I’m happy to say that we are officially underway with TEDxBroadway 2013 and once again asking the question, “What is the Best that Broadway Can Be?”
And we ask this question in the broadest way possible. Broadway, after all, is not a metaphor for a theatre-producing community (well, it is that, but it’s not only that.) It is a place, indeed a neighborhood in New York City, and what makes this place particularly interesting is that it has a remarkable cultural power, due not just to the cultural products produced there, but the sheer volume of people who visit, live, and work there.
And so, for all the stakeholders, both locally and around the nation and world, the organizers of TEDxBroadway feel that challenging those stakeholders to envisioning the best possible future, and doing that along multiples different lines of inquiry provides a really worthwhile challenge and blends right in with the overall TED mission of “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
Anyway, today, we announced several (but not all…we’re still developing the roster and even holding back a few as surprises) of the speakers, including:
with a lot more to come.
So, by all means, join us! If it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be a fun, thought-provoking day with a very positive vibe and group of people committed to building a better future for Broadway, which in turn has an impact on the city and the cultural life of the world.
I’d also suggest that if you think there’s somebody who would be killer as a presenter as this event, we’re still curating content and talking to potential presenters (and performers, too, by the way. It is a Broadway conference, after all.)
And of course, if you know people who you think should go, by all means, spread the word.
Hope to see you there!
I thought I’d share a nice profile written by Randy Lewis in the Company Town feature of the L.A. Times today. Here’s a quick snippet:
“On the wall in the Pasadena headquarters of the Goldstar ticket service is a concert poster from a decade ago, framed with the will call list showing the names of every Goldstar customer who bought tickets to the show.
Both of them. There were just two customers for the first event the fledgling ticket company offered, a dramatic contrast with the 3 million who are now Goldstar members.
Many of them are drawn by the 50% discount that Goldstar Events Inc. routinely offers on tickets to rock and pop concerts, plays, traveling circuses, Dodgers and Angels baseball games and other sporting and live entertainment events.
But Chief Executive Jim McCarthy insists that price is only one component of the Goldstar mission.
‘Our goal has never been to sell half-price tickets,”‘McCarthy said recently. ‘The goal is to get people out to live entertainment more often, and we use price as one of the ways we enable them to do that.’”
With a nudge from our friends at TED, I want to say a couple things about what “Broadway” means to us, the organizers of TEDxBroadway.
Sometimes people use a word metaphorically. ”Hollywood” is a great example of that. People say it’s a “Hollywood movie” even when it was filmed in Canada and edited in the San Fernando Valley. In what sense is such a movie from “Hollywood”? Well, the company that makes it could be headquartered close to Hollywood, although no one would call a movie made in Studio City a “Sherman Oaks movie” because no one would no what that means. ”Silicon Valley” is similar. I’m going to a “Silicon Valley” conference next week, but I’ll never get anywhere near Palo Alto.
Broadway can be used the same way. ”Broadway” is an industry that not only produces theatre events in mid-town New York City, but it’s also the primary engine and idea factory of American theatre, and arguably, theatre worldwide. Somebody could be a “Broadway” actor and not have appeared on a stage there for a long time. So it’s used as a metaphor, much like Hollywood or Silicon Valley. *
But at TEDxBroadway, that’s not really how we mean it. Yes, we do mean to include the theatre industry and its worldwide cultural influence, but mostly, and where we see ourselves as being different from every other confab about Broadway, we are focused on Broadway as a place, a neighborhood, a part of New York that happens to have a disproportionate influence compared to its size on the culture and the imagination of the nation.
For this reason, TEDxBroadway was last year and will be this year and beyond about all the different disciplines and aspects of Broadway, the place. We haven’t announced any speakers yet, but as before, they’ll come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and the majority will not be in the theatre business. They’ll be stakeholders in Broadway as a place–people in government, tourism, academics, and just about anything else you can think of. But they’ll also be far afield from the usual sorts of folks you see hanging around at League events or checking the grosses on Broadway.com.
As we’ve said all along, TEDxBroadway is not designed for giving you “five practical things you can do to be better at your job marketing theatre tomorrow.” That’s not say you couldn’t pick up some great ideas to apply right away, but that’s not the goal. There are a lot of conferences and meetings and seminars and professional development opportunities that will do that better than we ever will. Instead, our goal with TEDxBroadway is to be consistent with the TED mission, which is to spread powerful ideas, in particular ones that are highly relevant to this particular patch of ground in mid-town and all the stakeholders thereof. If you don’t walk away with a practical application that makes you 2.1% more efficient tomorrow, I can live with that, because in ten years, something you heard at TEDxBroadway just make change you and that just might change the world.
So that’s what we mean when we talk about Broadway, and that’s what we’re after with TEDxBroadway. Hope to see you there.
(UPDATE: Howard Sherman is quite right to say that this is very much a matter of opinion and that Broadway is not “the primary engine and idea factor of American theatre”, but instead, one of many. I agree and was really more or less trying to characterize how some see it, as distinct from the approach of our event.)
Earlier this week, we announced to last year’s attendees that TEDxBroadway 2013 will be taking place on January 28th at the New World Stages in New York!
The purpose of TEDxBroadway is to ask a simple, but demanding question: What’s the Best Broadway Can Be? The reason we think this is an important question to ask is that it’s neither cynical nor unrealistic. The goal is to paint a picture of the best possible future for Broadway (and by extension to some degree, theatre in America and beyond) and then lay down the challenge to attendees and people watching on video after the fact to try to live into that future.
We got a little criticism last year for not being “practical” enough or not tackling some hard core issues that people wanted to see addressed on the stage, and I understand that criticism, but it’s also somewhat misplaced. The purpose of TEDxBroadway, as distinct from any other discussion of Broadway, the health of New York City, or theatre or the arts in general, or live entertainment, or whatever, is not so much a nuts-and-bolts look at how to do your job better tomorrow. Instead, the goal is to change the trajectory of your thinking TOWARD the best possible future. There are places and forums in which the nuts and bolts stuff is done well, and we’re not trying to duplicate those. What we’re trying to do is embed some powerful ideas in the minds of people who do or will have influence on the way Broadway functions, the way it sees itself, and the way, therefore, it will one day be.
Put differently, it doesn’t bother me if an attendee walks out of TEDxBroadway without “five take-aways you can put to use tomorrow at work.” The purpose of this particular discussion is to give people ideas that might take years to gestate, but just might change the world, or at least Broadway. On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to know that people come across ideas that change the way they work “tomorrow” too.
We’re not announcing any speakers so far, so stay tuned for that. Our commitment once again is to get people with insight in various areas and fields to address the question “What’s the Best Broadway Can Be?”
Like last year, we’re expecting a full house, and we’ve already gotten the generous support from all of last year’s sponsors, including Jujamcyn Theatres, Google, Broadway.com all of whom are Co-Organizing Sponsors and have been critical to the development of the program. We’re also delighted to have supporting sponsors in Audience Rewards (back again from last year), Camp Broadway, Chase Bank, and the lawfirm of Davis Wright Tremaine. We thank them all because not only are they critical financially to the event, but they have also been important in helping think through the program itself.
So, the tickets are on sale now, and I personally urge you to do three things: 1. buy a ticket and come, 2. spread the word, and 3. send me ideas for speakers/presenters/performers who would do a good job helping us answer the question “What’s the Best Broadway Can Be?”
Here’s the link. Please post it everywhere:
And of course, there’s more information at the site, tedxbroadway.com.
People love buying things, and they really love buying things when the experience is interesting and fun in and of itself. I know this from years of experience, working in e-commerce for practically the entire history of the business and before that, working in offline commerce (which then was just called commerce, I suppose.)
So I come to this topic with a lot of affection for what could be, and a real desire to be helpful. So let’s begin with the brutal truth.
If you are in the offline retail business, you’re starting in the hole. You’ve got structural disadvantages that are not going to change, but instead, just keep getting worse.
Put in a more positive light, you’re a specialist. You’ve decided to take the unconventional path to success because you’ve eschewed the obvious superiority of the online channel. I remember when Egghead Software made the very bold move of closing all its stores and going online only, and the gasps that elicited from the world. Now what would be shocking would be the other way around.
But hope is not lost. Offline has advantages too, but my fear is that most of you aren’t taking advantage of them because you haven’t grasped the picture I just painted, which is that you are filling a niche and taking on extra costs, which have to be justified. Here in my view are those advantages and what you need to do to make them work for you:
*People can take the merchandise home with them right now. People hate waiting for things they want, and you can hand it across the counter to them right now! Stay in stock and stay beautifully merchandised. Too many retailers stores are an absolute fright these days because they’re skimping on the staff and training to merchandise well. This is stepping over dollars to get to pennies because this is one of your few advantages. Also, bear in mind that this advantage may not last forever, if Amazon’s same-day distribution network develops as they’re planning.
*Customers can see and try the merchandise. This is probably the best card in your hand, but all some of you can do is complain about how people browse your store and then go buy online. You know why? Because you’re not price competitive (you have to be price competitive, and stop whining about sales tax) and because you’re ruining the experience. There’s a well known electronics retailer I sometimes go to for this very purpose, and if I were to guess the ratio of the time where the demo of the product I’m looking actually works, I’d put it at about 30%. The rest of the time, the merchandise is sitting there, forlorn and broken looking, pieces missing, the ‘try me’ demo button not functioning, and nobody with a blue polo shirt looking like this bothers them in the slightest. This is the “broken windows” theory translated into retail: if your demos are broken and no one cares, customers will assume you don’t care about anything including their business.
*You can talk to your customers directly. This is another biggie because a good customer service person is gold. But you’re not investing in training or even good hiring practices, so when you do chase down someone to help in most retail establishments, they are uninformed and ultimately not very helpful. This is an area you MUST invest in. You have to accept that labor as a percent of sales should go up, as should the dollars spent on initial hiring and training. If you don’t make it easy to buy, you lose customers. Standing in front of an item in a store with a question and not being able to find help is the equivalent of a very slow loading web page: in a few seconds, I’m out of there. The eventual result of curing this problem is higher sales. And by the way, this money-grubbing tactic of dispatching sales people to wander the aisles to pitch Dish Network and other kinds of subscription services is an insult. What statement does it make when it’s easier to find somebody selling you something you probably don’t want in a high-pressure way than to find somebody to help you with what you came in to find and buy? The statement is: we have very nearly given up on our business.
So those are your advantages, and given that you have some major DISadvantages, if you’re not making the most of what you do have going for you, you’re in trouble.
Now’s the time to stop making excuses and start doing retailing basics well. In fact, it’s got to be better than it’s ever been, or anything other than mom-and-pop scale retailing will be gone in a decade or so. And if retailers like that aren’t willing to improve radically, maybe that’s no great loss.