5 Things I learned from King Tut.

I fell prey to the ton of marketing being done for King Tut in Times Square last week, and headed on down to 43rd Street to check out what treasures the exhibitors had in store for me.

Although it may not seem like it, exhibits like King Tut are forms of live entertainment, shrouded in education.  These are multi-million dollar productions with big capitalizations, operating costs, and marketing challenges.  In other words, they have to be produced.

So, as I explored the life of King Tut, I also tried to find some gold coins of wisdom that I could apply to what we do.

Here are 5 things I learned from King Tut:

1.  It’s not the size of your pyramid.  It’s how you use it.

The priceless treasures of the Tut exhibit are currently sitting in . . . a basement.  The producers of the exhibit found a non-traditional venue, and with some smart designers, turned it into a theater fit for a king.  If you can’t find the perfect space for your show, make it.

2.  You can’t touch the mummy.  But you can wear his t-shirt.

Man, are these guys good at merch.  They get your photo taken on the way in and show it to you on the way out (I almost bought mine . . . they photoshopped pyramids behind me, for Pharaoh’s sake!).  Just like the theme parks!  And you can’t get out of the building without walking through their super-sized shop of Tut toys and trinkets.  Merch is a science, not a hobby.  It can help pay for your play. (Remind me to tell you about the time a Company Manager friend of mine paid his load-out crew on a flop with cash from the merch till.  When the cash ran out, the crew ran out.  Oh, wait, I guess I just told you about it.  You don’t have to remind me anymore.)

3.  Got your ticket?  Good, now, it’s just a couple more bucks for this.

During the check-out process, I got pitched a $5 add-on movie called Mummies.  And it was in 3D!  Just like Avatar!  What’s another $5, I thought, since I already dropped $40, and for something that sounded so cool!  In reality, it wasn’t that cool, but what did I know until I got there.  And, at only $5, there wasn’t much remorse.  Once you’ve got a customer on the hook, getting them to pay for just a little bit more isn’t too difficult, if you ask.  Tacking on an extra isn’t tacky, especially when it makes the entire experience better.

4.  Egyptians can wear funny hats too.

This is a monumental exhibit.  It’s educational.  It’s important.  And it also knows not to take itself too seriously, evident by the King Tut street team that’s been flyering Times Square wearing King Tut headdresses.  You can’t help but smile when you see one, and that’s not a bad thought to have when considering an entertainment option.  On top of that, the Tut mask is so well branded that the flyer guy can make the impression on the passerby even without handing them a flyer.  This street team strategy reminded me of the Princess Leia/Carrie Fisher team that brilliantly wore those bun-wigs while they were on the street promoting Wishful Drinking.  The best street teams think every day is Halloween.

5.  King Tut was a teen, and no one cared.

I get a lot of young folks emailing me saying that they are too young to produce, that they could never get a show up at their age.  Well, King Tut was 9 when he was crowned and 19 when he died.  In that time, he changed the entire Egyptian God structure (which had been set by his father), restored diplomatic relations with neighboring peoples, and married his half-sister.  Ok, ok, so he was born into some money.  I’m not saying you have to produce a pyramid, but age hasn’t nothing to do with what you do, unless you let it.

How many of you save your Broadway ticket stubs?

I saved them all.

When I was younger, I’d get my Playbill, and that ticket stub (which is no longer a stub, thanks to ticketing scanners) would go right in the middle.

Full embarrassing disclosure: when I was in high school, I used to take the cover of my Playbills, the ticket stubs, and a few choice photos from inside the Playbill, and I’d create a poor-man’s decoupage that I framed and put on my nightstand.  I guess my hope was that they would help all of my Broadway dreams come true.  (My Secret Garden Playbill/photo combo even had an autograph from Daisy Eagan!)

Ok, so I was a lonely kid . . . but it was pretty obvious what I was going to do when I grew up.

This post isn’t about my awkward youth (there isn’t enough space on the entire internet for me to go into that), but rather that ticket . . . which for me, and for so many of you, I bet . . . was a souvenir.

And a souvenir is merch . . . and merch is marketing.

The ticket as a souvenir is slowly but surely disappearing as we transition to e-ticketing, and eventually mobile ticketing technology (having the ticketing scanners scan an image on your phone itself, which requires no paper product at all).

And as much as I’m a huge fan of this technology (and of all technology), it’s going to take us a long time to adopt it.

Why?

  • We’re always slow to adopt technology.
  • Our customers like hard tickets.

While hanging out at the booth last week, I watched a woman turn to another and say, “Did you get ’em?”  Her friend smiled, then fanned out five Billy Elliot tickets like a winning poker hand.  They both literally screamed with joy.  Now imagine what it would have been like if she showed her friend a UPC image on her phone.

Wah-wah.

Broadway tickets still have a Willy Wonka “Golden Ticket” effect that we don’t want to disappear too soon.

They are a tangible passport to entertainment that can create a positive emotional response about our product . . . whether or not you choose to frame it.

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UPDATE:  Two days after I wrote this blog, it was announced that New York State became the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring paper tickets. To read more about it, click here.

Favorite Quotes Vol. XXV: The definition of frugality.

The biz page of The NY Times had an interesting article the other day about pharmaceutical giant Teva, a company that doesn’t have the brand name of a Pfizer or a Merck, but is the biggest generic drug maker in the world.

The opening of the article described how its competitors’ (mentioned above) executives both had private planes to shuttle them on both corporate and personal trips.  The CEO of Teva, however, flies commercial flights when traveling domestically in the US and when he heads overseas?  He flies business, not first.  And Teva is a company with a market capitalization of 51.92 BILLION bucks!

There were two quotes that jumped out at me that all of us can learn from.  The first was from Ronny Gal, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein who said this about their travel methods: “The day they get their own plane, is the day I downgrade them.”

But it was William S. Marth, the biz class travelling CEO who said the sound bite of the article for me.

When describing the company’s incredible success over the past decade (their profits have jumped from 135.5 million to a whopping 2 billion dollars), along with his business practices up and down the balance sheet, Mr. Marth had this to say . . .

“Frugality doesn’t mean doing less.  It means doing as much or more with less.”

There’s a big difference between cheap and frugal.

You don’t want to be cheap.

But when faced with a business that has economics like ours, frugality is a necessity.

Merch madness means you’re mad if you don’t have merch.

I’ve worked on some stinkers of shows.

And you know what?  No matter how short the run, we’ve always sold some t-shirts.

T-shirts and other pieces of merch are social proof badges that audience members can showcase in their own communities which elevate their status.  How high that status goes depends on the show and the value of the brand (Wicked = high, In My Life = low).

Thanks to the high price of theater tickets, getting a buyer to tack on a $20 t-shirt is easier than in other industries (how many times have you seen a merch stand selling $20 t-shirts outside a movie theater?).   Some merch buyers may subconsciously want to demonstrate to the public that they were able to afford that ticket.  Others may feel the need to demonstrate how passionate they are about a show.  (Theater has a way of creating some passionate people.  Need an example?  Watch the YouTube of Jared’s Broadway Musical Museum Apartment below.)

In other words . . . Got merch?  If the answer is no, then get it.

I don’t care how big or small your show or your theater is, you should have a merch line.  You don’t have to have a perfume line, but at the very least you should have a t-shirt and a button (I always advise merch sellers to have at least one less-than-$5 item for the budget-conscious consumer that still wants to buy).

Profit margins for merch are high, so take advantage of it.  A Company Manager friend of mine once worked on a flop that ran out of money before the show finished its run.  He had no money in the bank to load-out the show!  How did he pay the crew for the load-out?  He paid them in cash out of the merch sales . . . and they got everything out and everyone paid.

Thanks to the plethora of t-shirt sellers now available to you online, and to the low minimums now required for purchase (check out CafePress for the simplest of stores), it’s truly possible for everyone to make money selling merch . . . and that money can be used to offset your production and operating costs.

Which begs the question . . . if merch is almost always a money maker . . . why do Broadway shows outsource the merch to companies that only pay them a royalty?

Shouldn’t shows work the small startup costs necessary to operate a simple merch company into the capitalization of a show?  Isn’t that ancillary revenue stream a good diversification for the show and therefore a benefit to the investors?

I think you know the answer.

Merch madness.

I fell in love with the movie Better Off Dead (and its leading lady, Diane Franklin), when I was 14.

In addition to using my allowance to buy the movie on VHS (which cost $79.99 at the time), I also bought the poster and the soundtrack.  They didn’t have Better Off Dead t-shirts . . . so I created my own with a silk screen press I made in shop.

When a consumer is crazy about something, they want to re-experience it in any way they can.  They want to show it off.

They want to buy merch.

As marketers, we’re always looking to find our most passionate customers.  Sometimes we forget to look in the  most obvious of places.

Our most passionate people are standing in line at our merch stand.

People willing to fork over $65 for a zippered Wicked hoodie are also the ones most likely to tell their friends that they “just have to see that show!”  These are the types of people that are the keys to any successful word of mouth campaign (for Fyiero’s sake, they’re willing to pay to wear an over-priced sweatshirt probably made in a sweatshop featuring your logo!).

Like the 800# idea, reaching out to your merch buyers is another way around Ticketmaster and Telecharge, allowing us to talk to our BEST customers directly.

So, how do you take advantage of it?

Collect contact info at your merch stand.  Create partnerships with your merch company so that they give you access to the people that buy merch online (or start your own merch company).  Offer a gift certificate for tickets that they can buy for their friends.  Stuff the merch bags with flyers.  Train your sellers to sell the show as well as the shirts.

Merch stands are mines of golden customers.  And they’re there in our lobbies.

Now if only Diane were in the lobby . . .

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