Bright Idea: Pay the Audience

Have you ever been “upside down” in the marketing of a show – where you spent more on marketing than you earned in ticket sales?  That’s where this bright idea comes from.

Let’s admit that sometimes we present or produce works of theater more out of love than out of any expectation that we’ll be able to sell tickets.

Why must marketeers slog their way thru such efforts – when it so often proves that adage that the easiest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.

Why can’t we (occasionally) make lemonade out of that lemon?  (I have to believe that somebody has already tried this – and, if so, I look forward to hearing what you learned from the experience.)

Instead of spending all that extra marketing effort to SELL those tickets, why not try the opposite approach and BUY an audience.


Imagine this:  Don’t sell tickets.  Cancel your newspaper advertisements, direct mail and all your radio sponsorship and other direct promotional expenses.  Take 3/4 of whatever that expense savings is and divide that amount by the number of seats in your house.  That’s your “Pay Amount”.

Instead, e-mail out a descriptive press release (plus a message to your own audience list) – which says:

We are so excited to share this new/different/unknown performance that we have decided to pay[insert Pay Amount here] to everyone who attends.  Seating is limited; cash payments issued at the end of the performance.

I suspect that nobody can make a regular diet out of such a promotion.  But why not try it once or twice for an especially challenging performance type or time that is proving especially difficult?  What might you learn from the experience?

Why just 3/4 of the budget savings?  Why not distribute the whole amount?  Hey, attracting an appreciative audience is certainly a virtue – but so, too, is saving money.  I have no doubt you’ll find creative ways to spend the extra amount when you really need it.

The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas!  In that spirit, AUDIENCE WANTED dedicates this summer to stirring up a potpourri of creative notions & half-baked thoughts around the purpose of growing audiences for the arts & cultural sector.  

Suspend practicality & judgment for the moment.  We are just brainstorming here – with an emphasis on BIG thinking and CREATIVE efforts.  Together, let’s amass a HUGE number of wild & crazy ideas.  

Got a Bright Idea to contribute?  Write it up in less than 500 words (along with a brief self-introduction) and send it to:

And if this happens to be an idea that you’re already doing (or if you know somebody who has the power to make it happen) please get in touch, too! 




  1. says

    I heard someone on the news this morning say, “people always pay attention when there’s money involved.” Although this is out of context, I feel that this statement applies to your post. Your idea of a pay-the-audience event would certainly be attention grabbing!

  2. katherine ware says

    ohmigosh this is a great paradigm shifting idea – wish I’d read it in June – i’m ready to suggest it tomorrow!

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