"Producer's Corner" by Bruce Lazarus An Introduction to the New World of Theatre Marketing
Tuesday nights 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, our guest was Randall Wreghitt, who introduced the class to the exciting new world of theatre marketing. Randall is not only a highly successful producer (Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, the current smash hit As Bees in Honey Drown off-Broadway, and the Tony Winning Beauty Queen of Leenane on Broadway) but also the President of Pro Marketing, New York’s foremost theatre marketing firm. In addition to Randall’s own productions, Pro Marketing represents several of this season’s hottest off-Broadway shows, including Shakespeare’s R&J, Gross Indecency, Visiting Mr. Green and Never the Sinner, along with mentalist Mark Salem’s one man show Mindgames. They are also beginning marketing campaigns for the Broadway productions of the hit London play The Herbal Bed and the new musical The Jazz Singer. Randall talked to the students on the TeleCourse about how this relatively new way to promote a show works, and why it is such a win-win proposition for everyone involved.
Randall began by telling the class about his background and how he veritably introduced the commercial theatre world to marketing. After marketing both profit and not-for-profit entities in Minneapolis, he landed a position at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where he was involved in the marketing of the then-new Disney-MGM Studios, and in the marketing campaigns for the Disney films Pretty Woman, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Dick Tracy. He then moved to New York, where he was Director of Marketing and Promotions for the beloved Big Apple Circus for four years. In those years, the Circus saw its ticket sales rise 37%. His affiliation with the highly successful Three Tall Women allowed him to leave the Circus and open his own companies, Iowa Boy Productions and Pro Marketing. From the beginning, Randall stressed, he used the strategies he had used at the Big Apple Circus and other non-profits, as well as the relationships he had developed, to bring marketing to the commercial theatre. These strategies, Randall said, were not being used often in the commercial theatre until he came upon the scene, but they have proven to work wonders and can be used in any venue in any community.
A marketing firm, Randall explained, plays a different role than an advertising agency or a press agent. Once affiliated with a show, Pro Marketing develops and implements promotions, special events and contests that raise the visibility of the show, while at the same time keeping costs down by arranging trades for tickets rather than paying for the promotion. Aside from a retainer paid to the marketing firm and the tickets given away, the cost to the producer is minimal.
A radio station may agree to sponsor an on-air contest in exchange for tickets, or a cast member may do an in-store appearance at a local department store during which the store will give away tickets. Both the store and the show are featured in advertising and on in-store signs, making it a profitable arrangement for both. These trades can work especially well when a show is in previews, or on weeknights, when seats may remain unsold anyway, and a ticket winner or radio station employee could see the show and talk about it favorably to friends. Good businesspeople, Randall explained, know the value of affiliating themselves with theatre. Theatregoers are excellent prospective customers for any business, because they have discretionary income to spend. The businessperson that understands this will be receptive to building a long-term relationship with a marketing representative as that representative’s shows come and go throughout the years.
Big department stores, Randall suggested, are superb marketing partners because they have events throughout the year. An in-store appearance that incorporates a show into one of a store’s pre-existing events keeps both the store and the show visible at very minimal cost. For example, this year, Mark Salem may use his mental powers to determine how many flowers are at Macy’s Spring flower show, an event that will attract press attention for both Macy’s and Salem’s Mindgames. A different kind of Pro Marketing client, such as the venerable Paper Mill Playhouse, requires a different kind of approach. Because a trip to the Paper Mill is a long one for most New Yorkers, Pro Marketing has connected the institution with nearby restaurants and other businesses to market the complete experience of a trip to the Playhouse.
It’s also important, Randall said, to stay aware of new trends and what your audience might be doing, and come up with creative ways to reach them. Pro Marketing recently entered into an agreement with a company that manages over 750 movie theatre screens in the New York area, and soon slides advertising Pro Marketing client shows will be shown on those screens before films begin. When a Noel Coward biography was released at the time Pro Marketing was representing the recent Broadway revival of Coward’s Present Laughter, bookstores were not interested in having Present Laughter flyers on their tables, but responded well when presented with Present Laughter bookmarks to give away. Pro Marketing knew that bookstore shoppers are generally an excellent market for plays, once again because of evident discretionary income.
Another important part of marketing a show is the direct mailing. A marketing firm such as Pro Marketing can arrange to trade mailing lists with such theatrical entities as The Shubert Organization or Lincoln Center Theatre and send a mailing piece to a specific target audience. To keep the lists confidential, a mailing house receives the lists and does the actual labeling and mailing. With the advent of the computer age, direct mailing is becoming highly sophisticated, Randall explained. Now, a marketing representative can ask a partner company to “sponsor” the printing of a brochure in exchange for the addition of their name and logo to the brochure, and tell the company, “this brochure is being mailed to 20,000 people who saw Master Class on Broadway last year.” The sponsor company knows its name will be seen by a large, sophisticated, affluent audience.
Once again, these marketing strategies can be used in any size town for any production. From Peoria, Illinois to Times Square, it’s a matter of determining what the people who will be interested in your production are doing right now - shopping for a new suit, browsing in a bookstore, taking the kids for ice cream - and getting the name of your show in front of their eyes. And because you can use your show’s visibility to suggest where they buy that new suit, look for that book or indulge in that ice cream, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
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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