Every smart company knows that with any product launch, you've got to give away some product to start the snowball of word of mouth marketing rolling down the hill.
What separates the great marketers from the mass marketers is who that product is given to.
Ten years ago, there were one or two "papering" organizations in the theater business that had a list of people who were interested in seeing theater that could be mobilized quickly to fill a house.
Now, there are at least four major papering companies that charge their members a service fee of a few dollars for getting these tickets. Shows, big and small, give these organizations free tickets, and then these companies profit from being able to get rid of them. And they're growing. One company recently sent me a direct mail offer to sign up. They are spending more media dollars than my shows.
The hope for the shows is that the members help spread the word of mouth and turn their friends into paying customers.
And maybe that happened ten years ago. But do you know what's really happening now?
Word of mouth is spreading about these companies and a way to get a $4 ticket to a show, rather than the show itself! How do I know this? Simple . . . the growth of the number of companies engaging in this activity proves the growth in the market. Where there are competitors, there is a market share to be had. And that's bad news for the theater. We're increasing the size of an audience looking for free or extremely discounted tickets.
On top of that . . . does anyone really think that this is the best way to spread word of mouth? These people that use these services are now trained to expect free tickets. There is no reciprocity factor any more. There is no feeling of "Wow, I got a free ticket to a show and can't wait to see it." And if you were one of these people and actually saw a great show, wouldn't one of the first things you said to a friend be "I saw a great show and I only paid $4!"
Giving away product is fine, but choose wisely. It may be easier to call a papering company to get rid of 100 tickets to a preview, but you'll be much better served seeking out corporations and hair dressers and banks and anywhere where they don't usually get this sort of offer (and you can pick specific geographic locations where you think your demographic may be hiding). These people will be super-excited to get the offer (and therefore more inclined to talk positively about the experience) and since they are hand picked by you, more inclined to enjoy your product. And, by avoiding these companies that profit off our paper, you'll be helping to prevent the disintegration of our paying audience.
Avoid papering companies like they are vampire musicals.