A voice at the end of the line

The New York Times reports that good old group sales still reign supreme on the Great White Way:

If Facebooking Broadway is all the rage for shows, the real economic engine remains the sales agents wearing old-fashioned headsets and tapping through decades-old databases to pitch group buyers working with churches and synagogues, schools and businesses, and the “theater ladies” who have kept the Wednesday matinee in business since before Steve Jobs founded Apple.

…Take Group Sales Box Office, founded in 1960 and today one of the most profitable group ticket agencies on Broadway. The company projects sales in excess of $30 million this year, with “Sister Act” (its current top seller with groups) accounting for more than $1 million in tickets so far. Located just off Times Square and across the street from the Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” (a show that has not been a group magnet for them), the company and its 22 sales agents may still be version 1.0 in Broadway discounting and promotions, but in terms of results, they are the hare to social networking’s turtle. Ticket orders were up 43 percent from Feb. 1 to April 1, compared to the same period in 2010. 

It seems people want to talk to someone who has actually gone to these shows (the article reports that most agents have seen the popular shows several times) rather than just be inundated with self-produced buzz:

The four-minute phone call was enough to induce mental whiplash, but Mr. Campbell and his fellow brokers were pros at the chief duty that some Web sites have only begun to master: aggregating details about the 39 Broadway shows this spring and then differentiating them for longtime customers whose preferences are reflected in databases listing their past purchases. (For example, past groups for the drag musical “La Cage aux Folles” are the prime target for “Priscilla” sales calls.)

My dad will only buy TVs/stereo equipment from this one guy in Stamford, CT. Jack Watkins at County Appliance. “Located on Summer Street,” dad texts me now. I tried to buy a TV from Best Buy or whatever once because I had a coupon and their prices were lower, and dad simply wouldn’t allow it. He trusts Jack Watkins alone, and County Appliance is where we Ameers buy our TVs. I wonder if a comparable trust can be built through social media. “That person’s links are always funny,” “the shows that person goes to are always great,” “that person seems to have a fabulous life, I will do what they do in an attempt to emulate it,” etc.. I can’t think of any one person, myself, which may be exactly the point of social media: it’s not any one person’s recommendation that matters, but rather, a collective, a critical mass, of recommendations that ultimately sways potential buyers.

Additionally, we live in a time where we essentially pick and choose what information we want to receive. Rather than sit down with a newspaper and flip through every section, we set up our Google Readers to personally deliver us the blogs and the sections we already know we want to read. (Sports? Science? What are those things?) The downside of this is obvious, but perhaps the upside is that if we’re already reading/following/friending things we like (actually and Facebook-style “like”), then that critical mass probably can recommend to our tastes. Just as you would go see a show on the recommendation of a critic you’ve grown to trust, just as the groups in the Times article follow the guidance of their sales agent, we follow the social networks we’ve built around ourselves. “Everyone” was talking about the New York Philharmonic’s La Grand Macabre online last spring, but they weren’t really; everyone in my network was talking about it, and maybe that was enough.

Has anyone in the performing arts really figured out how to use social media to sell tickets? Clarification: to sell trackable tickets? That is, We Know X Number of Sales Came from Facebook? Reportable to the powers-that-be, like a group sales number? Or all we all just putting as much information out there through as many channels as possible, hoping someone will select it for themselves?

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  1. RachelC says

    I’ve seen a number of discount codes promoted via Facebook or Twitter, and it’s also pretty easy to create trackable links which are posted only on Facebook or Twitter so that you know exactly how many people bought tickets from those places.

  2. Fred Tracey says

    Last summer, I created an ad on Facebook to test the effectiveness of promoting a half-price ticket offer. I targeted people on FB who listed theatre, Broadway musicals, etc on their profiles. The ad costs $500 and we sold $1000 in tickets directly through this ad.