This is embarrassing. There shouldn’t be ten false marketing assumptions leading the arts astray, let alone twenty.
The more I think and write about my profession, the more convinced I am that the arts have nobody to blame but ourselves for this current predicament. We may not have created the conditions that led to chronic audience declines, but we failed to respond to those declines in a professional manner, and deciding whether to respond as professionals or as amateurs was entirely up to us.
Here are ten more examples of the kind of thinking that’s been holding us back:
Myth 11: Passion for Art is a Must for an Arts Marketer
Reality: Passion for generating earned revenue is the ultimate qualification; legitimate marketing expertise is second; and an ability to personally identify with under-motivated, fence-sitting audiences may well be third. If dispassionate, businesslike, ticket-selling marketers don’t fit the organizational culture, it’s time to change the culture.
Myth 12: Marketers Deserve Less Compensation Than Fundraisers
Reality: There’s no better illustration of the arts industry’s blundering, suicidal incompetence than its tendency to under-invest in professional marketing talent at a time when generating a dependable supply of new paying customers is its only hope for survival. (Don’t get me started.)
Myth 13: Tradition is a Useful Guide
Reality: Arts executives who don’t know what they’re doing tend to rely on tradition for marketing guidance, which is why most arts marketing is old-fashioned, dully repetitive and out of touch with contemporary audiences. Real marketers develop their content in response to up-to-date market intelligence and current competitive market positions.
Myth 14: People Love the Arts
Reality: People like the arts. Some people love them but there are far fewer of those people than there used to be. Marketing to people who merely like the arts requires a new language. The old self-centered language reminded arts lovers to come. The new language has to persuade people to come, which means it has to be about them.
Myth 15: Art is Above Entertainment
Reality: Art is entertainment. Society may once have maintained a distinction between devoting time and attention to art, which was thought to be a ‘higher’ pursuit, and devoting time and attention to lower leisure activities, but that distinction no longer applies. Today the arts compete with all forms of entertainment in a level, democratic, and increasingly user controlled arena.
Myth 16: People Come for the Art
Reality: The play is not necessarily the thing. While older audiences come for the art, newer audiences are just as likely to come for the package. They’re looking for enjoyable ways to do things with friends, families or significant others that include not just the main event (which could be anything) but equally important peripherals such as dining, drinking, shopping, socializing, etc.
Myth 17: Buyers are Motivated by Price
Reality: Buyers are motivated by value. The marketer’s first job is to create value by persuading consumers that the product offers them rewards that transcend its price. The next job is to offer pricing that maximizes the value that’s been created. If it’s done right, the dreaded D-word need never be uttered.
Myth 18: Sales is Icky
Reality: Sales is the new marketing. Every time you hear the word engagement think sales because sales is just community engagement with measurable goals.
Myth 19: Expensive Ad Agencies Can Help
Reality: Agencies don’t sell tickets; they sell creative and media services to clients who want to sell tickets. Huge difference. The only person capable of judging the effectiveness of an agency/client relationship is a client-side marketing pro who knows what sells and who can hold the agency’s feet to the fire. Otherwise, agencies will happily sell arts organizations anything they think they need to buy.
Myth 20: New Audiences are Out There Somewhere
Reality: New audiences, if they exist, are clinging to the ugly, tattered fringes of our current audience – the churning, faithless, last minute, take-it-or-leave-it, ill-behaved audiences we depend on but find so hard to respect. The problem with new audiences isn’t finding them; it’s accepting the ones we have, learning how to respond to their expectations, finding ways to love them, and welcoming others like them into the fold.
Bonus Myth 21: We Can Turn Things Around Without Professional Leadership
Reality: We can’t.