The “Lost Opportunity for Joy” School of Arts Marketing

Andrew Taylor has a post over at Artsjournal.com this week called “Filling the house, or filling the heart. In it he mentions an executive search consultant who recruits for arts organizations and who is:

“concerned about the shift in senior-level marketing director candidates, who see their work increasingly as a job rather than a calling (an empty seat is a missed metric rather than a lost opportunity for joy).”

Personally, I think this is wonderful news. The arts need dispassionate marketers who want good marketing jobs. We need skilled professionals who understand that every empty seat is a missed metric and that the joy it represents is useful only to the extent that it can be leveraged to persuade someone to sit in it. For years we’ve been hiring insiders who are passionate about the arts, but what we need now are skilled practitioners with outside perspectives who are passionate about marketing. That may seem heretical to arts leaders who subscribe to the old “opportunity for joy” school of arts marketing, but it’s really the only sensible way forward in an era of diminishing demand and intense competition.

If you take a critical look at the “lost opportunity for joy” / “missed metric” dichotomy, you can’t help noticing that one is poetry while the other is math. One is an insider’s lament while the other is an objective description of reality. One is an emotional response to a sorry turn of events while the other is a statement of fact about a failed business strategy. They both do a good job of describing what happened, but only one sees the issue from a rational perspective and only one points to appropriate real world solutions.

Ask yourself this: What does an arts organization do when faced with lost opportunities for joy? If you’re like most arts pros, your answer will be to find more compelling ways to communicate how inherently joyful your products are. You’ll pursue strategies for developing more expressive copy, more dramatic photography and more creative design concepts. And if history is a guide, you’ll produce promotional materials that do a slightly better job of telling the world how wonderful you are and how lucky folks will be to experience the joy you believe your products can deliver.

But ask what an organization must do when confronted with missed metrics and the answer will be dramatically different. Metrics are measurements. Missing metrics are gaps in the strategic equation – necessary information that the marketers failed to gather or consider. Who were the people who didn’t buy those seats? Where were they? What did they do instead? What are their needs, wants and desires? What might we have done differently to persuade them to choose us over the competition? How can we go about gathering the information we need about this audience – and others like them – so we have the necessary metrics for developing successful new audience marketing initiatives?

The missed metrics approach asks us to use data rather than opinion, tradition or instinct. It tells us to gather objective, external intelligence so we can create rational persuasive strategies. It insists that we take a businesslike approach to marketing – no matter how unbusinesslike the rest of our organizations insist on remaining. And it forces us to plug the gaping holes in our joy-expressing strategies with audience oriented facts so our sales campaigns will be efficient, effective and predictable. In short, it demands that we learn why and how our new audiences seek joy long before we presume to tell them where they should find it.

Marketing is more about science and math than it is about creative expression. The arts didn’t need to know this back when there were plenty of people in the marketplace who actively sought joy in the products we sold. But those people are dying and young people aren’t looking for joy in the same places so we have a lot of quantitative catching up to do.

If we want stop losing audiences and start finding new audiences, we have to leave the poetry to the poets, hire smart, professional, businesslike marketers and then give them the support they need to do their jobs.

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