Special Report Tama Marketer of the Year: And the finalists are…Drabinsky: transforming marketing of live theatre

Garth DrabinskyPresident and chief executive officerLive EntertainmentVery simply, Garth Drabinsky is transforming the way culture gets out to the world. Again.Cineplex Odeon, his multi-screen theatre concept, changed the movie business forever.But, Drabinsky doesn't even mention Cineplex this time. He's busy transforming...

Garth Drabinsky

President and

chief executive officer

Live Entertainment

Very simply, Garth Drabinsky is transforming the way culture gets out to the world. Again.

Cineplex Odeon, his multi-screen theatre concept, changed the movie business forever.

But, Drabinsky doesn’t even mention Cineplex this time. He’s busy transforming live theatre forever.

‘Everything we’re doing now is having a significant effect on theatre,’ he says, chuffed that the Mirvishes and even Broadway are adopting his style.

‘Keeping a show going open-ended like this is like trying to market Crest toothpaste,’ Drabinsky says.

‘You change the look of your advertising on a continuing basis,’ he says.


Drabinsky is referring to the four-million-ticket box-office romp that Phantom of the Opera has enjoyed for six years now.

In that time, his two virtual live-in ad agencies have been asked to create more than 250 newspaper ‘looks,’ more than 100 radio commercials and a dozen tv spots. All personally supervised by Drabinsky.

He’s a true believer in hands-on management. He is perhaps uniquely qualified to run this business, and he hints that all managers ought to become as intimate with their own markets.

Of falling trade barriers, he says: ‘You’ve got to get your hands real dirty in those markets, learning about the complexities. Senior, senior, senior management must be prepared to get involved at that level.’

And that he does.

He spent two weeks in Israel, taking the pulse of that market before the upcoming Phantom opening there.

Even surfing the crest of a standing success wave, he monitors Live Entertainment ticket sales all over the world.

Not quarterly, not monthly, but hourly. That’s how quickly the temperament of the marketplace can shift.

So, when the u.s. invades Iraq, or O.J. invades every tv set there is, Drabinsky’s forearmed for immediate shifts in strategy to compensate in newspapers, on radio and tv.

Canadian recording

A shining example of his market smarts was convincing Phantom composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber to permit a Canadian cast recording of the show.

It went seven times platinum, eclipsing Webber’s original cast album, and nudging into the Bryan Adams class of success.

That’s in Canadian sales alone.

Drabinsky’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat production is another phenomenon, doing 10 packed house weeks during its u.s. opening in Minneapolis, traditionally a three-week-run town.

Sold out

And, Joseph is scheduled to return for another 12 weeks, 100% sold out three months in advance.

Says Drabinsky: ‘We’ve turned Minneapolis from a three-week market into a five-month market.’

The net effect Drabinsky wants from all this marketing is to leave this impression:

‘If you miss one of our shows, you will have missed something in your cultural diet.’

Either we were truly starving for it, or Drabinsky has stimulated Toronto’s appetite for this populist brand of culture, because Phantom is still doing an astounding $1 million a week.

‘None of this would be successful if we didn’t deliver,’ he says.