As the audience crisis worsens, arts organizations should seriously consider weeding out administrators who say ‘get the word out.’
Getting the word out is the equivalent of using a typewriter, running off mimeographs or keeping patron data on index cards. It’s a business tool that was once useful, but is now obsolete. Arts administrators who continue to say it – or god forbid do it – are doing serious harm to their organizations.
Back in the mid 20th century, getting the word out was something arts organizations did so people who were waiting for the word could respond. Older arts administrators remember those days fondly and many still believe that getting the word out will solve their audience problems. But it won’t. It can’t. Today there aren’t enough people waiting for the word to make getting it out useful.
If you’re an older arts administrator who says ‘get the word out’ when you’re talking about selling tickets or growing audiences, it’s probably time for you to move on. If you’re a young arts administrator who says ‘get the word out,’ you might want to find the nearest marketing MBA program and sign up for some courses.
If you don’t understand why the phrase is so dangerous, here are three things worth knowing:
It Describes a One-Way Process
The phrase literally describes a process where insiders send information to outsiders. Older arts administrators learned a 20th century promotional approach to marketing that involves informing the public about upcoming events, so they prefer to send the word out and hope it hits enough of the right people.
Arts Organization >>> Word >>> Customers
Unfortunately, the phrase fails to describe an equally important part of the process, which is engaging with the customers and learning about their needs and desires.
Customers >>> Desires >>> Arts Organization
Arts Organization >>> Word >>> Customers
Arts leaders who say ‘get the word out’ are describing only half the market process and, as a result, doing only half the marketing job.
It Describes a Passive Process
Sending out one-way messages and waiting for people to respond is lazy.
“WE’RE DOING THIS WONDERFUL THING NEXT WEEK!!!”
If people aren’t waiting for the word, and don’t really care about the word, and all you’re doing is spraying the word at them, you might as well take your marketing money and throw it out the window.
People who don’t care about the word need to be moved to act. They need to be convinced that buying your product will satisfy their desires. If the word doesn’t motivate people to act by promising them something they need or want, getting it out is a waste of resources.
Look at your most recent marketing content. Does it focus on your customers and promise them something they actually told you they want? Or is it all about you and how wonderful and important you think they should think you are?
It Enables Narcissism
Older arts leaders are deeply invested in the belief that marketing is there to tell the world how wonderful and important they are. Having spent so much time back in the 20th century getting the word out to people who thought they were wonderful and important, they grew accustomed to describing their products in hyper-inflated, self-flattering promotional language, which is what people who were waiting for the word wanted to hear.
Today, people who aren’t waiting for the word don’t give a shit about the flattering things you say about yourself in your marketing content. They care about themselves and how your products will satisfy their needs and desires.
If your marketing isn’t about your customers and how your products will make them happy, and all you’re doing is telling people how wonderful and important you are, you’re just kissing your own ass in public.
Out of touch arts administrators who devote the bulk of their marketing content to kissing their own asses in public – and then complain about not being able to attract new audiences – are a major part of the reason why the arts are enduring such devastating audience declines.
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Here’s a change that any arts organization can make immediately to improve sales: Strike the phrase ‘get the word out’ from your organization’s business lexicon and replace it with ‘motivate customers to buy.’ If you make this one small change in the language you use, your entire communications philosophy will change and your sales will improve dramatically.
Suddenly you’ll realize that all those brochures with your conductor on the cover have nothing to do with motivating customers to buy, and that the ‘word’ you’ve been working so hard to get out is mostly just self-indulgent nonsense.
But when your business language shifts from getting the word out to motivating audiences, you’ll find yourself endeavoring to develop more meaningful connections with your customers so you can better persuade them to participate.
It’s the simplest thing in the world and it doesn’t cost a cent.
And if you still have administrators who refuse to make the change, you should probably encourage them to find another calling. Or you could always give them a cubicle with a mimeograph machine, a typewriter and a set of index cards – and name them your new Director of Getting the Word Out.
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Love this, Trevor.
There are three phrases that I have forbidden my students to say: “Get the Word Out,” “We need some free advertising,” and “We just need younger audiences.” It’s amazing how many of them go out on their internships and first jobs and report back how many of their supervisors and board members are still saying this. Thanks for the laugh!
Thanks, Ellen. These are great. And of course there’s “generate awareness.”
Or one of my all-time favorites: “we really need to reach out to the senior centers.”
Maybe I’ll do a post on the top ten most fatuous phrases in arts marketing.