Are we addicted to email blasts?

I remember exactly where I was when I saw my very first Broadway email blast.

It was while we were in pre-production on Gypsy with Bernadette Peters in early 2003, I think.  Telecharge had just started sending out email discount offers in the 1-2 years prior (check out this old but fascinating graph we put together about when all the discounts started and what effect that had on sales in the next ten years).  We weren’t so happy with our advance sales, so my General Management boss, Nina Lannan, called up Telecharge, set up an email blast, and poof . . . instant sales, and a bigger advance.

It was that easy in those days.  Emails equaled sales.

Of course it was easy, because getting discounts for Broadway shows in your inbox was a novelty.  It was a new phenomenon.  And whenever anything is new, it is interesting.  Of course, we were just following the model established by the airline industry several years prior.  (I’ll never forget getting my first “Smarter Living” email which offered last minute airfares – oh the possibilities of where I could go with less than three days’ notice!  Newsflash:  “Smarter Living” emails are no more.)

And so, with that, email blasts became a regular part of every show’s media mix.  But not just Telecharge blasts . . . Playbill blasts, Theatermania blasts, Ticketmaster blasts, SmartTix blasts, NYTix blasts and yep, even YourBroadwayGenius blasts and Best of Off Broadway blasts, which caters to more niche markets.

Every show buys the basket of blasts now. And we pay ridiculous amounts for so many of them.  See, the vendors jacked up the prices over the last decade like drug dealers who got their clients addicted with a free taste.  And since the “high” from an email blast was guaranteed, Producers kept paying.

But all of a sudden, that high isn’t so euphoric anymore.  Thanks to spam folders, the “Promotions” tab on Gmail (remember when I wrote about that?), and all these vendors sending out blasts for a different show every single day (!), not to mention every industry on the planet offering steals and deals through emails, it’s hard for a show to cut through.

So returns have dropped.

Oh, and don’t let folks suck you into the “We have 500,000 people on our list so you’re getting 500,000 impressions.”  Wrong.  Email blasts have about a 10-13% open rate.  And that’s if it’s a good one.  So a 500k list could mean only 50k impressions.

Yet, we’re still lining up at our dealer’s corner every time we do a show, seeing if they’ll give us a hit.  Just one.  Cuz I really need it.  Bad.

I was just offered a blast the other day at an ad meeting for Daddy Long Legs.  The price?  About $7k.  And sure, we could use it.  For Off Broadway shows (and Broadway shows, actually), email blasts are the new print ad.  Even if they don’t sell, they are interactive impressions directly targeted at the theatergoing public.

But $7k?

My ad agency looked at me.  Waiting to see what I would do.  I started to sweat.  My mouth went dry.  I started to hallucinate as I imagined the sweet, sweet sales coming in to the box office.  Oh, it would feel sooooo good to see that happen.

And then I realized.  I was addicted.  Addicted to seeing sales as a direct result of my activity.  When in fact, the ROI on that “high” might not be as good as, well, other advertising options that don’t have a direct response component.

Because these prices have gotten so high for these email blasts that they are no longer a no-brainer.  That $7k could have bought a small but decent radio buy for an Off Broadway show.  And maybe even some TV in target markets where I know my customers are coming from.  But, if I chose these other options, I wouldn’t necessarily see the swift bump a blast gives you at the box office.  And someone who buys because of TV or radio or print or any of the other forms of media available to me might not be as trackable as an email blast . . . but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

I turned down the email blast. And I put it into other media instead.

I’m going through withdrawal at the moment.  And it’ll be tough.  Honestly, I’ll fall off the wagon . . . because there are times when those blasts are good, important, and even essential.

But they are not what they used to be.  And just because you see sales as a result of a marketing initiative, doesn’t mean that’s the initiative you should do.

My name is Ken. You know the rest.

 

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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.

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