Dealing with Promoters

Dealing with promoters can be a great experience, or a nightmare. With individual personalities and reputations aside, there are several simple ways to make sure that you, as an historic theatre person, can be prepared and make the most out of your experience the majority of the time.

Basically, what both parties want out of a relationship are three things:

A drama-free experience

A well attended show (full house)

A profit for all parties

What are the elements of a “drama-free” experience? For one thing, it means doing your homework. Before you even talk to a promoter, or artist’s rep you should research the act’s history. This means both researching their past appearances in your community (if any) as well as their current statistics via Polstar. This is CRITICAL data for your offer, in that you will need to know their drawing power in similar markets, ticket prices, etc.

Next you need to do a specific budget with the house scale (ticket prices), marketing/PR costs as well as rider expenses figured in. If you have to sell more than 60% to break even, think about finding a sponsor, or about creating a special benefit for some ticketholders, (like a meet & greet) that might increase a ticket value. Be aware that any savvy tour manager, promoter or even the talent themselves, will attempt to get as much cash out of the show as possible, so you need to plan ahead and make sure all of your expenses ( as well as rider costs) are figured out and are realistic. Do you need a runner? Will you have to bring in special equipment? Hotel rooms? Post-show bus food? Outrageous comp ticket list that eats into your inventory? What are the terms of the contract, ½ up front? Cash that night? Be prepared.

What defines a “well attended” show? Again, research what the act is drawing while on tour. Make sure your offer spells out your break-even dollar amount so the “house” is protected before you get into the split point. And be careful here. If the ticket sales get too close to the break even point the promoter may even buy the tickets to get to that level, which will mean more cash for them. Make sure the artist comps are spread out all over the house so if their “guests” do not come there are not big holes in the audience. Be clear on media access both for photographers and press admissions. Get your promo materials up front and make sure that you meet any approvals for ads, website and other social media activities. Settle the show with a smile on your face.

What is a good profit for all parties? It depends on what you are looking for. Know in advance that every tour has expectations for EVERY stop they play. A good night for you may be break-even for them, and remember you are delivering a show to your community, making concession income, a percentage of merchandise sales, and making a fan’s entire month, or year by having their favorite act on your stage.

Look at relationships with promoters who use your facility as relationships with family members. You may not always agree with every decision they make, but together you can create special events that will enhance your brand, make a few dollars and keep your house full with diverse acts, without too much risk if you are careful.

Thank you for your leadership in sustaining historic theatres for the benefit of their communities and future generations.

Fran Holden
Former Executive Director, League of Historic American Theatres, Inc.