Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Open Letter to South Florida Theater Companies.

Dear South Florida theater producer,

The bad news is that the South Florida Theater Review has closed because local theater producers didn't buy advertising space.  As the blog's editor, Lawrence Johnson, noted, certain theaters proudly quoted SFTR reviews and articles, but somehow failed to see its value as a marketing tool.  You know who you are.  And so do I, frankly.
One executive director of a major company was lavish in her praise of one of Bill’s feature advances saying she must get a copy immediately, so she can hang it in the lobby. When Bill mentioned that I was concerned about the lack of ad support, she abruptly changed tone and said, “We don’t have any money.”
That's BS on so many levels.  The truth is that they did and do have money, they're just wasting it, spending their few dollars in the wrong places, as we'll discuss below.

He also stated that some smaller companies DID advertise, or at least inquired.  I would suspect that they are the same companies that have approached The Scene over the last few years. (FYI, Google AdSense handles all of The Scene's ad space, so you can stop asking us and start asking them.)  It' s interesting that a start-up company has the money to advertise on a weblog, but Actors' Playhouse, for example, does not.

I've heard comments from marketing people and producers over the last few years.  Some of them say they only have limited funds, and have to choose them carefully.  And then I see their ads in the Sun-Sentinel, a paper that no longer covers theater in South Florida.  And I have to say, that's simply, well, STUPID.  If you're interested in theater, the Sun-Sentinel is no longer a source for original articles and reviews.  Since one is unlikely to go to a source that has no information on the subject of interest, it means that any advertising pertinent to that interest will go unseen.

Oh, I know the counter-argument; "A lot of our older patrons still read the Sun-Sentinel, so we need to keep them in the loop.  A lot of them don't even own a computer."

And that's probably true.  But it's also true that
  1. They are already your patrons.
  2. They are a shrinking minority.
No offense, but one should consider that possibility that one of the reasons fewer people are reading the Sentinel (and other newspapers) is that people who grew up reading newspapers are dying.  We talk about "newspaper readership dying off" but we tend to gloss over the fact that it is literally true. 

That's not to say that people are no longer interested in reading reviews and articles about theater.  I can attest that they are.  They are doing it online.

We are turning to online media because print media is gutting its coverage to keep expenses down.  And if that sounds as sensible as a restaurant cutting food from its menu to cut costs, well, it is.  Both the Sun-Sentinel and The Post have stopped covering theater.  So for theater lovers, both of these papers are now irrelevant to their lives.  Either they read newspapers that still cover theater - which means The Miami Herald on a daily basis or The New Times on a weekly one - or they go online.

The lesson is clear - if you want your advertising dollars to matter, you need to put them where people are looking for theater.

The good news is that Bill Hirschman is going to try it again - in about a month, he'll open his own site: Florida Theater on Stage.  We'll be linking to his stories.  Why is that important?  Because of the way search engines work.  Or specifically, how Google works.

From Wikipedia:
The company achieved better results for many searches with an innovation called PageRank. This iterative algorithm ranks web pages based on the number and PageRank of other web sites and pages that link there, on the premise that good or desirable pages are linked to more than others.
That means that the more links leading to a web page, the more visible it is to the search engine.  The more connections, the higher the rating, the more likely it is to show up in a search.

So every time someone reviews a show or posts an article about your theater, it increases your visibility - GLOBALLY.  And of course, we link to those stories and reviews, which increases your visibility AGAIN.

Now consider what happens when you advertise on a website like The Review; you're linked by the article, you're linked by the review, and you're linked by your advertisement.  And it's all visible on a global scale.  That means that you're not just getting the attention of the people who live here, but also that of the people who are coming here.  The Theater Scene started its Seasonal Listing because we kept getting inquiries from people coming down for vacations asking what would be playing here on certain dates.  That means that what plays were running often affected when these people would visit here.

At this point, some of you might be asking "Well, what does The Theatre Scene care?  You're not asking for these advertising dollars - they didn't turn YOU down!"

But yes, you did.  The Theatre Scene is primarily a meta-blog; our focus has not been original content, it's been finding content elsewhere and linking to it.  But we can only do that if there's content elsewhere to link to.  Every time a news organization stops covering arts, or a blog shuts down, the Theatre Scene is diminished.  And yes, we mean the literal theater scene as well as this blog.

The lesson to take from this?  When Bill's new site opens in June, buy some advertising, because in the long run, it benefits your theater company far more than it benefits Bill.

And the reality is that you can't afford not to.

Best Regards,
South Florida Theatre Scene

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