10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 2: A Marketing Director
I got some great response from the first edition of 10 Qs for a Bway Pro, so I thought I’d roll out Volume 2 this week.
Last week we talked about advertising . . . this week, we explore the more ambiguous world of marketing with none other than that Broadway Marketing Guru, Hugh Hysell.
I’ve worked on a bunch of shows with Hugh, from babies to biggies, and Hugh always brings the goods. Why? You’ve got to love what you do if you’re going to do a great job. And if you spend five minutes with Hugh, you’ll realize that Hugh loves his job . . . and those fingerprints of love are all over every show he does, not matter how big or small.
Here are 10 Qs with Hugh!
1. What is your title?
I am President of HHC Marketing, a multi-division marketing and promotions company specializing in Broadway and Off-Broadway. HHC’s divisions include full service marketing for Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows, BroadwayBox (running the advertising department for their sites including BroadwayBox.com, LunchTix.com and TicketsThisWeek), and TheMenEvent.com (the city’s largest Gay email list, which I use to promote my full service clients). I am also President of Teams on Broadway (our Street Team Firm). Often, in playbill listings, we are referred to simply as “Marketing” and many shows refer to me as their “Marketing Director.”
2. What show/shows are you currently working on?
On Broadway, HHC is working on Looped, Jersey Boys and Fela!. Our Off-Broadway clients include The Temperamentals, John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean, The 39 Steps, Flying Karamazov Brothers’ 4Play, The Irish Curse, Looking for Billy Haines, Yank, Leslie Jordan’s My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, Signs of Life, as well as some shows that have not been announced yet (sssshhhhh – I can’t tell you). Teams on Broadway is currently providing the street teams for Fela!, Memphis and The Miracle Worker. Yes – we did the Princess Leia team for Wishful Drinking. 🙂
3. In one sentence, describe your job.
I run a very active marketing company that seeks out, negotiates and administers marketing programs for our clients, often without spending a dime.
4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?
Creativity, people skills, charm, drive, follow-through, and strong attention to detail. As a theatre marketer, as funds are usually quite low, one needs to be very creative and think out of the box. Our goal is to form effective, attention-grabbing promotions that directly influence the ticket buyer. You then have to charm promotional partners to help you make your plans come thru. At the same time you have to be able to drive yourself to fully administer every minute detail of a promotion. A marketer has to walk the line between being a creative artist, a charming pal, and an anal-retentive, highly-organized business person.
5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?
As my mother says, life provides you opportunities for your transferable skills. I was trained as an actor (BFA UNC-Greensboro, MFA University of Florida). My acting career was largely in touring theatre where I used my creative skills in the rehearsal process, and anal-retentive skills to keep the performances solid over months and months of doing the same show. I think these skills have been very useful to me as a marketer. After I left acting, I knew I wanted to enter the business world of theatre, so I became an intern at Richard Frankel Productions, where I moved up to be Associate General Manager of an Off-Broadway show, which then went on to tour and then on to play in Vegas. At the same time, I was producing a show in the Fringe that did very well, and I moved it to an Off-Off Broadway venue for an extended run. That run proved to be my true training to be a marketer. I had no money to promote the show, but with the advice of a Broadway marketer, I did lots and lots of promotions (bookstore, internet, nightclub, bars, barter ads, etc). The show stayed alive, and I recouped my investment. The marketer who mentored me (Scott Walton) later hired me, and together we grew his company, and in 2002 I bought him out. I have never taken a marketing course, but I do teach it at Columbia. Mom is very proud.
6. What was your first job in theater?
My first paid job was as an actor with the Kaleidoscope Theater out of Providence, RI. We did summer tours of kids’ shows to the music tents in New England (Warwick Music Tent, South Shore Music Tent, etc.). I played a cat in Pinocchio and the Genie in Aladdin (with a 12-year-old Joey Pizzi as Aladdin and Pinocchio).
7. Why do you think theater is important?
Theatre is adventure, escape, entertainment, enlightenment, education, magic, joy and sorrow all rolled up with beautiful images, soaring music and inspiring words Life meets Art. Love it.
8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
Audience development. The audience needs to grow (so there are more people to buy tickets). With the arts being cut in education, we are not developing kids with art in their lives. Without that exposure, how will they learn about art in themselves and thus appreciate the art of others? We need theatre that cultivates new audiences, and allows them to discover the richness that theatre can provide.
9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?
Make theatre cheaper to produce.
10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?
The word ‘marketing’ can mean so many things, and even in the industry that title can refer to different jobs depending if you are working in the commercial or not-for-profit sector. I would suggest that an aspiring marketer first get an internship in NYC within a theatre marketing firm, press office, or general management office. Learn how shows are marketed and why those decisions are made. Knowing the current environment allows you to help it grow and adapt to the ever-changing consumer environment.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.