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.

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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.

Ka-MYOO-ni-tee En-GAGE-ment

Once, while traveling across Pennsylvania on a wet snowy night, my partner and I stopped at a dismal little Burger King in a mountain town along Route 80. Greeting us just inside the door was a large white poster with a chart containing simple line sketches of characters from the animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And under each sketch was a phonetic spelling of the character’s name: ES-muh-REL-duh.

Strange marketing, we thought, then it dawned on us that this wasn’t marketing at all. It was a pronunciation guide that Disney had sent out so Burger King employees could say the names of the promotional toys they were handing out. It was meant to hang in the break room.

Clearly, neither the manager nor his team understood what this poster was or where it belonged. We found it sad and poignant, yet none-the-less humorous, that an internal, administrative tool like this had been posted so proudly for the public to see.

Twenty years later we can still crack each other up by articulating character names from the movie when we come across something tragically stupid.

I thought of this recently when I visited the website of a major American arts organization and found a tab on the primary navigation bar that said “Community Engagement.” I won’t use the name of the organization because it’s just too embarrassing, but they actually published intra-industry administrative jargon on their website as if it were promotional language, and beneath it a pull-down menu of programs and promotions designed to offer ways for the community to engage with them!

KWA-zee-MO-doh.