Time To Fire People Who Say ‘Get The Word Out’

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As the audience crisis worsens, arts organizations should seriously consider weeding out administrators who say ‘get the word out.’

Getting the word out is the equivalent of using a typewriter, running off mimeographs or keeping patron data on index cards. It’s a business tool that was once useful, but is now obsolete. Arts administrators who continue to say it – or god forbid do it – are doing serious harm to their organizations.

mimeograph

Back in the mid 20th century, getting the word out was something arts organizations did so people who were waiting for the word could respond. Older arts administrators remember those days fondly and many still believe that getting the word out will solve their audience problems. But it won’t. It can’t. Today there aren’t enough people waiting for the word to make getting it out useful.

If you’re an older arts administrator who says ‘get the word out’ when you’re talking about selling tickets or growing audiences, it’s probably time for you to move on. If you’re a young arts administrator who says ‘get the word out,’ you might want to find the nearest marketing MBA program and sign up for some courses.

If you don’t understand why the phrase is so dangerous, here are three things worth knowing:

It Describes a One-Way Process

The phrase literally describes a process where insiders send information to outsiders. Older arts administrators learned a 20th century promotional approach to marketing that involves informing the public about upcoming events, so they prefer to send the word out and hope it hits enough of the right people.

Arts Organization  >>>  Word  >>>  Customers

Unfortunately, the phrase fails to describe an equally important part of the process, which is engaging with the customers and learning about their needs and desires.

Customers  >>>  Desires  >>>  Arts Organization

Arts Organization  >>>  Word  >>>  Customers

Arts leaders who say ‘get the word out’ are describing only half the market process and, as a result, doing only half the marketing job.

It Describes a Passive Process

Sending out one-way messages and waiting for people to respond is lazy.

“WE’RE DOING THIS WONDERFUL THING NEXT WEEK!!!”

Thunk.

If people aren’t waiting for the word, and don’t really care about the word, and all you’re doing is spraying the word at them, you might as well take your marketing money and throw it out the window.

People who don’t care about the word need to be moved to act. They need to be convinced that buying your product will satisfy their desires. If the word doesn’t motivate people to act by promising them something they need or want, getting it out is a waste of resources.

Look at your most recent marketing content. Does it focus on your customers and promise them something they actually told you they want? Or is it all about you and how wonderful and important you think they should think you are?

It Enables Narcissism

Older arts leaders are deeply invested in the belief that marketing is there to tell the world how wonderful and important they are. Having spent so much time back in the 20th century getting the word out to people who thought they were wonderful and important, they grew accustomed to describing their products in hyper-inflated, self-flattering promotional language, which is what people who were waiting for the word wanted to hear.

Today, people who aren’t waiting for the word don’t give a shit about the flattering things you say about yourself in your marketing content. They care about themselves and how your products will satisfy their needs and desires.

If your marketing isn’t about your customers and how your products will make them happy, and all you’re doing is telling people how wonderful and important you are, you’re just kissing your own ass in public.

Out of touch arts administrators who devote the bulk of their marketing content to kissing their own asses in public – and then complain about not being able to attract new audiences – are a major part of the reason why the arts are enduring such devastating audience declines.

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Here’s a change that any arts organization can make immediately to improve sales: Strike the phrase ‘get the word out’ from your organization’s business lexicon and replace it with ‘motivate customers to buy.’ If you make this one small change in the language you use, your entire communications philosophy will change and your sales will improve dramatically.

Suddenly you’ll realize that all those brochures with your conductor on the cover have nothing to do with motivating customers to buy, and that the ‘word’ you’ve been working so hard to get out is mostly just self-indulgent nonsense.

But when your business language shifts from getting the word out to motivating audiences, you’ll find yourself endeavoring to develop more meaningful connections with your customers so you can better persuade them to participate.

It’s the simplest thing in the world and it doesn’t cost a cent.

And if you still have administrators who refuse to make the change, you should probably encourage them to find another calling. Or you could always give them a cubicle with a mimeograph machine, a typewriter and a set of index cards – and name them your new Director of Getting the Word Out.

 

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If Your Message Strategy Isn’t Written Down, I’ll Bet You Don’t Have One

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Here’s a tip that will guarantee any arts organization a significant increase in sales. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t cost a cent and you can start today:

Write a “strategic messaging statement” every time you set out to develop a marketing piece. Before you engage in any creative discussions, take the time to think through and describe in writing exactly who the piece is talking to, what they want and how your product will satisfy their desires.

Here’s an example:

STRATEGIC MESSAGING STATEMENT

MEDIA: Spring Postcard/Email

TARGET: Fall/winter single-ticket buyers with emphasis on one-off buyers

OBJECTIVE: Reduce churn rate by stimulating return visits among one-off buyers

MESSAGE STRATEGY: Our research into younger one-off buyers revealed a desire to enjoy live music periodically with peers, but they were put off by a perceived lack of connection and a distaste for the formal trappings and presumed superiority of the traditional classical concert experience. Thus, this postcard will be written in a casual, conversational style and will feature images of young people enjoying themselves in the venue bar. The piece will focus on the buyers rather than the institution, and will describe the emotional rewards of enjoying live concerts with friends. Traditional classical music clichés will be strictly avoided.

At first glance it probably seems obvious: “Well, sure, we do this sort of thing all the time.” But I’m willing to bet that’s not true. There’s a big difference between sitting in a conference room with fellow insiders dreaming up creative marketing ideas, and doing the work it takes to research, develop and codify a legitimate persuasive strategy. Here’s how the differences tend to break down:

First, a well crafted strategy requires factual information about the target market’s desires and expectations. A lot of arts organizations don’t do research into what motivates new audiences, however, because they worry that it’s too complicated or expensive, and instead of knowing what motivates audiences, they tend to imagine what motivates audiences based on their own insider’s perspectives. This is why the language of arts marketing is so embarrassingly insular, exclusive and self-congratulatory.

Next, a well crafted strategy describes a motivating relationship between what’s being sold and what the audience wants. In the example above, the marketers learned that their audience wanted to enjoy live music with peers in a relaxed setting that was conducive to socialization, so they were able to craft a message that leveraged those desires in order to motivate the target to buy. If they’d done what arts marketers normally do and put a sweaty conductor swinging a baton on the cover, it wouldn’t have had the same motivating power – because sweaty conductors have nothing to do with what the targets said they were looking for.

And finally, you have to write the strategy down and get it approved by everyone who has a say in the marketing process. The postcard above looks nothing like the materials your boss is accustomed to vetting. If she’s dreaming about sweaty conductors and you’re showing her young people drinking in the lobby, it’ll never fly. But if you do your homework, develop a written strategy and have everyone – including your boss – sign off on it before anyone thinks about copy or design, you’ll stand a far greater chance of breaking the cycle of mindless self-absorption that keeps the arts from appealing to people outside the bubble.

I’m well aware that the sticking point here is research and that most arts organizations believe they don’t have the staff or resources to gather the necessary information, but I don’t buy it. There are all sorts of ways to gather credible market intelligence without having to hire outside firms or employ trained statisticians. I list fourteen of those methods in my book and will share several of them in subsequent posts.

But in the meantime, I recommend creating, writing down and disseminating well-supported message strategies long in advance of any creative marketing discussions. It’s a simple first step away from our industry’s hoary old traditions and toward the development of a disciplined, professional, fiscally responsible approach to strategic marketing. As I said above, It’s easy to do, it doesn’t cost a cent and you can start today.

So why not try it? If you do it right, I guarantee you’ll get better results.

What The Heck Is Aggressive Arts Marketing?

Diane Ragsdale has an interesting post on her Jumper blog this week about uncommitted arts audiences. In it she poses this question:

“…is it really reasonable to expect those lured to our events by aggressive marketing or buzz to be sincerely interested in the arts experience and aware of the rules of the game, so to speak?”

Later in the piece she asks:

“Where are we aggressively luring looky-loos rather than inviting participation?”

[Emphases my own]

At Dictionary.com the definition of ‘aggression’ reads as follows:

The action of a state in violating by force the rights of another state, particularly its territorial rights; an unprovoked offensive, attack, invasion, or the like.

Any offensive action, attack, or procedure; an inroad or encroachment.

The practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general.

Pity the unsuspecting community member minding her own business when militant arts marketers kick in her door, drag her off to the box office and force her to buy tickets. I can certainly understand Diane wondering if this woman’s going to be interested in the event, or whether she’s going to be aware of how to behave. I mean, really, who dresses for the theatre on the odd chance that a SWAT team of nonprofit workers will crash in and haul her off to a show?

As for those looky-loos, I think if they’re looking, they’re fair game, but aggressive luring is a tricky business. We tend to station the marketing team along a perimeter around the theatre and position a guy on the roof who shouts “CELEBRATE” every few minutes. If someone looks, we squeeze the perimeter until they’re forced up to the box office window. If they don’t want to buy, we start screaming “SUBSCRIBE NOW” as loud as we can until they’re lured into submission. It’s effective, but once again, expensive and hard on the old vocal chords.

Arts marketing was a lot easier back when people wanted to come, but times have changed and we have a lot of arts organizations to keep in business. If we have to use aggressive means to get reluctant patrons to come down and cough up some cash, it’s all in the service of art, and that’s a cause worth fighting for.

Speaking of art, we’re launching a new campaign next month: Here’s the header and tag line:

A BREATHLESS, HEART-STOPPING, LIFE-ALTERING EVENT!

You don’t want to miss it. No, really, you don’t want to miss it.

 

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fARTy, tARTan underpARTs

Can we please stop capitalizing the word ‘art’ when it appears inside other words?

Seriously.

This is just about the most fatuous practice in arts marketing, and it goes a long way toward explaining why arts organizations are failing to attract new audiences.

If your organization is doing it, you should stop now and swear never to do it again.

If you’re thinking about doing it, consider this:

  1. You are about the ten millionth marketer to come up with the idea
  2. Any idiot can Google the phrase “words that contain A R T”
  3. It’s got everything to do with you trying to be be cute and clever
  4. Nobody thinks you’re cute, and if you’re doing this, you’re not clever
  5. If you think it’s an attention getter, you’re targeting the wrong audience
  6. It does absolutely nothing to motivate people to buy or give
  7. Marketers who are fully engaged with new audiences wouldn’t do it
  8. Executive leaders who understand professional marketing wouldn’t approve it
  9. The artists your organization represents would think it banal
  10. Your graphic designer might do it, but she is not your strategist

The only reason anyone should ever capitalize the letters A R and T inside other words is if their market research has revealed a tendency among less avid patrons to be motivated by graphics that contain artsy wordplay. I’ve been doing market research for thirty years and have never once heard a respondent describe such a motivation.

Older arts patrons accept intuitively that arts organizations adhere to less-than-professional nonprofit standards. This is especially true in marketing where content creation is carried out by amateur insiders who have limited insight into the motivations of outsiders. Back in the olden days, nobody cared if the brochure was dressed up in a bunch of silly nonsense if the core message got through.

But younger, more culturally diverse audiences don’t necessarily understand why their local art museum or advocacy organization, which they think of as professional, would allow itself to project a brand image that’s frivolous or passé.

Arts audiences are in steady decline across the cultural sector. At some point we’re going to have to adopt a more professional, future-oriented approach to communications.

Cutting out this sort of mindless cutesiness is a great place to start.

 

Pop Quiz: It’s All About: _Us _Them _ Both

In my last post, I said that arts marketing is always about the product when, to be effective, it should be more about the customers.

Older arts leaders still cling to a self-centered, self-important style of mid-20th century promotional marketing that places the art, artists and organization in a position of preeminence, while paying only perfunctory heed to what audiences are looking for.

If your organization still uses “it’s-all-about-us” marketing content, here’s a quiz that can help you determine if you should back off the self-congratulatory boasting for a while and start focusing on what your new customers are looking for instead.

Keeping new audiences in mind, answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these ten questions:

  1. Is there abundant pent up demand for your product? (i.e. Hamilton)
  2. Are you an aspirational luxury product? (i.e. Bentley)
  3. Do people think you brand will elevate their social status? (i.e. Coachella)
  4. Can you afford to be exclusive? (i.e. Mar-a-Lago)
  5. Do you occupy a trendy niche? (i.e. Yeezy)
  6. Are you perceived as being on the cutting edge? (i.e. Tesla)
  7. Is your brand universally familiar and well established? (i.e. Coke)
  8. Is it plainly obvious why an average person would buy? (i.e. McDonald’s)
  9. Are you a huge corporation that can influence public perception? (i.e. Anheuser-Busch)
  10. Do you have access to marketing resources that would enable you to change the answers to 1-9?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, go out into your community, talk to several hundred young, culturally diverse people about your organization, then take the quiz again.

The marketers in the examples above don’t have to be audience centered. Companies that sell popular products can afford to boast about themselves. So can companies that enjoy universal brand recognition or that sell highly desirable luxury products. You might be tempted to compare yourself to these marketers, but if you’re struggling to find new customers for increasingly unpopular arts products, you don’t belong in the same category.

The key to attracting customers for products that are not popular lies in convincing buyers that the product will satisfy their unfulfilled desires. And this means making the content of your communications about their desires and how your product will satisfy them. Or in other words, making it about them.

If new audiences are telling you they want opportunities to do interesting/entertaining things with peers, for example, the content of your marketing should feature people who look like your new audiences having a good time together in your venue. Not all of it, but enough that new audiences can see themselves being made happy as a result of having purchased what you’re trying to sell.

Look at all the marketing content you’ve disseminated in the last three years. How much of it is about you and how much is about them? If you’re like most nonprofit arts organizations, it’s about 95% you and 5% them.

Your goal should be about 50%-50%.

Fifty years ago the answers to the quiz above would have been different. Fifty years ago, arts marketing was all about the art, the artists and the organization. If you’re still using fifty-year-old marketing content to attract new audiences, you have to stop.

Now.

 

Is Marketing About The Customer Or The Product?

If you work in the arts, the answer is:

It’s about the product.

Marketing in the arts is all about promoting our products’ superior qualities. Take a look at just about any arts marketing vehicle and you’ll find the content there devoted exclusively to the art, the artists and the institution. Marketing is about telling the world how wonderful and important we are, and that means making the content of our marketing all about us.

But in the world of commerce, professional marketers know that marketing is about the customers and the extent to which products will satisfy their needs and desires. This is why so much professional marketing features people having their needs and desires satisfied as a result of having purchased the product.

Start looking thoughtfully at the advertising around you and you’ll begin to notice a preponderance of images of people being made happy by products. And you’ll find language that zeroes in on customers’ needs and desires and then describes the way the product satisfies them. In the example here, Hyatt could have featured all sorts of images and copy about its wonderful rooms, conference facilities, restaurants and amenities, but they chose to show a woman being made happy alongside language that addressed her needs and desires.

Professional marketers know that marketing content is about both the customer and the product. It’s about the place where customers and products come together, and how happy the customers will be as a result of this meeting.

If you’re an arts marketer who’s having trouble persuading customers to purchase your products, and your marketing is all about you, consider what would happen if you focused on them instead. What’s more likely to move a potential new customer to come to your concert, a picture of your conductor swinging a baton? Or is it a picture of someone who looks just like your new customer having a great time in your venue?

If you’re like most arts administrators – especially older arts leaders – you’re stammering at your screen right now: “But, but, but… this isn’t how we do it! That’s not us! We’re above pandering to the customer. We don’t descend to their level of needs and desires, they’re supposed to come up to our level of presumption. Art transcends the mundane. It lifts people to a higher plane. We tell them how wonderful and important we are so they’ll be moved to aspire! We exist in an elevated place that people are supposed to know is worth wanting to try to get to. If we come down to them, we may never make it back onto our lofty perches.”

Genius Cartoonist B. Kliban

Here’s the deal. If you don’t connect with people at the level of their needs and desires, you can’t move them. It just won’t work. The only reason self-congratulatory arts marketing ever worked in the first place was that there were a lot of people who believed they needed to aspire, or who possessed an unfulfilled desire for the kind of aspiration that the arts wanted to sell. But that’s just not true anymore.

Effective marketing is about customers’ needs and desires. If you don’t have a large pool of available customers who possess a preexisting, avid, motivating desire to obtain what you’re trying to sell, and you’re devoting all of your marketing content to talking about how wonderful and important you are, the game’s pretty much over.

If on the other hand you have a pool of potential new audiences with a different set of motivating needs and desires, and you use your communications to demonstrate how your products will make them happy, the possibilities are abundant.

I dare you to do what Hyatt did. Publish a picture of people who fit your audience demo having their needs or desires satisfied at an upcoming event. It doesn’t have to be the only image you use, but have the courage to put your customers front and center for a change, and let your product be the background in an experience that’s all about them.

 

 

An Orchestra That Actually Listens to New Audiences

Kudos to Greg Sandow for pointing us to this incredible post from the California Symphony. Every leader of every major orchestra in the world should read this post and do what California Symphony is doing.

What’s so exciting? Well, Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer and her team are listening to new audiences to learn how to communicate with them. And they’re actually changing the way they do business.

Yeah. I know. Sounds like a “duh” sort of announcement, but this is nothing less than monumental because large, ailing classical music organizations simply don’t do it. They all pay lip service to the idea, of course, but there are two things happening at California Symphony that make this situation exceptional.

First, Bergauer is actually using what she and her team are learning to change the way they communicate with their customers – a practice that’s virtually unheard of among large traditional arts institutions. Take a look at any major orchestra’s marketing materials and you’ll be hard pressed to find evidence that they spoke to new audiences, let alone listened to them or allowed their perspective to influence the content of their communications. What makes Bergauer extraordinary is that she’s an executive leader who is not only willing to listen to new audience members, but she’s willing to shake up decades of entrenched music industry tradition to speak to them in a language they understand.

Second, California Symphony is not paying expensive consultants from deep inside the industry to tell them how to do it. They’re going out and finding likely new audiences in their community, inviting them for pizza and beer, listening to them – even when what they say is painful to hear – and learning how to facilitate their access. It’s something any arts organization can do at little to no cost, and something no established industry consultant is going to recommend. (Consultants sell elite arts leaders what they want to buy and inviting young brown strangers to tell them what they’re doing wrong is never on the list.) But once again, it’s not just about gathering information, it’s about using the information to change organizational behavior – which is something entrenched arts leaders just can’t bring themselves to do.

The fact that this is a surprising discovery speaks volumes about the sad state of marketing in the classical music world. This should be common practice throughout the cultural sector – and new audiences should be pouring into theaters and concert halls.

I’ve always been happy to mention Jason Nicholson in Austin who’s been learning from new audiences for several years now. I couldn’t be more pleased to see the folks at California Symphony carrying the same torch.

The Four Most Horrifying Words in Arts Management

I started this blog about four years ago and have written 174 posts to date. Some posts have gone viral, generating thousands of hits, while others have seen fair to moderate readership for a blog on arts marketing. Most posts eventually faded into the past, which is the nature of blogs, but a few continue to attract readers years down the line – presumably because of the phrases people type into search engines.

By far the most widely read and most consistently accessed post on this blog appeared on March 6, 2012 and its title was: Never Say “Get the word out.” People access this post almost every day.

There’s nothing earthshaking about the post. I’ve written many more provocative essays, but there’s something in this title that continues to draw people to my site. Clearly, these visitors have entered four particular words into their search engines looking for ways to sell more tickets or attract more audiences, and they are, by far, the most destructive words in the cultural sector:

Get

The

Word

Out

I’ve already said that arts administrators who speak these words need to be fired immediately, so there’s not much to add, but since people continue to search for them, I will say this:

If you’re not selling enough tickets and your prime communications directive is summed up by these four words, your failure is your fault. Getting the word out is an amateurish and fiscally irresponsible way to sell tickets.

If on the other hand you’d like to change that directive and sell more tickets, here are four words you might want to use as the foundation of your new communications philosophy:

Persuade

People

To

Come

Examine these two phrases carefully. Look at the underlying differences in their meanings and the actions they impel. Ask yourself honestly which one is likely to produce more productive communications and the answer is clear.

‘Get the word out’ is a one-way mechanical process with an inside-out orientation. ‘Persuade people to come’ is a two-way human process with a outside-in orientation. The difference is nearly palpable. One is about spraying information while the other is about connecting with people and guiding them toward something that will fulfill their desires.

Communication strategies developed within a ‘persuade people to come’ strategic framework will work better because they’ll have been designed to persuade people to come.

The alternative is to keep spraying information at the world until the last person who cares dies, and that’s an idiotic way to build new audiences.

Language matters. In the arts, where marketing is still an amateur process, it means a great deal. The language we use to describe the work we do will determine what sort of work we do. If we talk about spraying information at the world, that’s all we’re going to do. But if we talk about persuading people to come…

Stop saying get the word out.

Now.

Yinz Aingna Bleevis: Pittsburgh Symphony $1.5 mil. in the Hole

Here’s a late summer re-post in response to yet another headline about Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s financial woes:

THINGS HARTFORD SYMPHONY AND

PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY HAVE IN COMMON

Originally Posted in July of 2015

Today I read that the venerable Pittsburgh Symphony is suffering a precipitous drop in ticket sales for their classical concert series. So I went to their marketing materials to look for signs of trouble, and there I found this brochure.

What’s most striking about this sales collateral is its startling resemblance to Hartford Symphony’s brochure. Check it out:

Pittsburgh ArtHartford Art

Two orchestras in the news for declining ticket sales and both chose images of women playing instruments with blobs of paint coming out of them. What are the odds? Clearly, these marketers have tapped into some universal longings that transcend geography. People in Pittsburgh and in Hartford, it would appear, have a burning hunger for women playing instruments with artsy blobs of paint coming out of them.

I would love to have been in those focus groups when young, culturally diverse respondents began talking about their pent up longings for women playing instruments that churn out paint blobs. How fortunate these marketers must have been to have gotten such rich data that gave them such clear direction.

And look at those tag lines. In Hartford, the focus group participants said they had a yearning to be transformed, while in Pittsburgh, they expressed a poetic desire for art that is somehow also play.

“When I look for ways to spend leisure time and money, I respond to abstract, artful imagery that symbolizes my deep-seated desire to morph into a different plane of reality through some sort of mystical process that includes young female musicians, musical instruments, colorful bursts of paint and an eventual transformation into something light and carefree like a butterfly.”

“When my friends and I plan our social outings, we give careful consideration to the complex, semantic interrelationships of art and play and we’re just nuts for poetry so when someone uses clever double entendres that combine these two interests, we jump at the opportunity to buy what they have to sell.”

It’s fascinating to think that new audiences in these cities would have expressed yearnings that come so close to matching the artsy images and cutesy phrases that out-of-touch arts administrators like to put in their classical music brochures.

The focus group research that I’m familiar with, meanwhile, tends to reveal more concrete desires. Rather than talking about abstract metaphorical yearnings, people talk about having a good time with friends or family, seeking entertainment that’s memorable and enriching, enjoying food, drink and art, doing something special, etc. And since motivating these people is a process of leveraging their desires, effective strategic messaging usually involves reflecting these desires and demonstrating how they can be satisfied by purchasing the product. You know, like showing people having a great time enjoying one another’s company at a concert.

I’m not privy to the research that the folks in Hartford or Pittsburgh did to understand what motivates new audiences to buy classical concert tickets, but I can’t help thinking there are young, culturally diverse people in those markets who would be better motivated to participate if they saw themselves and their actual, stated personal yearnings reflected – and satisfied – in local orchestra marketing materials.

[Title translation: You ones are not going to believe this…]