The PR bonanza named Bombshell has been showering The Actors Fund in glorious news coverage and giddy Tweets since last December when it was announced that The Actors Fund would stage a major fundraiser: a one-night-only concert staging of Bombshell, the make-believe musical about Marilyn Monroe, that was the center of the NBC musical drama, SMASH.
The Actors Fund is a 133-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to providing human services to all entertainment professionals in all disciplines across the country. The Fund provides emergency grants for everything from food to medical bills and also supports nursing and retirement homes.
It’s a worthy organization. More artists and technicians in the entertainment industry live paycheck-to-paycheck than from poolside-to-penthouse.
Since the announcement, thousands of Broadway theater enthusiasts (myself included), looked forward to the chance to buy tickets. Prices ranged from $120 to $1,000. (Needless to say, most of us were planning to bring opera glasses.)
To cover the production costs, The Actors Fund launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise $50,000. Kicking in gave donors a leg up on ticket sales. Make a donation and you got a pre-sale code that allowed you to buy two tickets a day ahead of the general public.
Eager to get an edge, 1,485 people (myself included) donated. The campaign raised $318,120.
At 11 a.m. on April 13, pre-sale codes in hand, we clicked on “Buy Tickets”, typed in our codes, and many of us were told, “Your presale code is invalid.” At 11:04, I was locked out of the site completely. At 11:06 I sent an email to The Actors Fund explaining my code was apparently invalid.
Turns out the codes for many people were “invalid.”
Twitter came alive with tweeters (myself included) crying foul. Some even using the other “F” word: fraud.
The show sold out in an hour. The raging tweets continued for hours, with never a peep out of The Actors Fund, Ticketmaster, or Kickstarter.
At 8:44 p.m. I got a reply from The Actors Fund to my email:
We apologize for any inconvenience. There were issues with the Ticketmaster site due to the overwhelming response. Again, with thanks for your support and with our apologies.
At 10:57 p.m., they Tweeted that I should see their “refund offer to generous Kickstarters.”
What’s interesting—and mind boggling—about the offer to refund the Kickstarter donations is that it never mentions the invalid pre-sale codes. It was a non-apology. It was a non-acknowledgement of screwing up.
As I explained to the gentleman from The Actors Fund who apologized for “any inconvenience,” people don’t feel inconvenienced. They feel played.
From the moment this event was announced, we all knew there would be a finite number of tickets for an infinite number of buyers. We all knew the show would sell out quickly. That’s part of the fun of the game.
What The Actors Fund should have known from the moment it received $318,120 in pledges ($200,000 of it reportedly in the first 18 hours), is that Ticketmaster would be hit hard at 11 a.m. on the 13th. The Fund should have gone to Ticketmaster and said, “We’re expecting at least 1,500 people at exactly 11 a.m. Can you handle this?”
Ticketmaster has sold far more tickets to far larger venues than the 1,621-seat Minskoff Theatre. Ticketmaster is the culprit for the technical breakdown, but The Actors Fund owns the bad PR. A few no-brainer rules were broken here:
- Don’t sit silent for hours while your brand is in crisis.
- Don’t pretend the bad stuff isn’t happening.
- Own your mistakes.
- Don’t offer an apology that doesn’t acknowledge your mistake.
I did not request a refund of my small donation, but many did. The comments on The Actors Fund Kickstarter page are overwhelmingly negative. Phrases like “deeply disappointed,” “terrible job,” and “formal complaint” certainly are not what they wanted for a one-of-a-kind event meant to support a worthy charity.
In truth, the mainstream media coverage of the sold-out show is fine. It glosses over the faulty pre-sale codes and focuses on the good news, perhaps as it should. But PR is more than media coverage. It’s Public Relations. And The Actors Fund has lost not only donations but also a degree of credibility with many in their natural donor base, the theater-going public.