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App-solutely Fabulous

A few months ago, the Pantages Theatre quietly launched its newest "toy," an iPhone app. The app provides current information about what's playing at the theater, what's coming, how to attend, and how one can enhance the experience. Our main goal might best be summed up in the words penned by Shirley Eikhard and sung by Bonnie Raitt: "Let's give them something to talk about."

Owners of iPhones tend to be "avids," an adjective-turned-noun used to describe those customers with greatest fanaticism. These people don't just use their smartphone; they identify with it—it is part of what makes them who they are. Ask one of these folks what he likes about his iPhone and you're likely to get an animated response that includes visual demonstrations on the device itself. Combine an iPhone avid with a Broadway avid, and that's a magical combination in the imagination of this longtime marketer.

While our organization has done very little to push the message of our free iPhone app, in the first three months since it became available in the iTunes store, over 2,000 people have found and installed it. People have clicked to view restaurant options more than 1,600 times and to view special offers more than 1,900 times. And though its primary purpose was not to generate revenue, more than 100 people have clicked the button to call Ticketmaster, and over 700 have clicked to connect to More important in our eyes, more than 250 people have clicked through to read our "Postcards From Pantages" blog, almost that many have clicked to watch videos on our YouTube channel, about 50 have signed up to receive email communications from us, and about 20 have signed up to receive text alerts via their mobile device.

Even with all the methods of advertising available in today's world, the most successful method for selling tickets always remains the same: personal recommendation. We used to call it word of mouth, but in the age of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and other forms of information proliferation, one's enthusiasm is more likely to be shared electronically than in person. Mass marketing, while still important, must share the stage with channel marketing. People are developing preferred channels of communication, and if live entertainment hopes to maintain a connection to its fans, it must adapt as quickly as possible to their preferred channels.

I am the father of two teenage girls. (Send letters of encouragement c/o the Pantages Theatre.) I learned years ago that my kids rarely check their email. If I want their attention, I'd better message them on Facebook or send a text message. Does this apply just to the new generation? Nope, I'm just as guilty. Sure, I'm "on Facebook," but I've never warmed to that system of community. When someone messages me on Facebook, I'm notified by email, and I'm actually annoyed that I have to navigate to Facebook to respond. Ask me a question via Twitter, however, and I can actually feel the smile form on my face; I'm engaged in the process, and I enjoy synthesizing my under-140-character response.

Administration of social media can certainly be time-consuming, and while we are a relatively large venue, we function with a very small staff. When we had the opportunity to increase our marketing department by the power of one (person), we restructured our responsibilities, and various members of our organization took ownership of various spaces in the social-media landscape. (Guess who took Twitter?) When I joined the Pantages team 15 years ago, we didn't even have a website on the relatively young World Wide Web. Today, it's hard to imagine going back.

What about texting? Marketers the world over are struggling with how (or whether) to utilize this communication platform. Does text messaging cross the line into annoying intrusion or can it provide a valuable service? For example, might a specific group of fans pay for this type of wherever-whenever notification to secure one hour's advance access to the best seating?

The questions don't stop. With the arrival of the iPad, apps have a whole new level of usability. No doubt this will bring about challenges as well as opportunities. How will we be able to keep our various communication channels fresh and vital? And how much is this all going to cost?

Within this wash of uncertainty, however, there's no debating the necessity for innovation. The bottom line may keep shifting, but engagement of our fans is non-negotiable.

With more than 25 years of experience promoting more than 300 theatrical engagements, Wayne McWorter, vice president of
marketing for Broadway/L.A., has been blessed to be able to make a living working in the theater, his lifelong passion.

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