Theater coverage broadens off the beat

Contrary to predictions that theater is dead, Broadway may be healthier than it's been in decades. The media that traditionally specializes in the Great White Way, though, may have lost a bit of its size and some of its clout.

Contrary to predictions that theater is dead, Broadway may be healthier than it's been in decades. The media that traditionally specializes in the Great White Way, though, may have lost a bit of its size and some of its clout.

Gone are the days when a single bad opening-night review in a key outlet such as The New York Times could shut down a show on its own. Nowadays, coverage of Broadway is much broader and increasingly likely to written by someone not on the theater beat.

"Broadway is still a national story, which is astounding after all this time," notes Chris Boneau, partner in Boneau/Bryan Brown. "But a lot of the coverage now is non-traditional."

Driving part of that need for more off-the-theater-page coverage is Broadway's own current success, says Richard Kornberg, head of Richard Kornberg & Associates, who handles press for Rent, Hairspray, and other shows. "Because shows are running longer," he says, "it takes more creativity to keep [them] in the media eye."

Broadway producers seem to grasp this, and they are leveraging the public's seemingly inexhaustible appetite for celebrity angles by casting names ranging from Julia Roberts to Jerry Mathers - though Kornberg stresses that those choices take into account talent, as well as publicity value.

The fact that many high-profile Broadway productions quickly become brands unto themselves also makes them a lot easier to pitch to more general lifestyle and entertainment outlets. "We've had a lot of success at places like TV Guide, including a recent behind-the-scenes feature on Hairspray that noted how it was based on an old TV show," Kornberg notes.

Irene Gandy, press representative at Jeffrey Richards & Associates, adds that like a lot of media categories, Broadway benefits from the rise of blogs, chat rooms and Web sites like TheaterMania.com, Playbill.com, and Broadway.com. "It's a different theater-going audience now, and only a few of them read the newspaper," Gandy says. "They go online for everything."

Given that Broadway is not only a source of immense local pride, but also a tourism magnet, new shows still get attention from New York print and broadcast outlets. However, Kornberg notes: "A new show used to demand coverage. Now they cover theater, but not to the extent they used to."

But Michael Hartman, president of Barlow-Hartman Public Relations, explains that because Broadway needs an audience far outside the New York metropolitan area for its long-term survival, "the brass ring is still that national media coverage - it's that appearance on Today and that feature in a national magazine."

PITCHING... Broadway

Broadway producers know the value of a good celebrity angle, so leverage that whenever you can to drive non-review coverage of a show

Don't let the lack of a dedicated theater beat writer dissuade you from an outlet. Plenty of other reporters are fans of the theater and will work with their editors to get coverage of Broadway into feature or lifestyle pages

Much of the new growth in Broadway media coverage is occurring online. Target not just dedicated Web sites, but also bloggers and chat rooms to drive awareness of a show

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