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Marketing on the Road
Episode 9

Marketing on the Road

CI to Eye with Laura Matalon

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Laura discuss marketing Broadway on the road, diversity and inclusion within arts administrations, and the importance of mentorship.

Erik Gensler: If you’re enjoying CI to Eye, please share it with a colleague. I also invite you to please rate and comment on iTunes, which helps us get discovered. We love hearing from you on Twitter, Facebook, or the contact form on the Capacity Interactive website. Please don’t be shy and thank you so much for listening. Welcome to CI to Eye. I’m Erik Gensler. I’m an entrepreneur, an arts marketer, and on a lifelong quest to learn and grow personally and professionally. In this podcast, I interview leaders and thinkers inside and outside of arts marketing to understand how we can grow to be the best we can be. My goal: to see eye to eye. I sat down with Laura Matalon, the president of Allied Live, a marketing agency for the commercial theater industry. Years ago I worked for Laura’s company, then called TMG, The Marketing Group, and we’ve stayed in touch and worked together since. I invited Laura on the podcast to talk about marketing Broadway on the road.

Laura Matalon: It is true that tours tend to pay back quicker and perhaps more often than Broadway shows. So there are a number of tours that go out. There’s an appetite for it in New York, but it might not be as robust an appetite that allows them to pay back so quickly and sometimes the tour allows a New York show to do that.

Erik Gensler: We dug into the weeds about marketing of a touring Broadway show. We discuss challenges and opportunities around diversity and inclusion within arts administration and talked about the importance of mentorship. Well Laura, thank you so much for being here.

Laura Matalon: Delighted. Thank you for having me.

Erik Gensler: Super excited to chat with you. So I’d like to start out with this question For the folks who don’t know you, can you just give us a quick professional bio, the highlight reel version?

Laura Matalon: Yes, absolutely. I run a company called Allied Live, which was formerly TMG, the Marketing Group. And we are a live entertainment marketing agency primarily for Broadway and traveling Broadway shows. And we also are the ad agency of record for a number of cultural institutions around the country, including the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, the Lyric Opera, the Joffrey Ballet among others, national theater in Washington and others.

Erik Gensler: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in this business?

Laura Matalon: Entirely by accident actually. I went to summer camp with someone named Scott Zieger, who has been now in the business a long time and he was working for a company at the time called Pace Theatrical Group and he would be presenting shows in different cities around the country and every time he would come to Chicago, he would call me and see if I wanted to be his date. And I said, yeah, sure. And I got to see lots of touring Broadway musicals, which was a lot of fun. And I was working for a PR firm at the time and he gave me a call one day and said, Hey, do you want to go on the road with a show? I said, okay, I don’t even know what that means, but, and they flew me to Houston for a week, actually for a weekend and they said, this is what advertising is and this is what marketing is and this is what an ad slick looks like because at the time we would actually send out the v LSes of the ads to every market and they said, here’s a credit card, go.
So I had no idea what I was doing and had the most amazing year of my life really learning. I was on singing in the Rain and it just went on from there. So I worked on a number of different shows as an independent press agent, marketing director, and moved to New York a number of years later, went in-House with Dodger Theatricals who had a lot of shows going out simultaneously. And then I went over to work for Rent in-house for about five years. And shortly after that, as rent was slowing down and I was taking on more projects, I partnered with a woman named Tanya Rubik and we started TMG, the Marketing Group. And this has been an evolution since then. In 2008 we became Allied Live.

Erik Gensler: Wonderful. I want to talk about the commercial Broadway touring model, which is what you just described because I know it’s a topic that people don’t know much about how the marketing and press works. So a show starts in New York with a press agency and an ad agency, but at some point you have to transition all of that to be in multiple markets for sometimes very short amounts of time. Plus there are presenters on the road. How does that all work?

Laura Matalon: So at the time a producer is opening his or her show in New York, they are simultaneously thinking about the commercial prospects for the road. There are a number of booking agencies in New York that circle the wagons as it were, taking a look at the shows, evaluating the viability of the road market for a particular title. And at the same time as a producer is talking to the booking agents, the booking agents are also recommending that they speak to press agents. We’re called press agents, but really we’re the marketing directors for the tours and we’re often hired as much as a year or more in advance to help guide the process between, as the show is opening on Broadway, going through all the cycles of life in its first year with the spring road conference that the league hosts every year in May in New York, the Tony Awards, the subscription planning time of year, and we work hand in hand with the booking agents to make sure that all of the markets have all the materials that they need to be able to move forward with their sales funnel, if you will, where that starts with subscription campaigns, group sales efforts, single ticket initiatives, et cetera.

Erik Gensler: So you’re hired by the producers to represent the shows and collaborate with the local markets on all of that? Correct. For both press and marketing? Yes. You mentioned that producers are doing the analysis of the road markets and I’ve heard it’s okay if we don’t break even on Broadway because money is made on the road. Is that true?

Laura Matalon: It is. I don’t think anybody says it’s okay if we don’t make money on Broadway. Maybe that’s, lemme say that that’s not true. It is true that tours tend to pay back quicker and perhaps more often than Broadway shows. So there are a number of tours that go out, there’s an appetite for it in New York, but it might not be as robust an appetite that allows them to pay back so quickly. And sometimes the tour allows a New York show to do that actually. And so it’s not the producers in a vacuum that are evaluating the prospects for the road, but they do work very closely with their booking agents to do that. And they’re looking at past precedent for similar titles on the road, market conditions is going into an election year. So there are those kinds of considerations taken into place as they’re pulling together a tour both for timing and otherwise.
One of the challenges actually is sometimes there are shows that don’t do well in New York and a producer thinks, oh my God, we’re going to send out a tour and it’s going to be okay. And you can’t automatically assume that if it doesn’t do well in New York, it’s going to do gangbusters on the road more often than not. If it doesn’t do well in New York and it doesn’t play very long in New York, a road tour is really dicey. You haven’t had a chance to build up the brand to get awareness out there. So you’re sending out an unfamiliar title on a show that didn’t do well. And in this day and age, those reviews from New York Productions live out there and they’re often referenced by local reviewers, also by people who are looking to see, oh, these are the shows coming into my series. And they might look up reviews and they’ll say, oh, it didn’t get a very good review in New York. So there’s some challenges with that.

Erik Gensler: I’m sure that was much harder 15 years ago, couldn’t just, or maybe 20 years ago you couldn’t just Google a review. You’re sort of reliant on what the press was giving you about it. So in that sense, the press agent’s job has dramatically changed.

Laura Matalon: Absolutely.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. Is it true that the reason you could make more money on the road is because the houses are just larger? There’s much more just potential capacity?

Laura Matalon: I think there’s a couple of factors. Capacity is obviously one of them, and the capitalization costs are a lot lower. So you can sometimes capitalize a show in New York for 12 16 million and it could be 8 million for a roadshow. So you’re also coming into it again with the ability to get higher grosses. You’ve had a lower capitalization so you can recoup a lot quicker.

Erik Gensler: Alright, let’s get into a little bit of the weeds on these road agreements. What are the different type of, I know there’s a four wall a guarantee. Can you define what those look like and maybe I’m missing some?

Laura Matalon: Yeah, so when a show is going on a road, it can go out under different term agreements. You mentioned a four wall. At its most basic, a four wall means a show is coming into a building and they’re renting the four walls of the theater and then all of the costs associated with bringing it there are entirely the risk of the producer. And there’s various things that are negotiated as part of that package, but the producer will pay rent to the theater, the producer will pay for all of his own expenses, labor, advertising, et cetera, and there will be some negotiated split of profits after a certain sales point or a split. It’s not even so much split of profits, there’ll be a split of the gross based on certain numbers I’m assuming there’s profit in there. And the shows that tend to go out on four walls are the big blockbusters, if you will. They have leverage, they have the leverage to do that, and they are happy to take all of the risk themselves.
There’s a guarantee agreement where a market will guarantee the show a certain amount of money to come to their town, and that’s the minimum amount of money that the show would take out. So for example, you have a tour that goes into San Francisco, it’s on a guarantee, the theater pays the show a certain amount of money on top of that, the theater is then responsible for local labor, advertising, other expenses. So you take the guarantee plus all of those other expenses that go into presenting the show and it’s after that and they’ve agreed on what all these expenses are in advance. So there’s no surprises hopefully at the settlement at the end of the week. And then there’s an agreed to split at whatever money is left over a certain percentage to the producer, certain percentage to the presenter, and then they share in the risk. So that’s a shared risk. Got it.
There’s also something on the smaller engagement, say a one night or a split week called a flat engagement where the theater just pays the producer X amount of money to have the show come there and then whatever they spend on advertising or local expenses, that’s theirs to spend. There’s no split. It’s just a flat. So if you pay me $10,000 to have my show there and you make $500,000, I get my 10, you keep the rest. If you pay me 10 and you make two, you’re out of luck. So that’s a flat. And then there’s a terms deal agreement where all of the terms for everything are set in advance. So it’s not, it’s almost like a modified guarantee deal. So I don’t know all the parameters of that. It’s the booking agents that negotiate the deals with each menu. Got it.

Erik Gensler: So on a season, if you’re just a consumer at say a road market and you’re seeing a number of touring Broadway shows, they could all be under completely separate agreements?

Laura Matalon: Absolutely. It’s irrelevant to the consumer really. I think that what the contract does is it weighs the risk. It’s either a producer or a presenter risk, and if the producer is at risk, they have more control. And when I say they have more control, they have more control over setting their prices. So the presenter is looking at a six, seven, however many shows, and they have to set a price for a subscription package that’s affordable to their patron. When you have a blockbuster in there, the blockbuster might say, we’re not allowing any subscription discounts, we’re not allowing any group discounts.

Erik Gensler: So that makes it complicated. Better.

Laura Matalon: That makes it complicated. It’s just an algorithm, but the consumer doesn’t really know or care.

Erik Gensler: What is the state of health of the Broadway touring market?

Laura Matalon: It is a good question. Right now, it’s very good. We’re seeing a lot of positive feedback to some of the blockbusters that are going on the road. So subscriptions are up and I think that’s exciting. And at the same time it’s a little bit challenging because in the years following, when you have those blockbusters on your season, it’s a challenge to keep your subscribers if you don’t have as robust a season.

Erik Gensler: Right. Is this the Hamilton effect we’re talking about? Without saying it?

Laura Matalon: I’m definitely seeing it, but you’ve seen it with other shows over the years as well. Mormon, Lion King… You’ve seen a lot of that over the years. I think probably Wicked had that when it was initially out, so there definitely is. When there’s a blockbuster title, it definitely raises all the ships.

Erik Gensler: Yep. Yeah, that’s great. So you talk about a lot of the different players involved. You have the producers, you have the Roadhouses. I know how complex it is, even when you have a small staff at say a regional theater, the level of decision-making. I’m curious how that works. I imagine that’s a very complex relationship with different levels of approval. Do you find that a lot of times a lot of the work is just navigating who gets to approve what, and do you feel like you’ve found systems to combat that or is it certainly a work in progress?

Laura Matalon: It depends on the show. I would say the bulk of the shows that we have the honor of working on have producers that trust the teams, whether that’s us or the booking agents and the general managers who are really key and the company managers. So we have an almost daily communication or correspondence with these teams of people from the general manager to the booking agent, company manager, stage manager, press agent. We don’t necessarily need to speak to the producer on as regular basis because they’ve entrusted this team to do all of the day-to-Day work. But there are many instances that happen where you’re like, Hmm, we have a question. Let’s get the producer’s input on this. Let’s make sure that a producer knows about this in case they have a problem. So we have some pretty good systems in place, particularly over the last couple of years as dynamic pricing has really come into play. And it’s not just the local market that’s directing all of that activity, but the show is very involved in it. So at least up until now, it’s been the general management offices that have been working very closely with us as the press agents on pricing discussions and decisions. And then we go to the local market and have more meaningful conversations on a regular basis about inventory management.

Erik Gensler: Broadway across America has direct relationships with a number of the markets, but there’s also non Broadway across America markets. How does that work in terms of a show coming from Broadway and hitting the road? Is it only a Broadway across America markets for the first year? Does it go to multiple ones? Does that complicate things or just if you could explain the difference.

Laura Matalon: It doesn’t complicate things at all. I mean, Broadway across America has subscription series in, oh gosh, it must be 20 plus markets across the country. And there are almost as many that are independent presenters and part of something called the Independent Presenter Network. But each venue has a staff. The relationship with Broadway across America is a supportive one in that they have a Broadway Across America representative who works with someone on the ground in every market. So it doesn’t work any differently for us, whether it’s an independent market or a market, it’s just that there might be some systems in place across all BAA markets when it comes to a certain protocol that makes things a little smoother, a little bit easier because it’s a market. So this is the protocol they have for dynamic pricing or something like that.

Erik Gensler: Got it. That makes sense. So we have people who listen to the podcast that are presenters and others that work for a show that’s hitting the road. If you can give one piece of advice to a presenter and one to an organization sending a show on the road to make their marketing better and make the process easier, what would that be for each group?

Laura Matalon: I think on the producer side, I think one of the biggest challenges is to manage expectations. We mentioned earlier that if a show does a certain level of sales on Broadway, there seems to be a higher expectation oftentimes on the road. And so this group of people that I talk about that work closely together, the booker, the general manager, the press agent, we work very closely together to help put together some projections based on all of our collective experience and market data to say, here’s what we estimate your show will do based on a similar title such as, and we can show them sales patterns or sales trajectories. And as you know, data doesn’t lie, but people either want to believe the data or they don’t want to believe the data. So managing those expectations is sometimes very frustrating because we never get any credit if something goes well, but we get almost all of the blame and it’s frustrating and it sometimes causes us to spin into butter.
It’s very panicky at certain times when this city’s not behaving any differently than that city did. But you in your head think it should, and we agree it should, but the data is telling us certain things. The demand is telling us something. And a lot of producers are still, well, why aren’t we discounting? Why aren’t we discounting? So we sometimes are put in a difficult position between the producer and the presenter where our producer is saying to us, you get them to discount this. And the markets are trying to move away from discounting where they don’t have to because they don’t want to train the market as they did for so many years. And so they have to stand firm. And sometimes we clash a little bit and that can be frustrating. So managing the expectations is the biggest challenge. Was that the question?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. On the producer side, is there some advice you potentially have for the presenters?

Laura Matalon: I think the advice for the presenters is not to forget that we are their collaborators and we are the brand managers for whatever show that we’re doing. Not only the engagement managers, but the brand managers and our producers have intellectual property that they are very attached to that needs to be treated in a certain way. And sometimes it fits in your template and sometimes it doesn’t. But to do things without us causes tension and frustration, but including us in the conversations early on will help really smooth that and make the relationship go better. We’re all working together 52 weeks a year and we love working with the markets, but it’s about communication and collaboration.

Erik Gensler: And that’s a lesson I’ve learned this year, bringing people along early on, if you just brought people along one step before, if you have a conflict, if you look okay, well because this person found out this piece of information at this point, what if I had brought them in from the beginning? It’s just such that’s been a hard lesson learned and I’ve learned it so many times and I think I’ve finally learned it, but you can only control so much. But I think that’s such a great point, bringing people along. So we work with a lot of presenters and I hear all the time that they would be able to market so much better if they just had more and better assets in the marketing world. Now that is in many ways, leading with social media requires content. And if all you have is a old headshot, you have to really flex your creativity muscles to come up with other things. And so do you feel like people hitting the road are more aware of that now and are working hard to provide that content so it makes it easier for the marketers that are in the markets?

Laura Matalon: Yeah, I think so. And we help really drive that conversation, and I think there’s been a tremendous shift over the last three to five years in terms of our understanding of the market needs and our ability to navigate that with the producers to get them what they need. Funny enough, even though print has lost its importance, we don’t even recommend radio. We still do a hefty amount of television. Things haven’t changed in terms of the layout of the budget, the pre-production budget. So we still have to produce a full compliment of print ads. We still have to produce radio spots because someone’s going to want them. We still have to produce a breath of television spots that have hefty talent payments attached to them. So the costs of all of that haven’t gone away. We still produce B-roll, we still produce, we still have websites, we still have all of those assets, and now we need to create more and more content.
And what’s happened with a lot of these tours is that the general manager will say, you have a budget of X to do everything, and that budget’s less than it was three years ago, and I have more things I have to try to accomplish. So it’s really frustrating for us as well. It’s not that we don’t want to provide this information to the markets, it’s trying to find the money to be able to do that so that the producer who’s responsible to their investors can keep things return, return, keep costs under control return. So we are constantly navigating that and it’s especially gratifying when a local market has some creativity on their own, create something that we can then repurpose and share best practices with other markets. Absolutely. Because that allows us to have additional content, share additional ideas without spending additional dollars.

Erik Gensler: Take a show that has a really strong social media presence. I was impressed a few years back with something rotten. I thought they did a great job with their social. Can that social storytelling travel with the show? Does the road then have access to some of the great videos or images or assets? It doesn’t have to just be that show in general. I was like, but is it typically best practice to then carry along? Okay, so the great thing about digital, it’s all measurable. You can see which content was connected with people and what content did well. Are you then repurposing that in different cities?

Laura Matalon: Sometimes we are. Once is a good example of that. That’s another example. Yeah. And the reason I don’t cite something rotten is because that was so specific to those actors in New York and their initial social media was so focused on the Shakespeare connection and what they found is that that didn’t particularly resonate. So it was very New York centric, it was very actor centric and it was very Shakespeare centric and that wasn’t what worked for them. So we’ve gone in a different direction, but once is a better example because I think they did a good job with social and it was genErik enough, if you will, that we could repurpose that. What we’re trying really to do is to provide a digital toolkit for the markets that has both content as well as potentially like a content calendar that lays out when you should be using what.
When you and I worked together on brightstar, which was they barely had a logo when it played Washington before it came into New York. And so we had to come up with some things that we could use and that really revolved around the creators of the musical. If you remember now the show is going to go on a very limited tour. And so we are trying to look at what materials we have from Broadway that we can repurpose for social purposes and we don’t necessarily have access to everything. The TV spot being the best example because it’s out of cycle and we’re not going to use that TV spot on the road. And so we don’t have the rights. And for as limited a tour as it is, it’s just too expensive to trigger that.

Erik Gensler: Right. So I mean these are real challenges.

Laura Matalon: And the bigger challenge, honestly, is when a show goes from equity to non-equity. So sometimes shows leave Broadway, they play a multi-year equity tour, kinky Boots right now, Motown once did it, and then they shut down for a number of weeks and they continue as a non-equity tour because they’ve played all of the first class markets. So you cannot use equity materials to promote a non-equity show.

Erik Gensler: You have to reinvent the entire brand.

Laura Matalon: Well, you’re reinventing the brand. You don’t have actors, you don’t have assets, and you have an even more limited budget.

Erik Gensler: You have a bus and a truck.

Laura Matalon: Yes. And so that’s been a challenge for us. The good news about Kinky Boots is that’s a completely logo based campaign. There weren’t images. We’re sending out that gorgeous K artwork, but we can’t use anything and they have amazing social, so we’ll have to see what we can repurpose from the kinky.

Erik Gensler: Does the show’s social media handle stay or do you have to, how does that work?

Laura Matalon: Handle? That’s tricky. It’s very tricky. And when the show is open still in New York, like Kinky and we’re now going to be in a non-equity tour, I think we’re going to have to have, which is a shame, we’re figuring out what that separation will look like and how they can still be sort of connected. Separately.

Erik Gensler: Yes. Then you can call it Kinky Boots: non-equity tour. It doesn’t have a ring.

Laura Matalon: Mama Mia was the same thing for the last many, many years. It’s been non-equity while it was still running on Broadway and in London you want it all branded kind of the same. I can’t remember exactly what we did with it, but there was some separation and we had the same thing with Cinderella when Cinderella went out. Tricky.

Erik Gensler: You mentioned a couple of scenarios, like a show starts on Broadway, then hits the road, a show starts at the Kennedy Center, then comes to Broadway Back in the day, shows opened out of town. That classic Elaine Stretch monologue about doing, was it Pal Joey in New Haven and it opened to New Haven before it came to New York. And that was sort of Broadway lore, right? Yeah. Does that happen as much now and is it because of the press cycle and what are some of the structures that you see in terms of shows coming to Broadway and then hitting the road and back and forth and around?

Laura Matalon: You don’t see as many out of town tryouts as you did before, and it’s my understanding it’s because of costs. It’s just extremely expensive. And a lot of times people feel they’re ready to come in. They’ve done maybe some out of town workshops or a regional theater maybe where the cost was shared or they just feel like they’re ready to come in. The stars have aligned, there’s a theater available, the creative team schedule all works. And the show is far enough along. There have been shows opening before Broadway. Broadway in Chicago hosts a number of those. In fact, I think escaped to Margaritaville, I’m not working on it, but…

Erik Gensler: It’s at La Jolla right now. We’re working on it.

Laura Matalon: But it’s also coming to Chicago, I think. I’m assuming Broadway’s in their plans. Actually, maybe I’m wrong. Brightstar did that out of town at the Kennedy Center, I think didn’t find Neverland. They were in Boston at ART. So I think it’s easier to do when it’s at a Lort theater. I think the costs are lower.

Erik Gensler: Right. Amelie, we saw them do that.

Laura Matalon: Yeah, Amelie. Right, but you don’t see it as much anymore at all. And I think it’s really because of the expense.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, it used to be pretty standard, like a show would open out of town and then it would do the out of town trial, then come to…

Laura Matalon: It did used to be, but that was even used to be before my time. Yeah. So that was really probably, I wonder when that actually stopped happening, seventies maybe. I think it was pretty much done by the eighties.

Erik Gensler: I want to turn to a topic that I know you feel passionately about and that I want to start talking about more on this podcast and that’s about diversity in the arts and diversity in arts administration in particular. Why do you think we have so few people of color working in arts administration and what can we begin to do about it?

Laura Matalon: Well, I think that part of the problem must be is that people don’t know that there are opportunities to have careers in arts administration. There’s so much focus on you’ve America’s Got Talent and the Voice and all of those things that are on the performance aspect. Even some of those special TV shows where they cast sound of music or Grease or whichever one they did. You’re focused on the talent, but there is no real focus on arts management and arts marketing. And if it’s not culturally something that you’ve grown up with to even know to have an interest in, it doesn’t find, you have to find it and you don’t grow up with it. You don’t know it’s there. So I don’t know if the schools, and it’s not even so much at the college level, kids have to have at least some interest in it before they go to college to know to take those classes or to seek out those opportunities in college because there are opportunities, whether it’s in box offices, stage management, production management, any of those things. And a number of schools have programs, but I don’t think they’re soliciting from within the student body. People are coming to them.

Erik Gensler: And it has to be that you’ve had the privilege as a child of going to the theater, which is a privilege.

Laura Matalon: It’s definitely a privilege. But even still, I had a young woman who I knew since she was a little girl and she was always interested in theater, mostly performance based. And she went to college, she’s doing a lot of theater stuff. She started to produce a little bit at the college level, but really knows about performance. And she came and interned for us and in a million years, she would never think that there was a career in the arts for her. She kind of came to me as an intern by default, probably nothing else came through. She remembered us. She knew I worked on rent, and so she called and I loved having her there. And I was talking to her and she was talking about her parents being like, what? You’re going to have some kind of career in the arts? Are you crazy?
And I said, if you want me to talk to your folks so that they can see that there’s actually a viable career if it’s something you’re interested in pursuing. Absolutely. I mean, the league has a fellowship, a diversity fellowship, but it’s for grad students. By the time you’re a grad student, you’re already interested in it. I think that that should be for students who are younger so that they can get a taste of it. There’s some cities across the country, I don’t know how many anymore, but that have programs where they will let somebody shadow or they have a specific program to let someone shadow with the tech crew during load-in or during a running week. And I think that’s a great opportunity for kids to see that there are opportunities in the theater that aren’t necessarily…

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I mean, I find for us, we tend to recruit from the same pools, whether that’s certain arts administration programs, certain websites, and as a small company, we just don’t have the time or the manpower or womanpower to reach beyond that. And so I find recruiting people of color and people from very different backgrounds is incredibly expensive and incredibly challenging, although it’s something we are especially this year now very focused on and trying to get better at. But it’s very hard because you don’t want to treat somebody differently on either side of that. And we’re just not getting very many candidates and it’s very hard. And I feel like to your point, that it has to start earlier or maybe there, there’s probably more we can do earlier. And I know with arts education being defunded and kids not being exposed to the arts at an early age, that’s certainly impacting this. And I don’t know, it’s something that I’m focused on thinking about more and doing something more and seeing what we can do about it here. But obviously the problem is big.

Laura Matalon: We have anywhere between six and eight interns a year in our various departments in our Chicago office, the touring division and our cultural division. And there has only been one instance in the last five years where we’ve had a candidate of color come in. And it wasn’t because they applied, it was because I spoke at a class, it was an advertising class. She was so impressive to me that I invited her to come speak with us. We have unpaid internships that could be part of it is that we’re asking people to work essentially for free. And if they don’t have the resources to support them when they’re off hours not having a paid job, it’s hard to come. Definitely it’s privilege. So that’s one area. And we talk about privilege and that’s hard.
I was just thinking as you were talking that maybe one of the things we do is there are a number of people in New York and around the country who we hire for urban outreach on relevant shows or Hispanic outreach on relevant shows that maybe those are some of the people we should talk to. Say, do you have colleagues? Do you have kids who are friends of this age internship might be interested in an internship or a job to give some exposure to it, which is not a bad idea, but you also have to be committed to mentoring because again, if it’s not, we tend to, for better or worse, sometimes worse, throw people in making assumptions. You’re in college, you’re capable, you can pick this up very quickly and it’s easy to pick up a little bit if you have a passion for it and a general understanding. But if you’re just coming in because you’re looking to see what kind of opportunities there are and you don’t see anybody else that looks like you in the workplace, you might be shy, you might be.

Erik Gensler: And then we have, in terms of where we’re recruiting people who have gone to graduate school and essentially committed to working in the fields of arts administration, and that’s hard to compete with because here is someone who knows the industry so much that they were willing to spend a number of years of their life to study it. And so they’re at a certain level. And so if again, you’re a small company and you have to make a choice, it’s very easy to go to the place that’s going to give you the best candidates. And so I think those internships are critical. We started paying all of our interns. We’re going to have eight interns here this summer and we pay them all. That’s great. And that’s a new thing because I want to hire those interns. I want to influence them so they can go out in our field and do better. And then I want to hire as many as makes sense at the time. Yeah. You talked about finding young people that you said we’re really talented and we’ve talked about mentorship. Did you have a mentor that, I mean, you mentioned your first job, but did you have a —

Laura Matalon: Yeah, I did. When I got out of college, I was a theater major at Northwestern, and I wasn’t going to be a performer, but I thought, I have this resume and I’ve got all these acting credits on it. And I went to Washington DC and I was looking for jobs in the not-for-profit world. And back in the day, there wasn’t really anybody to guide me to direct me. And literally I had this resume that was completely meaningless for anything in the real world. I worked retail when I was in college or high school. That was the extent of any kind of experience I had. I didn’t know how to market myself in terms of leadership or however you would structure a resume that had nothing on it. So I wound up being an intern for a PR firm in Washington, and I got the internship because it was a family friend, and there’s no shame in that at all. That’s privilege. That’s privilege.

Erik Gensler: We all have that.

Laura Matalon: And this man was amazing because he and his staff, it was a small team of people, taught me so much. And I was like a sponge, and you either sink or swim and I’m always the kind that will swim. And they hired me full-time after about a three month internship. So I got to quit working at the linen store in Bethesda, which was such a relief.

Erik Gensler: Was that like Joanne Fabrics?

Laura Matalon: Oh no. It was like an independent fine linens, but my parents didn’t have to support me then, which was great. I actually had a job and I did this job and I learned so much, and I loved the people, but it was doing PR for real estate companies. It was like it wasn’t for me. And so my roommate was also doing a job working like administration for a shipping company. And we said, okay, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to take our money and we’re going to move. She was from Atlanta, I was moving back to Chicago, we’re going to take all our money, we’re going to travel, we’re going to blow it all, and then we’ll go back and figure out what we’re going to do. So I quit and I was so grateful to the man who for two years mentored me and he offered me, he doubled my salary and he said, would you stay the PR firm?
The PR firm? And I said, well, money isn’t the reason I’m leaving, so money really cannot be the reason I stay. And I’ve tried to live for myself by that dictum because you have to make decisions about money. I totally get it, but I wouldn’t have been happy if you want to follow your passion. And I said to him, you have been so great to me. I don’t know how to possibly repay you. And he said, you can repay me by doing it for somebody else someday. And that has stuck with me that, yeah, we’ve known each other a long time because that’s how people have been with me a long time because I want to nurture, I want people to grow. And I am so proud that so many of the people who either interned for us or worked with us have populated this industry in different areas to great success, including yourself. I take great pride in that.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. I mean, I have to say, you are a big role model for me in running a professional services firm in the arts and culture where you were in Chicago, I was in New York, but even in the little bit of time you would come to New York, you would always make time. We would see a show, we would go out to breakfast, and I felt supported by you, and I felt like I had a relationship with you, even though you were busy, you’re doing other things. And I remember at one point I said to myself, when I started capacity, I’m running from me in a meeting trying to catch up on my email, on my phone. I’m like, oh my God, I’ve become Laura.
But yeah, I think it’s really nice how you mentor people and everyone who knows you just I think recognizes that in you and you have a wonderful reputation. Thank you. I want to talk about women as leaders, and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, particularly after this election where in my opinion, the most qualified person who’s ever run for president who happened to be a woman, got beaten by a completely unqualified buffoon and the political discussion there. But it got me thinking a lot about how threatened some people feel by female leadership and how women still face barriers that men don’t face. And I look this up, women currently hold 5% of CEO positions at s and p, 500 companies, 5%. Do you think you face specific challenges as a female leader and as a follow-up to that, is it less of an issue in the arts?

Laura Matalon: I think we’ve all read and seen a lot about the lack of female participation on the stages as writers, as directors, as conductors. So I think there’s a lot there on our side of the table, though I haven’t experienced it, but if I had to guess, I would say we might not make as much as our male counterparts. Maybe we do now, but if I had to guess, I would think maybe we make a little bit less. But honestly, I’ve never run up against any real problems. And it’s funny you ask that recently, there was a production in Chicago on the Chicago stages, and I forget what it was called, but it was a piece about this topic as it related to Chicago theater and gender inequality. And they asked me if I would participate in one of these post-show discussions. And I said, I’m not the person to participate because I haven’t been on the negative end of that, particularly in the Chicago community. I have been extremely fortunate to have had, ironically, all male mentors who over the years have absolutely supported me, have pushed me forward, have trusted me.

Erik Gensler: I went to this conference at Google, and Google has been very aggressive about trying to understand diversity in the workplace and inclusion in the workplace. And this presentation I sat through, which was incredible, was from a Stanford professor who studies gender inequality in the workplace, and she shared this famous study where there was an orchestra that was not hiring enough women in proportion to men, and the orchestra was very male dominated, and it was a problem year over year. And so one year they did a study where they made the auditions happened behind a screen. So the people listening to the audition did not see the gender of the person auditioning and, well, what do you think happened? Of course, they hired way more women. So even in an orchestra on the artistic side of what you think is a liberal, open-minded…

Laura Matalon: I’m not sure it’s a conscious bias.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Laura Matalon: I mean, I want to believe in the goodness of people. I don’t want to think it’s a conscious bias that they’re doing that. I think that’s right. But I do think there is some subconscious things that maybe a man is better at playing a tuba or I don’t know.

Erik Gensler: Right. What is something that you’ve learned about leadership and managing people? And if you need a second to think about it…

Laura Matalon: One of the things that I’ve learned and I have to really train myself to do this is listening is to really be an active listener. And it’s not easy, and I have to admit I’m not always the most active listener, but either in the workplace or in my home less Spencer. And it’s really something that you have to consciously work on and really looking people in the eye so that they know you’re listening to them and that you’re responding to them and not just kind of jumping ahead to say what you want to say. You want people to not only feel heard, but actually to be heard. And it’s taken me a while to, I constantly have to practice that skill.

Erik Gensler: What’s something that you’ve learned in the last year or so about anything that’s been profound in how you work or how you think?

Laura Matalon: Profound.

Erik Gensler: Or just something you’ve been working on or thinking about or has just changed you?

Laura Matalon: Well, this isn’t the year to ask about what’s changed me. I think everybody’s been feeling kind of out of, well, many of the people that I know are feeling very out of sorts since last November and maybe even before. And that has changed me, changed to the point where I’m like, okay, I’m very much a type A, I’ve got to get to the point where I stress a work-life balance for my people. I work very, very hard to give them a work-life balance, but I don’t actually follow that same advice for myself, which I know is not good because it has activated me to want to be involved in different things and not a hundred percent focused on the work. What I’ve learned is how to create a better balance for myself, that I’m not just being fulfilled by the work, that I’m being fulfilled by my activities outside of the work, which has become more important to me. And that’s been a big shift for me, getting involved in different things, making, actually making the time to do it. It’s been a very big shift for me, and I’m still grappling with and trying to figure out what that means, what that looks like, where my, it’s not just about dollars where time is best spent in giving back.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. So we’ve come to the last question. This is your CI to Eye moment, and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors leadership teams and boards of say a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?

Laura Matalon: I think I’m going to go back to a couple of things that we talked about earlier. One is give your people resources, and I mean that in terms of training. So as you’re bringing new people up the ladder, you can’t just let them flounder out there. You have to provide them some kind of a leadership mentorship program, not only so that they can grow, but that they can learn most importantly, and do the most effective job for you. I think that is probably the most important thing because it’s really lacking out there. We’re seeing a lot. We are actually providing that service to some places that we’ve worked with where we haven’t had collaboration and communication. It’s been very frustrating, and so we’ve come in to actually do the training of their staff.

Erik Gensler: Wow, that’s great. I mean, it’s great that you’re doing that, and it’s great that they’re willing to recognize that it’s enough of a need to allow you to do that. It goes back to almost every podcast that I’ve had. There’s been some element of that, the importance of mentorship, developing, spending time with people, because I think Jill Robinson said on the podcast, she’s like, data doesn’t do anything. People do everything. It’s all about the people. And it’s like you can have the best strategy or ideas in the world, but if you don’t have the right people doing it, it doesn’t matter. Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Laura. This was a really fun conversation.

Laura Matalon: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure to see you. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Did you enjoy the podcast? Please join Capacity Interactive on email and on Facebook so you could be the first to know when we release new episodes. You’ll also get content all about digital marketing for the arts, and you’ll be the first to know about our webinars, workshops, and our annual digital marketing bootcamp. Thanks for listening.

About Our Guests
Laura Matalon
Laura Matalon
President, Allied Live

Laura Matalon is the President of Allied Live, a marketing agency for the commercial theater industry that works with touring Broadway productions.

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