Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hang up Now! Kelly Miller Phone Room Shocker - Telemarketers Spooked by Violent Threats - Sponsoring Jaycees Cancel Shows

Nasty threats bordering on gun violence rocked and shocked the Hugo-based telemarketing lines of Kelly Miller Circus pitching tickets for its date in South Russell, Ohio to local businesses.  Story reported by Patrick Cooley on Cleveland.Com.  

But when questioned about the names of those called, the telephone solicitors could not recall.  Nor could an investigation by the Chagrin Falls Police Department yield any leads.

How very Strange.

It simply does not make sense for the telemarketers not to know whom they were calling--- unless they were using automatic mass dialing systems, in which case they must have been dialing beyond local retail shops, into homes.

Why the threats?  Were they from people who simply did not wish to be bothered by yet another solicitation?  I can’t imagine a locally based business reacting in so reckless a manner.

Or, might the threats have come from somebody connected to an animal-rights group?  In fact, Cooley's story noted that animal rights advocate Linda Hernandez of Solon, OH,  had launched a petition on to ban Kelly Miller from South Russell.  

And so the Jaycees, their nerves understandably rattled, canceled the date.  When I contacted Kelly Miller general manger James Royal about the matter, he replied that the story and angle “was from a sponsor who acted in haste, and didn't report the facts.”

The story, in fact, had caught my attention, not because of the animal angle, but because I had nearly forgotten that there are still phone rooms in operation.  Yes, naive of me.  And so I e-mailed Jim, sharing with him my view that telephone sales may be key to how the show continues to stay on the road despite puzzling evidence from a variety of sources suggesting that attendance is lackluster.   

At the time, Jim was on his way to participate in the World Circus Summit in MA, but promised to respond in greater detail.  And he did.  Here, in his own words:

“Regarding telemarketing, the era of big promotions is long gone.  There was a time when day and night rooms could keep a show on the road, but not anymore.  We use a very small operation that sells discounted children’s tickets to businesses.  A large portion of our dates are repeats, so the local companies know this is a good way to help the local sponsor and buy reduced price tickets.  These tickets are mostly used by the companies, although some are returned to the sponsors. If we were to rely on phone sales as the major source of income, the show would still be sitting in Hugo.  It is just another tool in marketing mix”

Royal would only describe business this season as "not terrible, not great."

“Still sitting in Hugo.”  Okay, so there is still the nagging issue of all those empty chairs, and the tempting rationale to follow the phones.  I am no stranger to the power of advance “boiler room” operations to keep circuses solvent even when the "customers" don't come.

Boiler Rooms from Hell, there was a day, and I was there ...     
When I was working as press agent for Sid Kellner’s James Bros Circus in 1969,  upon my entering St. Louis, I received word from the front office to refrain from any and all publicity efforts.  No trying to get performers on TV or radio. DON’T.  No ads; at least, keep them to the smallest size with very few placements.

Why?  Seems the phone room had so outlandishly oversold tickets, they feared  that even should a fraction of those tickets end up in the hands of people wishing to see the circus, the building might overflow quickly, and the sham promotion would be exposed.

Ah yes, back then, boiler rooms ran rampant through the notorious 1970s, in many ways the worst decade in American circus history.

Kelly Miller phones rooms, a far cry?  I suppose they are, but I have a feeling they are more critical to John Ringling North II’s sentimental journey than James Royal would have us believe.

END RINGERS: In my correspondence with Jim, I also asked him, in two different e-mails, two questions.  1.  Whatever happened to ringmaster John Moss. 2.  Does he see the Ringling elephant retirement issue eventually effecting his own show in the future.

He declined to comment on either.

Finally, for a good tickle.  Among 100 comments left at the end of the Cleveland.Com story, there was this, which I offer with no implied connection to any particular party.

"Progressives go to Mars for candy bars; conservatives go to Jupiter to get stupider."

Well, South Russell, wherever you are or go, you do have a refreshing sense of humor.

"When grift went out, the phones came in"

   -- Arthur Concello, as quoted in my book Inside the Changing Circus

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