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A Revival: Cross-Promotion of Broadway Shows Proving Magical

Cinderella stages marketing magic

Broadway show’s backers are having a ball with all the cross-promotions.


Photo: Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana

Robyn Goodman was immediately interested when approached about producing Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Broadway for the first time. Just thinking about the story’s romance and score made her giddy. And then, of course, there were the marketing opportunities.

“Cinderella is a beloved brand,” said Ms. Goodman, who won Tony Awards for producing Avenue Q and In the Heights. “I understood what an advantage that was.”

But like good fairy godmothers, she and her partners sprinkled magic on their baby. A Broadway veteran updated the story to carry a more empowering message for girls. A five-time Tony winner designed the sumptuous costumes. And executives conjured up a marketing campaign with Stuart Weitzman, the New York Palace hotel and Brooks Brothers, among others.

The show even permits Prince Charmings to propose to their beloveds onstage after performances (there’s been one so far—she said yes—and another is expected next month). The production will also arrange princess-themed parties.

The efforts have generated reams of press in outlets ranging fromThe New Yorker to gossipmonger Perez Hilton’s blog.

“The show is singular in how it has taken the brand’s assets and extended them,” said Susan Lee, chief marketing officer at the Nederlander Organization, a theater owner that is not involved in the show.

The marketing appears to be working as the show prepares to open March 3. For the week ended Feb. 17,Cinderella previews were essentially sold out and generated an impressive $1.1 million in ticket sales. However, the spring season is just beginning, and no other new musical has started previews. Competition will intensify in the coming weeks.

Once upon a time, marketing Broadway shows consisted of taking out ads and hiring a press agent. To make a splash now, shows must go beyond that, a trend that has intensified in recent years with the explosion in the number of media outlets. Producers want to promote their plays in nontraditional venues to broaden audiences beyond regular theatergoers. They create buzz for straight plays by casting big movie stars and use tactics like tie-ins for musicals.

This season the breadth of the partnerships is on full display. The producers of Motown: The Musical joined forces with Chrysler for the first-ever national TV ad campaign for a Broadway musical. Meanwhile, the team behind Annie orchestrated a host of cross-promotions with companies ranging from Pedigree Petfoods to Dylan’s Candy Bar. More are on the way.

“You want to get your brand off just the theater pages,” said Betsy Bernstein, president of BDB Marketing, which promotes Annie.

That’s easier for well-known shows with organic tie-in potential, like Cinderella and shoes. The producers ofMatilda, a mega-hit in London being imported to Broadway, have no co-promotion deals yet. That’s because American audiences aren’t very familiar with the Roald Dahl novel on which the musical is based. Matilda‘s advance sales are a result of traditional marketing and chatter by theater aficionados.

Matilda is essentially unknown here,” said Andre Ptaszynski, one of the producers. “That’s not a good basis for a co-promotion.”

In contrast, Cinderella is perhaps the most famous fairy tale of all. Plus, it has built-in Broadway credentials because Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the original book, music and lyrics. The duo created it for CBS, which aired the live, one-time performance featuring Julie Andrews in 1957. It was an instant hit, and two TV movie versions followed, although the pair never realized their dream of bringing it to Broadway.

The combination of a treasured tale told with Broadway legends’ music drew in partners.

“I don’t see any downside when you are talking about Cinderella by Rogers and Hammerstein,” said Susan Duffy, chief marketing officer of Stuart Weitzman.

A partnership between a shoe company and Cinderella was practically preordained. Mr. Weitzman personally co-designed the show’s glass slipper and created a line of Cinderella-inspired footwear. Promotions emailed to customers and used on Stuart Weitzman’s website have included the show’s tagline, “Glass slippers are so back,” as well as “Cinderella is proof that a shoe can change your life.”

“This was a perfect collaboration,” said Ms. Duffy.

The shoes were introduced only a few weeks ago, so it is too soon to judge their sales potential. However, the New York Palace has seen a tangible benefit from its partnership with Cinderella, its first promotion with a Broadway show, said Brian Honan, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. He said the property has sold about 200 Cinderella weekend packages, which include a chocolate shoe and themed cocktails.

Wine line

“If the show’s a hit, we could do this for the next five years,” said Mr. Honan.

That would delight Ms. Goodman and her colleagues, who are continuing to work on new promotions forCinderella. A partnership with a new line of wines by Diageo is expected to be announced soon, for example.

They haven’t figured out how much of its sales have been generated by its various tie-ins, but, Ms. Goodman said, “obviously they are working, because we are doing well.”

The show certainly has the makings of a fairy-tale ending: a famous story, beautiful music, a Tony-nominated star in Laura Osnes, a Tony-nominated writer in Douglas Carter Beane and costumes by famed designer William Ivey Long.

Still, there is the potential for evil stepsisters in the form of bad reviews and damaging word-of-mouth to crush all the hard work. For musicals like Cinderella, the latter is more of a threat, but Ms. Goodman said so far audiences have been largely enchanted.

“I don’t think bad reviews would kill us,” she said. “I think we’re getting it out how magical it is.”

A version of this article appears in the February 25, 2013, print issue of Crain’s New York Business as “Cinderella stages marketing magic”.


By Abbe Sparks

Abbe Sparks is the Founder of Abbe Sparks Media Group & Socially Sparked News. A social entrepreneur, she is a social media and content influencer who has been covering the entertainment, music, tech and advocacy sectors for over 25 year. A member of US Press Association, she has written for many online and print publications including her former column 'Abbe's Sparks' for RFPalooza. You can also find her stories on Medium & Tumbler. Twitter: @asparks01

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