The Cost of Swaying Votes and Driving Ticket Sales

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NEW YORK ( -- Full-page, color ad in the Sunday New York Times: $95,000. Full-page, front-of-the-book ad in Variety: $40,000. Sixty-second radio ads: $200-$1,000. Multiple Tony Award nominations: Expensive.

'Tis the season for Broadway, as the June 2 Tonys end a six-week run of awards shows. And, as with Hollywood's Academy Awards, advertising and marketing play a role in earning shows and actors both nominations and subsequent wins.

Doubling ad spending
A musical that typically budgets $45,000 to $85,000 per week on advertising will double that in an effort to increase its presence and sway voters who determine the Pulitzers, Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critics Awards and the Tonys.

Ad campaigns have two jobs: one as a business-to-business effort to get artists either nominated or win an award, another to increase ticket sales. During Oscar-marketing season from January to March, studios can typically amp up spending anywhere from $2 million to $6 million, depending on the movie. Broadway is comparatively on par.

"A show that spends a half-million dollars and up [on advertising] during that six-week period is not uncommon," said Tom Callahan, co-creative director at ad agency Serino Coyne, New York.

'Negligible' box-office boost
But that doesn't necessarily mean it drives attendance. A box-office boost in a business with a fixed ceiling is "negligible," says Linda Winer, theater critic for Tribune Co.'s Newsday. The increase in advertising "is an expensive vote of confidence."

Of the four major agencies that handle Broadway advertising, including Rave! Advertising, SpotCo and Eliran Murphy Group, all New York, Serino Coyne is the largest. It handles 18 of the 32 shows on Broadway, including the top 10 highest-grossing shows of the last four weeks, among them The Producers and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Millie garnered 11 Tony nominations, the most of any show, while two more Serino Coyne clients -- Urinetown and Into the Woods -- grabbed 10 nominations each. In this industry, client conflict doesn't exist, says Nancy Coyne, co-CEO, Serino Coyne.

"Every account is handled discreetly, but every account is different," she said. "When we had Footloose several years ago, for instance, the title didn't evoke memories, but there were three distinct songs in there that did. So we bought of lot of radio and TV. For another show, we did more print."

Ms. Coyne said while Tony awards are still won by performance, "there are, however, 700-plus Tony voters and in as much as any consumer is influenced by advertising, we put our message out there."

"We try to remind them about performances and direction and choreography and lighting and things that were particularly well-reviewed," she said.

Week-to-week business
Yet unlike films, Broadway is a week-to-week business. If a movie bombs, Hollywood still has outlets to recoup its investment: the film can still be resold to cable television, to network television, to video, to DVD and will likely have an overseas market. But if a Broadway show closes after six weeks, it's done. Broadway advertising, first and foremost, must drive ticket sales.

But award season remains unique in what is pushed in theater ads.

"For the artists, it's an obligation for the producers to promote their nominations," said Charles Isherwood, theater critic for Variety. "You ballyhoo the nominations when you can."

Staff writer Wayne Friedman contributed to this report.

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