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Getting personal. (Off the Record).

Advertising makes strange bedfellows, as we all know, and radio or television spots often leap into our line of sight with surprising suddenness--so do magazine and newspaper ads. A couple of recent incidents, however, came as a surprise even to this jaded system.

In the midst of a baseball broadcast one night, with my mind reeling from more "informal" paid spots from Mike Shannon and Joel Meyers than I can count, came an advertisement for the St. Louis Art Museum's current exhibit.

More startling, perhaps, was the Sunday morning when I opened my New York Times and a flyer for the Fox Theatre came tumbling out. This one brought something new to the St. Louis theater scene; it featured "personal seat memberships," similar to what the Rams and Mizzou, among others, sell as personal seat licenses. And two weeks later, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis included brochures with season schedules and season-ticket order information in the Sunday Times.

For those interested in trivia, all three groups consider American as their official airline, but only the symphony has not only an official law firm (Thompson Coburn LLP), but also an official doughnut (Krispy Kreme).

The advertising certainly makes sense on several levels. People coming to St. Louis to see the Cardinals play could do a lot worse than to make a side trip to the Art Museum, or the Arch, of which Shannon speaks very highly every day. It's hard to tell how many people visit the museum or the Arch because of what they hear on KMOX, but there are a lot of impulsive buyers out there, and the chance to visit some place educational or cultural may convince a family's swing voter.

More important, with Fox Associates doubling the run of almost all its visiting shows, that makes at least 32,000 new seats available for sale each week.

Some current season ticket-holders may be switching to the second week, when more attractive locations may be available.

And what better place to find theater fans than in The New York Times? The local groups apparently spent less than $1,500 each to buy a Sunday run throughout Missouri, a total of about 14,000 copies, with at least half in St. Louis. They also sent the flyers to Columbia, where the national edition of the Times that comes to St. Louisans is printed. Doorstep delivery also is available in Kansas City and St. Joseph, with more communities to be added.

The Rep and the SLSO had lots of flyers on hand from previous mailings, which served to reduce their cost.

PSMs, or "personal seat memberships," are much like the Rams' PSLs, or "personal seat licenses." A season ticket for the Fox is either $350.40, $355.40 or $397 for six productions, and the membership fee, which goes on top, ranges from $600 to $1,000 per seat per year, depending on location and performance dates. It also provides free parking close to the theater and a private entrance, complete with awning, on the Washington Avenue side, plus the chance to buy dinner and drinks at the Fox Club.

The first response was good. I was at the opening of "Mamma Mia," and patrons and potential patrons were crowded into an area to order seats and PSMs for the season. Folks at the Rep reported that a number of people ordering seats or seeking information, or attending the theater's "open houses" in mid-August, also mentioned having seen The New York Times advertisements.

Neither the Rep nor the orchestra is offering PSMs, but both want to sell seats for their 2002-03 seasons, and they were able to expand their marketing at minimal cost. The Fox also escaped any unfortunate typographical errors.
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Title Annotation:advertising and broadcasting
Author:Pollack, Joe
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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