Did you see that thing about how last year Philly hotels had more guests than ever before?

Yeah, so it seems a shitload of people spent the night in Philadelphia in 2010. According to an Inquirer article/industry press release from Feb 19, “Philadelphia filled nearly four million hotel beds last year,” which is the most the city’s hotels have ever filled. If you work in the performing arts in Philadelphia, you better fucking be paying attention to that number. Perhaps it’s time to start marketing yourselves to visitors. Perhaps it’s time to make sure visitors know you’ve got a show they simply must see. Perhaps, when reaching for the stars, you should put an ad somewhere else besides a nasty ass bus stop.

When you come to this city you will be...

When you come to this city you will be…

What’s funny is the same day that article came out, and before I saw it, I was flipping through the world’s most noxious magazine, Travel & Leisure, so I could then toss it into the recycling bin, and I thought, hey, the Live Arts Festival, the ballet, the Wilma, PTC, Philadanco, PIFA—someone should have a goddamn ad in here. We should be advertising our shows in travel magazines whether it’s T & L or the Amtrak mag, because it’s an enticement to come to the city and have an experience. It helps put the city on the map, it helps put our performing arts on the map, and it gives people an idea of what to do when they come. People coming to the city will do more than see your show, and that’s a good thing, it makes it easier to use your show as an excuse to journey here at a particular time. Also, since most travel mags are made by and for New Yorkers, we’re only a Bolt Bus ride away. Now that there are 4 million hotel beds being filled during a recession no less, it’s time to get on that shit.

I used to work as an editor for Fodor’s Travel Guides, and still occasionally do the freelance job for them, so I actually know what I’m talking about. One of the big things to capture in the travel writing industry is experience. In other words, people aren’t just looking for a list of museums and sights to go to, they are looking to have an experience that will enrich their lives. (It’s a conundrum for travel guides because you also want to be evergreen in your info, and so it’s an advantage travel mags and websites have over guidebooks.) That is why a performing arts festival or a good play or dance performance makes a good draw. It’s time for the major companies and organizations to get their names out there in travel magazines and websites, as well as periodicals like The New Yorker and newspapers like the New York Times. Hey, if you want to get covered by prestigious newspapers and magazines, it’s always good to advertise in them. Same goes for the Southwest and USAir magazines—what better than an in-flight idea of what you’re going to do in the place you’re about to land?

And hey, you don’t even have to pay a committee the same amount as you would to place a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to research the idea. What do you think the Philadelphia Museum of Art does when it has major exhibitions? It advertises in places like The New York Times, which is also why it gets coverage there. Major museums like PMA do these things because the advertising has proven successful—performing arts could learn a lot from the ways successful museums get audiences (e.g., membership programs that actually give people a reason to be a member). But performing arts organizations spend so much time looking at the failed patterns of other performing arts companies, and not so much other mission-driven nonprofits that may have had success in a comparable venture. And yes, PMA is one of those organizations that eats money—but in one weekend during a major exhibition, more people will go through its doors than people takes seats for the entire Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe combined, or the sum total of people who attend the entire run of any dance or theatre presentation that happens here, or for that matter, an entire season. And that’s for supposedly snobby, pretentious, boring art that you can’t get a rise out of even if you kick it, not exciting, occasionally pretentious live performance! Guess what? They advertise in New York publications and travel magazines. (And guess who else reads those pubs—Philadelphians! Two birds with one stone.)

But you say, Wanh, Wanh, Wanh, we don’t have the budget, Wanh, Wanh, Wanh. Well, find a way to devote yourselves to at least one advertisement in a major publication a year, be it a travel mag or the NYTimes.

philadelphia restaurant scene

We have such a great restaurant scene!

By the way, this is a good draw for tourism. Remember, TOURISM BUREAU and you gophilly.com types, the thing I said about experiences? Well, the performing arts community is offering experiences. I give you this profesional information for free—you don’t even have to invite me to eat your bad food at a hotel ballroom to court travel press. Having trouble finding the money? Cut your entire useless swag budget for starters. Partner financially with performing arts companies to help them advertise their shows and your city—and don’t be shy about just because a show may have a little nudity or a curse word or two. People like that. But please make sure your advertisements have artistic merit and don’t look like they were designed in the 1980s. When I was working near Times Square several years ago and saw an enormous billboard that proclaimed, “Philly’s got BENergy!” I wanted to hide in shame. (In case you didn’t get it “BENergy” referred to Ben Franklin.)

But for those of you truly have jack shit for a budget, you need to foster relationships with the hotels directly. That starts with finding out which hotels have a concierge service, and going in and meeting them, and then keeping in touch when you have shows. It’s the concierge’s job to match the right experience with the hotel guest, so it doesn’t matter if your work is not for everyone. Similarly scout out boutique hotels and talk to the proprietors. Go in person—you would be surprised how receptive everyday working folks are when meeting and chatting with artists. They might even think what you’re doing iscool, unlike like your passive-aggressive artist friends. And offer a discount to hotel guests. All you need is a fraction of that 4 million to have an extremely successful run.

Published by the Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority

philadelphia parking theather

Even our parking lots are beautiful!

P.S. In the latest T & L (I even hate the abbreviation), there was a full page ad about the many kinds of whiskey in the world—the ad was for some online spirits club run by, believe it or not, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (i.e. the state liquor stores). (Check it out—who is going to this thing? People who are hot on the Chairman, I suppose.) Besides the question of whether they are wasting taxpayers’ dollars, I suspect that the advertising can be regionalized in many periodicals, which presents a potentially cheaper option.

P.P.S. Why be NYC centric in your efforts? Hmm. Let’s see. Maybe it’s because like 11 million people live there—it’s the most populous city in America and it’s only 90 miles away. Let’s not forget, it’s not just about status or seeking NYC stamped approval—it’s about audiences, and they’ve got them. And New York remains the publishing hub of America. It’s time to stop envying our northerly neighbors and begin taking advantage of their presence.

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About the author

Josh McIlvain

Josh McIlvain is the artistic director of SmokeyScout Productions which he co-founded in 2008 with Deborah Crocker (to whom he is also married!). He has had more than 115 productions of some 70 plays throughout the U.S., including more than 38 New York City productions. Josh is also the leader of the rock collective Josh McIlvain & The Generals of Sexcop (listen to the hot tracks at sxcp.bandcamp.com!), the editor/publisher of Philly Fiction (collections of short stories set in Philadelphia and written by local writers), and the editor of the FringeArts booklet and blog.