Cultivating the Influencers

My company
was retained last summer by Disney Theatrical Productions (DTP) to help develop a community engagement campaign highlighting the diversity impact of the musical The Lion King and, more recently, Aladdin. The fact that DTP has consistently employed more people of color than any other Broadway show and has done so for 20 years with The Lion King, certainly is significant. It’s also important to note that the most prominent actors of color on Broadway are in Disney Theatrical Productions. However, DTP is not content to rest on these laurels and is instead carving out a leadership role in the areas of audience diversity and inclusion on Broadway with this long-term, outreach campaign to the African-American community.

Why does Disney on Broadway care about audience diversity and inclusion? Don’t they have enough money with three hit shows, not counting its parent company’s movies to boot? The company believes that it’s important to proactively build long-term relationships with its diverse audiences. Given the current and still-growing multicultural landscape, DTP also is putting a stake in the ground for the future. But instead of driving this process through ticket sales, DTP is engaged in an awareness campaign driven by outreach to the media, bloggers and cultural influencers.

My team and I have put together a special group of African-American Cultural Influencers—100 people for The Lion King and 100 people for Aladdin—to build and expand awareness of the background and history of the productions; the milestones they’ve achieved, and the opportunities they’ve created. We’ve worked with DTP to cultivate unique programs, beyond the performances, to help forge a connection between the audience and the productions. These events have included talkbacks with the cast, in which they openly share their experiences and thoughts about diversity on Broadway.

I have always believed success in community engagement is primarily driven by the leaders of the communities you are attempting to reach. These are people with a positive reputation and an ever-expanding, broad network of friends and business associates, as well as standing in their faith communities. More often than not, they love to be seen and have a lot to share. Today, it’s also essential that they have a strong social media presence or large network.

Why are all of these qualities important? I believe when you extend an invitation to African-American audiences to engage in authentic and organic exchanges you are saying, “Your experience is important to me,” “This show is being created with you in mind,” or “You are welcome here.” These interactions erase the “Fourth Wall” that is often compounded for African-American audiences by racial, social and economic barriers. The Cultural Influencers thus become the exponential ripple effect that widely opens the theater’s doors, through word-of-mouth, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram.

Of course, another important consideration for engaging in this type of outreach is the bottom line. And I hope other Broadway producers will pay particular attention to this point: An article published online last year by Forbes Magazine’s CommunityVoice judiciously pointed out that multicultural audiences are the wave of the future: “The benefit of properly engaging with multicultural audiences isn’t vague or elusive: With (millennial) black spending power projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, this demographic will be setting and influencing trends in everything from technology and media to politics and pop culture. Paired with the aforementioned renaissance of Afrocentrism, in order to make inroads with this essential target market, brands must have proven commitment and dedication to the multicultural community.”

I am confident that the investment by DTP to develop, expand and sustain awareness of its productions within the African-America community will serve as a model for other Broadway shows. My goal is that the outcome of these endeavors will become the catalyst for other productions and the members of The Broadway League to deepen their commitment to recognize the importance of audience diversity and inclusion, and serve as the roadmap for taking concrete action.