#IEBA2018 Recap: The Wonderful World of Family Entertainment


Panelists:

Kim Bedier, Tacoma Venues & Events

Tracey McFarland, InHouse Booking

Justin Paquin, KOBA Entertainment

Aaron Zimmerman, Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

 

Moderated by Craig Newman, APA

 

Newman began the panel by asking Bedier and Zimmerman to discuss the impact of family entertainment shows on their communities. Bedier obliged, noting that the Tacoma Dome is an iconic building in her locale that residents are very familiar with. She believes that this effect can be generational. “We want to get those kids when they’re three years old and have them thinking that this is the place that they go for their entertainment for their whole life. If we can get them to come to a thrilling family show, then that implants the first memory.”

 

The Tobin Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and its mission includes educational entertainment for youth. Zimmerman sees family shows as a keystone. “[These shows] are an encompassing community thing that everyone can get behind and feel good about.” He also noted that these dates tend to bring extra promotion for the building. “When we bring in Shopkins, every little girl buys a doll, a t-shirt, or a hat. The next day they go to school and tell their friends ‘I went to Shopkins,’ and then their friend asks their mom why they didn’t get to see it. All of the sudden, we’re on their radar and they’re looking to see when the next kids’ show is going to be.”

 

Choosing the Right IP

“We’ve found that the number of toys sold or number of views on the shows doesn’t always translate to ticket sales,” noted McFarland as she laid out her process for signing new clients. “It’s the magic of how much the kids love them and if their parents engage with the title or characters in a way that they’re going to say ‘Alright, I’ll go sit through 90 minutes and buy the merch.’ Sometimes it’s just something they stick their kid in front of to keep them busy while they are trying to do other things. There have been shows that had all of the right pedigree and metric, then you go out and it just doesn’t work.”

 

Paquin agreed and stated that the selection of IP is the most difficult part of his job. “Things that we look for are retail sales if any, trends of those sales, and social media engagement. Dora the Explorer might have 3.2 million Facebook followers right now, but its engagement is not anywhere near what a brand could have with just 500,000 followers.”

 

Market penetration in retail sales proves crucial for both Paquin and McFarland. “I like to go out in my market to retail stores and if I don’t see the brand or get a feeling of that brand in the general market, then I’ll think maybe it’s not as popular as everything else,” said Paquin. McFarland added, “There are different levels of viability, too. If it’s on a thermos at Target, book it. If it’s not, it may still be a perfectly viable show that sells tickets, it’s just at a different price point.”

 

Newman briefly surveyed the audience and found that there were numerous examples of a show being pitched to a promoter or building and the buyer had not heard of the product. Zimmerman believes in always researching each pitch and getting creative with making the show viable. “It’s okay to go back and say ‘Listen, this is a viable product, but it’s not a $40 ticket, it’s a $20 ticket.’ Think about what the value is going to be – what people actually pay for that, not necessarily what the producer says that they need on a nightly basis. There are a lot of products that are sometimes underpriced or overpriced.”

 

Pricing for Accessibility and Profit

Bedier relies on a wealth of market history and research to inform her decisions on setting the house and pricing her inventory. One of her tricks is to work with mommy bloggers. “They are a great marketing tool, but they are also a great researching tool because they’re going to tell you what’s really working,” she said. Her experience has taught her to price shows in a way that is accessible for the community. “We’ve talked about how important our buildings are to our communities and we can’t eliminate a whole section of the population and not get them in the building too. We always try to make sure that a lot of the house is affordable.”

 

Asked by Newman to provide some examples of pricing for shows, Zimmerman offered, “Normally, we might do $5 or $10 difference between P1, P2, and P3. For family shows, I actually make it a little bit wider of a gap because I want balcony seats to be extremely accessible. I want a $20 or $25 ticket so that a family of four can come for $100. It can get very expensive. Every kid that comes into the building needs that toy or t-shirt, so all of the sudden you’re down another $20 after 4 tickets. Then you need some popcorn and soda. The kid wants candy. All of the sudden you’re another $15 down, and don’t forget that you’ve parked in the garage for $15. It’s a family day out and you’re $300-400 out of pocket. Not every family can afford to do that regularly.”

 

McFarland concurred and cited Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer as an example. “When we first came out with it, we thought we should get Broadway prices. We found that was too much and it put a block between access to the show and the experience. We also found that if we go too low, it’s not perceived as valuable.” She continued, “Almost everywhere, the top ticket is $45-55 and may not be gold circle, but that sort of says this is something that you want to dress up for. But we always want to make sure that there is a family 4-pack for $100 or $20 seats in the back of the house.”
 

Flexibility on pricing can be a difficult ask of show producers and managers. Newman probed the panel to see how they handle this conversation. McFarland uses empirical data to support her position and implements dynamic pricing to adjust to the market response. “If the middle is not selling, honestly what we will do is take half of it and put it down to a P3 and the other half up to a P1.”

 

As a show producer, Paquin tries to keep the end goal of entertaining families in mind. “I think it’s important to have a $20 ticket whenever possible, in any market. VIP tickets, in general, I don’t like seeing over $100 if it’s not necessary so that it’s not gouging the family and leaving them with a sour taste in their mouth.”

 

The panelists all agreed that flexibility is paramount when making the deal. “It’s just not apples to apples in every space. Every theater is a different size. Every theater is a different market,” noted Zimmerman. “At the same time, as the agent knowing I can get two shows in a day on Saturday, don’t come to me with a low offer and expect a Saturday,” argued Paquin. “If you’re willing to have a little push and pull and your community can sustain a Tuesday, I’ll give you the Tuesday pricing. But I can’t give you that pricing on a Saturday. We look for that flexibility from the presenters.”

 

Merch

Bedier mentioned that she is encountering productions that don’t allow her venue to participate in the sale of merchandise. “It is a critical piece and we want to help you sell it,” she said. “When we sell a family 4-pack, we want to make sure that we can include some of that merchandise in there. Make sure that you get it to us in advance, if you can. It’s all about boots on the ground.”

 

Turning to McFarland, Newman asked how she is seeing merch negotiations handled from the agent’s side. “It’s actually 50/50 on these – a lot of the producers now are saying ‘Just leave the merch to the merch guy,’” she explained. “When we confirm the deal, usually the offer comes in, it’s boilerplate and has your venue’s standard split. We just confirm the date and say we’re not agreeing to the merch deal. That is going to be handled directly with them. You should start doing that.”

 

“I get it, but that creates a problem,” objected Zimmerman. “I don’t want to go fight with a producer once a show is on sale for 5%. I’d rather it just be done. I don’t want to have another negotiation.”

 

Onsales

When asked about similar shows competing in the same market, Bedier responded that spacing out onsales is crucial. Paquin echoed the sentiment, adding “We’ve had multiple shows touring in the same market around the same time, but we’ll have onsales at different times since that is typically when the decision to go is made. If they want to see the next show, that goes on sale a couple months later and they’ll make the decision then, even if the shows are actually around the same time.”

 


McFarland asked the panel if they felt it was more effective to go on sale with all of the other national dates with a very specific and limited window, or to go one sale with a long window and to “let it drip.”

 

Zimmerman prefers to have a larger sales window and to let word of mouth build. “All of our marketing budgets are tight. You can’t sustain a plan for 6-10 months,” he began. “If you let it slowly go and do a [social media] post every week, over a course of time you might only sell 2-4 tickets per day but if you’re up a year in advance, you’ve got 2,000+ tickets and you’re not beating someone down every Friday to buy your next show.”

 

Bedier stresses working with your local marketing team since they understand the nuances and timing better. “It doesn’t always fit with what is happening in other markets across the country,” she added.
 

Marketing

Seizing the opportunity to talk more specifically about marketing, Newman asked McFarland to share her approach when planning a tour. “We look at the ad budget based on what we know about the market,” she answered. “We listen to you and ask how much you need to spend on something like this, and then that’s part of the deal. At that point, we turn it over to whoever is marketing the show, whether it’s another marketing agency or a dedicated member of the tour’s team, and we step away while keeping an eye on things and making sure that the two sides are communicating as a team.”

 

Newman requested advice for marketers who are handling family shows for the first time. “I think the days of putting an ad in the paper or running a commercial when the shows air are done,” replied McFarland. “You do a little of that, but it’s social media now. Mommy bloggers, Facebook, whatever else is out there.”

 

Bedier and Zimmerman focus on targeting their efforts, even when promoting outside of social media. “I’m geo-targeting every elementary school in the city when I am doing Shopkins,” offered Zimmerman. “We have digital billboards that actually track license plates and allow us to get phone numbers to text you to say ‘We know you just saw our billboard, you should buy these tickets.’ It’s borderline intrusive, so you have to be careful with it.”

 

“Digital is huge,” answered Paquin. “If you don’t have a strong digital plan for any family show, then you’re wasting a lot of time and money. Your digital marketing plan can sometimes be 80% of your budget.” Paquin looks for a connection, especially to the children who might attend the show. “Starting off with too much money in radio or print is not generally necessary. With a family show, you can’t listen to the family show song on the radio, so you don’t get that same connection. Little kids aren’t reading the newspaper. The ticket buyers may be, yes, but it’s still not connecting that way.”

 

Newman: “True or false – you are the promoter, therefore you are a marketer.”

 

Zimmerman responded, “Absolutely. You can’t consider yourself a promoter as just a buyer. You have to have the other side because otherwise you’re not going to make it.”

 

“The marketers need to speak,” continued Newman. “You should be utilizing your colleagues to bounce ideas off of. Marc Engel was the one that came to Justin and me and said for Shopkins Live, ‘Why don’t you try targeting the Latin American demographic?’” Engel joined the conversation, explaining that “We were looking at a chain of marketing close to the Mexican border. We were seeing a lot of people with Hispanic surnames in the chain of Facebook responses. We were not seeing that in these other markets further away from the border. We said ‘there is something culturally about the show that speaks to this.’ It seems to have worked.”

 

Newman concluded the panel: “This is something that we eat, sleep, live, and breathe every day. From Kim and Aaron talking about their marketing efforts and their communities to Justin teaching us exactly how a show can come together and be executed smartly to Tracey’s wealth of experience with her tours, artists, promoters, and producers. These are the things that really make the clock tick and we thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation.”

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