Extremely Difficult Copy Tips for Arts Marketers

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m not much of a “helpful tips” kind of guy. I find most tips lists to be shallow and ineffective. If you follow arts pros on Twitter, for example, you’ll be bombarded every day with enough tips articles to solve the industry’s problems a hundred times over, but for some reason the core problems never actually get solved.

I think it’s because the very idea of “tips” suggests that making productive change is easy when in fact it’s extremely difficult. Organizations – especially nonprofit organizations – don’t work that way. Change at the task level often requires systemic change that most organizations are incapable of accommodating.

So rather than suggest that these tips are easy, I’m going to admit upfront that they’re incredibly hard to do. They question bedrock assumptions, they call for entirely new ways of thinking and they’ll produce processes and products that are unlike anything the arts have ever experienced. They’re so difficult, in fact, that many arts organizations simply won’t be able to make them happen.



1. Forget the Past

To be effective, you’ll want to write copy that’s original, professional, relevant and customer centric. Unfortunately, any example you dig out of arts marketing history is likely be clichéd, amateurish, derivative and egocentric. Better to start fresh than to perpetuate the industry’s bad habits.

2. Do Research

It is utterly impossible to write persuasive copy if you don’t know exactly who you’re talking to and what they want. And you can’t just dream it up. You have to really know, so make sure you’ve gathered plenty of objective external audience intelligence long before you begin writing.

3. Use Logic

Create a rational persuasive formula like the one in my last post: We know you want x (this will be what you learned from your research). We offer x (this will be how you describe your product as it relates to what they said they want). Therefore we can reasonably assume you will do (these will be your sales projections).

4. Personify your Targets

Create personalities that exemplify your data. If your research on younger, more culturally diverse audiences describes young, educated professionals in their late twenties/early thirties with diverse tastes in arts & entertainment who seek leisure experiences in small social groups, create a fictitious persona that embodies these characteristics. Then name her, describe her, find a picture of her on Google Images and write with her in mind.

5. Talk Normal

Speak in a natural colloquial style. If you have trouble writing this way, try actually sitting down with someone who typifies your target audience and persuading them to come to your next event. Record your conversation, transcribe what you’ve said and then edit to fit your needs. In all likelihood, the way you normally talk will be the most appropriate language for your written materials.

6. Be Honest

Start by writing out in the simplest possible language what’s true about your product and why your target audience would want to buy it. “Script Flippers offers classic plays reinterpreted for contemporary audiences in a casual creative space that offers food, drink and social interaction. Our focus group research revealed a desire among younger audiences for serious but current plays and complete evenings out featuring dining, entertainment and social interaction.”

7. Write About Them

Write about what you know they want. This will be especially difficult for arts professionals because we’re so used to writing exclusively about ourselves. But the essence of persuasion lies not in telling the world how wonderful we are, but rather in describing how happy our customers will be as a result of having purchased our products.

8. Spell Out Why they Should Come

It used to be that you could simply describe the arts with upbeat, enticing language and self-motivated people would come out of the woodwork. But self-motivated audiences are dying and new audiences don’t care as much so we have to motivate them by telling them explicitly why they should come.

9. Describe How They’ll Feel

Aristotle said persuasion requires three things: character, logic and emotion. You have to be a worthy source of the information (we’ll assume that’s usually true), you have to make a rational case (see “Use Logic” above) and you have to appeal to your audience’s emotions. If you want people to come to your event, describe what they’ll feel like when they get there so they’ll feel like coming.

10. Be Real

Arts marketing used to be the product of an authoritative but artificial executive voice that spoke on behalf of the organization. This voice was disconnected from any individual and spoke in only one direction: “The Springfield Center for Artsy Culture proudly announces an event of immense artistic importance…” Fortunately, the advent of user controlled social media has rendered this disembodied voice obsolete, so your job is to speak in language that’s informal, human, personal and conversational.


Changing the organizational culture to accommodate this type of work is challenging, but the work itself is easy. If the alternative is to do the same thing we’ve always done and hope for better results, what choice do we have?


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