( Originally Published 1902 )
One of the cleverest press representatives that ever boomed theatrical shows is Mr. Thomas Donohoe. He has a wide experience in New York city and " on the road," and if there is an idea that has slipped the average agent's conception you will find it safely lodged under Mr. Donohoe's hat.
One evening, while with a box party at the New York Theatre, I stepped down to the foyer to enjoy the cool night air and observe the tactful tactics of Mr. Donohoe. Here is an effort to picture about two minutes of Mr. Donohoe's work at this time
" Certainly-all night—tomorrow noon I'll be at your office with some pictures and a story" (This to a dramatic writer of a daily paper.) "Roof garden—yes, this way—here's the elevator—theatre to right—in through here—hello, Charlie!—here's the boy!—passes for Tuesday night? Sure thing—yes, in a minute, John-say, Charlie, you ought to see the costumes in the last scene and make a scene about it in your paper-here's the story if you want it—now John, my boy, what can I do for you ?—theatre to right, madams—start on the road next — " (mum, mum, buzz, buzz, from fifty voices)—" Philadelphia next Monday—yes, I heard Thompson in Philadelphia—theatre to right, madams—" (mum, mum, buzz, buzz from twice fifty voices, and Mr. Donohoe retires into his office with the dramatic editor of an evening paper.)
Mr. Donohoe and I once entered into a little advertising scheme for the mutual benefit of our respective employers—his employer operating a theatre—mine operating a department store. The idea was:—Mr. Donohoe sent several stars and minor footlight favorites to the photo studio of the department store, where by special arrangement their pictures were taken free of charge. These pictures were distributed broadcast by Mr. Donohoe to leading publications, and every time a photo-graph would appear it not only advertised the theatrical celebrity but the photo studio as well. For, by editorial courtesy, the photographer's name appears on all photographs that appear in print. It brought the photo studio more strongly before the theatrical profession—whose trade is so extensive that it supports several photographers.
While managers secure special rates on photography, the cost in first-class companies runs up into the thousands of dollars. Photographs of cabinet size can be had for about a hundred; the price increasing according to size until the pictures, fourteen by seventeen inches, are reached at $6o a hundred. Flashlights are made at the rate of $7.50 for the plate and five prints, any further number of prints at sixty cents each.
To supply the daily papers of New York City for a single Sunday sixteen photographs are needed by the press agent. Properly to cover the town—that is, to supply pictures for weeklies, sporting papers, trade journals, etc.—he will need not less than thirty photographs.
Chicago comes a close second in the matter of eating up pictures, and every large city takes a fair supply. The press agent for a popular comedian used in a season of twenty weeks 350 photographs of his star for advertising alone. Add to this the number given away, and you will see how some of the manager's surplus cash is invested.
The average first-class attraction uses $200 worth of lithographs a month, and a well-known metropolitan manager, who is going to send out three companies in light opera and musical comedy, closed a single contract for lithographs to the value of $31,000. These will last him about two-thirds of the season.
The successful press agent must work hard. A thousand papers may be on his list, and he must exercise care against repeating the items sent out. He considers himself fortunate if seventy-five per cent of the items sent out appear in print. It takes an expert to accomplish this. After the production has scored a hit in New York, Chicago or any other large city, he collects the press notices, has them printed on a large sheet and shows them among the managers of all important theatres where the company is booked or desires a booking.
Not many evenings ago, while dining with a well-known theatrical manager, he beguiled the affair with a long dissertation upon theatrical advertising.
Here is a portion of it:
"If I had the whole say with my show I wouldn't use a bit of advertising other than newspaper advertising, and our regular show programmes. I can get all the publicity I want out of the newspapers, and I think the other managers could, too. Of course, bill-board, gutter and snipe advertising is good in a way, but it does not weigh so much. It simply helps the news-paper advertising and comparing costs of all methods with results the newspapers are ahead every time.
" Of course we don't do much display advertising with the papers. No theatres do—but we get a lot of advertising out of the theatrical news columns. Cost much? you ask. Well yes—y-e-s—that is, it costs us some theatre tickets and effort (to get the stuff in the papers), but we're glad to work hard to do this.
" Say! speaking about reading notices and working the press, you ought to have seen the stunts I did when I was on the road last fall. I made some of these jay town papers look like thirty cents. I made them look farcical. Say! it's fun to strike a town like a cannon ball and hit the editor's sanctum still harder, and before the editor knows what's struck him get two or three high balls into him, then hand him an earthquake in the shape of triple column cuts of the stars with royal write ups.
" I got one fellow so loaded that he got sleepy and asked me to make up his paper. I am an old newspaper man and I made up his paper—oh, yes! oh, yes!!
" I put all the telegraph first page news on the last page, and all the last page ads at the bottom of the first page, then filled up the top of the first page with talk and pictures about my show—good talk, too, because I wrote it myself. When the town got that paper next morning, it did not know what had struck the Gazette. The show did a good business, but you bet your boots that I hurried out of town before that editor could find me.
" But you can't get at all editors with the rosy, ruby or amber liquid. You have got to throw literature into some of them, and as I know a lot of writers and read a lot, I can give a game of talk on Howells or Kipling.
" But you have got to know your editors pretty well, and you must be enthused over your star and show. Otherwise you will have cold feet, and a chilly advance will throw a frost over the show that follows.
"Are actors and actresses anxious to get advertising? Oh, no-nit-not, never, me boy, never! Why say! they work all sorts of schemes to get in the papers-they work direct and through second and third parties-they want it—it's a part of their business, and of course, they must have it."
His talk about covered the situation. It is simply " to work the press " for reading notices, and the press agents and business managers do so in every American city and, town in a manner resultful and artistic.
I will conclude this with a sage piece of advice recently given on upper Broadway by a gentleman who succeeded in reaching New York, by leaving his trunk in a Rochester hotel, and buying a railroad ticket on the proceeds of a pawned watch: — -
" I don't care what they say—give me good paper every trip. I'd rather have a poor company with good paper than a good company with poor paper. By paper, I mean show bills—lithographs. We had rotten paper on the last trip, even if the company and repertoire were good, but in Toronto we had a frost and went to pieces in Rochester, after a skaty time in Niagara and two or three other places. I remember last season I took a bum burlesque show down through the south and southwest, but we had some of the most elegant lithographs you ever saw (bought cheap ready made in New York), and that good paper did the finest business ever heard of. Yes, sir! give me good paper every trip."