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How Broadway producers and agencies prepared for Tony nominations day

Members of the Broadway industry had been preparing for April 30 for months. That meant that when Tony nominations were announced at 8:30 a.m.

The marquee of "Ain't Too Proud" with newly implemented underslings. (Photo: Caitlin Huston)

Members of the Broadway industry had been preparing for April 30 for months.

That meant that when Tony nominations were announced at 8:30 a.m., advertising agencies had already prepared digital copies of advertising for all possible nomination scenarios, publicists had outfits and outlets for interviews pre-planned for their clients and producers knew what their messaging would be in the lead-up to the Tony Awards.

“If we do our job correctly, there are no surprises today because we’ve prepped for every possible outcome,” said Kristen Rathbun, vice president of communications at advertising agency SpotCo.

At SpotCo, which has clients including “Beetlejuice,” “The Ferryman” and “Gary,” among others, employees arrived around 8 a.m. to watch the nominations with Excel spreadsheets to tally the numbers. With results in hand, each show-assigned team began putting up pre-designed videos and graphics on social media almost instantly.

In terms of physical advertising, underslings, or the small signs hanging underneath Broadway marquees, were set to go up by the end of the day. Stickers with the number of nominations or for specific nominees were readied to be placed on top of existing billboards or on the front-of-house, so that the advertising did not need to be entirely recreated.

Still, social media ranks as one of the most effective means of advertising on Tony nominations day, Rathbun said, because it creates industry awareness as well as helps spread word-of-mouth among consumers. After all, in addition to celebrating Tony nominations, the shows have the goal of selling tickets to the wider audience brought in by the news.

Because of the increased attention on social media, Mike Karns, founder and chief executive of Marathon Digital, a company that specializes in social media marketing and video production, and his team have been preparing for Tony nominations day for the last four weeks, with video templates for every nomination shows like “Ain’t Too Proud,” “Be More Chill,” “Hadestown” and “The Cher Show” could receive.

The increased workload for Tony nominations required the 15-person company to hire contract workers to ensure that technical operations ran smoothly.

Each show’s videos went through about three rounds of editing until both the Marathon Digital team and the show’s producers and creative team could agree on a unified look and “vibe” that matched each show.

“The producers are very involved,” Karns said. “We work very closely, hand in hand, with each producer at every step.”

Bill Damaschke, lead producer of “The Prom,” was watching the nominations with the show’s marketing and press teams so that they could be ready to immediately implement online marketing and strategize about the month leading up to the awards show.

After receiving seven nominations, which included Best Musical, nominations in two acting categories and for creative team members, Damaschke said the show would continue to lean into marketing that emphasized that the production is a musical comedy and one that has “heart.”

“It’s a long road to get to this point, and I know we feel just to be part of the conversation is really, really exciting, especially with a show that is completely original, and non-branded and a little bit of an underdog,” Damaschke said.

Because the show is not a ready-made commercial brand, it has already been ramping up its marketing outside of the theater through a film adaptation with Netflix and a young adult novel. The seven Tony nominations also appeared to be helping with ticket sales Tuesday.

“We’re having a very strong day so far today,” he said.

Similarly, “What the Constitution Means to Me” came to Broadway as a somewhat uncertain commercial venture, but has been well-received by the theater community, receiving Tony nominations for Best Play and for its lead actor and writer Heidi Schreck.

Positive press has helped fuel the momentum of “Constitution” thus far, producer Aaron Glick said, helping the almost-solo show transfer from New York Theatre Workshop to Greenwich House Theater and then to Broadway. Throughout the Tony season, the goal is continue to lean into that messaging, while making sure as many people as possible can see Schreck’s play.

“Broadway is the apex of commercial theater, and we really felt that her voice needed to be heard and felt in that environment,” Glick said.

Outside of the show-specific marketing, publicists such as Lisa Goldberg woke up early Tuesday to tell clients they had received nominations, helped schedule the day’s interviews and then jumped into their scheduling and strategy for the next month.

The publicity tours and Tony campaigns had already begun months (or sometimes weeks ago) when the actor or creative team member began their show, said Goldberg, who had four Tony-nominated clients this season.

The next step was making sure her clients had outfits ready for Wednesday’s Meet the Press Day and for other upcoming events. But, like much of the behind-the-scenes work for the Tony Awards, that too had already been largely pre-arranged.

“I started talking about wardrobe and Tony Day scheduling probably a month ago,” Goldberg said.