When Dubious Arts Leaders Nix Innovation

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For several years now young arts marketers have been complaining to me that their bosses won’t let them make changes. They’re prepared to introduce more professional methods, but the leaders they work for are committed to the status quo.

“My boss thinks the answer to declining audiences is to hammer the market over the head with more of the same marketing. The fewer tickets we sell, the harder he says we have to hit.”

“When my boss wants to avoid approving something new, she gets her cronies on the board to back her up: “I showed this to Ginny Underbridge and she said it just wasn’t us.””

“When I presented new ideas to my boss, he actually sent me into the marketing archives to learn how to produce the marketing he was prepared to approve.”

Marketing is a mysterious process for most arts leaders. Few have studied marketing formally, few came to their positions with professional marketing expertise, and few have had the time or inclination to enhance their knowledge through professional development. Most learned what they know about marketing on their way up through the nonprofit arts – which, as I’ve often said, is a terrible place to learn marketing – and most aren’t secure enough in their knowledge to screw around with a process they don’t understand.

This is why young arts administrators who do understand marketing find themselves banging their heads against a wall. Their bosses are painfully dependent on tradition to hide their incapacities and, even though innovation is the only clear path to survival, most older leaders will stick with what they know rather than risk doing something unfamiliar.

If you’re a young marketer who has the knowledge and training to bring your organization’s marketing up to a more professional standard, and your boss has a way of making sure that nothing changes, here’s a recommendation that will give you some useful leverage.

Make a Rock-Solid Case

In the arts, most marketing policy is driven by opinion, and the highest paid person’s opinion usually carries the day. If you want to elevate your organization’s marketing process to a professional level, come to your meetings armed with an abundance of authoritative, unimpeachable, objective evidence to support your proposals. Your colleagues will offer up all manner of spontaneous, top-of-the-head insights, which is what they’re accustomed to doing, but very little of what they contribute will have legitimate strategic value. You, meanwhile, will have come with a folder full of relevant facts that will raise the standard of acceptable discourse and neutralize the well-intentioned but squishy contributions of your peers.

Whatever you do, never express an opinion you can’t back up with an air-tight, rational argument that’s built on a foundation of cold, hard evidence. The minute you state an unsupportable opinion, you will have abandoned the professional high ground and descended to the level of your inexpert colleagues. And the contributions you make from then on will have no more authority than those of your boss or the intern who started last week.

Arts administrators have long believed that marketing is a creative, intuitive enterprise for which creative people are unusually well suited, but this is a suicidal delusion. Marketing is about numbers and empirical data. Marketing is a process of applying rational methodologies to facts in order to deliver predictable outcomes. And marketing is a science that’s getting more sophisticated every day (anyone following the Cambridge Analytica scandal should know this). Creativity is important to some extent, but only after the data have been analyzed and the appropriate methodologies have been applied.

Introducing a fact-based approach to arts marketing may not be easy, especially when it comes to content (arts marketing content is where opinion-driven amateurism rises to the level of absurdity), but empirical evidence and rational methods will give you a firm foundation on which to build, and a dependable roadmap for your skeptical co-workers to follow as you lead them into uncharted territory.

 

 

 

 

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Which Of These Images Sells More Tickets?

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In professional business settings, marketers typically show customers being made happy by their products. They do this because it’s an incredibly effective way to sell things.

If you’re a consumer who sees someone very much like you (or a person you’d like to be) being made happy by a particular product, you are likely to want that product. This isn’t just a truism; it’s a time-tested formula that’s backed by decades of theory, research, testing and practical application. If you’re a marketer who wants to sell something in a competitive marketplace, show your customers being made happy by your product and they’ll beat a path to your door.

In the amateur world of arts marketing, meanwhile, marketers never show customers being made happy by their products. Arts marketers focus almost exclusively on the superior attributes of their artists, events and organizations while presupposing an audience of avid potential consumers.

Consumer-centered marketing just isn’t part of our arts marketing traditions – most of which were formed at a time when the arts were popular aspirational luxury products. Emphasizing customer satisfaction back then was a non-issue because, if customers were eager to buy our products, and they already knew our products would make them happy, we didn’t need to focus on them.

Today of course the arts are increasingly marginalized niche products struggling to survive in a competitive marketplace. The demand for theatre, opera, dance, classical music and fine art is diminishing steadily, and potential new customers – if they bother to consider traditional art forms at all – don’t necessarily assume these products will make them happy. The arts aren’t popular anymore, few consumers consider them aspirational, and the only reason we’d call them luxury products is the prohibitive price of admission.

If you’re a marketer who’s trying to sell unpopular products and you want to persuade indifferent consumers to become first-time buyers, you might want to start showing customers how your products will make them happy, which means showing people like them being made happy by your products.

If you’re not quite sure how to do do this, start by cutting 50% of the photos you plan to use in your next marketing campaign and replacing them with pictures of consumers enjoying one another’s company at your venue. Let’s say, for example, that you’re an orchestra marketer preparing to design your next season brochure and you’ve selected twenty shots of your conductor (yes, orchestra marketers actually do this). Cut ten of them and replace them with pictures of people who look like the people you’d like to see buying tickets arriving eagerly together, enjoying pre-show dining, running into friends, gazing in anticipation as the lights dim, chatting over drinks at intermission, etc. Make it as much about your customers’ experience with your product as it is about your product. And make sure to make it about their experience with one another, because sharing the experience is why they’re there.

NOTE: Those photos of actual audiences that you shot from the side aisles don’t count. If you can afford professional photo shoots of your artists, you can afford professional photo shoots of model audiences, too.

New audiences don’t buy art; they buy worthwhile experiences they can share with other people. If you want to attract new audiences who don’t know why they should come, show them pictures of people like them having a good time together in your venue.

Or, you could just keep publishing absurdly insular, painfully stereotypical, impersonal, stuffy and embarrassingly self-congratulatory images that are all about you and that have nothing whatsoever to do with the experiences your new audiences are likely to have with your art form.

Making marketing more about our customers is cheap and easy, and it sells more tickets.

Why not give it a try?

 

Nobody Cares What Arts Administrators Are Passionate About

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Greg Sandow wrote an interesting post last week where he said that arts administrators might be more effective marketers if they learned how to better communicate their passion for their products. He proposed “visioning” workshops designed to help artists and administrators explore and describe their passions so they can be more articulate in sharing them with outsiders – a process that he says might allow a new brand to emerge from the deepest vision of why the orchestra exists.

“Ideally we’d involve staff, board, musicians, and even people from the audience. Once we had some genuine ideas, genuine feelings, love for the orchestra coming honestly and authentically, straight from the heart, and described in simple, direct language — well, then we could start finding ways to tell all that to the outside world.”

I admire Greg’s writing, and he and I are often on the same page, but not here. We’re not even in the same book on this one, and I think we might be in different libraries.

Even if classical music industry professionals became incredibly good at describing their passion for what they do, it wouldn’t matter. It’s not persuasive. Nobody cares what a bunch of classical music insiders feel about their products. Nobody buys tickets to an orchestral concert for the first time because the insiders who produced it say they’re just crazy in love with what they do. Classical music marketers’ feelings are all well and good, but if orchestras are too busy indulging in their own passions to learn what their customers are passionate about, they’re going to appear hopelessly self-absorbed and out of touch – and they’re going to continue losing audiences.

[If you want to see marketing content that says hopelessly self-absorbed and out of touch, pick up a subscription brochure from just about any major American orchestra. Greg singled out the Philadelphia Orchestra in his post so here’s theirs.]

Customers, believe it or not, are moved by the things they’re passionate about. If you want them to buy tickets, you have to focus on their yearnings and communicate how happy they are going to be when they buy your products because it’s all about them. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

I know. I know. It used to be about you and you used to be able to talk endlessly about how wonderful and important you are, but that was a long time ago. The world has changed. You don’t matter anywhere near as much as you once did, so it can’t be just about you anymore. It has to be about them.

Did I mention that it’s about them?

Greg Sandow was almost on to something here, but he missed the mark when he said, “even people from the audience,” as if the audience were an afterthought. Communicating passion for the product is an excellent idea and testimonial marketing can be a powerfully persuasive tool for motivating ticket buyers, but the message can’t come from the inside, it has to come from the outside. It has to come from a credible third party. It has to come from a source that potential customers trust and can easily identify with, which means that it has to come from someone who’s part of their world. Ideally, someone very much like them.

Let’s say your organization has decided to appeal to younger audiences and your research suggests that they’re motivated by social status, quality live music and spending leisure time in special places with people they care about. You could ask a young cellist to record a testimonial describing how she loves creating music, or you could ask a young audience member who loves coming to the symphony with friends to record a testimonial describing what a wonderful time she’s been having there.

Guess which one will sell more tickets? (Hint: It’s the one that’s about them.)

I know what Greg was getting at: Nonprofit arts organizations produce inane, meaningless marketing content because they haven’t taken time to honestly examine – and learn how to express –  their deep-seated passion for what they’re selling. But I disagree with his premise. Non-profit arts organizations produce inane, meaningless marketing content because they haven’t learned what their audiences care about so they don’t know what to say to ignite their passions.

We’re all passionate about what we do and our passion plays an indispensable role in providing high-quality arts experiences. But when it comes to selling these experiences, the thing that matters most is our customers’ passion for what we’re trying to sell.

Because it’s about them.

Want Good Copy? Say It, Then Write It

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I set out to find some truly dreadful arts marketing copy for this post, so I picked a respected LORT theatre at random, went to their website and clicked on a show.

BINGO! Struck gold on the first try:

“Friendship and betrayal, love and jealousy. Once Othello’s most trusted confidante, Iago’s envy-fueled passions unleash a betrayal with catastrophic results for Othello and his beloved bride Desdemona. Shakespeare’s profound tragedy is an enduring story of race, love, envy, and repentance. This stripped down retelling is the portrait of an unraveling mind amid a society engulfing and destroying its very best.”

Oh. My. God.

How does this happen? Who approved this for publication? Who the hell would want to go to this show? And who was the focus group respondent who said, “I’m just aching to see a portrait of an unraveling mind amid a society engulfing and destroying its very best.” This would be absolutely horrifying if it weren’t typical of the way arts organizations have been talking about their products for the last forty years.

Wait a minute… It is horrifying. Theatre audiences are disappearing. How can professional theatre companies afford to do such incompetent marketing?

This language is supposed to make people want to see the show. The copy is there for a reason. It has an important job to do. It’s purpose is to anticipate the customers’ desires and describe how the show will make them happy. When people read it, they’re supposed to think, “Wow. This sounds like a really fascinating story and a richly rewarding night in the theatre.”

But this copy fails painfully on all counts. At best it suggests an unsettling experience watching nasty people do disturbing things to one another. I’ve been researching ticket buyers’ desires for decades and have yet to come across pent up demand for this sort of thing.

The fact that a respected professional theatre would endeavor to sustain itself by speaking to customers this way is an embarrassment to the entire industry. One can only hope that the quality of work on the stage is better than the quality of work coming out of their executive offices.

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If you write copy for your arts organization and you’d like to avoid producing this sort of mindless drivel, here is a simple, no-cost formula that will put you on a more professional track.

Get a young person from outside your organization to join you in some role playing. Have them ask you the following questions and audio-record your answers so you can transcribe them later.

What’s the next show at your venue?

What’s it about?

Why would someone like me be interested in seeing a show like this?

Sounds like a big commitment; what do I get in return for my investment of time and money?

Go through the process several times. Keep it light, conversational and informal. Try having the questioner play different roles and answer the questions honestly as if you’re really eager to convince them to see the show. Keep going until you’ve landed on the most naturally persuasive conversational answers. Afterward, listen to the recorded dialogue and isolate the language that was most effective in motivating the questioner. [Hint: It will be the language that recognizes your questioner’s desires and describes how the show will make her happy.]

Now here’s the important part: Take the material you isolated and edit it into a potent little nugget of fresh, engaging sales copy. Don’t change it. Don’t make it sound like a regional theatre blurb. Don’t formalize it or, god forbid, “punch it up.” Just ‘speak’ to your customers plainly and honestly as if they’re thinking, feeling human beings who you know would enjoy a night out in your venue watching a really good show.

And one more thing. Get someone who wasn’t sleeping through 7th grade English to check the grammar.

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People who run performing arts institutions have no right to complain about diminishing audiences when they publish idiotic nonsense like this in their marketing materials. Professional theatre should be marketed by professionals. If the regional theatre industry and its support systems (i.e. foundations and major donors) think this is an acceptable way for the arts to talk to tomorrow’s audiences, they’re just engulfing and destroying their very best.

Whatever the hell that means.

 

 

“We Do Such Great Marketing, But People Aren’t Buying Tickets”

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Once, while interviewing for a marketing post at a major American opera company, I was asked If I’d brought a portfolio of my previous marketing materials. I hadn’t, of course. I was a marketing professional interviewing for a senior marketing job. I had provided a resume, which outlined a successful track record in strategic sales, revenue generation and audience growth, but it never occurred to me to bring printed collateral and I found myself searching for a diplomatic way to explain why marketing execs don’t bring design portfolios to job interviews.

[Note to job applicants: Telling your interviewers they’re asking the wrong questions is a terrible way to get a job – but it’s a great way to avoid working for the wrong people!]

I understand why nonprofit arts leaders might have wanted to see some lovely printed materials. This is, after all, what many arts leaders think marketing is about. But in an era when audiences are in steady decline and institutions like this are likely to fail, it’s tragic to think that such amateurism persists at such high industry levels.

Marketing is about numbers. Any arts leader worth his salt knows this.

I wrote a few weeks ago about a job ad for a marketing director at a Dallas theatre that focused like a laser beam on strategy, sales and revenue. It looked like a good job working in a professional environment for smart people. But yesterday I saw an ad for a marketing director at a South Carolina orchestra that focused primarily on the production of promotional materials. It looked like a perfect job for a nonprofit functionary working for old school leaders who like to send out a lot of pretty brochures.

[Note to job applicants: Becoming a nonprofit functionary in an industry with steadily diminishing demand for its products is a lousy career move.]

In my career I’ve encountered two fundamentally different approaches to arts marketing, the administrative, which focuses on sustaining customary marketing operations, and the proactive, which focuses on selling tickets. The administrative concerns itself with running marketing departments, while the proactive concerns itself with doing what needs to be done to earn revenue. The two approaches can be compatible under certain circumstances, but given the arts industry’s internal focus and over-dependence on tradition (not to mention the lack of professional marketing expertise among arts leaders), the administrative tends to overwhelm the proactive.

Most nonprofit arts organizations prefer the administrative approach because managing arts organizations and their various departments is what arts leaders do. Marketing departments have traditionally done certain things, so diligent leaders ensure that these departments are sustained and that the customary functions they perform are perpetuated. The source of authority for decision making in these organizations is a combination of tradition, habit, what other arts organizations are doing and the opinions of senior leaders, funders or board members. The ultimate priority for administrative marketers is continuity, while results, such as ticket sales and earned revenue, tend to be viewed as byproducts of the organization’s operations. “It’s so frustrating. We do such great marketing, but people aren’t buying enough tickets to keep us going.”

[Note to any arts administrator who’s ever thought or said something like this: If your product is worth buying and you’re not selling enough tickets, you are not doing great marketing.]

Leaders who adopt the proactive approach, on the other hand, understand that a rapidly changing marketplace requires a deft, nimble, externally focused sales initiative that isn’t hamstrung by tradition, habit or institutional priorities that favor the status quo. Proactive marketers closely monitor the changing needs and wants of the marketplace in order to respond to audience expectations. The source of decision-making authority in proactive organizations is market intelligence rather than insider traditions, comfortable habits or the inexpert opinions of industry leaders. And proactive marketers allow their strategies, tactics, procedures and policies to evolve along with the world outside the bubble. “We realized we weren’t selling enough tickets so we questioned all of our customary practices, shifted our focus from internal to external, and rebuilt our sales functions in response to changes in the world outside our doors.”

How about you? Are you selling enough tickets to ensure a robust future for your art form? Is your marketing function a deft, nimble, customer-centered, proactive sales initiative that isn’t held back by tradition, habit or leadership priorities that favor the status quo?

Or are you doing a really good job of running a nonprofit arts organization’s marketing department?

Engaging Down To The Lesser People

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I used the phrase “business community engagement” recently and was roundly chastised by a fellow arts professional for my transgression:

“We’re not here to engage with businesses. We’re nonprofit arts organizations. We’re here to engage with the community.”

When I asked what distinguished the community she was referring to from the one I was referring to, my colleague described a community made up of people from senior centers, urban schools, ethnic minorities and other marginal groups, all of whom occupied social positions well below hers or those of her colleagues in the cultural sector. In her nonprofit worldview, ‘community’ meant lesser people whose lives might be improved by art, and the intended recipients of her charity bore little resemblance to the folks who had traditionally sustained her arts organization.

I’ve had this conversation often enough to know that when the arts talk about community, we’re usually talking about a subset of the population from which traditional buyers and donors are conspicuously absent. Our core sustaining audiences are affluent, educated, culturally aware consumers who work in businesses and professions and who align themselves with social circles and affinity groups that are consistent with their status. But these are rarely the people or the groups we think about when we set out to engage. ‘Community’ in the arts means people at the lower end of the social ladder and engagement is a benevolent gesture offered to raise them up.

There’s nothing wrong with the charitable mentality that encourages nonprofits to make art available to marginal communities, but applying this thinking to engagement in hopes of building dependable future audiences is counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible. Engagement for charity is a zero sum game. If we keep losing audiences while investing precious resources in populations that lack the potential to replace our customary support systems, we’ll die.

This may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but if your organization expects its community engagement efforts to grow sustaining audiences, those efforts must be directed toward the community members who are most likely to buy tickets. Engagers who want to influence audience development have a fundamental responsibility to identify and isolate their most promising sub-communities, in advance, and focus their engagement efforts where they’ll deliver the strongest ROI.

Marketers do this every day. Marketers have limited resources that must be used in the most responsible way, so they concentrate on the most likely ticket buyers. Engagers, who have even fewer resources, can’t afford to squander them on relationships that offer no useful return. It may sound callous, but arts organizations can’t afford to function as charities when their audiences are shrinking and their own survival is in question.

Of course any arts organization can do engagement for engagement’s sake, but this has to be paid for by funders and it can’t be counted as audience development.

Or, arts organizations can engage productively with potential ticket buyers, create mutually beneficial community relationships AND deliver a reasonable return on their investment.

Some may believe that it’s possible to do both, but anyone who tries it will need a precise set of metrics to determine exactly what the programs cost, how much they’re projected to return and who’s going to cover the losses. Trust me. If you launch engagement programs for charitable reasons and expect them to generate revenue, there will be losses.

So what’s the alternative? Try something like this: If you’re an arts administrator whose job description includes engagement, plan and propose a relationship-building program for your local legal community. Organize an event with a thematic tie-in for an upcoming show. Invite a prominent guest host who’s well known in legal circles and solicit the help of a handful of influential judges to lend their names to the invitation. Get key board members involved and encourage them to invite legal professionals in their social circles. Make it a fun, interactive program designed to better connect your organization’s staff and artists to a promising new audience of affluent, educated community members. And design the event’s messaging to promote long-term participatory relationships between your guests and your organization with an emphasis on ease-of-access to quality ticket inventory.

I know. Heads exploding all over the conference room. “You want to do what?”

Here’s the ultimate question: Are these lawyers any less deserving of engagement than the rest of the community? I have a lawyer friend who’s smart, curious and culturally literate, but a regular Joe for the most part. He doesn’t go to the theatre or attend classical concerts or dance events very often, but there’s no reason he wouldn’t find them rewarding if he did. And there’s every reason to expect that he would if, through his professional circles, he discovered a personal connection to some of the rich cultural offerings in his city.

Why on earth wouldn’t we engage with people like him?

Linking community engagement to audience development is a dangerous business. If engagement is about growing audiences, nonprofit engagers have an unmistakable fiscal duty to use resources in the most prudent manner possible, which means there must be a measurable, predictable financial benefit to the organization. Otherwise, nonprofit arts organizations become pass-through charities with well-intentioned but finite futures.

Time To Get Rid Of Group Sales

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Group sales was developed over seventy years ago for society matrons and seniors who wanted to reserve seats in advance so they could resell tickets. But that was seventy years ago and arts administrators can’t afford to rely on business practices that were created for little old ladies long before most of us were born.

If your organization needs to sell tickets and the only department in your organization with ‘sales’ in the name is group sales, it’s time for a change.

Do This Now

  1. Pick a date in the next six months to end all group sales functions. Fire the staff, erase all traces of group sales from your organizational communications, eliminate every box office policy and procedure having to do with group sales and abandon all group sales accounting processes.
  2. Take some time to imagine how a young, energetic, innovative, customer-oriented  start-up might approach the process of selling tickets if the arts industry’s lumbering old “sales” traditions had never existed.
  3. Create a new department called ‘Sales’ and advertise for a director or VP who answers to the chief executive and whose seniority is consistent with your top development and marketing staffers.
  4. Hire someone from outside the arts bubble. Look for a pro who has experience in sports, theme parks, attractions, hospitality or travel and tourism. Focus on candidates with solid track records who understand business-to-business sales and who have well-established contacts in the marketplace.
  5. Develop a salary-plus-commission compensation package for your new sales executive and don’t cap her earnings. (A well-structured package means that if your sales executive is earning more than her peers or superiors, she’ll be worth the disparity.)
  6. Work with your new senior sales staffer to develop a sales department with new policies and procedures that make no arbitrary distinctions between groups and single-tickets. Focus on buyers who deliver volume sales and structure policies around their needs.
  7. Prepare your organization to develop new service infrastructures for business buyers, wholesalers, community partners and other resellers. If your ticketing system isn’t capable of accommodating B-to-B relationships, get a new ticketing system.
  8. Stop selling discounts and start selling value.
  9. Focus on the development of long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
  10. Notify your producing/presenting partners and artists that you are introducing new sales methods and that future contracts will reflect innovations with which they may be unfamiliar.
  11. Establish crystal-clear distinctions between customer service, inside sales and outside sales. (If the customer has already decided to buy, it’s customer service). Focus your new sales department entirely on sales.
  12. Foster an organization-wide sales culture so that proactive, persuasive, personal engagement with people in the marketplace becomes an overriding organizational imperative. This will have a profound influence on marketing, which in the arts is passive, self-centered and impersonal. And it will help to add a goal orientation to community engagement.

If after your new sales department is up and running you learn that some people are still looking for that old group sales pigeonhole, feel free to reintroduce it as a part of your new sales initiative. Try not to reintroduce the discounts, bad seats and poor service, though.

And if this all seems wildly difficult or too far outside the nonprofit norm, you can do what arts leaders have been doing for decades: Complain about your group sales department every now and then for not being more proactive.

Can You Sell Tickets to Businesses?

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I once sold 3,600 seats to The Phantom of the Opera in one phone call. We were about to release a new block of dates in San Francisco and the National Association of Realtors was planning their conference during the new dates, so I called their meeting planner and she bought two full houses. It was a good day.

I once sold a 2,700-seat performance of Disney’s The Lion King to the meeting planner for the National Urban League. This was a good day, too.

I once sold a 3,000-seat performance of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre to a healthcare executive I met at a trade show called the Black Business Expo, but the Music Center of Los Angeles wouldn’t move a donor event to accommodate the sale. This was not such a good day.

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You’ll notice that the customers in these examples were business people who were buying large quantities of tickets on behalf of others. They were just a few among a broad range of business professionals I’ve worked with over the years in hospitality, travel & tourism, real estate, human resources, education, meetings & events, destination management, restaurant ownership, nonprofit social services and other industries and professions. And the thing that tied them all together was that they bought tickets in bulk on behalf of other people – millions of dollars worth of tickets.

Broadway started doing business-to-business sales (B-to-B) about twenty-five years ago and sales is now an indispensable part of the industry. But the nonprofit arts continue to work on an exclusive business-to-consumer model (B-to-C) that imposes severe limitations on their ability to tap new sources of earned income.

If you’ve been hearing about successful outside sales initiatives at other arts organizations, and you think sales could be a good thing for you, you may want to take a closer look at your infrastructure to see if it’s capable of servicing the customers a new sales program would cultivate.

Here are a few questions to consider:

Can You Sell Through Third Parties?

Suppose your new outside sales executive comes to you with this scenario: “I’ve just spoken to the head concierge for Premier Properties, the city’s largest luxury apartment and office building owners. They offer concierge services to occupants in twelve buildings. If we can give them a net rate at 15% below face value and access to live seat inventory, they say they can move about $50,000 worth of tickets in the next twelve months – and it’s mostly last-minute sales to people we can’t reach, so its the right target for the most perishable inventory.”

Can your organization offer net rates that enable third parties to sell tickets at face value and keep a 15% cut for themselves? Can you give these concierges access to quality live inventory so they can sell to their constituents out of remote box office terminals? Can your box office manage this company’s account? Can they do it for multiple third-party resellers? Can you reconcile your box office on any given night if this account won’t be paid until the end of the month? Can you empower your sales executive to assemble a network of similar incentivized resellers like this who will sell your tickets for you to audiences you can’t always reach?

If your organization can’t do these things now, when will you be able to do them?

Can You Sell A Whole House?

Whole-house buyouts and large-block ticket sales are an incredibly efficient way to move inventory, not to mention pull in new audiences, but most nonprofits can’t handle them. Some of the roadblocks are structural (ticketing systems, subscribers, artists’ contracts, house seats, sponsor commitments, accounting, etc.) and some are cultural (“But, but, but, we’d have to ask the Blue Ribbon to move their gala!”). All of the roadblocks are surmountable, however, with the right planning and a willingness to open the doors to new markets.

Will your new sales executive be able to sell the whole house? Or most of it? Or maybe just the best 500 seats? If the answer is no, when will she be able to do so?

Can You Give Executive-Level Service to Executive-Level Buyers?

Suppose a Senior Vice President of Sales at a local tech firm has decided to treat his top producers to a premium night out including a fine show and dinner at the best restaurant in town. So he calls your organization to order a block of tickets.

Who is this SVP going to speak to?

If you’re like most arts organizations, he’s going to speak to one of your lowest-level employees who has no decision-making authority and who’s going to quote him peripheral seat locations that were carved out sixty years ago for discount-hungry little old ladies. Your “group sales” pigeonhole is the only point of contact your organization offers him.

Afterward he’ll call his ticket broker and say, “I’m putting together a top drawer night for my team. What can you get us? I thought we might do that Bernstein concert at Symphony Hall but those people don’t want my business.”

Can you accommodate this executive ticket buyer with products and services that fit his status? What if your new sales exec is out in the community meeting with others like him trying to get more of them to buy?

When will you be ready to cultivate executive-level buyers with the service they deserve?

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Hiring an outside sales professional to tap new business markets makes sense. In fact it may be the most important thing your organization can do right now to open new markets and bring in new audiences. But hiring an experienced sales person without preparing your organization to back her up will pretty much ensure failure.

You know your organization needs to change to stay viable. If your new sales exec is going to bring you lucrative opportunities that require new service infrastructures, this would be a good place to start making those changes.

NOTE: If your ticketing system can’t support these changes, they’re way behind the curve. It may be time to start looking for a more dynamic, sales-oriented system. Go check out your local theme parks and sports teams’ ticketing systems. They’ve been supporting B-to-B sales for decades.

 

No Kidding: Sales Really Is The New Arts Marketing

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My recent Halloween post about sales may have been satire, but the message was no joke. Sales is the new arts marketing. If your organization isn’t serious about sales, it probably won’t survive.

If you’re not quite sure what sales is, here’s a definition:

Sales is about engaging with people in the marketplace, persuading them to buy your products, and making sure their transactions are completed.

In the arts we lump many things under the sales umbrella including box office, phone rooms, ticketing system management, websites, etc., but these are really just customer service. If the customer has already decided to buy and has contacted you to make the purchase, it’s not sales.

We also talk about group sales, but this is an archaic pigeonhole that needs to be eliminated.

Sales is a proactive, persuasive endeavor designed to identify potential customers, reach out to them personally, motivate them to buy, and manage their sales transactions to completion. It also involves the development of long-lasting, mutually beneficial community relationships. (Think of it as goal-oriented community engagement.)

I was encouraged to read recently about Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s successful sales initiative. They’ve hired a manager-level salesperson who identifies and then connects with key individuals in the business community who can deliver single ticket sales in bulk. From what I can tell, this is a good example of where most large to mid-size arts institutions should be starting.

If your organization is considering sales, there are several things that require careful consideration. I will be detailing these issues in subsequent posts, but here are a few highlights.

ARTS CULTURE vs. SALES CULTURE

Any arts organization that wants to embrace sales will have to be prepared for seismic changes in its organizational culture. Nonprofit arts organizations are, by nature, self-centered and inwardly focused. Sales culture, meanwhile, is consumer-centered and outwardly focused. Because arts and sales are so diametrically opposed in their fundamental orientations, most arts organizations will find it painful and perhaps even impossible to incorporate sales into their administrative systems.

B-to-C vs. B-to-B

The largest hurdle organizations will face with sales is being operationally capable of satisfying the demand. Nonprofit arts organizations sell tickets to consumers, which means they operate on a business-to-consumer (B-to-C) model. Sales will focus largely on selling tickets to businesses, however, which means that arts organizations will have to modify their operational systems to accommodate business-to-business (B-to-B) practices. Unfortunately, all of our ticketing and box office systems (and cultures) are designed around B-to-C demand and often can’t (or won’t) capitalize on B-to-B potential.

TRADITION vs. SURVIVAL

Arts leaders who have no particular expertise in professional marketing take great comfort in tradition because it gives them something to point to and say, “this is how it’s done.” But there will be no such tradition to fall back on with sales. No one can say, “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” because it’s never been done this way. Embracing sales will mean doing something new – or at least new for the arts. Theme parks, major league sports teams and popular visitor attractions have been doing sales for decades. Theirs are the traditions that arts leaders will need to rely on.

PERSUASION vs. PROMOTION

Sales is a persuasive enterprise. Arts marketing is a promotional enterprise. The difference between persuasion and promotion is key to understanding why sales is necessary. As self-motivated audiences die off, promotion loses its power. And as under-motivated audiences become our only hope for survival, persuasion becomes paramount. Arts organizations that fail to sell (a.k.a. persuade people to buy) will die.

 

Sales is coming. Every arts organization will have to deal with it sooner or later. Those who deal with it sooner will stand a far greater chance of making it through this audience crisis.

If you’d like to find out how your organization can increase paid participation by selling tickets, join me for a series of posts focusing on sales – the new arts marketing.

 

 

“Sales” Talent Wanted in Dallas

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Employment ads say a lot about an arts organization.

Following my last post, I was delighted to read this gem of an ad for a Director of Marketing and Communications at Dallas Theatre Center.

The great stuff starts in the first paragraph:

“The Director of Marketing and Communications is a senior staff leadership position responsible for conceiving and implementing all strategic plans related to growing and sustaining audiences for the theater, and manages the “ad agency” needs for other DTC departments including Development, Education and Public Works “

It is crystal clear that this job is not just about growing and sustaining audiences, but knowing in advance how you’re going to accomplish this with strategic planning. And the “ad agency” bit is priceless as it places ancillary services where they belong. I’ve worked with plenty of arts organizations that don’t use strategic planning in their communications departments, and that wouldn’t know how to distinguish between growing/sustaining audiences and the ad agency services that are there to support the process.

The best part, though, comes in the first bullet point under Essential Duties:

  • “Develop and implement an integrated and comprehensive sales program designed to achieve Dallas Theater Center’s financial and ticket sales goals” [emphasis mine]

Notice this doesn’t say “integrated and comprehensive ‘marketing’ program.” It says ‘sales‘ because somebody in a leadership position at DTC knows that the bottom line is all about selling tickets. The next two bullet points are about strategy, and the two following that are about numbers. Sales, strategy, numbers. Amazing.

Further down under Experience Requirements the second bullet points says:

  • “Extensive knowledge of sales techniques, print processes, promotional campaigns, and advertising methods” [emphasis mine]

There it is again. Right up front: Sales techniques. Not marketing techniques, sales techniques. This organization knows where printing brochures, launching promotions and placing ads fit in the grand scheme of things: they all support sales.

And nowhere, thank god, does it say the candidate must be passionate about theatre.

I love this job ad. Makes me want to start over. If you’re a qualified marketer who wants to hone useful career skills in an industry that desperately needs to sell more tickets, this looks like it could an excellent opportunity.

The advertising guru David Ogilvy said, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” I think whoever structured this marketing position understands what Ogilvy meant.

Horrifying News for Arts Organizations: Sales is the New Marketing

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This is not going to go over well…

Turns out that Seattle Symphony Orchestra is having great success with its new outside sales initiative.

SSO’s “Corporate and Concierge Accounts Manager,” Gerry Kunkel, has been reaching out to corporations, hotels, condominiums and apartment buildings where he’s signed up about 70 companies, 30 residential buildings, and most downtown hotels, bringing in ticket sales of $177,000 – more than enough to justify his salary. (Read more about it here.) 

Yes, dear friends, sales – the most abhorrent practice in arts administration – has reared its ugly head as an effective way to build audiences. This gruesome turn of events suggests that arts organizations that have sensibly eschewed sales in favor of the more genteel “audience development” will now have to hire actual sales professionals and send them out into the marketplace to engage with resellers, influencers, destination partners and other third-party businesses in their communities.

Now, this isn’t some low-level hold-your-nose-and-pretend-it-doesn’t-exist sales like telemarketing or group sales. This is real, executive-level sales where mature, professional, fully empowered representatives of the organization will go out into the business world (just like development execs are supposed to do), meet with key figures in real-estate, human resources, hospitality, tourism and destination management, and work out ways to cut mutually beneficial ticket sales deals.

And if that’s not scary enough, sales is going to become a senior management function. We’re going to have to give these people offices, pass them in the hallways and let them come to staff meetings. Staff meetings! They’re going to sit there and talk about sales right in front of us and expect us to listen as if sales is a perfectly normal thing for arts organizations to be doing. Can you imagine? Might as well put used cars in the lobby and let them talk about selling those, too.

But it gets even worse. These sales people are going to ask us to change the way we do business. We sell directly to patrons – which is only fitting and proper – but they’re going to want us to sell to businesses that resell to other people and this is a nightmare. These third-party business buyers aren’t like us; they’re in it for the money. They’re going to want a cut of the take and they’re going to ask for direct access to quality ticket inventory. Try telling your ticketing system developers you need to manage third-party reseller accounts with wholesale rates, back-end commissions and the ability to sell out of live inventory from remote desktop box offices and their heads will explode. Trust me. Trying to find new ways to sell tickets is the last thing your ticketing software provider wants your arts organization to be doing. It is far, far easier not to sell tickets than it is to change ticketing systems to accommodate new ways of selling tickets.

But the most horrific part of this whole mess is that these sales people will be spending an awful lot of time out in the community talking to common people, listening to their needs and desires and trying to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings and motivations. Then they’re going to waltz back in to our conference rooms and tell us we need to be more tuned in to what people on the outside care about – like we don’t already know what those people are supposed to care about. It’s our job to tell them what’s valuable and important; they don’t tell us.

If you’re like most arts professionals, you understand intuitively that sales is beneath us. That it threatens our elevated status. That the work we do is too valuable and important to have to be sold. Sales brings us down to the level of the customers and we don’t belong there. We’re better than they are. Our job is to beckon from on high, champion our superior artistic and organizational attributes and pull as many people up to our level as possible. The entire history of arts communications is an expression of this model.

Accepting sales is the same thing as admitting that we’re somehow dependent on customers – that our value, relevance and sustainability is somehow tied to our communities. It’s almost like saying that we need these people, which is, of course, ridiculous. Everyone knows they need us. They just don’t know it. The only reason we need them is to keep the doors open so we can continue trying to satisfy needs they don’t know they have.

I don’t know about you, but I’m inclined to think that filling theaters, concert halls and galleries with new paying audiences is an awfully high price to pay just to keep us from going out of business.

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So Scorsese Doesn’t Like Rotten Tomatoes

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Martin Scorsese doesn’t care for Rotten Tomatoes. He says so here.

He prefers more thoughtful criticism by film industry insiders.

And he uses the gawdawful mess mother! as an example of a movie that’s been unfairly trashed.

Well, I think Rotten Tomatoes is the greatest thing that’s happened to movie audiences since popcorn. It’s an extremely useful resource that I refer to regularly to plan movie outings or to decide if a movie is worth watching at home. The service has saved me countless hours that might otherwise have been wasted on bad movies, and it has turned me on to all sorts of wonderful fare that might not have made it onto my radar.

My only regret is that I didn’t consult Rotten Tomatoes before going to see mother!

Yeah, I get it. Environmental allegory. I’ve read all the discussion and I’ve carefully considered multiple perspectives. But that doesn’t change the fact that I did not enjoy watching the movie. Call me a Philistine, but I don’t like movies where raging mobs appear out of nowhere to eat the protagonists’ newborn babies.

Why am I writing about this? I don’t know. Just felt like venting.

But since this is a marketing blog, it’s worth mentioning that Rotten Tomatoes is only giving public voice to a dynamic that has influenced arts participation for decades. Rotten Tomatoes is word-of-mouth magnified and made evident for all to see.

It’s easy to understand why film makers loathe it. Movie marketing is all about trying to influence public perceptions before word-of-mouth has a chance to exert its influence. Rotten Tomatoes lets us bypass the marketing hype and learn what other people think, which cuts a lot of the marketing out of the equation.

Will it change the movie industry? Certainly.

It it a bad thing? Depends on who you are. If you’re a person who’s considering a movie and want to know what other people think, it comes in pretty handy. If you’re someone who’s trying to sell an unsatisfying movie, not so much.

Is it going to fuck up the creation of art? Probably not. Good movies are good movies. If filmmakers make good movies that critics and audiences like, there’s nothing to worry about.

And mother!? It’s an amazing movie. It’ll probably be talked about for a long time and may one day work its way up into the ranks of Hollywood’s great films.

 

If The Arts Sold Girl Scout Cookies…

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Any arts organization that wants to sell more tickets can do so quickly and inexpensively by employing these basic sales principles:

  • Know your customers
  • Demonstrate how your products will satisfy their desires
  • Close the sale

But in the arts we employ a less customer-centered, more passive promotional approach that looks like this:

  • Assume what audiences want (or should want)
  • Tell as many people as possible how wonderful and important we are
  • Hope that those who agree will respond

There are exceptions, of course; telemarketers use sales techniques all the time. But arts marketing is by and large an under-informed, self-centered, uni-directional process that consists of spraying self-congratulatory bombast at the world and hoping enough people still care.

“Hey, whoever you are: Lookie here! We’re the best thing ever. Even The New York Times thinks so. Look at all these colorful selfies of us doing this rare and special thing! And if you’re smart enough, and rich enough, you can come see us do this in person.”

This is not complicated stuff. Any Girl Scout can tell you that the key to selling cookies is to ask your customers which ones they like best, remind them how happy they’ll be with a few boxes of Thin Mints in their freezer, and don’t let them get away without taking the order.

If the arts sold Girl Scout cookies, we’d send out overblown emails bragging about the superlative qualities of our culinary achievements and telling condescending stories about the history of the art of baking. “The essential motif in this compelling morsel of transcendent deliciousness comes from mentha, or mint, a genus in the family Lamiaceae, which was a popular ingredient in Hungarian folk traditions.”

If you want to sell tickets, you have to learn what makes your event attractive to the customers. And if you bother to ask them, they’re likely to describe a range of motivations that are all about them, that are mostly about the personal benefits of enjoying artful entertainment events wth friends or family, and that have comparatively little to do with the self-indulgent stuff you put in your brochures.

And if you’re lucky enough to learn what motivates your customers to buy your product, that’s what the content of your marketing should be about.

Arts marketers are like Girl Scouts who don’t bother asking which cookies their customers want and then spend all their energies lecturing about the cultural history of Do-si-dos to people who just want to scarf down a box of Thin Mints on their way home.

 

 

Marketer Wanted: Must Be Deeply Skeptical Of The Arts

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Take a look at just about any employment ad for arts marketers, and you’ll find passion for the art form listed among the essential qualifications for the job. Often it is the single most important criterion.

Ironically, this is just about the last thing arts leaders should be looking for in their marketing personnel. In fact, passion for the art form could be your candidate’s least useful qualification.

Here are five things arts marketers should be more passionate about than art:

Customers

Arts marketers should be just crazy about customers – especially new customers. They should be driven to spend as much time as possible engaging with them, learning about them, understanding what motivates them and discovering where their needs and desires overlap with what the organization wants to sell. The best marketers will be the ones who see the world through the eyes of unpersuaded outsiders, identify with their lack of avidity and know how to move them to respond.

Marketers who have a passion for the art form are often least likely to identify with those who don’t, and those who don’t are tomorrow’s audiences.

Strategy

Marketing is a strategic enterprise rooted in research, logic and numbers. A marketer should be passionate about the marketing process – making sure that the right communication is occurring among the right people in the right places, utilizing optimized content to elicit predetermined responses, synthesizing available data for maximum efficiency and always measuring, measuring, measuring.

If you were hiring a plumber to fix a malfunctioning toilet, you’d want someone who was passionate about the system, not what’s flowing through it.

Sales

In a business that’s steadily losing customers, good marketers must be passionate about sales – not the mechanics of satisfying demand; that’s customer service – but the process of motivating people to come. Arts marketers today need to be passionate about persuasion. They need to have an evangelist’s zeal for satisfying the needs and desires of willing but under-motivated outsiders.

Marketers who are passionate about their art form can’t wait to tell people how wonderful the product is. But marketers who are passionate about persuasion can’t wait to show people how happy they’ll be when their yearnings are satisfied by the product.

Change

Marketing is a process of monitoring, adapting to and capitalizing on constantly changing external conditions. Good marketers welcome change with enthusiasm and they respond to it with inquisitiveness and innovation. And the best marketers function as change agents who, because they bring external perspectives into their organizations, keep them flexible, relevant and robust.

The sad state of affairs in the arts today is that marketers who are passionate about art have been regurgitating the same self-indulgent promotional nonsense for the last half century with little regard for what’s happening outside their doors – and with steadily diminishing results.

Making Money

Good marketers are passionate about making money. They choose jobs that reward them for their talent and hard work and that help them build resumes that will maximize their career opportunities. And good marketers naturally expect to be well compensated for the results they produce.

Marketers who are passionate about their art forms, however, are often willing to work cheap and to sacrifice professional marketing careers for arts marketing, which is a largely amateur enterprise.

Leaders who buy cheap passion to avoid paying for professionalism will get what they pay for.

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Back in the old days when arts audiences were abundant, it made sense to hire passionate marketers: “Hey! We love this thing were doing and you love this thing were doing so let’s get together.” But those days are gone.

Today arts marketing is a process of finding and persuading people who might come, but who lack self-motivating enthusiasm for the product: “Hey! We love this thing we’re doing and you… well… uh… you… Did we tell you how much we love this thing we’re doing?”

When potential customers lack self-motivating interest, passion alone is unpersuasive and may actually be off-putting. Under-motivated customers need to know what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you.

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Are there good marketers in the arts who are also passionate about their art forms? Yes. Absolutely. And they should be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. There’s nothing wrong with having passion for the product.

But the arts organizations that survive this audience crisis are likely to be marketed by clear-eyed professionals from outside the bubble – audience-oriented strategists who are as passionate about the process of filling venues as they are about what those venues are there to do.

 

 

 

Arts Marketing Doesn’t Work Because It’s Irrational

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I mentioned two posts ago that good marketing is based on a logical formula that looks like this:

We know you want x

We offer x

Thus we can reasonably project that you will do y

The x is the product you sell, of course, and y is the behavior you expect from your customers, i. e. “We know you want a great night out featuring dining, socializing and high quality artful entertainment. We offer a great night out featuring dining, socializing and high quality artful entertainment. Thus we can reasonably expect that you’ll come to our destination with your friends or family, patronize one of our nearby restaurants, and experience a high quality performance event in our venue.

Spock SmilingWhen I studied classical rhetorical theory in grad school (don’t go away; this is good stuff) I learned that the first two parts of this formula are indispensable components of the persuasion process. Aristotle himself said that if you want to get somebody to think a certain way or do a certain thing, first you have to know what they need or want, and then you have to describe how your product will satisfy their yearnings. It’s a surprisingly simple yet immensely powerful idea that smart businesspeople, preachers, politicians and scoundrels have been using for the last 2,500 years.

Sadly, however, it’s an idea that’s completely lost on arts organizations.

In the arts we tend to ignore the first part of the equation and instead slip in all sorts of self-serving alternatives that don’t have the same impact:

We assume you want x

We hope you want x

We think you should want x

We think you need x because we believe it’s good for you

We’re really excited about x

x is so wonderful that your wanting it shouldn’t matter

Our artistic director has staked his career on the expectation that you want x

We knew your grandparents wanted x fifty years ago, but we’re too lazy to find out what you want now

We’re only interested in donors, subscribers and members who want x

Our marketing department actually knows what you want, but our executive director thinks you want x and he approves all the marketing

We think that if we find a clever enough way to get your attention you’ll want x

We’re celebrating our 25th gala anniversary of x

Alec Baldwin wants x

We’re too afraid that you don’t actually want x to find out what you do want

Plug any of these into the strategic equation and you’ll quickly discover that they don’t work. Logic doesn’t function that way. If we want the third part of the equation to remain constant and predictable, the first part has to be grounded in fact, and it must exist in a precise, rational, causal relationship to the second so that, together, they point to an inevitable outcome:

We know you want x

We offer x

Thus we can reasonably project that you will do y

If you want to learn in advance whether your marketing messages are optimally, rationally persuasive, ask yourself these questions:

Have we gathered enough objective, external evidence to know for a fact what our target audiences want?

Have we done a good job of describing how what we’re selling will satisfy our target audience’s stated yearnings?

Since the second question is entirely dependent on there being an affirmative answer to the first, there’s really only one question worth asking. And if the answer isn’t yes, there’s no logical reason to proceed.

Have you gathered enough objective, external evidence to know for a fact what your new audiences want?

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.

Part III: When Dubious Arts Leaders Nix Innovation

This is the third in a five-part series about working with arts leaders who stonewall marketing innovation. For a full introduction, click here for Part I and here for Part II.

If you don’t want to read the other posts, here’s the bottom line: Arts leaders who have no training in professional marketing (which is most of them) and who learned marketing in the nonprofit arts (a terrible place to learn marketing) tend to cover for their incapacities by clinging to tradition. They don’t know any better.

If your boss has a tendency to uphold tradition when the world outside is changing at lightning speed, here’s a recommendation that will help you and your colleagues move in a more professional direction.

Recruit Outside Expertise

Marketing experts love to be asked for advice.

If you want to propose changes in a change-averse organization, go outside your organization to get advice from the best marketing experts you can find. Make it your business to learn everything you can and to amass a trove of impressive knowledge from the best minds in the marketing profession.

Here are five places to start:

Colleges and Universities – Find every marketing expert who teaches in your area. Research their publications to find ones that are most likely to be helpful to you. Ask them if they’re willing to help. Arrange to meet them. Plan to speak with them about your marketing challenges. Ask pertinent questions that are relevant to your situation. Listen carefully to what they say. Write it down. Thank them sincerely. Reward them for their assistance by giving them tickets to your events or in-kind donor benefits. And keep the door open for future conversations.

Books and Authors – Read marketing books and articles. Read as many of the most relevant ones as you can. Master what they say. If you find certain writings especially valuable, contact the authors and ask for their assistance. Arrange to speak with them about your marketing challenges. Ask pertinent questions that are relevant to your situation. Listen carefully to what they say. Write it down. Thank them sincerely. Reward them for their assistance with tickets to your events or in-kind donor benefits. And keep the door open for future conversations.

Local Marketing Professionals – Your community is full of commercial marketers who do what you do, only in more professional environments with higher stakes and higher standards. Find the best ones – preferably those who serve the markets you most want to reach – and assemble an informal advisory council. Focus on the ones who specialize in getting people to go places and do things like sports, entertainment or travel. Arrange to speak with them about your marketing challenges. Ask pertinent questions that are relevant to your situation. Listen carefully to what they say. Write it down. Thank them sincerely. Reward them for their assistance with tickets to your events or donor benefits. And keep the door open for future conversations.

Professional Marketing Associations – Research and join professional marketing associations. Maintain active participation in your local chapters and establish relationships with others in your community who are most likely to be of benefit to you. Take advantage of every professional development opportunity these associations provide and maintain personal/professional relationships with as many fellow marketers in your community as you can.

Board Members – Find out if any of your organization’s board members have legitimate professional marketing expertise. If they do, form a marketing committee and lead it. Keep any smart marketers on you board involved with what you’re doing and solicit their assistance whenever possible. (NOTE: Some executive leaders will limit staff contact with board members. If you’re the best-trained marketer in your organization and your boss won’t let you lead the board’s marketing committee, get a job working for a more competent leader.)

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Now, as with the last two posts, there’s a catch. The more you learn about professional marketing in the commercial sector, the less happy you’re likely to be with the self-centered, amateurism you find in the cultural sector. Also, exposing yourself to real-world marketing and challenging yourself to embrace its professional standards can place you at odds with colleagues who prefer their insular, amateur arts traditions.

The good news is that the networking you do in the professional marketing community will lead you to connections and potential job opportunities in much more productive settings. The arts are not a growth industry and arts marketing is poor preparation for a lucrative, long-term marketing career, so it can’t hurt to have prospects lined up on the outside.

But if the leaders you work for are smart and capable, they should welcome your authoritative external perspective and help you bring productive changes into the organization.

The only hope most traditional arts organizations have for survival is to persuade and satisfy a steady supply of new audiences.

Without fresh, state-of-the-art, professional marketing, this is not likely to happen.

A Few Things Art Museum Virgins Should Know

If you’re a young person who’s thinking about visiting an art museum, here are a few things you should know that are not likely to be evident when you walk through the doors:

The minute you step through those doors, you are the most important person in the museum.

Everybody who works in the museum from the guards to the executive director is there to make sure you have a rewarding experience.

The rich people whose names are carved into the walls gave the museum a lot of money to make sure you have a rewarding experience.

Your experience in the museum is every bit as valuable and important as anyone else’s.

The artists are all speaking to you.

Yes, you.

The artists are trying to speak to the people with the headphones, but they can’t hear because they’re wearing headphones.

You are fully qualified to decide what is good and bad.

You don’t have to like anything.

You don’t have to understand anything.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few things you do like and want to understand.

You can spend your whole visit with the things you like.

You’re free to ignore things that look boring.

You’re free to laugh at anything you find silly.

If the sign next to the art sounds like pretentious nonsense, it’s because the lady who wrote it was talking to people who work in other art museums.

People who run art museums are mega nerds.

Most of the art you see was never meant to be in a museum.

You’re allowed to find the whole thing amazing or ridiculous or both.

The museum is extremely fortunate that you decided to come (art museum attendance is in steady decline).

You can leave and never come back, or you can leave and come back often: Both options are valid.

Now, the message you’ll get from the museum will be very different, but don’t let that concern you. People who run art museums have decided that they are unusually important, and many have forgotten that you’re the reason they’re there.

So print this list before you go, take it with you, read it just before you walk through the doors – and feel free to hand it to anyone who looks like they’ve been made to feel small.

Be the most important person in the museum.

Find art you like.

Laugh when it’s funny.

Have a great time.

 

 

 

 

Part II: When Dubious Arts Leaders Nix Innovation

This is the second in a five-part series about working with arts leaders who stonewall marketing innovation. For a full introduction, click here to read Part I.

Does your boss have a way of supporting new ideas one day and then finding ways to reverse direction the next?

“I know we talked about those new audience images yesterday, but we decided in the development committee meeting to use the production shots instead.”

As we discussed in Part I, arts leaders who have limited professional marketing expertise often take great comfort in tradition. Many will pay lip service to innovation yet work in roundabout ways to preserve the status quo.

“We had a little confab about this at the board meeting and the consensus was that we should hold off on doing anything too risky until we see if the situation improves.”

This isn’t a criticism of inept leadership so much as a description of a flaw in the nonprofit arts model: The arts don’t uphold professional marketing standards, and leaders aren’t expected to possess professional marketing expertise. Thus, under-trained executives often find themselves clinging cautiously to the past rather than moving decisively into the future.

If you’re a well-trained marketer who would like to help your organization move more decisively into the future, you may find that tweaking the model is the most productive way forward. Here’s a modest administrative process you can introduce that should keep your marketing on the right track.

Get Written Approvals on Everything

In the quote above, the marketing team had achieved consensus on a well-thought-out course of action. Armed with plenty of research data, the marketers proposed to make their content more reflective of the customers’ experience by including more pictures of them in the messaging. But shortly thereafter, their boss reverted to a more traditional “it’s-all-about-us-and-how-wonderful-we-are” approach and there was nothing the marketers could do.

If decision-making in your organization is similarly slippery, institute a formal program that requires everyone who has say in the marketing process to sign off on approved plans. Whenever a marketing plan is approved, no matter how large or small, circulate a one-sheet that contains the following:

A description of the approved plan and its essential tactics.

“This plan calls for replacing 25% of the self-centered images we typically use with images of people who reflect our new audience demographic enjoying their experience in our venue. Images will focus on new audience members’ social interaction with one another.”

A summary of the objective market intelligence on which the plan is based.

“Research consistently demonstrates that younger targets need to see their needs and desires being satisfied in our message content. Most say they are looking for quality arts experiences they can share with peers.”

A brief description of how the plan is expected to work.

“By publishing images of young audience members enjoying one another’s company at our events, we will show potential new audiences how our events will satisfy their desires and expectations, thus motivating them to buy more tickets.”

A set of projections that describe anticipated results.

“Based on year-over-year performance, and taking into account an unprecedented shift toward audience-centric content, we anticipate a 7% overall increase in sales and an 18% increase in repeat sales to first-time single-ticket buyers.”

A place for everyone to sign and date.

“Your signature below indicates your approval of the plan as described.”

NOTE: Make sure the market intelligence in the second part is rock solid. If any of it is based on unsupported opinion, this process will be a waste of time.

Will it work? It should if the plan is grounded in facts and rational methods. If your boss is an otherwise competent leader, she’ll be far less likely to make unilateral changes after having approved such a plan in writing. Plus, having given her written assent, she’ll know that altering course arbitrarily will make her responsible for the results. (And she’ll know there’s a signed memo in your files that shows exactly where the process went off track.)

Now there is a caveat: I’ve worked for several executive leaders who kept their organizational decision-making deliberately slippery so the staff were never on firm footing and the boss was always in control. If you work for a leader who won’t allow you to institute an approval process like this, or worse, someone who signs her approvals and makes changes anyway, get another job. Arts marketing is a questionable career move to begin with so there’s no sense wasting time working for leaders who derail innovation.

Marketing in new ways to new audiences is the only hope most traditional arts organizations have for survival. If timid, poorly prepared leaders aren’t up to the task, it’ll be up to confident, well-prepared young administrators to show them the way.

 

 

 

A Brilliant Example For Selfish Arts Marketers

If you’ve been thinking about making your arts marketing more about your customers and less about how wonderful and important you are, the video at the link below is a great example of how to do it.

If you’re not thinking about making your arts marketing more about your customers and less about how wonderful and important you are, you should be preparing to go out of business.

This video does a brilliant job of selling the product because it shows people being made happy as a result of using it. It also focuses on the extraordinary quality of the product, but it allows content that sings the product’s praises to take a back seat.

The video is proprietary so go to this site and click “PLAY VIDEO.” Watch it carefully and compare it to your own marketing content. Then ask yourself honestly if your marketing balances your customers being made happy against you telling everyone how wonderful and important they should think you are.

Also, pay careful attention to the first two words in the copy because they tell the whole story.

Marketing content that sells is about the place where customer and product come together – to the benefit of the customer.