Today is January 20th. In the US it's a big day in politics.
So would today be a good day for me to share with you my ten tips to perfect arts marketing?
Not only because the ten tips don't really exist but because my timing is wrong. You aren't thinking about arts marketing today. Tomorrow maybe, but not today.
And I could try to convince you to be interested in arts marketing today but that would be a waste of time and energy.
So here's what I want you to think about (not now, but on Monday).
In what ways are you wasting your marketing time?
Are you talking to people who have a demonstrated history of not history, like people who never open your emails?
Are you advertising in places or at times when people aren't ready to listen?
Just remember that the right message at the wrong time = The wrong message.
Timing is everything.
FYI, I've noticed a surge in readers from Canda lately. No idea why, but HI CANDA!
As the world becomes more complex the drive for certainty becomes more and more intense.
In the arts world this drive is defined by a constant need to know what's going to happen next.
How many tickets are we going to sell?
How many views is this video going to receive?
Certainty. Tell me what's going to happen next. And ideally, tell me that tomorrow is going to bring more than today.
That understandable desire, if you succumb to it, can create a tremendous amount of risk aversion. It can lead to the conclusion that the best way to keep tomorrow consistent is to do the same thing over and over today.
The alternative is to be curious. The alternative is try and approach any day, good or bad, with a desire to increase your understanding. The magic of marketing, particularly arts marketing, is that you can always become smarter. You can always improve your process. You can always increase your wisdom.
But it all starts with being curious. It starts with shaking off the highs and the lows and continuously ask "why".
I can't tell you how your year in the arts is going to go. I can't tell you how many tickets you will sell.
But I can tell you that at the end of this year your skill level, intelligence, marketing process and wisdom can dramatically increase.
Pursue that and the money will follow.
I think it's now fair to say that marketing has evolved past tactics.
Or to put it another way, any marketing tactic - from social media, to direct mail, to email, to paid advertising, etc. is as good as any other. There isn't a hierarchy of tactics anymore. There really is no way to definitely say, "these are the things we know do and don't work." My twitter feed may beat your TV spots. My live events may overcome your digital ads.
Yet so many of us in the marketing field are still obsessed by tactics. We want to know how to perfectly segment our lists. We want to know the perfect targeting for our digital ads. We want to get all the little things right.
Then you get a reminder that a story destroys a tactic. You realize that 60 million people can gather around one story (with a few tweaks), 61 million around another, and another 120 million around an entirely different story.
There are a million lessons to take from the past few weeks. Here's one I'd like you to consider. As the world becomes more complex and less certain people are looking for reflections of their own identity. They are looking for community in the broadest sense of the word. You may think that community is positive or negative but either way people are looking for it.
Every artist and arts organization is now, essentially, a mirror. People look into it and decide if they can see themselves in it.
So what does a person see when they look into you?
Do they just see a form of commerce? Do they just see a product to be sold? Do they see something that is easily replaceable with cheaper, more available options?
Or do they see something that matters? Something that has a sense of purpose and values so clear that when they connect with it, they see themselves more clearly?
Marketing has now evolved to the point where you can do anything you want, in anyway you want, as long as the story resonates. The hard part is to be specific, clear and intentional with your story.
The last time I typed on this blog I was in Chicago running the marketing for one of the largest nonprofit theater's in that town.
Now I'm in Minneapolis handling the marketing for one the largest nonprofit theater's in the United States. In some ways, everything has changed. New genre of work. New audience. New town. More members of the marketing team. Higher financial expectations.
Everything has changed.
But then again, nothing has changed.
Marketing is STILL the art (and science) of telling a story about an institution that promotes an organization's work, values and mission.
The tools are still the tools. The goal of social media is still to be timely, relevant and engaging. The goal of advertising is still to represent the artistic work properly.
That's true if you need to sell $500 worth of tickets, $500,000 or 5 million.
If you work in the arts you should find this to be encouraging. Executing a marketing plan that brings in a lot of revenue isn't all that different from bringing in one. It's just adding a few zeros.
So take an artistic risk. Stretch yourself. I've worked at three organizations with widely different budgets and I can tell you that it never get easier . . . it gets the same.
First, congrats to Catherine for winning a copy of A Beautiful Constraint. Your book is going into the mail soon.
Next up we have Seth Godin's book, What Do You Do When It's Your Turn.
The arts world is filled with people look for permission. Permission to act. Permission to dance. Permission to design. This isn't a good or bad thing. It's just reality.
What this book is about is mixing your pursuit of permission with something else, a heavy dose of initiative. This uniquely designed book is your chance to see your world a little differently and (maybe) find some opportunities you never knew you had.
And so, to get this book shipped to you for free you've got to email me at email@example.com with an answer to this question:
Tell me about a particularly unique challenge or obstacle you encountered in your work, how you solved it and what you learned from the experience.
Deadline for answers is Friday, May 13. One winner will be chosen.
Over the next few weeks I'll be giving away a copy of books that I have found invaluable in my arts marketing career. All the details on how to win will come at the end of each post. We are starting with A Beautiful Constraint
A life in the artistic world is a life defined by constraints. You have the typical restraints that all businesses have to some degree i.e time and money. You also have constraints that are unique to the arts world. For example I work in theater and theater has a "scale" restraint. Any theater production has a limited number of seats they can sell on a given night. A play like Hamilton can be incredible but the Broadway run may still be physically experienced by less people then will watch one quarter of a sub par NBA game.
And the thing about many of the constraints we face is that they may never go away. Let's look at another constraint many of us face in the arts, relatively "high" ticket prices. The costs and structure of many arts organizations may also create a need for a large amount of earned revenue through ticket sales.
The book A Beautiful Constraint will give you a variety of different ways to consider, reconsider and (possibly) overcome some of the constraints that are challenging you in your professional and personal life. I have one copy of the book that I will mail (shipping covered by me) to one reader of this blog. To get a chance to win here's what you have to do:
I've got a least 2-3 more books (and possibly more) to give away. So keep reading the blog over the next several weeks. Good luck.
Everybody gets a share. A share of attention. A share of money. A share of trust. Some get a lot. Others not nearly enough. But we all get a share.
Think of it this way. Where I work if we did no marketing at all we would still get a few people to show up to our performances. If we literally shut down our website, didn't spend a dime on advertising, etc. we would still get some people to show up based on our history and reputation.
Of course the people that show up wouldn't be enough to achieve our goals, but that group is an example of what I mean by our "fair share".
But the goal of real, authentic, arts marketing is to build a relationship with your potential audience that leads you to getting MORE audience then you "deserve".
That's what every great company does.
A lot of companies sell athletic apparel but for years Nike got more then their fair share of the market. Now companies like Under Armour are trying to find ways to get more then what their size, history, etc. implies they deserve.
You can't really advertise your way to more than your fair share. You don't have the money.
And you can't work a PR spin into getting more than your fair share. You don't have the clout.
But what you can do is tell a story that resonates with more people. You can turn your email marketing, your social media, your website, your show program, your lobby, your front of house staff, your packaging . . .
(Get the idea)
You can turn ALL of that into something that communicates a message to the public about why you deserve more than your fair share.
Why do comic book creators and film makers think it is so important for you to understand that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and lost his Uncle Ben. Why do they need you to know that Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered?
It's because they know that to understand Spiderman or Batman you must know where they came from. You have to understand the origin story because that influences everything that comes after.
All great marketing also has an origin story. It is influenced by the place that created it. If you think about a company that had a rise, then a fall, then a resurrection (a company like Starbucks) you can see this in action.
Starbucks started by positioning itself as a unique spot in the ecosystem. The language (tall, grande, etc.), the dedication to the beans, etc. all came from a specific beginning that was designed to get to a specific place.
And then things started to slip. It's hard to stay unique and it's only when the CEO decided to try and go back to the principles that made them unique that the company began to progress again.
Here's the thing to consider. The goal of marketing isn't just to sell. It's to sell in a way that feels like only you could make it feel. It's to sell in a way that reflects your origin and your values.
For example, I work at a place that has it's origins in intellectual rigor. So how do I sell you that show in a way that makes you feel that? Maybe I could have an acclaimed professor talk about the story in an interview. Maybe I could produce an in-depth timeline of the history behind the piece. The options are endless but the point is simple:
When I put that brochure in your hand, or you read the email, it should feel like US and ONLY US.
Like YOU and ONLY YOU.
That's the goal.
Any less is just advertising and noise.
When I do a blog post like the one I did a few days ago on the role of advocacy in arts marketing I get some interesting responses. One common response is this one:
Adam, it's easy for you to talk about not worrying so much about sales but I have big sales goals to meet.
Of course you do. That's obvious.
In fact, I'm pretty sure I can describe the situation for 95% of us that work in either the profit or nonprofit arts world.
See. It's like magic.
But the point here is that the public doesn't care about your sales goals or mine. They don't care what we need in terms of sales. Our goals are our problem. The question is how the marketing we do and the art we produce solves the problem that the audience has.
So what problem does your audience have?
A lack of places to spend money? Nope.
A lack of entertainment options? No.
A desire to feel like they are part of a community? Yes.
A need to feel smarter, more connected and more informed? Yes.
A need to feel like they are part of something meaningful? Yes.
So that's why I talk about having an advocacy mindset over a sales mindset.
That's why I talk about marketing your work based on your values, not just the perceived benefits of the production.
It's because doing those things puts you on the path toward creating marketing that people actually want to engage with and respond to.