( Originally Published 1916 )
As I arrive at this meeting of the ways in our adventure, I am disposed to leave several pages blank and skip the chapter. For, in the world of the theater, there is no subject more truly sordid than that of paid advertising. Of course, practically all publicity is paid for by the manager, if it is no more than the salary of the press agent; but I am referring now to posters, printed matter, lobby display, and more particularly, newspaper advertising.
I once had shown into my office when at the Little Theater, a man who introduced himself as dramatic editor of a daily paper for Hungarians published in New York. The editorial staff, he explained, considered for publication only matter pertaining to plays taken from Hungarian sources, like the Savage production of " Sari." Therefore he had no space for our current production. But he felt entitled to a pass for two because he had not attempted to solicit our advertising. " My department," he said, " is run for a box-office reason, too."
But the legitimate press agent does not exist for purposes of " putting it over " on the press any more than the legitimate dramatic editor exists for purposes of " putting it over " on the theater. The former's function, in this regard, is to facilitate the gathering of news about his attraction, and to prepare generally interesting facts for special articles or paragraphs. In the name of his manager, he gives for nothing, matter as good as, and frequently better than, that ordinarily purchased by the newspaper from free-lance writers or staff reporters working on " space." He is satisfied in getting it printed.
THE LINE RATE
Theatrical advertising occupies peculiar place in the newspaper business office. It pays a much higher rate per line than any other classified advertising, and is subject to peculiar restrictions. Prices in leading New York morning and evening papers, range from forty to fifty cents an agate line, single column, with double rates in some for display type or " cuts," and, in one particular instance, seventy-five cents per line for representation on Sunday. The basis of advertising charges is by no means the same in all cities, although the line rate is general. In Pittsburgh they estimate by the " square," which is a space a column wide and a half inch deep. In some other cities, the charge is by the " inch," meaning a column wide and an inch deep. The slightest attempt to maintain representation for a single attraction in the important New York papers, costs at least $200 per week. This representation will be just in the little newspaper theatrical directory.
There is no minimum size of ad., but it seems quite impossible to give theater location, play title, matinee days, and time of performances in less than four agate lines. Fifteen lines is about the Sunday minimum. A four-line advertisement is so insignificant in appearance that it may be tucked almost out of sight at bottom of a page.
As the matter of position on the page is so important, most New York managers have enlisted their advertising under either the Shubert or Klaw and Erlanger banners, and so made up two large blocks of matter, each large enough to be conspicuous and to demand place toward the top of the page, and each counting as a single ad. Within the confines of each block, the various small ads. are shifted about under the direction of the Shubert or Klaw and Erlanger general press representative, so that that of the newest attraction remains at top. As the block technically is but one ad., the little rules separating the unit ads. each count as one line, to be paid for at the line rate, the total expense of these shared by the individual advertisers in the block. The block in some daily papers is two columns; in others, where the minimum theatrical ad. must occupy more space—a quarter page or thereabouts—it is only one. The New York Sun allots it two columns; the World but one.
Most theaters share pro rata with their respective attractions on regular advertising, all expense of extra or " display " advertising being borne by the attraction alone unless otherwise agreed. Some theaters have a fixed weekly amount—say $200 in a large city—to be used for paid advertising of any kind, all over that sum to be provided by the attraction. Newspaper advertising bills are payable weekly.
REGULAR NEWSPAPER ADVERTISING
Routine theater advertising usually begins with the " underline." That is, a small ad., printed below that of the theater and its current attraction, giving the name of the attraction to follow and date of its beginning. This is run in the daily papers for from three days to a week before the opening, when the ad. of the old bill is entirely supplanted by that of the new. The expense is charged to the incoming attraction, of course, unless the house has agreed to share.
On the day of the opening, the regular sized daily ad. is used. It is also usually used on the day following the opening, when the critics' reviews are printed. However, on the day after appearance of the reviews, display space of forty to fifty lines single, or twenty to twenty-five double, is commonly taken for the purpose of quoting favorable lines from the notices. Incidentally, I have heard agents boast that they could cull a quotable line from the most unfavorable review ever written, although, I am glad to say, they do not commonly practise it.
After this splurge of advertising, the routine ad. drops back to the four, five, six, or ten lines in each important daily paper, save on Sunday, when the space is greatly increased. Few theaters take less than fifteen lines double on Sunday.
Here and there managers are beginning to feel that the Sunday ad. is rather profitless, for, while Sunday editions are frequently of much larger circulation than the daily issues, the reader has so much in the way of text to peruse and pictures to examine, that he has little time for ads. So extra money formerly devoted to the Sunday in-crease, is now sometimes devoted to increase of the week-day showing, where it has more chance of being seen. Anyway, people do not commonly make up their minds about going to the theater, on Sunday. In a sense, it is a holiday with its own recreations ; and when it is over, most persons are thinking of staying home to rest, or of beginning the week's work. This explains, too, something of why Monday is the " off night " in theater patronage every-where.
Fortunately for the busy press representative in New York, he is not compelled to negotiate advertising with separate papers. Otherwise, he might spend a good part of his time just doing that. There are brokers, notably Capehart for the Shubert block, and Muller for the Klaw and Erlanger, who arrange matters on commissions from the papers and gratis to the managers, and submit the itemized bills on a single sheet as one account payable to them. My own relations in this regard were chiefly with Mr. Carey, representative of Capehart; and from his splendid judgment and keen sense of advertising copy and values, I have learned much.
" EXCHANGE COURTESIES "
There are certain varieties of advertising where the cost is nominal. But they are so many that the aggregate expenditure is apt to be great. Editors of most weekly suburban papers will run cuts and any press story of four or five " sticks " in length, chosen by the agent, each for a pair of seats some convenient evening, the seats representing four dollars of the producer's money, and hence that much of an investment. The same will pay for somewhat extended representation in booklets that list local attractions and points of interest, and that are distributed gratis by railroads or placed in hotel rooms.
A pair of tickets to a hotel clerk now and then, is supposed to impel him to recommend the show to inquiring guests; but I have reason to wonder how a clerk who receives seats from four different theaters in a single week, is going to divide his allegiance. Sometimes advertising space is taken in programs of other theaters where the clientele is deemed desirable. Shubert theaters, in New York principally, each have frames in the lobby listing attractions of others in the chain, the cost being merely the actual lettering of a given number of cards. Some ticket agencies display photographs of scenes from the play, gratis, provided the management will pay for the enlargements.
Here and there modest window displays may be had for the exchange courtesy of tickets. Then, a firm selling silver picture frames to jewelers and novelty stores, is willing to frame and display throughout Greater New York, a matter of I,600 autographed portraits of the leading lady, charge being only making and supplying of the photographs, the concern finding their frames shown to better advantage when holding likenesses of attractive stage favorites.
A not inconsiderable item of paid advertising is small printing—folders, booklets, and blotters to be distributed. This matter is generally of pictorial nature, scenes from the play, with quotations of favorable notices to fill in. People will look at pictures when they will not bother with text.
A. H. Woods, Cohan and Harris, and the Selwyns have been particularly lavish in use of such small matter, ordering in some cases as many as a half million copies of a single booklet to cover an extended road tour. Anna Marble, wife of Channing Pollock, and one of the best press agents in the game, has been particularly apt in devising clever booklets. One of her best was the miniature book of cloth samples for " Potash and Perlmutter."
Heralds are single octavo sheets, printed on one side with something about the incoming attraction, and distributed through the mail, or by carriers, or as inserts in theater programs. Folders are also single sheets, but printed on both sides and folded three or four times to fit in envelopes or programs. The two terms—heralds and folders—are commonly interchangeable. Folders and booklets designed for casting into areaways and other likely places, are technically known as " throwaways; " and for a first-class at-traction that generally is just what they are.
In New York, where there are large groups of theaters under the same management, a reciprocal arrangement permits one attraction to insert its advertising into the programs of another. At times a single program will contain a jumble of matter for as many as five distinct plays. This extravagance of " cuckoo-advertising " leads to littering up the auditorium with discarded material—not an inviting spectacle. The matter is inserted in the programs by the ushers just before each performance.
Other small printing includes the " tack-up," a heavy card of approximately twelve by twenty-four inches, tacked up, wherever possible, by men who raise them to place with long-handled hammers. Tack-ups serve for windows of miscellaneous shops, proprietors of these places being rewarded for their indulgence with pairs of seats now and then—usually once a week—or with " litho " tickets, which entitle bearers to material reductions in box-office prices. These tickets may be real progenitors of the " cutrates."
Lobby displays were indulged in to much greater degree years ago than now in the day of newer and more extensive avenues of publicity. " Shenandoah " has had its real cannon before the theater, with soldiers on guard beside it; orchestras have played in lobbies of older theaters to stimulate trade much as the clown blared the trumpet and rolled the drum to accompany the ballyhoo " boy outside the circus tent. Throughout the run of " Under Fire " at the Hudson Theater, New York, the lobby held a small display of relics from modern European battlefields—a rifle taken from a dead German soldier, aeroplane darts, hand grenades, and other things—brought to America by Malcolm Robertson, a soldier of fortune. A form of lobby display was the exhibition of beautiful gowns worn by the mistresses of " Anatol," shown in the tea room of the Little Theater, New York, when " Anatol " was the current at-traction at the diminutive playhouse.
The most familiar lobby display is the frame—the picture frame with props behind, designed to hold several flash-lights. Frames are generally kept moving along the route ahead of a touring attraction, although many theaters—particularly vaudeville houses—have their own permanent frames, into which transient matter is placed. When frames are portable, those of the current attraction are kept well in the foreground, the others conspicuous but subordinate until their turn arrives. Cohan and Harris, Selwyn, and Woods theaters have been partial to a frame of enlarged colored photographs of scenes from the play, ranged above and at sides of the lobby entrance. The Selwyns, notably in the case of " Rolling Stones," when at the Harris Theater, New York, had the lobby doors fitted with placards upon which appeared bright lines from the play.
From small printing and lobby display, it is an easy step to posters, or " stands," as they are called. These range in various sizes, but are gauged always from the largest size sheet that may be printed at one time. Large stands, there-fore, are constituted not in a single piece, but of a series of these sheets properly assembled. The sheet, which is the unit, measures twenty-six by twenty-seven inches. Thus, we have three-sheets—the sheets running longitudinally, one above another—eight-sheets, sixteen-sheets, twenty-four sheets, twenty-eight sheets, and, infrequently, forty-eight-sheets. I note, however, that in the biography of Charles Frohman, first published serially in the Cosmopolitan, there is reproduced a rough plan of a sixty-sheet stand. Poster advertising was once very extensively carried on by theaters in this country; but times have changed.
The twenty-four-sheet stand is the regular size of the large poster, although this does not include the four-sheet space at one end, reserved for the " date," a separate sheet giving time and place of performance, and changed from town to town. There has been a practise these many years, of splitting the date space in half from top to bottom, and putting one at either end, with the date sheets themselves made in the form of huge theater tickets, thus planting the sales idea in the minds of passers-by. A date is usually pasted as a strip diagonally across the face of a three-sheet, on top, or at bottom, according to location. One-sheets invariably have the date printed on.
Prices for type printing run about three to five cents per sheet; for specially engraved colored lithographs, ten cents per sheet up, depending on the design. Charges run lower when large quantities are ordered—from a thousand at a time up—but managers do not care to overstock on matter that will be of little use if the play fails. Here the litho-graph companies speculate somewhat, taking chances of loss on elaborate work. Most poster designs are silver print photographic enlargements, colored by air-brush.
In ordering quantities, the press agent tries to get as much as possible printed at once, because each time the presses are freshly inked for a short run, it costs consider-ably more than if all are done together. When the road tour is planned, the agent finds through the booking office or by direct correspondence, the poster requirements of each theater likely to be played. Then he totals the figures, adds a small number for waste or emergency, and orders them in bulk, to be shipped in separate lots on given dates.
Actual posting of bills costs three and four cents a sheet, with the billposter usually controlling his own locations, some of which charge twenty-five dollars per week or more for their preferred spaces.
In addition to the regular billposter is the sniper," who takes around a quantity of half-sheets and a pail and brush, and puts them up in places the billposter would disdain to touch—ash-barrels, contractors' shanties, and other likely places when watchmen are not looking. There is nothing the sniper likes better than to cover a "post-no-bills " prohibition with his paper.