A Broadway Musical, A TV Series, and Marketing Your Productions

Today’s blog post is written by Cheryl Dolby, Senior Sales Development Representative, PatronManager.

What do these three things have in common? 

First, some background — several years ago, in a former career, I was a Broadway press agent. Among the dozens of Broadway shows I represented were Pippin and Chicago, two Bob Fosse musicals very much in the news now as a result of the FX limited TV series Fosse/Verdon, nominated this year for 17 Emmy Awards.

When I worked on Pippin, I was an associate in the PR office of Harvey Sabinson, one of Broadway’s legendary press agents. The standard process in Harvey’s office was that he and the show’s producer would come up with a marketing blurb and, using that as our main message, the associates would then do all the daily marketing work for the run of the show.

In this case, the marketing blurb was “Pippin is the story of a young man searching for fulfillment, just like any other young man today, except his father is Charlemagne, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.” Remember, this was 1971-72, so “searching for fulfillment” was the mantra of the day.

My reaction? If that’s what you say the show is about, then that’s what I’ll market. 

Until…

I went over to rehearsal one afternoon to have Bob Fosse approve his Playbill bio. The stage manager took it to him in another room where he was working with some actors. I stayed behind as Ben Vereen and a few dancers continued rehearsing segments of the “Glory” number, pictured below with “The Manson Trio” (Pamela Sousa, Ben Vereen, and Candy Brown) in the foreground.

Photo by Martha Swope/New York Public Library

I wasn’t there very long when Fosse’s approved bio was handed back me — but, that was all the time I needed.

I went back to my office, sat down at Harvey’s desk, shook my finger in his face and told him we were not marketing the show right, and that what we were saying about it had nothing to do with what Fosse was doing! He stammered, nervously, and asked what I meant. I told him, “We can’t say Charlemagne, Holy Roman Empire, a young man searching for fulfillment… I’ll give you as many descriptions as you need: commedia, music hall, allegory, battle zone, funhouse…!”  And so, the marketing campaign changed.

Several of the recaps of “Glory,” Episode 4 of Fosse/Verdon, put it this way:

Ahmad Simmons as Ben Vereen in Fosse/Verdon – Episode 4 “Glory” Photo by Michael Parmelee/FX

Per Entertainment Weekly, “That brings us to Pippin, which Bob wants to rip open at the seams. ‘Go big,’ he calls it. Glorifying battles, barbarous, and bloody? Ben Vereen’s Leading Player doing a soft-shoe amidst the carnage? When the creatives in the room bristle, he uses his trump card: He made a little movie called Cabaret, remember? He even wants to change the musical’s ending, arguing it’s ‘too soft.’”

Vulture.com said “‘Glory’ does get a little more granular with Pippin, showing Bob micro-managing the dancer’s movements and expressions. (‘Smile! Just the mouth, not the eyes!’) But it only alludes to all the ways that he refashioned a hippy-dippy allegory into something with depth and ‘blood,’ capped with an ambiguous ending that subsequent productions have sometimes tried to make more definitive.’”

So, what does all of this have to do with you and your organization? 

Well, to explain let me pose another question. When was the last time you invited your marketing department to an early rehearsal or read through? How about a Q&A with the director, designers, cast, and musicians? Or, at the very least, an invite to the final dress rehearsal? The latter may be too late to affect any pre-opening marketing, social media, and word-of-mouth campaigns, but it could certainly impact what follows the day after opening. 

My point is, the artistic process is a fluid one, and your marketing campaign should be as well until a production freezes! Don’t assume that just because you know a show well, that you know how to perfectly market your organization’s production of that show. Make sure you’re in sync with what your artistic team is doing! What makes your organization’s production unique? Sitting in on a few rehearsals will certainly key you in, and might just help you bring some “glory” to your organization.

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4 responses to “A Broadway Musical, A TV Series, and Marketing Your Productions

  1. An excellent article by a first-rate arts promoter. The blog as a whole is a very clear, informative and well-written explanation of its services, which I’d recommend to arts professionals. Thanks!

  2. Great advice from a marketing/PR professional who knows how to effectively promote to attain the goals. Thanks for sharing such a dynamic and specific piece.

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