This morning I saw an ad for this regional theatre job:
CHIEF MARKETING & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT OFFICER
I was stunned. Marketing and community engagement are two entirely different things so it was shocking to see them combined into one position. Might as well advertise for a “VP of Finance & Catering” or a “Box Office & Costume Shop Manager” or a “Group Sales & Technical Director.”
Given how dependent community engagement is on contributed income, I could see a “Chief Development and Community Engagement Officer,” but marketers have too much on their plates to waste time on qualitative programs that offer no tangible outcomes. At a time when audiences are in steady decline and venerable arts institutions are tanking for lack of earned revenue, making marketers responsible for community engagement is breathtakingly counterproductive.
If you’re an arts marketer who’s thinking of applying for this job, here are some questions you should ask during your interview. If the organization has trouble answering them, run away as fast as you can.
How does your organization define community engagement?
Is this engagement activity expected to deliver measurable results?
Are these results expected to generate a reasonable return on investment?
May I see a copy of the current community engagement budget?
What return are you currently projecting on this investment?
Can you offer examples of engagement activities that generate acceptable ROI?
Will my performance as an engagement officer be measured in quantifiable results?
What metrics do you currently use to measure engagement success?
If it turns out they do define engagement in terms of measurable results, they’re not talking about community engagement, they’re talking about sales and that’s what they should be calling it. Connecting with people in the community to persuade them to buy tickets is called sales. Engagement is about connecting with the community for the sake of connecting with the community and talking about how, some day, if the communities have been successfully engaged, community members may become people who decide they want to buy tickets – or not.
Engagement advocates like to talk about engagement in relation to audience development, but there is no evidence to suggest that engagement will result in sustainable paying audiences for traditional, revenue-dependent organizations. If you’re going to be asked to do both marketing and engagement, you must know in advance how your performance will be measured because engagement isn’t likely to deliver quantifiable results, and all the energy you divert toward engagement will take time and resources away from sales and marketing, which actually do deliver quantifiable results.
Engagement is a popular fad in the cultural sector right now, especially among funders who like to encourage and support engagement activity. So I’m guessing this organization created the title to appeal to its funders, or they decided they liked having a popular buzzword in the title, or they just don’t understand the difference between marketing, engagement and sales.
Whatever the title’s genesis, smart marketers would be well advised to steer clear of any job that asks them to do both marketing and community engagement. If you’re good at filling theatre seats and earning revenue (a.k.a. selling tickets), look for an employer who’s serious enough about marketing and sales to give you a job with an accurate, sensible, professional name.