March 05, 2015
The WhatsOnStage Awards are one of the most coveted prizes on the entertainment calendar. With nominees and winners voted for entirely by the viewing public, to even be acknowledged shows that your work on the West End stage has been truly admired. We caught up with WhatsOnStage.com's awards producer Laura Norman, to find out the process behind putting on one of London's most star-studded annual entertainment events!
Read on to find out all there is to know from how long it takes to work out the seating plan to who knows the winners before they're announced!
Mel Giedroyc performs the show's opening number. © Peter Gibbons
How did you get into your current position at WhatsOnStage?
I’ve been with WhatsOnStage for six years now and started as a Club and Content Manager – working my way up to my current role. Working in a small team means you get to experience all the elements of a business and the more responsibility you’re able to take on, the more you’re likely to get. Years of working behind the scenes at the Awards allowed me to understand how all the pieces fitted in place and subsequently take on a role that helps to pull all of these elements together.
What exactly is your role in regards to organising the awards?
The Awards season has two events, an invitation-only industry Launch Party in December - where nominations are announced - and a public ticketed Concert at the Prince of Wales Theatre. My role is to manage the Launch Party – booking the venue, inviting the guests, and liaising with our external PR team to ensure suitable coverage for the event. I’m the main point of contact for all external suppliers as well, ensuring that photoboards and other print products are produced on time and at the best possible cost. I manage the budget so I’m always looking for cost-effective solutions.
For the Concert we have an external producer who runs everything that happens on stage. My role for the Concert is to ensure that all nominees and winners are invited, trophies are ordered and all the people that need to be there on the night – photographers, film teams, PRs and such are fully briefed and know how the night will run. I also work directly with the theatre management to work out how to run the most efficient arrivals on the night and with publicists of big name stars to make their attendance as smooth as possible.
I am also in charge of sponsorship both corporate and individual, working with sponsors to ensure they receive all their benefits and working to get new sponsors.
Beverley Knight (Memphis the Musical - Best Actress in a Musical nominee), Eva Noblezada (Miss Saigon - Best Actress in a Musical winner) © Peter Gibbons
When do you start planning the awards?
We should work on them year round but it all kicks up a gear in September. That’s when we start revamping the Awards website to ensure it’s ready for nominations opening in November. The invitation list for the Launch Party is updated throughout the year and we start sending out invitations in early October, whilst November is really busy as we finalise everything for the Launch Party. Following the nominations announcement, we have a hectic December promoting voting and ticket sales, as well as sending out our first wave of invitations to nominees. In January everything kicks up another gear as we follow-up with nominees to ensure their attendance and send out invitations to the other industry professionals and sponsors.
How do you decide on a venue?
We’ve had the Launch Party at Café de Paris for seven years and have a great relationship with the team there. We need a venue that can accommodate 600 people, has audio-visual all set up and is located near enough to the West End to make sure that it’s easy for everyone to attend.
For the Concert, we’ve been at the Prince of Wales for several years now and love it. When picking the Concert venue we have to think about how many seats the venue has, the sight-lines and whether the show will be able to accommodate us!
How do you decide on the guest list and who sits where?
The guest list is tricky! Obviously most important is making sure the nominees in individual categories attend. Following that, we work with show PRs to identify the best representatives from production companies. Our Chief Operating Officer, who has worked in the industry for many years, invites the other important guests but we try to make sure we’ve representatives from across all sectors of the industry. It’s tricky though as we want to be sure to have as many tickets on sale to the public as possible, they’re the voters after all.
Working out the seating plan is a whole day task and it depends on specific requests, making sure various people related to productions sit together, accommodating sponsors and holding off a range of tickets for our producer and the press. Luckily the Prince of Wales has great sight lines so all the seats are pretty great!
Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus - Best Actor in a Play nominee, accepting on behalf of Coriolanus for Best Play Revival), David Tennant - Best Actor in a Play winner) © Peter Gibbons
What happens after the event concludes? (After parties and the few weeks after...any admin, etc.)
After the Concert we have a post-show party at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire Hotel. This usually goes on until midnight. The next day is just as busy as the lead up as we try and make sure that our highlights video and news stories about the show are getting as much traction as possible. We also obviously have to send out lots of thank-you notes and collate all the fantastic coverage for our Awards review document.
What is your approach to marketing the event?
We’re very lucky because we’ve got a huge number of dedicated supporters who have been coming to the show for years and always have a great initial wave of booking. Beyond that we use our own mailing lists, the venues mailing list and run banners across the site. We also usually put posters up around the West End and have tried e-marketing through other ticketing agents before as well. This year we were lucky because many of the nominated shows got behind us and made banners for their foyers encouraging voting which of course was a great boost for us.
How do you integrate social media into your plan?
With a fantastic features editor on the team I rely a lot on him to judge how best to tweet and Facebook about the Awards. He knows not to overload the audience but it’s all about keeping the nominations, the voting and the show in their minds.
It’s also very important for us to have the social media option built into the voting and nominations process. As our Awards are voted for by the public, we really need the voters to help us spread the word and having a one-click Twitter or Facebook option as soon as they’ve finished nominating/voting is fundamental to our policy on making these Awards as inclusive as possible.
This year was especially impressive as a large number of high profile celebrities tweeted their support for their favourite nominees, including: Nick Jonas, James Corden, Billie Piper, David Walliams and Russell Crowe. All this resulted in a record breaking Twitter exposure of 210 million - proving just how popular word of mouth can be!
What’s the best memory you have of working on the awards?
There are so many to choose from! Best moments are catching Alfie Boe sing 'Bring Him Home' in a finale one year and of course all the confetti in the 2013 Awards finale. I’ve also had the chance to meet quite a lot of famous people which isn’t so bad either – Jude Law and Daniel Radcliffe are both really rather nice.
Hosts Steve Furst and Mel Giedroyc, Cameron Mackintosh and Claude-Michel Schonberg (Producer and Composer for Miss Saigon - Best Musical Revival and Best West End Show) © Peter Gibbons
Any worrying moments?
A fair few… This year we had a winner unable to attend at the last minute, which is always a bit worrying! The show must go on (as they say) and something always happens to save the day.
Do you know what or who has won before the announcement?
A small number of us in the office do – we have to in order to get the Awards engraved and all the information together for the presentation on the night. We try and keep this information as close to our chests as possible though. It’s much more rewarding on the night if fewer people know the outcome. It just keeps the excitement that much higher.
What is your favourite production you have ever seen? Why?
Another tough one… I’m not sure I have an answer for that. One of my favourite productions was The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic. I just found it really touching and beautifully performed. I don’t often give a standing ovation but that was one where I was on my feet at once. Other favourites were The James Plays at the National and a show I saw on the Edinburgh fringe last year Before Us by Stuart Bowden.
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By Henry Fosdike