Ten More Marketing Myths That Arts Leaders Still Believe

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.


3 thoughts on “Ten More Marketing Myths That Arts Leaders Still Believe

  1. Bravo almost all the way around. . . . Except for sentence 2 in #18. “Every time you hear the word engagement think sales because sales is just community engagement with measurable goals.” You really didn’t think I would let that go did you?
    We agree that it’s inappropriate to say marketing equals sales. The fact that people act as if it is does not make it true. Similarly, just because many are misusing the word engagement generally and community engagement specifically does not mean that they get to dictate the concepts’ meanings. Substantive community engagement is *way* too important to the arts and–as you and I have “back and forth”ed–even to *marketing* the arts to let them get away with it. I’m working on honoring the word marketing. Let’s work on claiming the important meanings of engagement and calling out the misuse.

  2. I was being cheeky on that one and you’re absolutely right to call me out, Doug. Substantive community engagement is indeed important and it’s unfair of me to treat it so cavalierly.

    What I should have said was that that sales – when it’s done thoughtfully and with respect to long-term relationships – has a lot in common with engagement, and the recent emergence of engagement as an industry priority, which is attributable in large part to you, Doug, suggests that there will be an increasing need for such thoughtful companion approaches to sales in the near future.

  3. «Myth 11: Passion for Art is a Must for an Arts Marketer»
    I would agree. When I advertise for roles in my own area or the arts business (not marketing I should point out) I never call for “passion” – an overused term that is largely meaningless and usually results in the applicant blithely declaring that they have “passion”. But… I do call for real *knowledge* of the art. So I would say: be dispassionate and businesslike, bring those technical skills. But if you don’t have a clue what it is that you’re marketing and little _existing_ interest (if you’ve been to, say, one play in the last ten years) then how valuable are the technical skills? Can you market something of which you have no experience?

    That’s my view, of course, influenced in large part by the fact that in my area of expertise the knowledge of the art form is in fact a major element in the technical skill set. So I’m genuinely interested, Trevor, in your thoughts on the necessity in marketing for knowledge and experience of the art form. (As opposed to “passion”.)

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