Customizing the Pre-Show: ‘Before the Movie’ brings personal touch and local flavor to cinema advertising

Cinemas Features

“We have been growing,” states Corey Tocchini, president and chief executive officer of Fairfield, Calif.-based "Before the Movie." So much, in fact, that Inc. magazine recognizes Tocchini and his team as running one of America’s fastest-growing privately held companies. “And that isn’t by dollars, but percentage of growth.” Before the Movie, which grew out of Corey’s creation of screen ads for his father Daniel’s Santa Rosa Entertainment chain of cinemas, currently serves 90 locations with more than 700 screens across 30 states.

“Our team works with first-run theatres, some art houses and discount theatres. We have luxury and dine-in venues. We also have drive-ins,” he enthuses. “I developed an intermission show because most drive-ins still have double features. Of course, we recreated dancing hot dogs and made them all cool and retro. It’s really amazing to have Shankweiler’s, the longest-running and continuously operating drive-in theatre in the United States, with us, and most of the UDITOA [United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association] members.”

Tocchini is equally enthusiastic about all of his clients. “We deal with independent theatre owners, we share their independent spirit and entrepreneurship. We challenge the people who work for us and we do grow close together, we do become a family… We are one size fits all.”

Before the Movie is the only national company that produces custom pre-shows for the individual theatre owner, he elaborates. “Our niche–and I knew going in that we are not Screenvision and not NCM, and we are not trying to be them–is our focus on local. Even though our show does include national advertising, the bulk is dedicated to local advertising, content and theatre-specific messages.” As for the reason, “Local ads really help bond each theatre to its individual community. We believe that when you go to the local theatre and you see the ice-cream shop down the street or a favorite local restaurant up on the screen, you identify with that.”

“It’s a whole show that includes cool stuff like trivia and behind-the-scenes interviews. We have a deal with Morgan Spurlock’s company Cinelan,” Tocchini notes, referring to independently produced short films that theatres may choose to show. “It separates our offerings a bit in that it is not just a wall-to-wall national advertising show. National is the shortest part of the program.” And theatre-specific announcements, ranging from gift cards and “Friday Night Late Show” reminders to invitations to visit the concession stand, are part of the mix as well–in full-motion HD, with great sound and free of production charges to the exhibitor.

“With about $300,000 invested into computer equipment and software, we have full-scale production capabilities” available to exhibitors and advertisers, Tocchini adds. “My team doesn’t want for anything back there. Every cent we make we put back into the business. And it has paid off.”

It is paying off for his theatre owners as well. “We pay our exhibitors twice monthly, which is great for cash flow… We have an open-book policy, as we are in this business together. My job is to go out and sell ads, produce those ads, bill and collect on them, and to send you the show and payments.” For their end of the bargain, “theatre owners are really good at moving people through their theatres, turning over auditoriums and selling concessions, getting the place cleaned up nicely for the next show.”

What about selling ads for the pre-show? “Some exhibitors are very active and they send us leads,” Tocchini responds, “others are more hands-off. We do all the selling.” In doing so, Before the Movie counts on the latest and greatest software and tools from the likes of Sales Force, IContact and RingCentral. “When we take over a market, we immediately build a database of all the local businesses and enroll them in our newsletter, which is really cool and has an opt-out rate of less than one percent,” Tocchini assures. “We keep them in tune to the theatre business, constantly reaching out either electronically or by phone. Although we do go into certain markets to shake hands, kiss babies and sell ads, Before the Movie is mostly a green company. We don’t burn a lot of jet fuel in doing our job. We deploy other ways of doing it and still have the highest percentage of local advertising.”

“Our people are really, really good,” Tocchini gives credit. “That’s why things run smoothly. We are nimble and, again, that flexibility allows us to customize the experience. My philosophy has always been: people, process, product. If you get really good people and you have really good processes in place, you can do almost anything.” Having a “killer product,” as he summarizes Before the Movie’s approach to cinema advertising, does not hurt either. “Our pre-show is linear with a beginning, middle and end. Nobody is left behind. I can put everybody in there. We have options for all budgets and every town is priced differently based on the demographics. People who pay less money are happy to be ten minutes out, and the car dealership that wants to be closer to the end of the local segment understands that this is a premium placement.”

One final key point of differentiation that Corey Tocchini puts a premium on himself is customer service. “We are available seven days a week and touch base with each one of our locations each week. Believe it or not, we call management to see how they are doing and to make sure they have all they need.”

Putting the customer back in customization.