Black firm throws weight behind Alicia Keys' 'Stick Fly'

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Broadway, New York’s great white way, is getting a splash of color this season. A record number of shows by African-American playwrights and directors, all featuring a multi-cultural cast of actors, are slated to open between early October and well into next year. Among them is a new production called Stick Fly, which is expected to draw black audiences both locally and nationally.

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Walker International Communications Group has been contracted to help the Alicia Keys backed production succeed when it makes its debut in December. Snagging a high profile client like Stick Fly is no easy task for a boutique multicultural marketing firm because giants Serino Coyne, Spotco and Eliran Murphy Group reign supreme on Broadway. For the big three, a name is enough to dominate the multi-million dollar industry. But it takes much more than that for a niche firm to get a foot in the door.

“It’s all about networking,” said Donna Walker-Kuhne, president of Walker Communications Group. “Developing relationships and maintaining those connections helps you, as a niche firm, generate clients.”

This is exactly what helped Walker Communications Group seize other big name clients over the years such as Hairspray and Bring in Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk. And Stick Fly was no different.

“I have worked with Donna’s company numerous times before and they do a fine job so why change,” said Nelle Nugent, lead producer of Stick Fly.

Walker-Kuhne, who started her at-home business with a modest $5000 investment in a company website, forged a lasting relationship with Nugent while working on projects produced by the independent Broadway producer, including American Buffalo, Time Stand Still and The Leguizamo Show.

Like the handful of boutique firms on Broadway that target audiences of color, Walker Communication Group’s staff is small and its income pales in comparison to bigger firms. With a staff of seven, Walker-Kuhne estimates her annual earnings amount to well over six figures. This is not bad for a small company, but a paltry figure compared to the multi-millions generated by a larger Serino Coyne that employs a much larger staff.

Limited workforce size and minor revenues are not the only thing Walker Communications Group and others like it have to worry about. The big three enjoy the lion’s share of productions and African-American shows on Broadway are still slim pickings. But things are looking up.

More black shows are available now than in the past and this is fueling interest in Broadway among African-Americans.

Starting in 1999, interest in Broadway among blacks started increasing significantly. Attendance jumped from 2.4 in percent in 1999 to its highest at 6.7 percent at the end of the 2007 season. Interest dropped dramatically by the end of 2009 down to 2.4 percent but this came at a time when blacks were one of the most affected groups during the recession.

With ticket prices averaging $85 during the most recent season, this puts to bed the myth that blacks cannot afford to go to Broadway.

“People have money to buy what they want,” said Walker-Kuhne. ” It’s all about the product and how it is engaging to the community.”

And what about competition?

“There’s so little people of color in the industry and too few opportunities,” said Walker-Kuhne.

Nugent agrees. Right now, she is employing the services of about five boutique firms alongside the Walker Group to help Stick Fly reach a broad audience.

“No one place can be an expert in everything,” said Nugent. “I choose the smaller firms based on how they react to the script and what they can bring to the table.”

Although smaller firms continue to make strides, one has yet to manage the entire marketing budget of a Broadway show. In fact, the boutique firms on the Stick Fly account are all overseen by the larger entertainment marketing firm AKA Promotions. This is a commonplace practice on Broadway that has occurred since the very beginning.

On what is ahead?

Walker-Kuhne plans to add one more employee and bring on more consultants to her staff over the next year.

“I hope to continue to see our stories and see our people work on Broadway,” said Walker-Kuhne.

Ultimately, more diversity on Broadway will translate into increased revenues for Walker Communications Group.