Before an audience enters the theatre, walking under the bright bulbs of the marquee that hangs above each Broadway house, an entire offstage ecosystem has been at work. For many theatre fans, a production’s visual identity is known and celebrated before they even buy tickets, almost functioning as the synopsis before the story.
That is due, in large part, to creative direction on Broadway. Marketing and branding agencies like SpotCo work to not just advertise a show but also give it a voice beyond the stage, inviting an audience to a production and engaging them long after. It’s a side of the Broadway industry that doesn’t take a bow after a performance but, in a competitive entertainment landscape, is vital to the life of a show.
Playbill caught up with SpotCo Creative Director Callie Goff to get an inside look at the work that goes into creative directing for a production, advertising for Broadway, and more.
Can you explain what it means to creative direct for Broadway?
At SpotCo, we work across all mediums—TV, print, outdoor advertising—it’s my job to work on shows to develop creative campaigns. We develop both the art and the tone of voice at the beginning of a show’s life, what the advertising actually looks like out in the world, and keep evolving that throughout a show’s run. As a creative director, I work with all the different editors, digital team, writers, etc. to make sure that each show has a distinct brand and voice.
When you work on a creative direction for a show, what is the beginning of the process?
A lot of times we’ll be involved from very early on, from when a show is in the process of doing readings and development, maybe an out of town tryout. And of course we meet with the producers and the creative teams to hear about what they are envisioning for a show, and why they are bringing the show to Broadway and what it means for them and what they are hoping to it brings to the industry. That really helps us develop what it looks like: the experience people will have in the theatre and how we can start conveying that in the advertising.
Among all of those conversations and materials, is there anything in particular that helps to unlock the creative process?
I think it is that “why now.” Why are you bringing it to Broadway and why do you think it will work. And also, what is the experience people are going to have. For Beetlejuice, when the show was out of town in it its early development, we were working on art. When you think of Beetlejuice [you think of] stripes. We made this very bold, graphic, clean design and then we met with Alex Timbers, William Ivey Long, David Korins, and they showed us their vision for the show. It tapped into Tim Burton’s DIY homemade type of aesthetic, so then the art couldn’t have this pristine graphic look. It had to evoke that same, almost intentionally imperfect quality to it. What is inspiring for the creative team is the same thing we can use to inform the advertising.
From there, how do you translate that inspiration into artwork?
I feel like every show is different, and we want to make sure we come off as different in the market place So we work really hard to make the brands distinct. But we typically start with the key art and build out from there. That becomes the calling card for the brand.
But that is not enough. Because it has to go everywhere. We have to think, “What else works for this? What other icons, what other colors, etc. work for this show?” We come up with a visual and copy vocabulary, a toolbox that, beyond the fonts and colors, encompasses the brand. We can give that to the different teams and say, “Use this but make it work for whatever medium you are doing. It has the spirit and essence of the brand."
While you can develop artwork, as artists, when do you feel like you have solidified the foundation for a production’s visual identity?
Technically the key art is the key. Our title treatment is the title treatment. Once that is out in the world and on the front of house, that is the brand essence. But one of the things that is nice about working on Broadway is that it can evolve. It doesn’t have to stay locked.
For instance, with the Mean Girls key art (which originally began as just an image of the Plastics), we knew that when we [added] those words and graphics around them, these don’t have to be the words forever. We can change these words.
Is there any advice you would give to someone who was interested in working on Broadway beyond the stage?
The advice I always give people is: Keep an open mind. I studied writing and English in college. I got into social media management because I was desperate to work at SpotCo and to work in this industry. Social media, of course has grown so much over the past eight years. I was a smaller division and I was developing the creative content for the pages. Through doing that, I got to work with all the creatives at SpotCo and my mentor and one of the founders of SpotCo, Tom Greenwald, noticed my work on the social pages. And when an opportunity opened up, I shifted over to the writing team. From there, I worked on developing voice, developing creative campaigns, and moved up to creative director.
I had my eye on the goal, which was Broadway, but I was open to different kinds of jobs and experiences. There are so many opportunities in this industry to be creative that are not within the four walls of the theatre. If you have ambitions of doing something creative on Broadway, keep an open mind and do some research about what is happening to support shows outside of the theatre.
Take an exclusive look inside the creative processes for several of SpotCo's productions.