From ‘Rent’ to ‘Hamilton,’ SpotCo Founder on Broadway Marketing Campaigns

Drew Hodges
Weston Wells for Variety

Back in 1996, Drew Hodges and the New York-based company he founded, SpotCo, were the brash upstarts in the insular world of Broadway marketing. Twenty years later, he has put together a book of SpotCo’s collected work, “On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution” (due in April from Rizzoli), looking back on a run that stretches from the opening of “Rent” to Broadway’s current ultrahot ticket, “Hamilton.”

You talk a lot in the book about what you call a show’s unique “event.”

The event can be really simple. The event can be Hugh Jackman. The event can be circus added to “Pippin.” It’s not a logline. It’s a little bit the elevator pitch, multiplied by word-of-mouth. It’s the reason I can genuinely transfer excitement to you.

How is selling a show now different from 20 years ago?

On “Rent,” you could make a poster, put it in the subway, and that was your brand. You could make a cool ad and then realize later what your message was — you could instinctively find your way into it. Whereas now, there are so many elements to be made as early as you can — print, online, television, broadcast, transit, sponsorship, anything. You have to be clear from the start what the story you’re telling is so that all those pieces can line up.

Selling “Hamilton” — easiest job in the world?

From the beginning, we thought “Hamilton” was so wide that the kinds of people who can love it are truly ages 7-70. So there was a real goal not to portray the show as this incredibly cutting-edge young thing, even though it is, in many ways. We wanted it to feel broader than that, and we very intentionally made that graphic to be kind of classic. I love that the metallic gold is appropriate for both 1776 and for Missy Elliott.

Why is defining the event so important? 

It sounds like an esoteric idea, but the reality is, the more we did it, the more we realized that even when you don’t do it, it happens anyway. If you don’t control it, people’s idea of the event will more often than not default to something you wish it hadn’t.

What’s the goal of a good Broadway poster?

You’re making an emotional promise. You’re not telling people what’s going to happen in the show; you’re telling people how it will feel to go. If an ad campaign sets up what the show is going to feel like, and then when you go, you get that.