"Producer's Corner"
by Bruce Lazarus

Direct Mail and Telemarketing - The One-Two Punch

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

Recently, two of our guest speakers extolled the value of direct mail marketing campaigns, and suggested ways in which a producer can make his or her direct mail campaign cost-effective and successful, including linking it with a telemarketing campaign.

One guest who spoke on this subject was Randall Wreghitt, a producer (Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, the current smash hit As Bees in Honey Drown off-Broadway, and the upcoming Beauty Queen of Leenane on Broadway) and the President of Pro Marketing, New York's foremost theatre marketing firm. As mentioned in a separate column, Pro Marketing represents several of this season's off-Broadway hits, such as Shakespeare's R&J, Gross Indecency, Visiting Mr. Green and Never the Sinner, and mentalist Mark Salem's Mindgames. They are also marketing the Broadway productions of the hit London play The Herbal Bed and the new musical The Jazz Singer. Randall explained that direct mail campaigns have grown extremely sophisticated in the last few years, as the entertainment industry has entered the computer age. A producer can work out a deal to use a mailing list from a company such as The Shubert Organization or Lincoln Center Theatre, and because the list is sent directly to a mailing house rather than to the borrowing producer, the list remains confidential. In addition, because these lists are now computerized, they can be sorted in a very specific manner.

For example, a producer working with a show that encompasses themes relating to African and African-American history, even if it is by an unknown playwright, may want to develop a mailing piece that stresses the themes of the play and mail it to those theatregoers who have supported the works of Athol Fugard and August Wilson. He or she could then approach the producers of those playwrights' most recent works to rent computerized lists of ticket buyers to those plays. In addition, the producer might approach a business that would like to raise its profile among affluent and aware African Americans in the area, such as a new magazine targeting that readership, and offer that if the business will "sponsor" a direct mailing by covering the cost of the printing, the producer will put the business' name and logo and information on the mailing piece. The producer can tell the decision maker at the business that the mailing piece will be sent to 10,000 people who have seen the plays of Athol Fugard and August Wilson, and the businessperson will know that intelligent, sophisticated theatregoers with discretionary income and an interest in socio-political issues will see his company's name. In that respect, it's a win-win situation for both the producer and the businessperson, allowing the producer to maximize his always limited advertising and marketing budget.

Fred Schnitzer, President of Entertainment Strategists, one of New York's premiere performing arts telemarketing companies, stressed to the students that a direct mail campaign and a telemarketing campaign should go hand in hand. Fred's first company, 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. Fred has found that theatergoers dislike being called by telemarketers who are not knowledgeable about the theater. However, when they are called by personable, enthusiastic "consultants" with whom they have developed relationships, and who can speak intelligently about a show's content and the creative talent involved in a production, a trust will develop and the clients will buy tickets to new shows based on the telemarketer's recommendation. It adds immediacy and content to the call, Fred said, if a direct mail campaign has preceded the telemarketing campaign. A telemarketing call can start out as a follow up to make sure the client got the postcard or brochure, 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.

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 (304) 733-2949.

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

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