TeleCourse Raw Notes

Telemarketing: State of the Arts
Fred Schnitzer
March 10, 1998

Notes Taken by Tara Greenway Leibowitz

Thanks Tara!

Teleclass 3/10/98

Guest speaker: Fred Schnitzer, President of Entertainment Strategists

Subject: Telemarketing

1. Telemarketing for the performing arts

a. A different kind of cold calling It's different from selling insurance or aluminum siding, etc. over the phone; the style is open, enthusiastic

2. Beginnings of telemarketing

a. Nonprofits were first Nonprofit theater has used the phone for selling tickets for about 25 years. Danny Newman first sold five theater events for the price of 4 by mail; the "stepchild" of this was phone followup

b. For-profits catch on Fred was the first to bring this nonprofit technique to the for-profit world of Broadway and off-Broadway. In 1987 he founded Advance Entertainment, then in 1997 founded Entertainment Strategists

c. Successful staff selection Advance Entertainment sold single tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows, using a staff of mostly actors and directors, that believed in and loved the theater. There was no baloney in their sales talks; they were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They became more than sales reps; they were theater consultants to thier member clients

3. Telemarketing techniques

a. Telemarket members

Advance Entertainment developed a dedicated clientele that would take a chance on unreviewed shows. Its members would go to previews because the staff would tell them what was special about it.

b. Discounts

Sometimes shows would be discounted, but if show had enough "marketing hooks" (e.g., a star, an award-winning playwright), they wouldn't need to offer a discount

c. Commissions to telemarketing firm

The producer of the shows paid commission of 20-25% off full price for tickets. (The percentage is much higher than that taken by group sales people because telemarketing is much more labor-intensive than group sales numbers that people voluntarily call in to)

d. Commissions to staff To have a motivated staff you MUST pay on commission (in addition to base salary, e.g., $7-$8/hour in NYC, slightly lower elsewhere). Advance Entertainment staff were paid about 3 % commission on the gross value of ticket sale. You must create an enthusiastic environment where people are >psyched about selling the shows

QUESTION: How do you sell nonprofit tickets (as opposed to Broadway or off-Broadway)?

ANSWER: It's not just discounting tickets anymore. You sell the reputation and body of work of a theater. The staff must be extremely knowledgeable about the subject. They bring up how important it is for youth to be exposed to theater, how hard it is for theaters with national endowments being cut, etc. Entertainment Strategists just raised $90,000 in 8 weeks for New York Theater Workshop (the people who brought you RENT). The magic is in getting ENTHUSIASTIC people who can inject their personality into the phone conversation. You must hire and train the right people.

QUESTION: How would you sell a commercial production?

ANSWER: You don't talk about the body of work or government cutbacks; you talk about why this is the hot show, why it's special and they should jump on it. Get them to stop and listen to one of the things you say.

QUESTION: How does this relate to venues other than Broadway?

ANSWER: Off-Broadway has a lower ticket price, although they don't have as much advertising or cache as Broadway; many people that won't pay for Broadway shows will go to off-Broadway . You convince people that because of burgeoning costs, today's off-Broadway shows would have been on Broadway 25 years ago. Same goes for regional theaters. To sell a show:

1) grill producer about who is most drawn to their theater; evaluate their demographics

2) look at the piece and decide what kind of groups would be interested in this show. Use the Internet; use the Chamber of Commerce to get business listings

3) market to other theater people: theater schools, community theaters, other professional theaters

QUESTION: Do you focus only on theatergoers to sell a show?

ANSWER: No. You need to get once-a-year theatergoers to go 4 times a year, 4x/yr. people to go once a month. You can't run a show for more than 6 months to a year if only theatergoers go -- you must get non-theatergoers >in too.

QUESTION: Is it helpful to do a mailing first before a telemarketing call?

ANSWER: YES. Telemarketing by itself yields a 4-8% success rate; with a previous mailing it goes up to 10-12%. It's a good opener for staff to use: "I'm just confirming that you've gotten our mailing." (Even if they didn't get it, staff can still say this.)

QUESTION: Are there any experimental measures you can think of for selling tickets that no one's ever done before?

ANSWER: Now discussing with Nederlander and Jujamcyn breaking new ground by "kamikaze telemarketing." Team dedicated to a particular show on tour would "blitz" soft spots of a tour, pushing in cities where advance sales are low and ignoring cities where sales are good. They'd use only the best callers for this, the most enthusiastic. Also, a new idea Livent is using to beat the scalpers, who find a way to get the best seats in the house (and sell tickets for $200-$300 each), by holding the best >seats in the house and selling them for $100-$125 along with special >benefits like their own private bar or restroom.

QUESTION: What percentage of Broadway and off-Broadway shows use telemarketing?

ANSWER: Over the 10 years of Advance Entertainment's business, they sold about 400 shows; about 200 of these were Broadway shows.

QUESTION: How do you deal with it when a show that your callers recommended has bombed? Does it hurt your reputation the next time you call?

ANSWER: We always read scripts or checked out shows when possible before putting them on sale, to make sure they met professional standards. We were honest and upfront in our presentation of the show then let the person decide on his own. If the customer says "I hated the last show you sold me," you say "Oh, why didn't you like it?" Then say you understand why they might feel that way, but not all the plays are that way and they might be interested in the new one. Let them vent, then open the door to the rest of the conversation; be their friend.

QUESTION: Would telemarketing pay in a 3-month run in a 99-seat theater?

ANSWER: Yes; we've promoted one-night and one-week runs. The most important thing is that there are enough names to call and enough marketing hooks. Everyone is welcome to e-mail any other questions to Fred at: or call Entertainment Strategists at 973/655-1142

Next week: Randall Wreggitt on "Theater Marketing from the Ground Floor Up"

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