Direct mail doesn’t get Tony Awards, nor does it get caricatured and hung on the wall of Sardi’s. But it has become an integral component in making a Broadway show a success.
“When I first started in the business it was never used,” says Jon Bierman, vice president/account supervisor, Grey Entertainment Inc. Times Square. “It’s really heated up the past five or six years-now you couldn’t possibly open up a Broadway show without using DM.”
“The Lion King,” for example, used an exclusive premium in a pre-opening mailing to lure patrons into its den. And “The Scarlet Pimpernel” has used direct response promotions throughout its run to create a buzz.
Michael Portantiere, managing editor of InTheater magazine, notes that tools like billboards and the Internet are rapidly joining traditional media like print and radio in promoting The Great White Way. “Anything to spark more interest from the general public,” he says.
>From the launch of InTheater last September and Entertainment Weekly’s >quarterly “Stage” theater section last year to the selection of talk show >queen Rosie O’Donnell as the high- profile host of this month’s Tonys, the >public can’t help but notice that Broadway has been revitalized with an >influx of theatrical-and marketing-energy.
The appeal of direct marketing for big-budget shows is obvious, says Frank Pellegrino, president of New York-based Grey Entertainment: It’s trackable.
“Producers love to see that,” he says.
The direct marketing of Broadway has turned more refined over the past decade as a better and wider variety of lists became available, notes Pellegrino. At first, the options were primarily theater group files such as Lincoln Center and Roundabout Theater subscribers. Now, marketers can access prospects like frequent musical goers from sources like Ticketmaster or TeleCharge, or people who have seen shows at particular theaters like the Shubert.
Multi-tiered Stage David Slavick, director, retail business development for Harte-Hanks-who has in the past worked with such theater clients as the Missouri Repertory in Kansas City-notes that theater marketing is a multi-tiered situation. Not only single show attendees but people who purchase on a continuity basis, as well as donors to theater companies, should be considered. Modeling and profiling can obviously help here, Slavick says, if theaters texture their files and look at factors like education and home ownership to create clusters of information. But, he adds, “not enough” theaters are utilizing database marketing at this level.
Up to 10% of a show’s pre-opening budget is usually devoted to marketing, with maybe about 25% of that allotted to DM, says Bierman. How a show divvies up that budget depends entirely on the particular production.
All kinds of mailing packages are used to promote Broadway, from simple postcards to more elaborate efforts. The offers usually fall into two categories-discounts or added values like premiums. And although television image-type ads remain a staple of the mix, 60-second DRTV spots haven’t really worked, because the audience is too broad-based, so you can’t target like you can with mail.
Many productions use direct mail heavily before a show opens to create a buzz, says Pellegrino.
Disney’s “The Lion King,” he says, sent a pre-opening mailing offering a watch premium if tickets were purchased by a certain date. (The timepiece was created expressly for the campaign and not available anywhere else.) Families with children from Disney files were targeted in the promotion.
“Ragtime” and “Chicago” also tested direct mail pre-opening, but haven’t done much since, partly because the productions are so successful they don’t need it, notes Pellegrino. “It all depends on the show.”
However, there is an upside to some shows backing off on DM.
Too Much DM? “Direct mail is such a success-it has become so commonplace-that it may hurt [responses],” says Pellegrino, explaining that theater goers may wait to see if they receive a mailing offering a discount rather than rushing to the box office to see a new show.
Five or six years ago, notes Pellegrino, shows would see response rates in the 25% to 30% range for direct mail campaigns. (And that would get boosted to a whopping 70% when you take into account that many people purchased four tickets instead of the expected two.) Now, response rates usually are in the still respectable but lower 5% to 10% range.
“As people expect direct mail, how do you break through the clutter?” he says. “It becomes like any other media.”
One show that’s tried to break through the direct response clutter is “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” The day after the show opened last November, a CD featuring three songs from the musical was inserted into 380,000 home-delivered copies of The New York Times delivered in the New York metro area. (The CD was also placed in 20,000 Los Angeles area copies, reasoning that if Angelenos were receiving the Times, they probably visited New York.)
A half-page ad accompanied the CD package, which included an offer for a key chain premium if full-price tickets were purchased for performances between Jan. 6 and Feb. 27, a traditionally slow theater sales period.
The music was so strong, says Grey’s Bierman, the producers thought this would be the best way to get the word out and create interest.
The results “weren’t amazing” but were respectable, says Bierman, adding that the buzz generated by the promotion made it worth the cost.
Another insert was tried the week before Valentine’s Day. Four hundred thousand Valentine’s cards from the Pimpernel were inserted into copies of The New York Times. A CD of the original Broadway cast recording was offered as a premium.
“We were very pleased,” says Bierman. “The show lends itself to romance.”
A winter mailing of 400,000 pieces offering a $25 discount on full-price “Pimpernel” tickets also performed well.
Who’s the Audience? That mailing, like many promoting Broadway, targeted audiences that are already theater goers. According to the spring 1998 Simmons Study of Media and Markets, over a third of respondents who said they attended live theater had graduated college; 21.7% were between ages 25-34; 23.4% were between ages 35-44; 60% were employed full time (14.82% in professional positions); 57% were married; 86.5% were white; the majority had a household income in the $50,000-$60,000 range; and 60% did not have children.
But what about attracting new and different segments to the Broadway stage?
Reaching new audiences is a priority, asserts Pellegrino.
The younger theater goers who went to hip shows like “Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring In ‘da Funk” will be the target of a campaign Grey Entertainment is preparing for the new off-Broadway show “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Proven lists are essential for a show like this, as it has a small DM budget, Pellegrino notes.
But some productions have the leeway to try something a bit different. Bierman cites “Mrs. Klein,” a play about a psychiatrist that ran a few years ago. The production experimented with mailing to lists of analysts such as the American Psychiatric Association, a test that went “extremely well.” This is promising, especially considering subject matter affinity was the only variable-they couldn’t crosstab to see which doctors were theater goers.
Mailings targeting groups such as teachers and their students are also part of the mix, says Grey Entertainment’s vice president for special events and promotion Suzanne Tobak.
The revival of “1776” was a popular play for teachers to take their students to, she notes, adding that “The Scarlet Pimpernel” created study guides to make itself more enticing to school groups.
All in all, that’s not a bad plan of attack. Remember, the schoolchildren of today are the credit card holding-and hopefully direct responsive-Broadway patrons of tomorrow.