Lessons on Direct Mail from the Shuberts

In their most recent edition of Market Notes (their monthly email to the industry with tips and tricks on how to sell more tickets), the Shuberts were kind enough to open up the treasure chest of data they have at their e-fingertips to offer us some suggestions on best practices for direct mail.

Their first proclamation was, which I wholeheartedly agree with, Direct Mail is not going the way of the Print Ad.  It’s alive and printing, and here are a few suggestions (courtesy of our friends at Shubert Ticketing), on how to improve your results.  And for those of you old enough to remember the old EF Hutton ads . . . well, replace EF with Shubert Ticketing.  (Click here if you need a reminder.)

Get the word out early. Shows out earliest with their direct mail piece generally do better than those out later. In spring 2011, those that went out in January or early February returned more than those that went in March, so it could be worthwhile to make direct mail part of your initial marketing push. If a show is going out late with its mailer, it might be wise to exclude people who have already bought a show that season.

There’s gold in the ‘burbs! In our research, nearly 60% of web and phone sales from direct mail campaigns came from the suburbs (almost 70% for some shows). The top shows enjoyed twice as many tickets sold from the suburbs as they did from NYC. This suggests that there are weaknesses in Broadway’s advertising to those outside NYC proper, and when we speak directly to suburban customers for a show they want at the right price, they respond.

Varied pricing doesn’t mean confusion. Direct mail pieces that included two different sets of prices did not see diminished return, and for shows where the audience bought heavily into the weekends, a higher price on weekends brought in more dollars. We’ve seen instances where increasing the discounted top price on a mailer and adding more pricing levels had a positive impact at all price points. In fact, one of the top-selling shows had six different prices on its mailer.

Mind your bottom line. Prices on direct mail pieces may not need to be as low as has been previously thought. In spring 2011, the average price on direct mail for new shows was $73.68; by fall 2011, it jumped to $78.13, an increase of $4.45 or 6%. Plays came in a little below average at $76.81, while musicals averaged $79.92. And this spring, we’re seeing average prices in the mid-$80s for new Telecharge shows.

These findings aren’t definitive, but they do raise some interesting questions about whether we’re doing all we can to ensure the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns. By targeting buyers outside the city, varying price points and not undercutting prices, and by using direct mail early in the campaign, new Broadway shows can make sure that the money spent on direct mail is worthwhile. The more we can improve the effectiveness of these campaigns, the easier it will be to set new shows on the road to success.

Special thanks again to Shubert Ticketing for the sharing of this information.  By nature, the theater is a collaborative art form.  And therefore, it must be a collaborative business as well.

The sharing of information is how we will survive.


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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.