Over the pond in London, the theatre community is a buzz about one thing. Not who will win the Olivier Awards or how the Olympics will affect audience attendance? No, the theatre community is obsessing over Twitter, in fact just one particular account called @WestEndProducer. If you are living on another planet (or in layman’s terms – not into theatre) you might be wondering what all the fuss about, though more than likely, you’re already an avid follower of the unknown theatre impresario who uncannily resembles a particular London producer with a knighthood and a Scottish surname. The spoof profile has had the industry sniggering into their smart phones and over their computers for some time now with his unforgiving tweets about fellow industry figures and celebrities, obsession with Dom Perignon and advice to naive young actors. He’s even spawned his own hashtag #dear (anyone who’s met Cameron in person will admit this is quite inspired) and recently launched his own version of a reality TV talent competition with #SearchForATwitterStar – where fans are invited to upload an audition piece to YouTube. Spoof profiles on Twitter like @MrsStephenFry, @DianaInHeaven or @Lord_Voldemort7 have been incredibly popular on Twitter and have spawned many celebrity spin-offs, with varying degrees of success and Theatreland is no exception with @AuditionPianist, @WestEndAgent, @WestEndComposer and even the notorious @LloydWebbersCat who famously deleted the Lord’s Love Never Dies score gets a look in too.
The Guardian picked up the eponymous alter-ego back in November 2011, with many people initially believing it was the man himself behind the profile, Cameron Mackintosh flatly denying it, saying “Not only is impersonation the highest form of flattery, but the fact that someone thinks I am technically savvy enough to tweet (dear) is a big compliment!”. I was lucky enough to be one of the few to begin following the infamous profile early on when he was actually known under a more obvious Twitter handle, until the real producer’s offices stepped in and forced him to launch as the more user friendly username he has today which has over 12,000 followers and counting. He continues to ruffle feathers and provide laugh with tweets this week, like the ones below:
“Kerry Katona called. She’s desperate to be in the Les Mis film. I’ve offered her the role of ‘man in beard’ #dear”
“Night night. Phantom eyemask on. Dreaming of Chris Martin from Coldplay playing the first vegetarian Bill Sykes, dear”
There was even an online campaign to get him shortlisted as ‘Theatre Event of the Year’ at the WhatsOnStage Awards this year but sadly missed out on the final selection to more sober events like David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s Shakespearean reunion in Much Ado and the 25th anniversary of a little know musical called Phantom. Still, it’s impressive by any standards. A Twitter profile that gets people talking is something we all hope for and quite envious of, as it’s a notoriously hard social media platform to penetrate.
The Producer continues to tweet live at every industry awards do, opening night and event and I get asked if I know who’s behind the camp producer who thinks “Plays are a bit too long” (as if I would say if I did anyway!) On a more serious note, as marketers in the industry we can learn a lot from him:
• It is possible to engage an entire community on Twitter if you position yourself correctly and have the right message and a voice worth listening to that captures the public mood.
• It takes commitment and time to craft content which is entertaining and offers value to it’s followers – something which can’t appear overnight or even over a month.
• It takes the idea to go beyond online for a campaign to really take off and filter into the public domain.
My fellow colleagues and I have wondered if it is another theatre marketing manager behind the mysterious profile due to the level of sophistication and regularity. I myself have been accused of being @WestEndProducer at one point (I wish! My profile isn’t half as funny @richardlecocq) but until he decides to retire and dim his lights, we may never know who this person is and I don’t think we ever should. I am waiting for the Broadway equivalent to cross the Atlantic, though for some reason all the funny spoof profiles seem to have a distinctive English sense of wry humour about them. So we will have to wait and see if that happens.
Until then, as @WestEndProducer would say “lets just sit back and enjoy the show, dear.”