How would you deal with a social media disaster?

I recently participated in a very creative panel called “Staged Social Media,” put together by Situation Interactive.  A bunch of the talented staff at Situation (who said folks in the tech world can’t act?) read scripts of social media disasters, like the Dave Peck JetBlue soap opera, the Greenpeace vs. Nestle grudge match (the video is not for the faint of heart), and a couple of positive stories as well, including our industry’s own Wicked making a cancer patient’s dreams come true by performing in her own home because she was too weak to attend the show.

After each scene was staged, the room and my fellow panelists commented on whether or not we would have handled anything different.

It was a fun event, and I grabbed a few take-aways that I thought I would share with you:

  • Social media communication with your customers is personal.  E-Speak to them to them as you would a friend . . . or better, someone that you want to date, and maybe, someday, marry.
    • Southwest Airline’s “tweet” to Dave Peck about where he was and what he was doing took their relationship to the next level.
  • You can’t fight a social media movement.  In other words, lawyers are not always right.
    • Nestle’s lawyers trying to remove the video from the net, and their social networking strategist attempting to delete comments on their wall, only made the people more passionate about being heard.
  • Empowering your brand ambassadors (aka customer service agents) to go above and beyond the customer service call of duty creates loyal customers that will spread your message for you.
    • The Wicked event was organized single-handedly by the Company Manager of the show.  The CM got a letter, and knew that organizing that visit was not only part of Wicked‘s “For Good” mission, but it was also just a beautiful thing to do . . . and that’s never wrong.
    • And no one is empowered more than the agents at Zappos, who constantly upgrade shipping and have even sent flowers to customers . . . just because.
  • The best social media stories are plain old-fashioned human interest stories that can’t be manufactured by a press department.

It was a very unique night (and I encourage all the people out there who plan panels to take a cue from this one . . . they don’t have to all be sit-and-speak), and as you can see, it was also very educational.

The question did come up about whether or not social media has a direct impact on the bottom line of a business.

My answer is this . . . despite its appearance, social media is not a direct response mechanism.  It’s social, by name and by nature.

Think of it this way . . .  if It meet someone on the street, and I say, “Hi, I’m Ken.” And they said, “Hi, I’m Barbara.”  And then I say, “Barbara, buy this from me, buy this from me, buy this from me!”  Do you think Barbara is going to want to talk to me, hang out with me . . . “marry” me?

Nope.  She’s probably going to avoid me at all costs.

Social media is not about selling.  It’s about building awareness, making passionate users even more passionate, and communicating with your customers when you normally can’t (which is a necessity in our business, since we sell through third party providers that we don’t control (online ticketing agents, box offices, etc.)).

Anecdotally, let me say this . . .

In the past month, when I needed a tax attorney, a real estate agent in Boston, a piece of art for my living room and a plot line for a script I’m working on . . . I asked my friends on Facebook.

And I found every one of those things within 2 hours.

That’s gotta contribute to someone’s bottom line.

5 MORE Takeaways from the Get Your Show Off The Ground Seminar.

Last Saturday, another great group of super passionate producers, writers, artists and more woke up early and spent the day with me and the other entrepreneurial artists who signed up for my Get Your Show Off The Ground Seminar.

We had a blast.

We heard about all sorts of projects at various stages of development.  We talked about finding and signing collaborators, how to wear multiple hats on multiple projects, and yes, you guessed it, we talked about how to raise all those important funds.  And everyone walked away with a to-do list that they were psyched to check off.

While it’s impossible to recreate the energy of the room in a blog, I thought I’d do what I did after the last seminar, and post five simple takeaways that resonated with the group, that will hopefully resonate with you.

  • Creating experiential entertainment has never been more important than it is today.
  • The nicer the theater you put your show in, the higher the expectations from your audience and the press, will be.
  • Your agents and your lawyers work for you.  You do not work for them.
  • Developing scripts can be like sick children.  And if your kid isn’t getting better, don’t stick with your one doctor.  Take him/her to the best doctor you can afford.
  • Just because your show doesn’t belong on Broadway, doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong.

There was a ton of other great stuff that came out of the seminar, and so much of it came from the participants themselves!  These seminars have turned into great collaborative think tanks of some of the most exciting and emerging theatrical minds I’ve seen.  Thanks for being so awesome, guys.

If you’d like to participate in one of my seminars, sign up today by clicking here. The next seminar will be on Saturday, November 13th. (The timing is ideal for all of you post-festival peeps curious about what to do AFTER the festival.)  FYI, I’ve modified the structure a bit to make the seminar more efficient, but that also means that there are only 12 spots available.  These spots will go fast, so register today.

Click here for more info and we’ll see you there!

A blog about a blogger.

Six days ago, I passed a few emails back and forth with one of my favorite bloggers (and one of my favorite people) about doing an interview for an article he was working on.

Yesterday, I got a call from one of his friends and found out that he had suddenly passed away at the age of 51.

Patrick Lee was one of the brightest lights on Broadway.  I got to know him during the creation of the ITBA (he helped co-found the org. and headed up our annual awards).  I liked his company and his talent so much, I hired him to write the BroadwaySpace feature, Broadway’s 50 Most Powerful People, which, thanks to him, was our most successful feature of the year.

Talent and great guy-ness, all wrapped up in one.

Patrick was so uberly passionate about every part of what we all do, taking in every show he could, whether it was at a Shubert house, or at some hipster’s house in the East Village.

He saw hundreds and hundreds of shows per year all over the city and in every festival.  I cynically asked him once, “Patrick . . . aren’t most of these shows crap?  How can you continue to sit through them all?”

His response?  “Ken, there’s no place I’d rather be than in a theater.”

I have no doubt that Patrick has premium seats in the biggest and best theaters of all right now.

Someday, Patrick, I hope we’ll meet again . . . although I’ll be lucky if they let me sit anywhere close to you.

Be well, my friend.

UPDATE:  The wake will be Friday, June 11 between 2 – 4pm and 7 – 9pm at Robert Spearing Funeral Home (155 Kinderkamack Road/Park Ridge, NJ  07656). The funeral will be at 10am, Saturday, June 12, at Our Lady of Mercy Church, Park Ridge.

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Play today! Click here!

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I found a great writer. Now what do I do?

Yesterday we talked about where you can go to find writers who will put your idea for a Broadway or Off-Broadway (or Off-Off Broadway) show on paper.

But once you find that writer (or writers), then what do you do?  Here are four tips on what to do with that writer once you find him or her.

1.  Think twice.

The first thing you should do before jumping into bed with a writer is to give it a second thought and get a third opinion.  You’re marrying this writer.  Sure, you can always get divorced (see below), but that’s just going to make things more difficult later on (and more expensive), and more importantly, it’ll slow down the development of the piece.  You want to make sure that this writer is exactly what you are looking for. Don’t compromise, especially if the idea for the show came from your head.  It’ll drive you crazy to sign somebody up only to find out that he/she is not as passionate about the idea as you, or if they want to take it in a different direction than you do.

2.  What’s the deal?

Are you commissioning the writer?  In other words, are you paying him or her a fee to write your idea?  Upfront commission fees can range from a few hundred bucks to several thousand, depending on the reputation of your writer, and how badly they want to work on your project.  Commissions are especially common in the non-profit world, but creative commercial producers can and should use this tool as well.

When you do commission a writer, make sure you protect your creative contributions as well.  Most playwrights are going to ask that they own the final product (unless you can pay a significant upfront fee), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a piece of future income due to the writer(s) (and perhaps a credit as well) for being the creative impetus for the project.

Maybe you don’t want to commission, but instead you want to collaborate, which will put you more into the creative mix.

(Red Flag Alert:  When negotiating, be wary of writers who are only after high up-front advances or fees.  Sometimes this is a sign that they are not as interested in the project, and that they don’t believe that they will see a lot of long-term royalties (which is why they want guaranteed income up front)).

There are a thousand different ways to get a writer on board, and I strongly recommend you speak to a lawyer or someone who has hired writers before to get an idea of what will work best for your unique situation.  At  the end of the day, you want a deal that works well for both parties.

And don’t just try and get the writer to sign on board for nothing.  Giving people a little money makes them feel better about working on a project, and also makes them more beholden to their boss (that’s you!).

3.  Set deadlines.

Establish clear deadlines from day one for the development of the piece.  When is the first scene due?  When is the first Act due?  Completed script?  First reading?  Map out a developmental course, have the writer agree to it, and then make ’em stick to it.  Sure, you may have to adjust deadlines along the way, but having a mutually agreed upon plan will guarantee that more work gets done, and faster.

4.  If it’s not working out, make a change.

If the script isn’t coming together the way that you had envisioned it in that theater in your mind, then fire the writer, and move on.  Yes, it may cost you some bucks . . . but how much will it cost you in the long run if the idea that gets on stage isn’t the one you wanted written?  Now add in the mental anguish and more you’ll experience by working with someone for years when you don’t see eye to eye.  Now that’s expensive!  This is where theater producers need to be more like movie producers.  If the writer isn’t working, then find another one.  Period.  You owe it to your idea.  If you don’t make that change, you’ll always wonder what if . . .

Finding and hiring a writer is hard.  It’s one of the hardest things that a creative producer will ever have to do.  But it should be.  Because it’s the most important thing a creative producer will ever have to do.

It’s like building your dream house.

You can find the lot, and you can list all the features that you want . . . a big porch, a 3 car garage, a jacuzzi tub.  But it’s up to someone else to build that house, make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing, and make sure it doesn’t fall down after a few months.

How to find a great writer for your great idea.

If you’re reading my blog, then I’ll bet a union health payment that you don’t have one single idea for a show.

I’d bet that you’ve got a “shit ton” of ideas for shows.

(Sorry for the language, but I heard a guy use that expression at a Shell Station in Austin, and I just can’t stop saying it).

So what do you do with your ST of ideas?

If you don’t consider yourself a writer, then you gotta find one, because leaving all those great ideas idle on a shelf is a sin.

But how do you find a writer for your play or musical (or television show or novel or whatever)?

Here are three fishing holes I visit when I’ve got an idea that I want executed:

1.  Agents

Almost all established writers are repped by one of just a few agencies.  And a lot of the younger, more promising writers get sucked up by the same agents very early in their career, regardless of whether they’ve had any success. Reach out to the literary agents in town, forge a relationship, and ask who they would recommend for a job.  If you do reach out to an agency, don’t be surprised if you can’t get a top agent on the phone.  Work the assistant.  Find out if they have writers that are looking for ideas, commissions, etc.  Take the assistant to lunch.  Come on, you can do it.  You’re a producer.  Act like one.

2.  Festivals

Festivals are like Whole Foods for Writers.  They’ve got everything.  Whether there are 10 plays, 100 plays, or 1000 plays in a festival, you can bet there are writers of all shapes, styles and interests.  Sample as many shows as you can, looking for someone who has the talent and the sensibility that you are looking for.  And hey, if they’re working in a festival, I’d go double or nothing on that health payment that they are passionate and a hard worker.  And that’s the kind of writer you want and need.

3.  Friends

Put yourself in a circle of artists that have similar sensibilities, and ask them for recommendations.  Not only will you get recommendations of talented individuals, but your friends and associates will be able to give you some insight into whether or not the two of you will get along.  You’re going to be birthing a baby together . . . and if it was your idea, then that writer is acting like a surrogate . . . so you want to make sure you understand each other and can go through this difficult (and at times painful) process together.

Great writers are hard to find.  And great writers that are also passionate about the same subjects you are passionate about are even harder to find.

But they are out there.

Sometimes it just takes a ‘shit ton’ of work to find the ‘write’ one.

What do you do when you find that perfect writer?  Do you commission?  Do you collaborate?

More on that tomorrow.

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