Live events are back in a big way: How PR pros are helping artists stand out from the crowd

Concerts. Stand-up shows. Film festivals. All are attracting bigger crowds than even before the pandemic.

Analysis

In May, Gabriel Iglesias became the first comedian to perform and sell out at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. That amounted to a mind-blowing 45,000 tickets sold for the stand-up show, which is being packaged into a Netflix special to premiere October 18. 

Jerry Seinfeld is on the road for his tour “Guest Attraction,” and it has sold out across multiple dates, including four shows in New York at Beacon Theatre on November 18 and 19 and a December 2 show at Altria Theatre in Richmond, Virgina.

The Weeknd, who recently had to cancel a sold-out concert mid-performance in Los Angeles after losing his voice, added a second date in Toronto at stadium arena, the Rogers Centre, on September 23, after all the tickets were quickly snapped up for the first show, set to take place the day before 

He, along with countless other artists, from Harry Styles to Lizzo and Lil Nas X, are all on tour this fall

Live Nation has sold more than 100 million tickets for the year, topping all the sales in 2019, according to its Q2 report

“Every key operating metric is at an all-time high, as we promoted more concerts, had more fans attend shows where they spent more money, sold more tickets and enabled brands to connect with fans at a scale we have never seen before,” said the company in a statement. 

After two years of lockdowns, and despite inflation squeezing discretionary income, there is clearly massive public demand for people to experience shows together in-person, whether a stand-up routine or concert. 

Entertainment promoters are thrilled to see live events back. Yet with so many artists and comedians hitting the road at once, it has created a comms challenge for some acts.  

Rob Greenwald, SVP of the talent division at Rogers & Cowan PMK, represents Iglesias as well as several other comedians, including Jim Gaffigan, Nate Bargatze and Tom Segura, all of whom have also launched tours. 

“Basically, every single stand-up comedian is trying to go back on the road at the same time, and so you have big-name comedians selling more tickets than they ever have before,” says Greenwald. “But you also have some mid to smaller comedians, in terms of their current popularity, struggling a little bit.” 

For the big-name comedians, he says there is a built-in, pent-up demand to see them live. Many of them, he contends, are also benefiting from having creatively kept themselves relevant during the pandemic when comedy clubs were shut down. 

“You had to get creative, so that you stayed relevant, without making yourself too relevant and look like you're not sympathetic to what's going on in the world,” he says. 

Gaffigan, for instance, launched a tour called Drive-Thru Comic, in which he performed in parking lots where people watched from the socially distanced safety of their cars. 

“He would perform to a couple hundred cars, but instead of hearing the laughter and applause from the audience, the feedback he got was of people honking the horn or flashing their lights,” explains Greenwald. While successful in terms of turnout, “you’re not getting the same energy as in a theater full of people.” 

During the pandemic, up-and-coming comics turned to YouTube and social media, a strategy they should use now as they try to grow their audience amid heightened competition in the live market. 

“What we learned from the pandemic is that putting a special on YouTube takes away any barrier to entry for people, like a streaming subscription,” he says. “YouTube also enables people to easily share the content through social media.” 

As an example, he points to Michael Yo, a former entertainment and pop culture correspondent, including for The Insider, who transitioned to a career in comedy. 

“He taped a special earlier this year and put it on YouTube – and we treated it from a PR perspective as if it were a Netflix or HBO special,” notes Greenwald. “We had a goal and he blew past that in a short amount of time.” 

Titled “I Never Thought,” it has attracted almost 405,000 views since posting on March 17. 

“We’ve seen a correlation between emerging comedians who have YouTube specials with high view counts with higher ticket counts when they do perform at a larger live event,” notes Greenwald. “You also want a PR campaign in place, talking to some of these reporters and editors from comedy websites.” 

Ben Zalman, director of promotion at boutique music marketing company the Planetary Group, is thrilled to see live shows back in full force, as well. 

“Having an artist play in markets across the country is a big driver for press and radio, so without that, a big part of the puzzle was missing,” he says. “It's now back and it feels like there are more releases on a weekly basis than ever with touring there to match it.” 

Still, he says digital and hybrid events are here to stay as a way for artists to build their fan base and connect with more press. 

“While there's some fatigue to be sure to digital and hybrid, being able to connect artists digitally or remotely for events opens up a whole new world of opportunity for them, especially if they’re not touring or able to make it to far away markets,” adds Zalman, who has created campaigns for bands like Kings of Leon and The Gaslight Anthem, which kicks off a U.S. tour on September 13. “I think press outlets and radio stations have both embraced these kinds of opportunities, and so the last few years have forced us to rethink the tools at our disposal to promote artists.” 

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival kicks off today with a full return to in-person screenings and events after two years of having scaled back. It also released a list of more than 900 artists expected to be in attendance, including Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Viola Davis, Jennifer Lawrence, Stephen Spielberg and Jordan Peele. 

“In many ways, this year's TIFF is similar to pre-pandemic years. The planning and preparation has been very similar because so many people are traveling in to be at the festival in person,” Brianna Hurley, senior publicity director at Taro PR & Communications, who has worked with stars like Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman at TIFF, tells PRWeek.

However, unlike pre-pandemic times, “We do have some press junkets this year that have incorporated virtual interviews,” adds Hurley. “We’re adapting to a hybrid model.”

In other words, stars with films at TIFF who can’t attend are being added to the press rotation. 

In the end, she says films benefit from having audiences experiencing the film as one, as people feed off each other, and also knowing the film’s talent is often watching with them.   

“That buzz, excitement and awareness is great for elevating indie filmmakers and small indie films into hits,” summarizes Hurley. 


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