The problem with hard “trade” tickets.

There’s an advertising practice that has been going on for a number of years that . . . well, has to change.

It was a great one to start off with, and it helped both parties, but now, as is usually the case with anything that is working well . . . a third party has come along and screwed it up for everyone.

Let me explain.

Often, media companies, from television stations to certain newspapers, etc. will accept “trade” for advertising . . . sometimes in addition to cash, sometimes in lieu of cash.  That’s right, if your product is valuable enough, people will give you “free” advertising in exchange for your stuff (in our case, tickets).  If you’ve got the inventory, and the media company has the inventory, it can be a great deal for both sides.

What happens next is that the media companies either use the tickets for themselves (gifts to employees, clients) or they place the tickets in barter networks like this one, where they can trade them again for other products/services.

All good, right?  You get advertising, they get tickets . . . everyone’s happy.

Well, not so fast, my friends.

There are two ways to deliver these “tickets” to the media companies:

1) Hard tickets (which are actual tickets for specific performances with seat locations and everything)

2) Ticket vouchers (which are usually valid for weeks of performances, but need to be reserved in advance with your company directly, and therefore validated, before they can be used.

Without a doubt, #2 is the best scenario for both parties.  It provides the most flexibility for the “tradee”, because it allows the user to see the show on multiple performance dates and times.  And it allows for the “trader” to have flexibility as well, in case the President of the United States decides to show up to a performance, and you need to control the inventory.

Additionally, when someone is given hard tickets for a specific performance . . . and can’t use them . . . you end up with a block of empty seats in your house.  It’s an eyesore, and an inventory-sore, because those are seats that went dead, that someone knew were going to go dead and you had no chance to resell those seats.

But for some reason . . . some companies refuse to take vouchers instead of hard tickets.  Well, I think I stumbled upon the reason why.

On at least four occasions in the last twelve months, I have found “trade” tickets in the hands of secondary market sellers (i.e. brokers) that have been selling them to consumers.  A customer ends up with a ticket that says “COMP” and yet has paid sometimes more than face value for that seat.  One associate of mine found himself in this situation at a very high profile final performance that was sold out . . . but his seat money went to a secondary seller and not the show.  The worst part?  That show had in no way near recouped.

Somehow the trade ticket had fallen into the wrong hands.

If someone insists on “hard tickets” for a trade you’re involved in, ask them why, and ask them where they are trying to distribute them.  Then explain the benefits of a voucher system to both parties.

I have often offered companies 125% of the trade value if they take vouchers instead of hard tickets (and if they refuse, that’s when I know something is really up).

Vouchers won’t solve the problem entirely, but they will make it a lot more manageable, and offer road blocks to those people out there trying to profit where they shouldn’t be.

The trade system is a great one, but the time has to come to regulate it so that it does what it was originally intended to do before it puts more money in the wrong hands.

It’s time for Producers, Marketing Directors and Advertising Agencies to tell their partners . . . hard tickets are no longer an option.  Vouchers only.  If we take this stand as an industry, they’ll have no choice.

They should get used to it anyway. Because in a few years, we’ll all be using e-tickets, and they’ll have no choice.


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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.