Arts Marketing Workers Unite! The Time to Organize is Now

The arts are facing a catastrophic audience crisis and American arts marketing is a mess:

  • It is governed by executive leaders who have no professional marketing expertise
  • It is shackled by outdated, counterproductive, nonprofit traditions
  • it is self-centered rather than audience-centered
  • It is isolated from the broader marketing profession
  • It is under-valued and under-supported relative to its necessity
  • It is inconsistent in terms of titles, job descriptions and compensation
  • It has no self-governed infrastructure for professional development
  • It offers severely limited opportunities for career growth
  • It is not being used to solve the problems it exists to solve

By organizing to address these issues, arts marketers can put the industry back on a path toward solvency and productive growth.

1. The arts industry is filled with talented, educated, motivated young marketers who are regularly overruled by inexpert executive leaders. By organizing, young arts pros will have the collective authority and sector-wide backing they need to insists on professional alternatives when inept leaders make bad marketing choices.

2. Many marketing traditions that older arts leaders insist on perpetuating were designed to appeal to twentieth century patrons who are now dead. By organizing, arts marketers will have the power, knowledge and tools to they need to reconnect with the marketplace and learn how to engage with living audiences.

3. Effective marketing focuses on the customers and how the product will satisfy their needs or desires, while arts marketing focuses exclusively on the virtues of the product. By organizing, arts marketers will be able to redirect the industry’s communications focus toward the customers on which its future depends.

4. Arts marketing is an isolated, amateurish enterprise that is largely unconnected from, and thus uninfluenced by, the broader marketing profession. By organizing, arts marketers can identify, establish and strive to maintain professional standards that transcend parochial arts industry norms and expectations.

5. Only marketing can save ticket-sales-dependent organizations that need a constant supply of new paying customers. By organizing, arts marketers can ensure that the industry supports marketing in a manner consistent with its importance, and that it recruits and compensates marketers according to their value.

6. Arts marketers have a right to expect basic consistency in titles, job descriptions and compensation levels across the industry. By organizing, marketers can establish benchmarks to which organizations throughout the cultural sector can adhere in order to ensure fair treatment and career stability.

7. The fact that American arts marketing workers have no formal, self-governed mechanism for furthering professional development is an embarrassment. By organizing, arts marketers can develop industrywide training and accreditation processes that will ensure productive career growth and highest-possible job performance.

8. Good marketers seldom ascend to leadership positions in the arts (a fact that explains why the industry fails to attract and keep good marketers, and why arts organizations have so much trouble selling tickets). By organizing, arts marketers can establish sensible career paths that position marketing professionals for leadership roles.

9. Because there are so few leaders among arts executives, or in the funding and policy communities, who possess legitimate professional marketing expertise, arts marketing is not being used to solve the problems that it exists to solve. By organizing, arts marketers can take control in a leaderless environment and assume authority for moving the industry in a more decisive, sustainable direction.

These and other issues point to a clear need for a well organized collective of arts marketing professionals. Whether a union, guild or association, arts marketers must come together to address problems that only professional marketing can solve.

The choice is clear: Unite and lead, or continue to follow “leaders” who don’t know where they’re going.






4 thoughts on “Arts Marketing Workers Unite! The Time to Organize is Now

  1. When you talk about “organizing”, are you referring to unions? Because “organizing” is usually synonymous with unions. And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the sorry mess that are the unions of today — overly bureaucracized, corrupt, power-hungry, plummeting membership, etc.

    So, I agree, the arts are a mess and certainly ONE of the problems is lack of professionalism. But, as a “professional” marketer in the corporate world for the past 30 years, I’d say that marketing, as a discipline, is very wobbly and lacking in professionalism. ANYONE can (and frequently does!) hang out their shingle as a marketer. As to the many “best seller” marketing books/marketing “gurus” that purport to talk about marketing, well . . . you might as well flush your $20 down the toilet!

    Anyhow, keep up the good work, because yes, something needs to be done. BUT, are you asking the right question? That is probably the most important step in effective marketing — asking the right question(s).

    Kind Regards, Brenda South

  2. Hey, Brenda,

    Thanks for chiming in. I use union language because executive arts leaders seem to be more interested in labor disputes than they are in solving their underlying revenue problems. I also think marketers would benefit from having collective bargaining power when it comes to personnel issues. Ultimately, however, I think a guild or association would be appropriate for addressing most of these issues.

    I’ve had feet in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds and have seen the spectrum of professionalism from the sublime to the ridiculous. I can’t help thinking that if the arts are suffering chronic customer attrition, professionalism may be worth striving for no matter how wobbly certain parts of the marketing profession may be.

    The question I’m asking is, who will address the audience crisis if leadership is unwilling or unable? As far as I’m concerned, good marketing is the only available answer.

  3. Back in the 80’s I was a Print Production Manager in advertising agencies, This position establishes and monitors budgets, timelines, quality control and other aspects of printed media and magazine/newspaper ads. We faced similar issues, most of us being self taught, and we formed a local Association, supported by dues and some support from our vendors. Standard org. chart – elected chair, secretary, treasurer, chairs for newsletters, membership directory, programs, events, etc. We developed courses open to would-be & new PMs and colleagues such as agency account managers, client marketing staff, etc., free or at nominal cost. Each segment presented in a classroom setting (some member’s conference room) or via a field trip perhaps to a printing house or imprinted promotional items company by a member or vendor rep according to their special expertise. Became a model for other groups to form in other metro areas, and through the meetings and membership directory, became a terrific resource for all of us. On a state/regional basis, Sounds like what you are proposing. Great idea.
    I am now (10+ years) a phone rep marketing & fundraising for arts orgs, and there is a huge disconnect between what we in the trenches do & hear from patrons/donors and those who run things in our client orgs. No way now to bridge that gap by sharing info & strategy upward or downwards.

    • Thanks for the great case study, Ellen. And thanks for pointing out the disconnect between management and audiences. Executive arts leaders are frightfully out of touch with their customers as you well know. They’ll never admit it, but sales reps who interact directly with customers are among the organization’s most valuable assets.

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