how fast they are.

Was Cameron telling us that we shouldn’t even try to get a Boyle-sized press hit for our show?  No.  He was just suggesting that the best press stunt isn’t a stunt at all.  It’s a story.

And stories require Producers, not press agents.

How a bite-size Kit Kat can make you more productive.

Someone was nice enough to drop a bag of those bite-size Kit Kats on my desk the other day.  Since it was the time of day I like to call “Sugar Time” (which is the same as Tea Time, but without the fanciness), I ripped open the bag and popped one into my mouth.

Mmmm.  Chocolatey wafery goodness.

Pop goes another.

And one more.

Then I went back to what I was doing (which was writing a blog).  And then I popped another.

15 minutes later, I was staring at a giant mound of bite-size wrappers.  I mean, it was like there had been a mini Les Miz-like French revolution on my desk, but instead of furniture and wagons, the students used Kit Kat wrappers to make their barricade.

I looked at the wrapper carnage and had a thought.  I pulled out one of the wrappers and looked at the number of ounces of wafery goodness.  Then I multiplied it by the number of bite-size bars that I ate.  Then I compared that total to the number of ounces in one regular size Kit Kat.

Surprise, surprise . . . I had eaten exactly the equivalent of one-and-a-half regular size bars in one sitting.

Why?

It was so much easier to devour more of those little buggers when they were bite-size.  Breaking the bars into little pieces not only made them easier to manage, but it also made each piece like no big deal.  Unwrap, chomp, done.  Next?

Little packaged portions made them easier to eat.  And I ended up eating more.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all devour our work in the same way?

We can.

Take whatever project you’re working on, and break it down into the little bites. Don’t try and digest the whole bar all at once.  Go piece by piece by piece . . . and “put it together.”  (Another one for all you Sondheimites).

You’ll end up doing more before you know it.

And unlike eating Kit Kats, you’ll probably end up burning calories in the process.

Guess what? The Tonys aren’t about reaching new audiences.

The Tony Awards ratings dropped a disappointing 8% this year, despite one of our most celebrity-studded presentations ever.  We had Green Day and a NY Jet and more Hollywood stars than the Betty Ford clinic.

So why didn’t tons of new viewers tune in and get hooked on showtunes?

Because it’s still a three-hour presentation about the very nichey subject of theater.  And if you’re not a theater fan, most likely you are not tuning in, I don’t care who you dress up in a gown and teach an R&H song to.

Are my football-loving and Budweiser-drinking friends from suburban Massachusetts all of a sudden going to give up three hours of their lives because a NY Jet has a 45-second intro to a musical?

Is the JetBlue pilot who flew me from Tampa to JFK but lives in Houston and has never seen a show in his life gonna feel so compelled to turn on the Tonys just because he loved Sean Hayes’s character from Will & Grace?

Or is my Brooklyn-based little brother, who works as a sound engineer mostly in the hip-hop scene (although he has worked a few sessions of Broadway musicals), gonna take time out from mixing beats to watch the number from Fela?

The answer is no, no, and whatever the word for ‘No’ is in Nigerian.

But don’t be depressed.  They were never the audience.  Sure, we’d all love it if millions of viewers turned on CBS just to catch a glimpse of Denzel in a tux, but that’s just not what happens.  Do a few more folks tune in because we’ve got a couple of folks from Glee?  Probably . . . but it’s not enough to make any noticeable difference.

And that fact has never been more noticeable than this year, with the almost double-digit drop in ratings.

But don’t be depressed, because IMHO, our mission with the Tony Awards isn’t about reaching new audiences (especially since it’s not working anyway).

Our marketing mission of the Tony Awards, should be energizing our core audience, the ones that tune in year after year, and to try to excite them so much that they . . .

  • See one more show per year than they usually do.
  • Bring a friend to a show who would not have gone on their own.

Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. Rather than focusing on trying to reach past our 20%, we should focus our efforts (and our awards shows) on that 20%, the faithful who are tuning in.  The show should whip them up into such a Broadway frenzy, that they go out and preach its importance as entertainment louder than the year before.

Because here’s what we know:

  • Word of Mouth is what sells everything.
  • People fall in love with the theater after being introduced to it by someone else.

New audiences don’t buy Broadway because they see a clip or a star on a Tony Award show.  They fall for what we do because they are dragged to it by someone else.  I didn’t have any clue what I was going to see when my Mom dragged me to Les Miz when I was 16, and I had been involved in the theater since I was 5.  But that performance changed my life.

I had never seen a Tony Awards before then.

And I’ve never missed one since.

Next up in our reading series? Heartland.

The first play in the Davenport Developmental Reading Series, Alex Webb’s Civil War drama, Amelia, was, well, as much fun as Civil War Dramas can be.

We had a great time, learned a lot, and the post-reading survey results on the play demonstrated that Alex was really on to something.  I look forward to giving you updates on what he’s up to next with the play.

It’s already time for the second date in our free reading series.  This time, we found our writer north of the border.  Steven Owad hails from Calgary, Canada.

And next Monday, June 14th at 8 PM, at the Mint Theater thousands of miles from his home, some great actors will read his new play, Heartland.

Steven describes Heartland as “a drama about three men on the brink of self-destruction in middle America.  Loners in a small community, they form a deadly triangle tempered by violence, revenge and a ruthless alpha-male need for control.”

I describe Heartland as a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode . . . before Vincent D’Onofrio shows up.

The reading of Heartland will be directed by another kanuck, Mr. Stafford Arima, known for Altar Boyz, Tin Pan Alley Rag, and an Olivier nominee for the West End Ragtime.  Stafford was also lucky enough to be the first to get his directorial mitts on Carrie, when he staged the reading of that horror show earlier this year.

Stafford got some great actors to play the three alpha males in Heartland, including Greg Stone (Pirate Queen, Miss Saigon, Les Miz), Peter Lockyer (South Pacific, Phantom, La Boheme) and Wes Seals (The Quest for Fame, Sex Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll).

Seating is very limited so if you’d like to come and support a new writer and his work, RSVP ASAP to rsvp@davenporttheatrical.com.  We expect the seats to go very fast, because, well, it’s free.

See you there!

Heartland
Written by Steven Owad
Directed by Stafford Arima
Featuring Greg Stone, Peter Lockyer and Wes Seals

Monday, June 14th
8 PM
The Mint Theater
311 West 43rd St. (between 8th and 9th)
#307

See you there!

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