by Bruce Lazarus

Hold the Phone - Have I Got a Show For You!
In Praise of Personalized Telemarketing

Every Tuesday night I host a free TeleCourse in which I invite a theatre-industry professional to discuss an specific aspect of the theatrical production process with both experienced and novice producers.

On March 10th, our guest was Fred Schnitzer, President of Entertainment Strategists, New York's premiere performing arts telemarketing company. Fred discussed how telemarketing works, and, most importantly, the personal touch that goes into a good telemarketing strategy.

Fred founded the first outbound telemarketing company for Broadway and off-Broadway theater, Advanced Entertainment, in 1987. Not-for-profit theaters had been using telemarketers for years to ask subscribers to renew, to target new subscribers, and to do general fund-raising. Advanced Entertainment was the first company to bring telemarketing to the commercial theater, and they added what Fred sees as a crucial factor to the success of any performing arts telemarketing - a personal touch. The telemarketers who worked for Advanced Entertainment were knowledgeable actors, directors and writers who would develop one-on-one relationships with the Advanced Entertainment member clients. An Advanced Entertainment member knew that he or she would get regular calls from a theater professional who knew the client's personal tastes, and who would recommend new shows, usually while they were still in previews. Fred found that when theatergoers were called by personable, enthusiastic "consultants" with whom they had developed relationships, and who could speak intelligently about a show's content and the creative talent involved in a production, a trust would develop and the members would buy tickets to new shows based on the telemarketer's recommendation. In addition, Fred always recommends a direct mail campaign to accompany the telemarketing campaign. A telemarketing call can start out as a follow up to make sure the client got the mailing, and even if he or she did not, the call can move on to a conversation about the production. Almost twice as many tickets can be sold through a production's marketing campaign, Fred noted, when both direct mailing and telemarketing are used.

While not-for-profit theaters still use telemarketers, Fred pointed out, the angle in that area has changed. Rather than selling the package of upcoming productions in a season, the not-for-profit theaters use the body of their work and the importance of the community outreach projects they do to reel in subscribers and donors.

These factors are just as important in the regional theaters, Fred noted. A good telemarketing campaign for a production in, say, Dallas or Washington, D.C. might use patron lists from the venue manager if the manager is willing to share them, and will also target those in the community who might not be regular theatergoers but who may have some connection to the subject matter of the show through the work they do or the community groups in which they are involved.

Whether they're selling tickets to the hot new Broadway musical or a play in a 99-seat theatre in Grand Rapids, the right telemarketers can be "personal shoppers" for their clients, letting them know when something they'll love is about to come in. That's show biz.

To participate in the free Tuesday TeleCourse or just listen in, all you need is a telephone, however you must register by calling (212) 769-3282.

Bruce Lazarus the former Director of Business and Legal Affairs for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and producer of the current off-Broadway show Shakespeare's "R&J."

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