National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB)
Overview: In the Summer of 2009, The Herald Group was retained by the National Association of Ticketbrokers (NATB). As a small entity initially created for networking purposes, with an all volunteer staff and limited resources, NATB faced an uphill battle riddled with challenges as they sought to both mitigate negative legislation being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Bill Pascrell (NJ-8th) targeting ticket brokers and the secondary market as well as organize opposition to the pending merger of Ticketmaster/Live Nation being considered by the Department of Justice. At the time, apparent allies to the broker industry such as StubHub/Ebay stayed publicly neutral on these issues, leaving the NATB as a relatively inexperienced organization to fight these issues unilaterally without a base of champions. The Herald Group was tasked with developing a public affairs and strategic communications campaign that sought to build a base of support for NATB’s positions on these issues, while additionally helping transform the perceptions about the secondary market and more specifically distinguishing NATB members as good faith and honest participants in this process.
Strategies and Tactics: The campaign The Herald Group implemented rested on three main tenets. First, engage and mitigate the negative legislation introduced by Rep. Pascrell (The BOSS Act). Utilizing local NATB Members from both Rep. Pascrell’s district and replicating the same process with the legislation’s co-sponsors districts, The Herald Group implemented a strategic communications campaign that targeted the legislators’ local media markets to build actual constituent pressure and cede the narrative the legislation was actually harming small business in the legislators’ home districts during a downward economy. A blend of op-eds, letters to the editor, local blog placement and mainstream earned media stories were utilized in addition to several earned media events in the respective legislators’ districts. Finally, national and “inside the beltway” media were engaged on the legislation from a targeted perspective to provide “air cover” to the government affairs professionals interfacing with the legislators and their staff.
The second tenet of the campaign focused on opposition to the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger. At the time, there was opposition from different pockets of influencers at random intervals; however there was no coordinated coalition or organization dedicated to voicing the concerns of brokers and other members of the public. As a result, The Herald Group recruited and developed a bench of champions and supporters and organized a coalition on behalf of the NATB that brought together brokers, consumer groups, anti-trust academics and other interested parties to bring one clear voice to the debate. While formed late in the merger process and with a shoestring budget, The Herald Group brought the coalition together under the banner of Ticketdisaster.org (now inactive) and utilized earned media, online communications, limited paid media, and on-the-ground events.
The third and final tenet of our engagement was to help educate influencers, policymakers and the public at large on the secondary market/brokers and to distinguish NATB members as small business owners operating with a strict professional code of conduct and leaders in the secondary market to dispel negative perceptions. The Herald Group revamped the NATB’s code of ethics to include a policy change that made members pledge to disclose if inventory being sold to consumers was on speculation or actual inventory on hand, conducted background and on-the-record briefings with national media such as: Time Magazine, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and put a human face on the broker industry. These same tactics were replicated with local and state-based media positioning NATB as a thought leader surrounding news stories of sold out concert problems, ticket demand and small businesses generally. Additionally, a strategic communications campaign was created to highlight positive actions brokers were taking in their local communities via “NATB Gives Back,”, whereby local broker businesses would donate a portion of tickets annually to their local Ronald McDonald House and other charities.
Results: With a limited budget and an overwhelmingly negative public perception, NATB was able to educate key policymakers, targeted media and other thought leaders on the value of the secondary market and reputable brokers in general. Rep. Pascrell’s BOSS Act eventually subsided and gained no traction in Congress. In fact, through these public affairs efforts, Rep. Pascrell transitioned from attacking brokers and the secondary marketplace to appearing several months later at a press conference in Washington as well as an earned media event with a local NATB member in his District. The Congressman began publicly making the distinction between good faith secondary market business owners and non-NATB members who could engage in bad business practices. Added to this, the NATB has become a stronger voice and a thought leader in the mainstream media on stories involving the ticketing process.
Finally, while the Ticketmaster/LiveNation merger did indeed proceed with DOJ approval, the NATB’s organization of a coalition to oppose the merger provided a unified voice to the debate and was the first action of this kind that received widespread media attention directly resulting in the Department of Justice requesting three different meetings with the collation. Interestingly enough, now that StubHub/Ebay have become engaged on the issue of paperless tickets, they have replicated this playbook directly by creating the FanFreedomProject and have recruited (and provided funding/resources) the same consumer advocates utilized as a vehicle for NATB during the fight over the merger.