Originally created 08/16/98

Concert publicity improved



In Augusta, like many other markets, the amount of publicity and advertising an event generates is often reflected in ticket sales.

The operators of the Civic Center say they understand that, and they're making an effort to turn around Augusta's long record of sparsely attended or canceled shows.

Leisure Management International, the private firm that operates the municipal Civic Center complex, is now offering in-house advertising and marketing to promoters and event brokers using the facilities.

"We can take care of it for them. Since it's our market, we have a better idea of what's going on than somebody in, say Houston, does," said Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center General Manager Pat Cumiskey.

Getting the word out about events is essential, he said.

"It's absolutely critical," Mr. Cumiskey said. "If people don't know about a show, you ain't gonna sell any tickets."

Take the recent Third Eye Blind concert at Fort Gordon, for example.

More than 5,000 tickets were sold in advance, an unusual feat in Augusta of late, where patrons generally wait until the last minute to buy tickets for events.

Balmy weather, an abundance of college students home for the summer, and relatively cheap $15 tickets for three hot acts combined for a successful First Annual Summer Music Festival at Fort Gordon's Barton Field.

"It was a perfect combination of (musical) groups, along with other factors," said Steve Walpert, Fort Gordon's music and theater director.

He said walk-up ticket sales to the Summer Music Festival featuring Third Eye Blind, Our Lady Peace and Eve 6, were approximately 20 percent.

By comparison, walk-up ticket sales at the civic center accounted for 30 percent to 40 percent of all ticket sales for World Championship Wrestling in April and 33 percent of sales for the Harlem Globetrotters in March, both of which were well promoted and attended events.

But the success of the Fort Gordon concert, which had a paid attendance of 9,100 according to Mr. Walpert, also had something to do with heavy promotion on television, radio, print, flyers and outdoor advertising. "We covered all our bases," he said.

Likewise, at the Civic Center and Bell Auditorium, an event's success can hinge on the amount of publicity it has received via promotion and advertising.

"If a show is not advertised, that's your first problem there," said Christine Loftin, the civic center's director of sales and marketing.

Without advertising, an event may be destined to fail, she said.

"It's been a big problem. I don't think all the promoters understand it," said Mr. Cumiskey. "It's all in the way you market."

Particularly troublesome are rap and other urban music shows, Ms. Loftin said.

For example, M.C. Hammer's show at the Bell Auditorium last Labor Day bombed, drawing 501 people, or 19 percent of the venue's capacity.

"I don't think they advertised it very much, and I should know, I'm in the business," said Mrs. Loftin.

Also, a poorly promoted gangsta rap show Oct. 4, 1997, featuring Ice Cube sold only 350 tickets, prompting the promoter to cancel the day of the show.

LMI's advertising budgets for events have ranged from $1,000 to $18,000, Mrs. Loftin said.

Fort Gordon's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program spent non-appropriated funds -- not taxpayer dollars -- promoting Third Eye Blind locally and as far away as Charleston, S.C., but Mr. Walpert would not reveal the dollar amount.

"That's something I don't want to publicize. It's a business secret. There are some secrets we don't want to give away," he said. "Some things our competitors don't have the right to know."

They also lined up some beneficial promotion deals.

"We did some media buys, but we also had three big media sponsorships," said Tracy Swain, marketing director for Fort Gordon's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs. In return for the sponsorships, the media outlets gave free advertising spots.

"The radio stations were so excited they just ran with it," she said.

With the good showing at the Summer Music Festival, perhaps Augusta is warming up to live entertainment again.

"I think it's starting to look up," said Mr. Cumiskey.

LMI officials point to the B.B. King Blues Festival, booked Sept. 17 at the Civic Center, as an indicator. With an initial round of advertising and press releases pushing it, the concert sold 1,200 tickets since going on sale Aug. 7.

But the Hitmen of Comedy tour, featuring comedians D.C. Curry and Arnez J., scheduled Sept. 12 at the Bell Auditorium has had very little advertising so far and had sold 12 tickets in the same amount of time as the blues festival.

"I don't know what they're counting on," said Mr. Cumiskey.

Despite the services LMI offers and their desire to present well-attended events, Mrs. Loftin said "ultimately, the advertising is up to the promoter."