Direct Mail Takes Center Stage in Slow Broadway Season

After using direct mail and discount offers to increase attendance during a slow 2001-02 winter season, Broadway producers hope that mail pieces can revive slumping ticket sales again this year.

“Winter is always a slow time, so we do have to look at innovative marketing methods,” said Jan Svendsen, director of marketing and business development at the League of American Theatres and Producers, New York.

Plays and musicals such as “Take Me Out,” “Frankie & Johnny,” “Dance of the Vampires,” Disney's “Aida” and “Beauty and the Beast” and “Oklahoma!” have dropped mailers offering ticket discounts, something Broadway does not like to promote in mass-market print ads.

“Direct marketing is very important to the [Broadway] industry because we don't like to publicize discounting of tickets on a really wide-scale basis,” Svendsen said. “So direct mail plays a very important role in being able to select audiences to give special offers to.”

The mail campaign for Richard Greenberg's “Take Me Out,” a play about baseball that received excellent reviews at the Public Theater in New York and London's Donmar Warehouse, hit 350,000 homes Dec. 30.

Greg Corradetti, group director at Serino Coyne Inc., the ad agency that did the campaign, said it was sent then because previews begin Feb. 4, and “we wanted the mailing piece to get into people's homes as soon as possible after the new year.”

The piece included photographs from the show and praise from critics. It gave recipients a chance to buy $80 seats for $50. To order, recipients call Telecharge and give the operator a special code or bring the mailer to the Walter Kerr Theater. The offer was valid for performances from Feb. 4 to March 16. The campaign cost $175,000.

Mailings went to a list from Telecharge of theatergoers who attended dramas or comedies and who live in the New York metropolitan area. Corradetti had no numbers yet, but said he anticipates good results.

The ability to target with lists is another attraction of direct mail for Broadway.

“When you have purchased tickets and are a fairly frequent theatergoer, your name is on some of the more popular direct mail lists, so there is a much higher percentage of response,” Svendsen said. “A savvy producer knows he or she can really segment his or her market with these lists and have a much more scientific and cost-effective approach.”

Direct mail also is the most economical way to promote a show during the preview stage, Svendsen said, when show producers “do not have the opportunity to do a lot of wide-scale, general advertising, simply because they don't usually have the money yet.”

Even Broadway's current runaway hit “Hairspray” used a direct mail campaign last summer because producers were worried about the show opening during the summer. The mailer, which included a CD with three songs from the show, went out to 325,000 people and cost $200,000. Ultimately, the piece helped generate more than $1 million in ticket sales.

Shows also use direct mail to promote a change to an existing production. “Oklahoma!” sent a color postcard to 200,000 theatergoers this month touting that Patty Duke joined the show Dec. 14.

The postcard featured photos of Duke and offered “great wintertime prices.” The prices were $45 for weeknights and $55 for weekends. To order, recipients call Ticketmaster and mention a special code or visit or the Gershwin Theater box office. The offer is good through March 16, but not valid for Saturday performances. The campaign cost $100,000.

The postcard targeted women ages 40 to 65 who live in the New York area and attend musicals frequently. Serino Coyne also handled that promotion.

“The people we were targeting either grew up watching Patty Duke's television series or had seen her in the “Miracle Worker” or in one of the over 75 television movies she has appeared in,” said Marc Thibodeau, the musical's publicist.

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