Image for Playbill Sheds Light on Adaptation During Pandemic Darkness

Live theater has gone black during the COVID-19 pandemic. Playbill has gone live.

The free keepsake souvenir for plays and musicals has transformed itself into an entertainment hub available online and on YouTube. Instead of printed programs, Playbill is now hosting its own productions and engaging a digital community of theater lovers with photo galleries, quizzes and contests. Its website is now receiving 3 million unique visitors per month.

“A lot of times, it feels like you’re making something out of nothing, because we don’t have opening nights or red carpets or events,” says Playbill photo editor Marc Franklin in an NPR interview.

Playbill’s pivot during the pandemic is an excellent example of entrepreneurial dexterity, literally finding light in the darkness.

Adaptation is the new normal in business. Digitalization helps, but isn’t the answer for every business. For example, restaurants turned sidewalks into seating areas to allow more patrons and justify reopening.

“A lot of times, it feels like you’re making something out of nothing, because we don’t have opening nights or red carpets or events.”

Successful adaptation is to reinterpret your strength in light of economic disruption and changing consumer patterns, some of which may outlast the pandemic. Success stories have included in-home fitness equipment, home delivery of groceries, home décor, telehealth, gardening supplies and online education and entertainment.

Business advisers also have experienced a boon. Their advice on building goodwill and fostering relationships includes:

  • Deepening local connections through contributions to vulnerable people and even other businesses in your community;
  • Creating online opportunities such as offering tutorials of interest to homebound people;
  • Embracing home delivery;
  • Empowering employees to think of breakthrough concepts;
  • Planning for a post-pandemic future.

Planning may be the best strategy for owners of downtown skyscrapers that once housed workers who commuted, but who now work remotely and may never return. All that office space needs to be filled, so the question is who could use it and how after the coronavirus subsides.

For small businesses, strategic planning is even more essential as the Amazons of industry have become more essential and more profitable during the pandemic. This may be the moment to switch from “what do we do well” positioning to “what will people need after the pandemic” thinking. Experience will show what isn’t working, as well as gaps that aren’t being filled in the same or adjacent business sectors. For example, what need is going unfulfilled by the big companies in terms of hands-on repairs, maintenance and service?

Playbill’s example is instructive. The 136-year-old, family-owned business lost 80 percent of its revenue when the 125 venues it serves went dark. The company and its employees realized the audience was left in the dark, too, and Playbill was uniquely positioned by fill the entertainment void. It created an online theater, surrounded by much of the same upscale advertising as appeared in the print edition. It leveraged connections with Broadway stars, staged online benefit concerts, shared a storehouse of photos, generated fresh feature stories and reported on entertainment news.

Your opportunity to pivot may not be as theatrical as Playbill’s. However, Playbill’s adaptation – assessing and leveraging its assets, group brainstorming and staff empowerment – is a script any business could embrace.