3 Reasons Why Ad Men & Women Make Great Musical Theatre Writers

Quick . . . riddle me this . . . what do Tony Award winners Rick Elice, Lynn Ahrens and Joe DiPietro have in common?


Before they wrote the books/lyrics/etc to shows like Ragtime, Jersey Boys, Memphis, Once On This Island and more . . . they all worked in advertising.

That’s what I call a trend, my friends.

And where there’s a trend, there’s me, trying to figure out why it is the way it is.

I dug into this idea with each of the above writers on my podcast (click the links above to listen), and a few other writers who also worked on Madison Avenue (including School of Rock and Little Mermaid lyricist Glenn Slater).

My research led me to three reasons why working in advertising is a great foundation for writing musical theater.

Here we go.

1.They learn to write fast. If you have a job, and your boss says an assignment is due tomorrow, you do it, right?  It’s not so easy when you’re your own boss (even though the rewards can be so much bigger than a weekly paycheck). When you’re an advertising writer, you have a certain period of time to write copy, a jingle, etc. and then you have to present it to the client.  It’s an assignment.  You have a deadline. All of the musical theatre writers I spoke to said that learning to write quickly (instead of writing to be perfect) helped them not only get their personal projects done faster, but it also . . . and here’s the big one . . . prepared them for the “preview process.” One of my more widely read blogs talked about how I believe the true judge of a creative team is how they handle the preview period. Because writers who write fast have a much higher chance of turning out great material under pressure.And writing for advertising teaches you just that.

2. They learn to write without ego. I work with advertising agencies all the time on my shows and some of my small businesses.  When designing a campaign, the first drafts usually look or sound nothing like the final.  Commercial edits, radio copy, website layouts, etc. all can change 180 degrees after a client gets a hold of it. I’m constantly sending stuff back and saying, “No.  Not right.  Try again.  Use this.  Bigger.  Softer.  Do it over!” In fact, just this morning I was working on a Broadway TV commercial and we asked for a change . . . when it has to be delivered to stations later today! (Remember that write fast thing?) When you’re forced to change your work so often, you get numb to people telling you they don’t like it.  (Notice how I said “they don’t like it,” which is much more different from “it’s not good.”  HUGE difference.)Learning to write without ego, and just write, write and write without self-judgment or worrying about other people’s judgment helps Authors be more productive, which gives them greater opportunity to better their material.

3.They learn to write for others. Ok, this is my favorite. What’s your goal when you write to advertise a product? You write to sell that product.  You write to communicate a message to other people.  You write to get emotion out of your customer, not to get emotion out of yourself.  And if you’re successful, those people who hear your message will act on that emotion and make a purchase.  That’s the goal. Don’t accomplish that, and you won’t work in advertising very long. Too many musical theatre writers I know write only for themselves.  They sit in a room, write tome after tome and say, “Oh!  This is brilliant!  I love it!  Look at what I’ve done!”And maybe it is brilliant.  But it actually doesn’t matter what you think.  It matters what an audience thinks.  Yes, love what you do, be proud of what you do, but your sole goal as a writer is to communicate a message to your audience, and get them so riled up that they act . . . and after seeing your show, they tell other people to do the same.Training in advertising reminds you that all writing, from musical theatre to novels to poetry, is about the customer.  Because yes, theatre is art, but it still has to be sold (at a very high price).

If you want to pursue a career as a musical theatre writer . . . study the greats, take writing classes, join a writer’s group . . . but also consider a marketing class.

Because there’s no doubt that the success of the above Tony Winners has something to do with the fact that all of them know how to sell.


5 Takeaways from a Non Broadway Marketing Conference.

Unless you follow me on Facebook, you wouldn’t have even known that I was gone.

But two weeks ago I was in San Diego, with 6,000 (!) other marketers at one of the biggest internet marketing conferences in the country world.

And I’d bet two tickets to Hamilton that I was the only guy there who marketed the theater.  Which is exactly why I went.  And oh the things I learned!

But don’t worry, like Prometheus stealing fire from Olympus, I took all sorts of tips and tricks from the Digital Marketing Gods and brought them back for you (just like I did on this post).

You ready for a few marketing truth bombs?

Here are 5 Takeaways for you:

1. Conversation is the new lead.

Many of the speakers talked about how important it was to start a conversation with your potential customer before asking them to make a purchase. Chat Bots, Facebook Messenger, and the good old telephone were just a few of the strategies we discussed to start conversations and thus increase conversions. But no matter what tool you use, it’s clear that today’s consumer wants a “Hello, how are you,” before they get a, “Do you want to buy this?” And if your marketing doesn’t offer them a chance to talk to you, then you’re losing out.  (This is one of the reasons we have “Live Chat” on our Once On This Island site.  Go check it out!)

2. Not everyone with a credit card is your potential customer.

We all like to think that our “products” (e.g. shows, in our case) are for everyone.  But they’re not.  And we’ll often take money from anyone that wants to pay our ticket price. But we shouldn’t. Getting the WRONG people in to see your show will only generate bad word of mouth.  Target the people that are predisposed to like your show, and forget the rest. Your peer reviews (which, bonus tip, are more important to millennials than any other generation) will be better, and so will your bottom line.

3. Marketers need to hang out with more real people.

When I’m at a Broadway ad meeting, and a debate breaks out about something as simple as the size of a logo on a Post-It pad, I often wonder, “When was the last time anyone at this table actually purchased a theater ticket?” At the conference, we were challenged to not only put ourselves in the minds of our consumers but to find a way to spend more time with them.  Why?  Because let’s face it, I have no idea what it’s like to be a family of four from New Jersey looking to see a show in January.  So I should find out . . . by starting one of those aforementioned conversations!

(TIP:  One of the best ways to find out what challenges your audiences face is to . . . ready for it . . . ask them!  An email or social media post that says, “Hey, what keeps you up at night?” or “What would make you go to the theater more?” It might be enough!

4. Perfect is the enemy of speed.

One of the greatest advantages digital products have over traditional products is that they can be launched, and then, if there is a problem, the “producer” can fix it on the fly.  The conference speakers all preferred us, entrepreneurs, to “ship,” when the product is ready, not when it’s perfect. Writers should do this too.  Get your work out there.  Fix it as you go.  If you’re a playwright, and you haven’t had a play produced, get help and get it on a stage somehow.  And don’t try to be perfect, because it’ll be another twenty years before you’re ready to do something with your script.  And PS, it still won’t be perfect!

5. Customers only post things on Social Media when it elevates their status.

Take a moment, and think about this one . . . true right?  No one is taking photos of themselves, sitting in a middle seat in the back row of a Spirit Airlines flight.  But get an upgrade? Flash!  Instagrammed! You only post photos and videos of yourself that you believe will make you look good to your friends, family, and followers. So, if we want more Instagrams and Tweets and Facebook Videos, then we need to give our customers social media photo ops that do just that.

What photo ops can you give your fans to make them look like superstars?


Those were just five of the takeaways my team and I ran away with.  Truth is, we had about twenty pages of ’em.  If you want to see the rest, well just watch the marketing of one of my shows.  So much of what I learn is embedded in my projects.  Truth is, I don’t come up with a lot of my initiatives on my own.  I steal them. 🙂

But that’s ok . . . and it brings me to the biggest takeaway that I learned at one of the very first conferences I ever attended . . . and it’s this:

Every business, no matter what the industry, is the same.  “But my business is different,” is a BS excuse from someone who isn’t doing their marketing work.

Applying the classic principles of sales and marketing works for all businesses, including Broadway.





What does a Broadway Producer do? I’ll show you . . . LIVE.

In 2010, back in the early days of this blog, I got an email from a young lady who asked me, “What does a Broadway Producer do?”

I took her question, and sent it around to my Producing Peers and asked them to answer it in one sentence.  I posted all of the responses in a blog, that has since become one of my most read entries to date.  You can read it here.  (By the way – Young Inquisitive Lady who emailed me . . . who has probably now graduated from college and is hopefully producing somewhere . . . if you’re reading this, drop me a line and let me know what you’re up to.)

Flash forward eight years later, and just last Saturday I was interviewed by ABC radio and guess what the host asked?  Yep.  He didn’t know what a Producer did either.

I gave my usual answers about how a Broadway Producer is like a CEO or Chairman of the Board, or like any entrepreneur who starts a business.

And then I ended with why I love my job . . . because every day is different.  One day I’m getting the rights to a show, the next day I’m working on a new marketing initiative, then I’m opening a show, raising money for the next one, meeting songwriters, interviewing directors, courting stars, etc., etc.

And no matter how challenging each day may be, it’s all awesome.  Because it’s all about the theater.

The interview ended and my big takeaway was that despite my ten years of blogging, people out there were still wondering what Broadway Producers actually do!  Since part of my mission has always been to help demystify Broadway and the profession of The Producer, I knew I had to figure out another way to pull back the curtain.

And blogging and podcasting weren’t going to cut it this time.

So, starting today, I’m launching the most behind-the-curtain view into what I do.

Yep, I’m launching a series on Facebook Live called . . . #EveryDayIsDifferent.

Starting TODAY at around noon, I’ll host my first Facebook Live episode. And every weekday (and occasionally on a weekend), at least once per day, you’ll get a Facebook Live from me, telling you where I am, what I’m doing, and why #EveryDayIsDifferent.

You’ll catch me at ad meetings, agent meetings, openings, focus groups, investor meetings, and everything else that I do (and maybe even a glimpse into how I balance my work with my life/wife/soon-to-be-born Broadway baby).

I’ll explain what I’m up to and why I’m doing what I’m doing, daily.

For those of you who remember the 100 Days to Godspell, “Day By Day” blog (seen here), it’s a bit like that . . . but live and on camera.  (Ok, I just got a little nervous when I typed that – what have I gotten myself into!)

And this is a terrific time to get a glimpse into the day-to-day of what a Broadway Producer does, because we’re going into awards season with Once On This Island and I’m getting into the production phase of Gettin’ The Band Back Together.  (And I’m also announcing a new musical in development this very week so stay tuned!)

There will be lots of stuff going on, and you’ll get to see it all, including the good days, the bad challenging days, and everything in between.

So you wanna see what a Broadway Producer does?

All you have to do is click here and like me on Facebook.  You’ll be notified when I go live.  And if you miss it, the video will be stored for later, so you can watch it whenever.

Got it?

Just click here.  Like the page.  And remember, #EveryDayIsDifferent.

See you . . . (gulp) . . . live.



5 Things I Stole From My Mastermind For You.

I’m going to tell you a little secret.

I can’t do everything I do myself.

First and foremost, I lean on my crackerjack staff to help me get through the day to day and keep everything we do optimized and efficient.

But there’s another group of folks I rely on who you’ve never met, and probably never will.

That’s because they don’t work on Broadway.  They don’t even work near Broadway.  Literally and figuratively!  They are a group of entrepreneurs, digital marketers, risk-takers, rule-breakers, soothsayers, and more, from every industry you can imagine, from SAS to nutritional supplements to small business accounting.

And they’re all members of my Mastermind.

I’ve been a part of Masterminds for most of my life.  (For those of you who have never heard about this concept before, a Mastermind is a term coined by success guru Napoleon Hill in the late 1920s (!) to describe one of the tools he believed was necessary to achieve big-time success.)  But last year, I tripled-down on my Mastermind experience by joining one that meets for two days, four times a year, to share best practices, get inspiration, network, and just get all the good ju-ju from being around people who are trying to do big things.   This Mastermind costs me the same as a year of college.  But in my first session, I learned more than I did during four years of school.

How?  Because I’m not just learning about what it takes to work in MY industry.  I’m learning what is working in other industries . . . industries that are light years ahead of Broadway, industries that have more dollars to spend testing best marketing practices, and industries that are evolving faster than ours in the new economy.

In fact, just one, ONE takeaway from the first weekend that I applied to the marketing of Gettin’ The Band Back Together has already recouped the cost.

During my sessions, I gather all sorts of real-world case studies of what is working and what is not, and apply it to what I do (produce and create Broadway shows) . . . and now . . . I can share it with you.  🙂

I’m kind of a knowledge smuggler.  And if you won’t tell, I won’t either.

My most recent Mastermind was a few weeks ago, and as always, it was chock-full of takeaways. And, for the first time, I thought I’d share five of them with you . . . some specific, some general, and all with the potential to provide serious ROI when applied.


Here are five things I stole from my Mastermind for you.

  1.  When it comes to web design, think mobile FIRST. All websites should have a purpose.  They are designed to get you to do something.  A Broadway show’s website is designed to get you to buy tickets. So, all of the e-commerce discussions we had were about how to get our customers to do what we want, faster and more often.  (Conversion is the key.) What I learned was that when designing NEW websites, the top designers and marketers are no longer designing a site and saying, “How will this look on a desktop?”  Now they are thinking about how the site will look (and convert) on a mobile device BEFORE they think about how it will look on a desktop! That’s right.  Mobile first.  Desktop second. (This is even more important for us in the tourist market who aren’t even near a desktop when they are considering buying tickets to a show.)
  2. Are you on Instagram?  Twitter is tweetin’ off into the distance and Instagram is fast becoming the social media place to be to market your brand.  And thanks to their parent company, Facebook, expect Insta to expand over the next few years. Several companies we spoke to have several accounts . . . one of the brand, and one for the individual (CEO, Founder, etc.) behind the brand.  People want to buy from people.  Not from companies. Your show should be on Insta.  But so should you.  So should your actors.  And tell your “friends” to follow your people on Instagram.  If they get fans, your show will get them by association.
  3. You’re Not That Important . . . This was one of my favorites. A question came up asking how often we should place ads, send emails, communicate with our customers, etc. Because of course, so many people are worried about drowning their customers with too much messaging. One of our guru marketers answered this query best when she said, “Just because you send it, doesn’t mean they see it!” In other words, you’re not that important to your customers as you are to yourself. You may think they are reading everything, clicking everything, but they just aren’t. This means you’re going to have to follow up, remind, advertise, email, etc., more often than you think in order to capture a consumer’s attention in today’s cluttered market. One entrepreneur told us he runs the exact email sales campaign every two months to the same list . . . word for word . . . and it sells the same amount every time and no one, no one, has ever said, “I just got this message last month.”
  4. There is remnant real estate everywhere. Pop up stores have been popping up all over the country, and we had a whole session on negotiating deals with landlords to try and secure some temporary space at a much-reduced rate. I can’t help but think how valuable remnant real estate could be for theater companies, emerging playwrights, etc. In fact, I think someone should start a theater company called, “Pop-Up Theater Company” and it should only do shows in remnant real estate. Need space?  Look around for unconventional places, because landlords are much more open to this possibility than they were five years ago.
  5. We have the ability to . . . I told you that one of the reasons Masterminds exist is to relight the fuse that sometimes gets snuffed out in the day-to-day grind of trying to do something super. Well, on the way out the door, our farewell speaker reminded us that every single one of us, no matter what we do, had the ability to change people’s lives. Nutritional supplements can help people get healthier.  Dating websites can help cure loneliness. Accountants can help business owners make more money so they can take their kids to Disney. And I’d argue that not one of those professions can change people’s lives as much as someone who works in the theater. So remember as you go about your day-to-day . . . yes, think about how to be a smarter marketer, and what unconventional space you can use for your next show . . . but also remember, you have the power to change lives.That’s what great art does.

    So let’s do it.


Because of the success I’ve had with Masterminds, last year we quietly starting organizing the only Masterminds out there dedicated solely to the Arts and Theater.  And they were a big hit.  If you’re looking to join a group of people dedicated to doing great things in our industry, whether you’re a writer, producer, actor or anything, click here.


Well, this will change things for the Secondary Market.

Years ago, my Mom told me she wasn’t going to be able to take her grandkids to the theater anymore.  “Why not,” I cried, feeling a bit betrayed.

“It’s too expensive!  I took them to see Annie in Worcester, MA and paid over $500 for just three of us, and we didn’t even have great seats!”

That price didn’t make much sense to me, so I did a little googling.  Turns out, my Mom didn’t buy from the official site.  Instead, she did some googling of her own, like most people do when looking to buy something that isn’t on Amazon.

When she got the results, she clicked an ad that sent her to a secondary market seller, who was charging well above face value.

The problem?  She had no idea she was buying from a reseller and could have paid less.  (In fact, this Secondary Seller was engaging in some black-hat tactics to make my Mom think she was buying from the official source.)

It’s stories like this that make me and my Producer Peers nervy.  My Mom was ready to give up on the theater, all because she didn’t know where she was buying from.

That’s about when I started writing blogs and speaking at conventions hoping the government would come in and make Secondary Market Sellers be upfront and transparent about who and what they are.  See, I have no problem with what they do.

Well, despite my e-shouting, the government never stepped in.

But last week, someone even more powerful did.


In an effort to protect consumers, Google announced that in order to use its AdWords advertising platform, Secondary Market Resellers will have to adhere to certain guidelines on their websites, including revealing that they are not the primary source for the tickets and that they may charge a higher fee.

(And I’d expect their super-secret algorithm for how they deliver results in their organic rankings will also figure out who is playing by the rules and who isn’t.)

Like playing poker without one of the Aces, this move is a game changer.

It’ll help Producers as it’ll put us on a (more) even playing field to be able to compete in the important AdWords market for our own titles.

And it’ll help Consumers make smart choices as to where they get their tickets.

This is a big risk on Google’s part, as the secondary market spends a ton of bank on ads (they can afford it since their margins are so high), and I applaud the Big G for taking a short-term hit, in order to help consumers.

And Secondary Sellers . . . I’m convinced this is good for you too.  There are people who will always want what you do.  And there are some things you can do so much better than we can.  In the 21st Century transparency is an essential part of a successful business.  So if you focus on that white glove service that you can provide instead of hiding behind an e-mask, I bet you’ll see your business grow on Google.