Chloe Veltman has an interesting post over at Artsjournal.com this week called “Of Angry Waiters and Oblivious Arts Managers” about the relationships that some arts institutions maintain – or fail to maintain – with their neighboring restaurants.
I don’t know enough about the particulars of that situation to express an opinion, but I do know this: Any audience-dependent cultural organization that doesn’t reach out to and maintain productive personal relationships with its destination partners needs a swift kick in the pants. The days of cultural organizations serving as anchors to neighborhoods with clusters of dependent amenities are drawing to a close while the era of collaborative destination marketing has been underway for some time now.
I worked for several years marketing Broadway as a tourism destination for Cameron Mackintosh. Most producers back then didn’t think Broadway needed to be marketed but, in reality, Broadway was competing with alluring entertainment destinations all over the world. It may be one of the most successful brands in the history of entertainment, but in practical terms, Broadway’s fortunes can rise or fall in relation to the popularity of the destination in which it operates.
The most striking thing I learned during that time was how interdependent the Times Square community was and how important it was for its attractions, restaurants, hotels, cultural institutions and travel service providers to sell it, together, as a competitive destination. My product was Broadway theatre, but I worked closely with sales and marketing executives from throughout the community to make coming to Times Square to see a Broadway show as attractive and satisfying an experience as it could be.
In returning to the nonprofit world, though, I found attitudes that were surprisingly insular and egocentric. Most of the cultural organizations I worked with paid little heed to the nearby amenities that contributed to their destination appeal, and many didn’t even collaborate with the catering companies that held contracts with their venues. The attitude was that the art was the draw and all other considerations were peripheral or subordinate and of only passing concern to arts marketers. “I know, let’s see if Domenico’s will give our subscribers a free dessert.”
Older, loyal, core audiences come for the show. We all know that. If they eat dinner or stay for a drink afterward, that’s all well and good, but it has little influence on their decision to buy tickets. We also know, however, that those audiences are diminishing and their heirs don’t have the same level of commitment to our products. For new audiences, the overall quality of the evening out can be the factor that determines whether they’ll choose an opera, a ballgame or a nightclub and when that happens, the appeal of the destination means everything.
Not every arts enclave is a major tourism destination of course, but the destination marketing concept applies whether you’re attracting people from down the street, across town, throughout the region or from another state or country. With arts audiences in steady decline (especially classical music audiences) we need to give our potential patrons every reason we can to spend their leisure time and dollars in our neighborhoods.
Do you know the owners of your ten nearest restaurants personally? Have you invited them to an event, given them a free membership or subscription, offered to do something special for their customers? Do you invite their employees to your shows? Have you sat down and discussed how you can work collaboratively to attract a larger, broader audience to the destination? Do you sell packages? Do you hang out with the non-arts marketers and sales execs who sell your destination to their customers? When was the last time a waiter called you on his cell phone to see if you had any last-minute tickets for his customers?
Chloe Veltman speculates in her post about the debt that local restaurants owe to their nearby cultural attractions and what would happen to Hayes Valley restaurants if the arts organizations left the neighborhood. But I think if you turn the question around the answer is equally poignant. What would happen to your arts organization if the amenities that contribute to your destination appeal were to suddenly disappear?