She promotes Broadway to beat the brand
Nancy Coyne takes marketing shows in a new direction
NEW YORK -- Nancy Coyne knows the art of selling Broadway shows: ''The Phantom of the Opera," ''The Lion King," ''The Producers," ''Hairspray," ''Wicked," and more.
Talk to her about getting people into theater seats, and you will get the passion of a true believer, a woman who can sell and cheer on the shows she represents, turning them into well-known brands.
Not that the woman who runs Serino Coyne, Broadway's largest advertising and marketing agency, really likes the word. ''Branding is simply the promotion of a product through unique design and advertising, publicity, and marketing," she says.
Branding didn't start with Coyne, and there certainly are other big advertising companies on Broadway, such as SpotCo. But Coyne and her company, which is now part of Omnicom Inc., dominate the New York theater business -- with clients ranging from the Walt Disney Co. to Cameron Mackintosh to the upcoming Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick revival of Neil Simon's ''The Odd Couple," already this fall's impossible ticket.
''We all have a circle of people we trust, and I trust Nancy," says Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions. ''She has vast experience -- more than 20 years in fact -- and a vast knowledge of Broadway and advertising, and she has wisely guided me."
It was Coyne, Schumacher says, who figured out that Disney's three Broadway musicals -- ''Beauty and the Beast," ''The Lion King," and ''Aida" -- could be sold together and referred to as ''Disney on Broadway," a clever positioning that enhanced the Disney name as well as the individual shows.
Coyne, a friendly woman with a sunny smile and a startling resemblance to actress Marsha Mason, exudes an enthusiasm about what she hawks. Sit down with her in the hushed confines of an upscale Theater District hotel, the kind of establishment where power breakfasts are served, and, over coffee and scrambled eggs, she will hold forth enthusiastically about theater.
''We are the original reality art form," says the onetime child performer. ''There is a live person performing for you at 8 o'clock tonight. By 11 o'clock, it's going to be over. You can't rewind. You can't listen to it over and over again. . . . A part of your memory is on that isn't on when you are watching a movie or television. People remember Broadway shows in an unbelievable way."
The rule of thumb for what a Broadway show should spend each week on advertising is about 10 percent of a production's weekly potential gross. For ''Wicked," which has a gross potential of more than $1.15 million each week, that would translate into more than $100,000.
The show, according to producer David Stone, is actually spending a bit less -- about $90,000 -- much of it, these days, on outdoor ads. Coyne suggested the billboard approach, he says, because ''Wicked" is ''such a powerful title and image."
Serino Coyne, a joint venture with Coyne's business partner Matthew Serino, was born in the late 1970s, when advertising Broadway shows was much more conservative.
TV ads first became a reality earlier in the decade, when Bob Fosse created a TV spot for ''Pippin" and extended the life of the show by several years. A new way of selling shows had arrived.
Theater has lagged behind other industries in tapping ways to attract audiences.
''The reason it is slow is because there's a ceiling on how much money we can make," Coyne says. So she has to be careful about where she places ads -- print, TV, radio, billboards.
For example, she explains, a show in a 1,000-seat theater with eight performances a week can only sell 8,000 tickets for that week's performances, regardless of demand.
''You can't sell a ticket for a seat that's not there," she says.
Still, certain shows, buoyed by their success and creative ads, have become brands. In the 1980s, Mackintosh turned such long-running behemoths as ''Cats," ''Les Miserables," ''Miss Saigon," and ''The Phantom of the Opera" into brands. These shows have a national awareness, according to Coyne, so that when you say the title of a show, certain attributes immediately kick in.
Now, Coyne is preparing for the fall and beyond. Besides ''The Odd Couple," the upcoming season will have Coyne selling ''Jersey Boys," a musical celebrating Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, opening in November, and ''Tarzan," arriving next spring -- Disney's first big musical since ''Aida" five years ago.
''I think one of the things we're going to be trying to emphasize is the athleticism of the experience, sort of the extreme sport of the show," she says. ''But it's hard to say. The show is only in workshop right now."