The fall season is upon us and there’s a ton of shows opening on Broadway, Off-Broadway, at Regional Theaters, as Experiences and beyond. I was asked recently by a potential client what they needed to know about selling tickets to their show. Here’s what I told them.
1) Know your target audience must be “Theatregoers Plus something else”- No show is for everyone. I really wish it were, but there are folks in the world for which Hamilton is just not their cup of tea. So, when you are sitting down ready to start marketing your show, you need to think of the audience first and foremost as people who enjoy seeing theatre “plus” something else, meaning they also have an interest in a star, or a musician, or in a specific topic or artform. For example, if your Mom is coming to town and she wants to see a show and you know she loves Neil Diamond- You’re buying two tickets to A Beautiful Noise or if you happen to be obsessed with the last season of White Lotus and you love Parks and Rec- you already have your tickets to see Aubrey Plaza in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.
2) Know what it’s like to buy a ticket. — Pretend you are the consumer and actually go online or pick up the phone and understand what the process is in physically buying a ticket. My first boss, Thomas Mygatt, made me do this with every show and testing every code to better understand the customer experience and what felt tedious as a 23-year-old has proven to be one of the most important lessons I ever had in selling theatre. First, it helps you to identify any roadblocks along the way and secondly, appreciate the “flow” of a ticket purchase. If it takes too long or the offering of price or inventory is not considered to be a “good deal”- welcome to a million abandoned carts.
3) Know the definition of a “good deal”- We are past the point in history where you absolutely must discount to sell a show. For example, a seasonal discount can work to motivate someone to buy during a time when going to a theatre has less appeal (say during snowy January or the end of a hot August). Or offering a deal to see something during previews, may tip the scale for me to try a show I might not have considered due to the lower price point. But millions of people paid a ridiculous amount of money to see Taylor Swift and I have not met a single person that regrets paying those prices to see that show.
A “good deal” in theatre terms can be defined as follows: I recently bought two tickets, mid-orchestra on the aisle for the first preview of Water for Elephants for $211 per ticket and I thought, “This feels correct”. I can’t wait to see that huge show and the higher price in a great location made the splurge worth it.
Or I have been meaning to revisit Hadestown and I was served with an ad to “get great seats from $99” and I have a feeling I will be going way down underground real soon. It’s not a discount, it’s just a price I am willing to pay for “round two” of a theatre experience. If it was my first time, I’d be happy to pay more for a Tony-award winning hit.
4) Know and understand your audience and where they are- I have worked in or around Broadway for over 25 years now and I spent most of that time targeting “middle-aged suburban women who like theatre”. Now I am that woman. So let me tell you about me and my friends- we all used to commute five days a week into NYC but now many of us only do so 2 to 3 times a week. Since the time we spend in the city is less, our schedule is more packed. Also understand, while our kids have grown older, so have our parents- we have new and sometimes harder responsibilities now beyond work. We are all swamped with other things and thereby making the time to enjoy ourselves has taken less of a priority.
Almost every night I am in Manhattan, I have a business dinner or a drink with friends and it’s my job to see shows- so I do that too, but trying to gather my girlfriends to meet in midtown for a night at the theatre is now a scheduling feat. I could write a book about gathering six of us together to see Six. (And we did it and it was glorious but that was a long time ago). Many of us are on social media but maybe a little less than we once were, so getting our attention is tricky. Most effective- target me in an ad on social (probably Instagram) with one or more of the following- a good video clip, a good press quote or video of a press appearance on a national TV show. Ideally, hit me with digital plus a piece of mail or a taxi top or a commuter poster- so while I wait for my train, I remember the ad I saw and text my friends to say, “We gotta go see MJ next!”. You need to hit me with ads beyond my screen to motivate me to do something where no screen is involved.
5) Know what “Urgency” means to a consumer- There are only a few things that add urgency to my ticketing purchase:
a. The show is brand new, and I want to get the best seats or see the show first.
b. The star I wanted to see is joining the show or leaving the show.
c. There’s a “deal” to see the show but only for a limited time (doesn’t need to be a discount).
d. There is a cool event or moment happening that I want to be a part of.
e. The show is ending it’s run- not the reason you wanted to hear but it does motivate me to go.
f. I am afraid if I don’t “buy now” that I will not be able to get a good seat.
6) Know I need to plan to “Make a Memory”- remind me of that- I recently wrote copy for a campaign attempting to motivate people to buy tickets for the holidays now. Knowing that most people are buying their tickets closer and closer to the date they see something, my messaging was “The Holidays will be here before you know it. Make your plans now.” Will this work? We will see. But the other thing I have been thinking about is how fast time is flying by and after I wrote that line, I texted my kids in college to plan a trip we have coming a few months from now. Maybe if I was hit with a campaign of “It’s time to make time to see a show with your friends” or “There’s no night like a date night on Broadway”. At the end of the day, we aren’t selling tickets. We are selling memories. I can’t remember the last movie I watched on Netflix, but I can tell you every detail about the night I laughed myself silly seeing The Cottage or the night I danced with abandon at Here Lies Love or when I sang along to “Roar” at & Juliet.
As we head into the fall, make sure you plan to make a memory of your own and go see live theatre. And if you are trying to sell your show-motivate consumers to make that memory with your production. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that life is short and we should be doing more to enjoy ourselves.
Vic Cairl is the founder of www.Table7Strategy.com a theatrical marketing agency. She is slightly obsessed with seeing and selling theatre.