A typical customer who comes to StubHub, the nation’s largest ticket reseller, might spend no more than a few minutes on the site searching for tickets. But that experience "does not create the kind of beloved brand response you would see with someone who uses an Apple product," says StubHub’s global head of communications Glenn Lehrman.
With Lehrman’s assistance, the eBay-owned organization wants to forge an Apple-style emotional bond with fans as it branches out beyond its identity as a secondary ticketing marketplace.
"We’re focused on making the ticket experience end to end, extending the life cycle with that fan beyond the moment they purchase a ticket," Lehrman says.
StubHub, global head of communications
Rogers & Cowan, director
Ketchum, account supervisor
Manning Selvage & Lee, account executive
When he joined StubHub in 2010, there was just one other person in the communications group. The growing company, which eBay bought in 2007 for $310 million, would "take whatever press we could get" at the time, says GM of social commerce and former CMO Ray Elias, who hired Lehrman.
StubHub’s PR efforts were more reactive than proactive, tending to revolve around providing the average ticket prices for large, costly events, Lehrman explains.
"In news clippings, you only saw us associated with high-priced events," he adds. "We were perceived as a luxury brand."
Those "one-off stories" didn’t do much to help StubHub’s reputation, he says. The online ticket marketplace already had to fight a negative image as a breeding ground for scalpers, who buy tickets for events and resell them at prices far above face value.
"The scalper label was hard to shed," Lehrman explains. "Our PR was not focused on our brand messaging."
Lehrman set to work trying to change perceptions about StubHub. The first strategy he employed was to stop providing media outlets with data about high-priced events. Through research, Lehrman discovered half the tickets on StubHub actually sold below face value. As a result, he and his colleagues began highlighting low-priced tickets and deals on the site.
Lehrman also tried to insert StubHub into more conversations about pop culture.
"Instead of talking about how expensive Beyoncé’s tickets are, we would ask a question such as, ‘Who is more in demand – Beyoncé or Jay Z?’ We would compare trends," he says. "Whenever possible, I avoid giving average ticket prices because we want to talk more about being an arbiter of demand."
In the past four years, StubHub has gone from about 400 full-time employees to more than 900. Amid this growth, Lehrman took on the task of creating an internal communications team and a company intranet. Charged with expanding StubHub’s communications group, he hired specialists in areas such as music, sports, and technology.
"He energizes our culture at StubHub," Elias says. "Glenn has done a nice job of leveraging data to build the company as a recognized authority."
Since joining StubHub, Lehrman has built the communications department into a global operation. The team consists of 10 staffers – six at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, two in Los Angeles, one in New York, and another in London, where StubHub opened an office in 2012. They manage corporate communications, consumer PR, event marketing, CSR, and internal communications.
Lehrman has come a long way from his first job in PR as an account executive at Manning Selvage & Lee (now MSLGroup). From there, he took a job at Ketchum and moved to Los Angeles. He then joined Rogers & Cowan, where he worked in the consumer and sports practice with clients including NASCAR, NHL, and the PGA Tour. He also handled publicity for soccer star David Beckham for three years.
"He knows how to talk to people and communicate on different levels," says Paul Bloch, co-chairman of Rogers & Cowan.
After nearly five years at the agency, the opportunity at StubHub was "the perfect fit to continue my path with sports and entertainment," explains Lehrman.
At StubHub, PR and communications fall under the marketing branch. Lehrman reports to CMO Michael Lattig, who replaced Elias in that role in January. After spending his first six months observing and learning about the business from Elias, Lehrman identified some areas for growth.
Tapping into key markets
"Much of the marketing focused on sports, which tends to lean toward a male demographic," says Lehrman. "Women were an untapped market for StubHub."
With this in mind, Lehrman developed an initiative aimed at women called Mom’s Night Out, which organized outings such as concerts or baseball games for mothers and their friends. But the program only continued for about a year. Since then, StubHub’s marketing has evolved even further.
"One of the lessons we learned was that it is hard in our business to just target a specific demographic," Lehrman explains. "We find it easier to target people based on their purchasing behavior. It’s less about their sex and age and more about whether this is someone who is a fanatic, or who only wants to go to a show because their friends are going. We have adapted our marketing to look at the world this way."
Another way Lehrman sought to humanize StubHub’s brand was by developing a CSR program. "There was a huge gap in our connection to local communities," he says. "We were not creating any kind of product, but what we could create were opportunities to ensure there are more athletes and musicians for kids to watch some day."
In late 2011, the company created the StubHub Foundation, which has donated more than $2 million in the past two years to organizations that provide youth with access to sports, music, and arts education. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation manages the fund and raises money by selling StubHub-owned inventory tickets, which it obtains through customer service refunds and prevented fraudulent transactions.
In 2013, StubHub unveiled its Rising Stars program, which awards grants to nonprofits that help at-risk youth through sports and the arts. It now has 10 Rising Stars partners – seven in the US, and one each in Toronto, Ireland, and London.
StubHub’s philanthropic activities are part of its ongoing efforts to overcome stigma and "move people from the mechanical to the emotional," Lehrman adds.
The company differentiates itself from other ticket vendors – including its biggest competitor, Live Nation Entertainment’s Ticketmaster – by "being focused on fans," Lehrman says.
"Our clients are the fans," he explains. "Everything we do is focused on them."
This philosophy manifests itself through offerings such as a fan rewards program, flexible return policy, and mobile apps that allow users to get into venues without printing tickets and find nearby events.
"Mobile is the future," Lehrman says. "Two years ago, mobile represented 5% of our traffic. Now it is 50% and growing."
StubHub wants to continue to make it easier for customers to discover local events through its platforms, he says. In June, the company launched an app called StubHub Music, a live music guide for San Francisco that will expand to other US markets. Elias told PandoDaily that StubHub wants to "build the LinkedIn for fans."
Expanding into the event discovery business opens another revenue channel for StubHub through advertising, Lehrman says. The company ramped up advertising from outside sponsors on its site at the start of the year with partners such as Hertz and Marriott.
It also went through a reorganization that brought advertising under a new division called StubHub Social, and Elias was promoted to head of social commerce.
StubHub began producing its own events earlier this year with the Next Stage Concert Series, which will benefit Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which donates musical instruments to underserved schools. It has also partnered with Pandora for a series of free concerts around the country.
In March, StubHub struck a deal with the producers of popular Broadway musical The Book of Mormon and ticketing service Telecharge to sell premium seats for each performance at set prices. StubHub has made similar deals with sports teams, but it is the first time the company will act as a primary ticketing marketplace on such a large scale. It also points to the increasingly blurred lines in the ticketing industry.
"This is the way the industry is moving," Lehrman says. "At some point there may not be a primary and secondary ticketing market. It may just be one huge marketplace with multiple distribution channels."
Music in his blood
Entertainment is in Lehrman’s blood: his father is a theater teacher.
Before starting his PR career, Lehrman spent more than two years after college working at a travel company and helped plan group tours to Europe. His favorite place to visit on the continent was Salzburg, Austria, where Mozart was born and the movie The Sound of Music was filmed.
"I spent so much of my life in musical theater, so it was great to be where they filmed that," Lehrman says. "[Salzburg] is a great juxtaposition of old and new. There’s the old city, which looks like something out of a James Bond film, and then this new side that looks like an up-and-coming city for the digital age."
Putting fans first has sometimes presented business challenges. In early 2014, StubHub switched to an "all-in" pricing model following research that showed consumers were annoyed by hidden fees that appeared at checkout.
Now, customers see the full costs for tickets up front, resulting in higher listed prices. Initially, sales dropped after the new model went into effect. Some ticket brokers told The Wall Street Journal in March that StubHub sales had fallen by an estimated 15% to 50% since January.
"We anticipated that we’d take a hit in the short term," Lehrman says. "But it is a great message to tell consumers, and we got a lot of positive feedback."
The switch to all-in pricing drove a 10-point increase in customer satisfaction, according to the Net Promoter Score, which gauges customer loyalty, more than any other effort in StubHub’s history, he adds.
The company spent the first half of 2014 talking to business media about its new pricing model, but for the rest of the year it will focus on explaining the change to fans, Lehrman adds. This fall, StubHub will launch a campaign about all-in pricing that will be more "tongue in cheek," he says.
"When you’re working within an entertainment company, it’s easy to take yourselves too seriously at times," Lehrman says. "You have to take a step back and realize that what you’re selling is fun. It’s important that the brand follows suit."