The 3 biggest mistakes we make in our marketing…

…according to Jim McCarthy, CEO and co-founder of the US discount ticket seller site Goldstar. This is excerpted from his interview on the excellent and wickedly titled performing arts marketing and publicity blog Life’s a Pitch out of New York…

In your opinion, what are the three biggest mistakes performing arts organizations make in marketing (or not marketing) their performances?

1.  They don’t take into account the way marketing has changed. I’ve literally heard people say they were about to send out 5000 post cards for their show and so they were going to wait to see what happened after those hit before they figured out the rest of their marketing plan.  Well, let’s do the math on that:  5000 post cards get delivered, but maybe 20% get read.  That’s 1000 post cards.  If 10% of the people who read it are interested, that’s 100 post cards, and if 10% of those people actually remember how to buy the tickets and actually go through with a purchase, that’s 10 customers buying a couple tickets each.

The simple fact is that most traditional advertising is overwhelmingly ineffective now. Even “traditional” web advertising has dropped to levels of responsiveness (or unresponsiveness) that we would have been startled by back in ’98 or ’99. If you’re counting on some kind of media buy to solve your marketing problems, you’re going to have a hard time hitting your goals, so you have to do something else.

2. They separate the art from the marketing. In the past, it might have been ok to have the “art” over here and the “marketing” over there, but in a Live 2.0 world, You Are Your Marketing. To say that differently, since advertising really doesn’t work anymore, the show itself has to communicate what makes it special and worth seeing and what was once the marketing department is now responsible for running the conversation about the show. You can’t do that in silos the way you could when marketing’s job was to create pretty postcards or print ads or web banners about whatever show the creative people happened to come up with.

3. They worry about the wrong things from a business point of view. Ultimately, any performing arts organization should care about two things when it comes to selling tickets: getting as many people as possible to see the show and getting as much money as possible. All too often, though, they get wrapped up in issues that are secondary or even counter-productive like average ticket price.  Well, you don’t put average ticket price in the bank; you put dollars in the bank. Not only that, but when keeping your average ticket price up* also keeps people out of your venue, you have to stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it.

*BTW, people who manage average ticket price almost never count the zeroes from unsold seats, which makes it inaccurate anyway

Click here to read the rest of Jim’s interview.


  1. I agree with most of this, with the exception of the average ticket price. First of all, I’m amazed at how may Managing Directors don’t take the empty seats (or the comps) into the equation. They are a necessary part of that equation.

    Secondly, I think you need to know your revenue per available seat in order to know what your margins are. If you need to hit, say, $10 per available seat and you only sell 30 seats at $15 a seat in a 60 seat theatre, you have a problem. It helps you determine what your margins are and whether you are profitable.

  2. Also think way to many of us forget the first point.

    “I think it’s easy when you’re on the inside of creating the shows to think in genres, but consumers don’t think that way to nearly the degree some people imagine. Consumers don’t typically ask “What comedy show should I go see?” Instead, they ask “What should I do on Saturday night?””

    Not should I go see a play or a musical, should I go to a play or see the Canucks or meet up with some friends at a pub, or just stay in and watch a dvd.

    The season the Canucks are having, theatres might have a better shot than before the lockout :)

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