Theater Marketing Director: Deborah Gallion, Juanita K. Hammons Hall of the Performing Arts, Springfield, Missouri

Below is the results of an interview between Claudia Rechtien, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Deborah Gallion, Director of Marketing and Promotions of Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts in Springfield, MO. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2011.

I looked at your biography on the Hall’s website, and you’ve been here since 1993, right? Yes – since the second season.

The second season of the Hall in general? Yes.

And, you’re a Missouri State Alum? Yes.

Speech, Theater, and English [major]? I was a double major for Speech and Theater with an English minor. They added extra hours, so I ended up with an English major too. Also, I had an education degree. I taught school when I first got out of college.

So what made you decide to switch into theater marketing? Well I got to theater marketing in a roundabout way. After I taught for about five years, I was getting a little disenchanted with teaching, and I decided that I wanted to change careers. My question to myself was, “What do you really want to do?” What I really wanted to do was work in television. I had always wanted to do that. I ended up in media, specifically radio. I worked in radio for a number of years, and then I went to an advertising agency as a creative director, which was kind of a transition. I learned more about television in that [advertising] job, and then I went to television. I was in broadcast or ad agency stuff for about fifteen years. Then, this building [Juanita K. Hammons Hall] was built, and this job became open. It kind of pulled everything together because I had the theater major, the university connection, and the background in media and promotions. By the time I got to the television job, I was working directly in promotions for the station.

As Director of Marketing and Promotions for Juanita K. Hammons Hall, what is a typical day? There is no typical day! That’s what we say. We say we’re stressed, but we’re never bored. A typical day has so many different things involved within it. The typical part is being atypical. The typical part is that you will be dealing with dozens of casts, projects, and shows in the course of a day, and you never know which dozen it will be on which day. It is very rare that you have a day that you are really focused on just one certain thing, and it is also very rare that you have a day that turns out the way you thought it would at the beginning of that day. There are a lot of deadlines that you have to keep track of, but they’re not deadlines that every week you have the same deadline. They’re always different deadlines, so that’s challenging sometimes. You have to keep on top of all of that.

Is there anything that you thought you would be responsible for when you took this job that it turned out that you weren’t responsible for? Probably not. But, over the nineteen years that I’ve been at this job, there is a difference now of what I’m focused on and what I do. Of course, as you can imagine, like everything else in the world, my job has become incredibly more complicated. There are more elements brought in together, but there are also some things that have fallen by the wayside that I was doing in the beginning that I don’t do now. However, it’s probably because I’m doing my job in a different way. I’m doing the same things, only with different technology or in a different style or with a different emphasis.

So it’s not necessarily more or less; it’s just changed. It’s just changed. I’m still promoting things, only in different ways because the world has changed around us.

Would you say the e-blast list that you send regarding upcoming shows is essential for any theater organization? Oh yeah. I am really working hard to try to get more technology savvy. Now, I don’t have to be completely technology savvy. I just have to have people around me who are. But, by the same token, there was a point in that process [of integrating new technology] that I understood so little about the technology that it was hard for me to even conceptualize it. But, now I feel like I’m much more aware of it, and I am even able to do some of it myself. I actually really enjoy it. If I could clone myself and be able to be on a parallel track learning all this technology while at the same time going forward and doing all the other stuff I need to be doing, then it would be great. One thing about right now – and this will change too – but right now, with regards to promoting theater, you still have to think about the old-fashioned ways too. You have a certain constituency [of your audience] that is still much more into the traditional ways of learning about things and/or hearing about things. You also have all these new audience you’re trying to reach or even these audiences which have just left the traditional behind and moved on to the newer technologies. Then, the other challenge, of course, is that the newer technology changes into something else, just when you get on top of one thing. Younger people are much more used to that [rapid changing] because you just know it that way. That’s the way your world has been for quite some time. But, I think even people who are really up on technology and people that are younger are still challenged by how fast it changes.  You’re starting down one path, and suddenly you need to veer down another path.

So being adaptable and at least having a base knowledge in all the social media is beneficial. Yes. I’m still not there in all the social media; but, I’m much further down that path than I used to be. I can have much more intelligent discussions about it, and I probably know more than I think I do about certain things. It’s kind of like when you tell someone something on your car needs to be fixed, and they say, “I didn’t even know that about cars.” You suddenly realize you know more about cars than you think you did.

Would you say that you mostly keep to yourself and do your own thing? Or, as far as the day-to-day, is there a lot of cross-training? Tons of interaction.

Like with Tom [Director of Operations], Jim [Box Office and Business Manager], and obviously Dian [Assistant Box Office Manager]? Within the office, I interact with everyone in some way – obviously some more than others. I interact more specifically with the box office staff and Anjie [Center for Arts in the Schools Coordinator]. I don’t deal with the backstage personnel nearly as much, except in certain situations. The other thing about this job is the idea of doing this job in a university setting. University worlds can be kind of insulated; but, we have a foot in two worlds. We have a foot in the university, on-campus world, and a foot in the outside world – the real world, the general public. That’s really interesting and intriguing because you’re dealing with not only the people on-campus but dozens and dozens of people on the outside every day. I mean, literally, this morning, while I’ve been doing other things, I’ve gotten about six emails from about six different shows – from people asking a question or needing to move forward, asking me to proof something, asking me a question, wanting some information, or giving some information back to me. I’ve also dealt with three or four different radio stations already this morning. It’s just a constant back-and-forth with dozens and dozens and dozens of people.

Lots of hands in lots of cookie jars. Lots of hands in lots of cookie jars. Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. Again, that’s what makes it not boring.

So it’s a collaborative effort. There are just things that are specifically earmarked as your responsibility. Certainly. Of course, the other part of that too is dealing with student workers that we have who are my staff members. That’s a back-and-forth thing as well. Dominique is my graphics designer. I can’t do graphics. I need to have Dominique to do those skills. Then, I’m sort of teaching and training them. That’s an interesting dynamic because that’s a real back-and-forth kind of thing and another part of what I do because I’m in a university setting. Now with that said, I’ve always had interns. So even if you work in a job like this in a different kind of venue, where it’s maybe a business venue, you can still have that element because people like this kind of industry. You may have interns or something like that, and you are the one doing that teaching. I’ve always done that. I did that when I worked at the radio station, and the TV station. So teaching is always a part of it too.

Would you say that, given the opportunity, you are experienced enough with little things across the board that you could step into Dian’s shoes or Randy’s [Executive Director of Athletic and Entertainment Facilities} shoes? I mean, obviously not perfect on day one, but… Well, probably. In Dian’s case, I would have to learn the ticketing software. I haven’t done it for a million years, but I have done it before. When we had fewer shows, fewer ticket people, and the pace was a little slower, I actually did know how to sell tickets. Again, but part of that is just for having been here all these years and watching every aspect of what happens here. I couldn’t do Tom and Ed’s [Technical Director] job from a technical standpoint, but I could do part of it.

Would you say there’s a specific skill set or personality type that defines a theater marketing professional, or could people from different academic backgrounds be successful? Well, I think definitely different academic backgrounds [could be successful]. In today’s world, you’re much more likely to have a more specific marketing or theater education [degree] that progresses you to this kind of a job. I do have a theater background. The qualities that are important in a marketing job like this are energy, stamina, and the ability to be organized. I think a sort of Type A personality helps. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t people who do this kind of a job who are not that personality type. But, by the same token, those attributes are helpful when you’re juggling all those balls in the air. If you’re gravitating towards the theater, you probably have some kind of background that applies to it. But, if you had no background at all that tied into it, as long as you had a certain skill set and a certain kind of personality type, you would be successful. You need to be able to communicate with people and talk to people. If you’re a real reclusive person, this would be an odd job for you to have. But, you can also be a mix of that outgoing person and have those Type A characteristics of organization and details too. That’s a good mix in a lot of ways. But, that’s also the mix that makes you get a little bit crazy in a job like this. Because if you’re too much that way – and I can border on being too much that way – then you make yourself nuts because you’re trying to do everything perfectly and there’s no way you can. So that’s a little bit of a challenge sometimes.

Do you remember if there was any specific training or experience that was listed on the job application? I believe that the job application talked about, in more general terms, a background in theater or related fields. It also may have talked about certain skill sets in sales and marketing.

What about a typical career path to get to where you are? Well, again, I think in today’s world, a lot of people will come into positions like this with backgrounds in either marketing or maybe business; but, their interest, even when they’re in their studies, is the idea of sports marketing or entertainment marketing. Then, there are those great programs like we have here [at Missouri State] that are very specific to that kind of thing [Entertainment Management]. I really think that the people who are coming into these jobs now are coming from those types of backgrounds more often than not.

Would you say you could get to something like this [Theater Marketing and Promotion] even through something like an event planning or public relations major? Absolutely. Event planning is kind of a fun concept. That’s something else that I do and have done. I did it even more in some of my earlier jobs. I was doing an event for an organization that I am president of for our booking conference in September. I was planning a party, basically. I had a nice budget, so I was planning a killer party. In our structure here [at Juanita K. Hammons Hall], other people doing that more often than I am. But, it was kind of fun to dust off that old hat. I had a great time doing it. I was nervous before the party, thinking, “What if it doesn’t go off well? What if people don’t think it’s a cool party?” It was a cool party. I was so glad about it. I had a lot of really good help with it too. But that’s a part of event planning – having skilled people to help you make it happen. I was kind of the director of the whole thing, and I directed people to do certain things. I did some of it myself, and I made sure everyone was doing their part. It was great fun, and I hadn’t done it for a while. So that’s a skill that, if you came from that kind of a background, you could translate that [to a job like this]. What you could be lacking in this type of a job, if you came from a background like that, might be some of the media strengths. That’s one of the things that I brought to this that really was a good thing – that background in media.

Right. You have an understanding all the different avenues of communication. And how to utilize them, how to buy it, how to produce for it, and that sort of stuff. That’s a big part of what I do – radio and television production, placing spot schedules, and stuff like that. That’s something that is a good tool to have that I had a strong background in.

Knowing to weigh your options and exert your efforts on what you know is going to catch instead of just throwing it out there. Yeah, and there’s media relations. Again, I was able to bring that [media knowledge] to this specific situation in this market because I’ve worked in this market in media for a long time. I knew a lot of people, so that has been a strength that I had. I think when I was going for the job that [media knowledge] was one of the strengths that I had.

Do you think that the equivalent of your job is only warranted in a venue at least the size of the Hall? Or should every theater organization strive to have someone like you on staff? Everyone has someone like me, whether it is a person who also wears lots of other hats. That’s why the Plains Presenters, which is a booking consortium, exists – for us to all work together to try to do the basic, the bottom line. We work together to do block booking so that everybody gets a better deal when bringing performances into a region. We also try to do professional development, and we’re a great networking resource for everybody that’s in that group. If you have a question about something, you can send out a little message on our Google group, and you’ll get answers. For example, “Does anybody know about this ticketing system?” Seven or eight people will say, “Yeah, I do know about it.” If you say, “I’m having a problem with so-and-so,” people will respond.  There are fifty or so people in the organization. The smallest venue is about 250 seats. The largest venue is about 2,500 seats. And there’s everything in-between – university-connected venues, venues that are a part of a city government structure, historic theaters that are private, not-for-profit organizations, and many more along this huge gamut. All of those people are doing what I do. Sometimes they only have a staff of maybe three or four people – one of those persons is a marketing person. It [that person’s position] might be marketing, development, and education all wrapped up into the same person. But, it’s [marketing] still there. For some of the venues, the executive director does a good deal of the stuff that I do. If you’re looking at this as a career path, you might find yourself in a smaller venue where you’re wearing more hats; but, this [theater marketing] is a part of a hat you’ll be wearing. Let’s harken back to one of the other questions we were just talking about, when you were asking if I could step into other jobs. Really, as the marketing person, you just have to have all your fingers in all the pies or at least know about all the stuff [that is happening]. The more you know about what’s going on, the better able you are to function. It’s just impossible to be narrow or to have blinders. You may end up knowing a little about a lot, but you do know. Again, if you’re in a smaller organization, that knowledge is probably even more pronounced. You’re probably going to have hands on [experience] in some of that stuff too. So it may take many forms, but this kind of job is always in a theater organization. And, especially going to a smaller venue with a really solid set of marketing, business, and public relations skills is a great thing.

Long story short, nothing happens in a bubble. No. Over the summer, we [Plains Presenters] were corresponding about the September conference, and now we’re having another meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss more block booking.  I can’t tell you how many times different things come up when you’re in the middle of conversations, either online or just talking. We have executive directors who also help run the box office. Libby First, who is our contact with Celebrity Attractions, is one of their [Celebrity Attractions’] marketing staff. I was trying to reach Libby during the summer, and she was literally answering box office phones. They [Celebrity Attractions] sell tickets when they present in Tulsa – at least some of the tickets out of their office. It was a Friday afternoon, and everybody else was gone. I think they have a kind of rotating schedule where every fifth or sixth Friday afternoon you have to stay in the office. So she was there doing her marketing stuff, working on her regular job, taking group sales calls, and answering the phone about tickets.

So being willing to drop what you’re doing and pick up whatever needs to be done is the right attitude to have. Exactly. That’s the right attitude to have in most jobs, really. And, having had experience selling tickets, an education background in marketing and business related things, entertainment, and public relations stuff will help. Even if you’re working in a big venue or a big operation, you’re able to call on those skills. I am a true believer in the fact that just about anything you ever study – at some point – you’ll probably find a use for it. I literally took vocational agriculture in the eighth grade, because I went to a small school in the country. Fifteen years later, I was working at a country radio station and writing advertising copy for farm stores. I called upon what I had learned in that vocational agriculture class to write spots for a farm store. That’s a great example. I mean, I thought it was interesting because I lived on a farm, and I didn’t mind taking the class. But, at that point, I wouldn’t have thought it would be something I would use in my later career. But I did, so nothing is useless.

Do you attend any regular marketing conferences, association meetings, or professional seminars? We [Plains Presenters] do our booking conference, which is a kind of combination of all those sorts of things. It’s like a trade show with professional development and great networking opportunities. We meet in the Fall and in the Spring to do block booking discussions and professional development. That particular regional professional organization is something I’m very involved in. I’m a member of Women in Communications here in Springfield, although I don’t get to their meetings as often as I would love to. That’s a wonderful, eclectic group of communications women. Again, it’s one of those groups that if you have an issue, question, or a problem, you can network through that group, and there’s someone that can help answer your question. Those kind of professional organizations are really great. I don’t regularly go to other seminars, but I’ve looked at a number of webinars about online stuff. That’s the cool thing. In today’s world, you can find a lot of professional development information on your own through the internet.

And what region is the group you were talking about? It’s hilarious because it’s called the Midwest Arts Conference. Their definition of Midwest is really interesting. We have had meetings as far east as Cleveland, Ohio, and as far southwest as Austin, Texas. That’s a pretty big span of Midwest. I really think what happened is – it’s a showbiz thing – you have the coast people. There are probably two or three organizations on each coast. Then, there’s this vast bunch in the middle of the country, and they just call that all Midwest. It’s fly over country. We should call it the Fly Over Conference.

What would you say is the one either experience or quality that you think is the reason you are sitting at this desk today? When I was a kid, I always wanted to grow up and work in showbiz. That’s absolutely why I’m here. It wasn’t necessarily that I envisioned myself as a participant so much as just a behind-the-scenes person. Maybe when I was a little kid, I wanted to grow up and be a movie star or something like that. But really, I don’t think I really thought that. I really think I just always wanted to do it. I was a theater major, and when I taught, I taught theater and stuff. Then, I went into broadcast. Showbiz is great. It’s hard work. People think it is all glamour. It’s not; but, there is some glamour there. The quality you need to have is that stamina, resilience, and enthusiasm. You just have to have that. The other quality you have to have – and I just read it in Time magazine or something a few weeks ago – is that you’ve got to be able to deal with the language. You still have to know how to communicate, write, and speak, and there are many people out there who are in this business who don’t [know how]. They have either lost it, or they never had it. There’s a trend for people not to have it, and it’s just really scary. The bottom line is you still really do need it.

Right. The computer helps you talk to people, but it’s not going to talk to them for you. When I am an old lady and retired, I really think my fifth or sixth career – that will be my “make a little bread-and-butter money” – is going to be fixing things in writing for people. It’s going to be, “Send me your press kit, and I will make it presentable.”  It’s going to be, “I will be happy to proof and edit your press releases. I will write you a radio or television spot. I will do this.” Literally, a week or two ago, I got a press release from a show we’re going to have, and it was just a mess. I just made some changes to it and corrected a few things. I wrote back, and I said, “I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty of rewording a bit and making a few changes.” The guy was ecstatic. He said, “Oh, I threw that together from a whole group of press releases, and it didn’t really make much sense. You made it make sense again.” And, I thought, “I’m keeping this e-mail,” so that can be one in my little packet of, “Would you like me to do this for you?”

I think, fortunately for you, you’ll have a lot of customers – unfortunately for them. Well, I really think there’s a full-time job there. In fact, I think it’s a job that would probably overwhelm me at a certain point. I would probably be one of those people who would say, “Well, I can’t take on any more work.” But, that would be great. I like to do it. You can do it computer to computer. I could sit in my living room with my fuzzy slippers, drink coffee, and do it.

Okay. Last question – What would be your one suggestion to a young professional looking to hit the ground running in this [theater marketing] industry? Be sure that you can adequately communicate – in speaking, but also in writing. Work on your communication skills. Hone your communication skills. In everything from the interview, resume, and cover letters, to whatever you do in the job, you’ll rise to the top if you’re really skilled at that [communication].

Because, if that’s already taken care of, you can take on more responsibilities and not have to devote your time periods and commas. Right. And, the people that you’re dealing with are going to respond to someone who is articulate and who is a good communicator – not only articulate in speaking, but also in writing. But, if you have that skill of communication, it will come across as you speak in the interview. It will come across when you’re putting your thoughts down, when you’re helping create the brochure, writing the letter to the donors, or whatever it is you’re doing. Those kinds of things will make you stand out. The other thing is just being open to learning all you can and being enthusiastic about it.