There are three things that can happen to an arts organization (or any nonprofit) during a recession.
1) You can close your doors and basically go dormant. 2) You can scrape by, maybe in worse shape, but making it. 3) Or you can thrive.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it – THRIVE. Yet it is happening. People are lined up in the rain outside the Chicago Arts Institute for the Edvard Munch show. Movies are selling out hours before show time. Symphony concerts, popular artists, lecture series – shows in venues coast to coast are selling all tickets. People are responding to arts and culture.
How can you ensure this kind of good news? Follow these rules and tips as a start, and come back next week for more in the tool kit.
ArtsMarket’s Rules to Live By
1. Plan to thrive. That’s right. Plan for success. Even now.
2. Budget to thrive. Invest resources where you can see results.
3. Program to thrive. Do what will stand out, be noticed, and program what will “demand” an audience.
4. Market to thrive. Create a compelling story. Share it. Prospect. Link.
5. Brand to thrive and image to thrive.
6. Govern and lead to thrive. This is exactly not the time for fear. Careful stewardship, for sure. But thinking for long term success now will let you open the box of your thinking (see my logo, above), explore new opportunities, edit back that which will go nowhere, and focus on the goal.
Over the next few weeks, I will be translating these into tools for the month. We’ll start with marketing, because April is the start of prospecting season for most performing arts organizations. It is when major budget allocation decisions are being made for next year’s marketing budget. Next month, we’ll focus on governing and leading to thrive, so you can move forward with those plans in May in June.
Using the ArtsMarket Rules to Live By in Your Next Season Marketing.
Your marketing effort for next year isn’t going to work if it is only about survival. You have a brilliant chance, right now, to emerge from the shadows and be the answer to consumer needs and wants for great art, great entertainment, great food for the soul. THINK AT 40,000 Feet. Plan for increased participation, and increased revenue. I challenge you to NOT set low expectations.
When you plan and budget to thrive, there are 10 things not to do in the current economy. Address each of these, and you will succeed.
1. DO NOT cut direct marketing. There is so much less clutter out there right now that every piece of mail is noticed, and if written write, provokes a response.
2.DO NOT stop prospecting. Everything is about prospecting. Remember that the #1 rule of business is to get a new customer who WILL COME BACK. So first you get them in the door, then you provide a great experience, and they return. You must prospect. People who don’t keep your organization top of mind are probably – like all of us – a little too numb to pay attention to what play is on stage where next Saturday night. Remember, your house list faces bigger churn in a recession so you constantly need to find newcomers.
3. DO NOT stop PR. There are more PR opportunities out there now than ever, more keyed to age groups than ever. For your networking savvy folks, you have the cocktail party atmosphere of Twitter where you can drop a hint, ask a provoking question, start a dialogue. You’ve got the Starbucksian atmosphere of Facebook, and the ever so professional conference of Linked In groups. You can Flicker, YouTube (and I challenge anyone to take on Carnegie Hall to an even higher level of community building), and so much more. At the snail level, there is a plethora of new micro newspapers emerging with the demise and cuts of metro dailies – ever so accessible. The web sites of existing media, the newsletters and the links….we’ve never seen such ability to use so many PR channels. And let’s not forget the real essence of PR – doing good for the community. Any time you can get out there to help others, right now, you WILL be seen. A number of you have read my blog and Twitter notes on the organization that has been giving tickets to the local food bank so that families can attend performances. The tickets are on the shelf next to the canned soup, and anyone can take them. No one in the audience knows who used those particular tickets.
4.DO NOT sell extravagance. This isn’t the time to market to the luxury-for-me crowd. But it is time to market wonderful experiences that create lasting memories you can enjoy and replay in your mind for months to come.
5. DO NOT cut your back office investment in database excellence. If the fire alarm goes off what is the most important investment you must save that probably isn’t covered by insurance. You got it: your database. And it isn’t just the data, it is how the data is organized and how much it allows you to customize the offers you make. Well structured data lets you personalize your prospecting.
6. DO NOT think that e-marketing, alone, will save you. It will save you a lot, but every arts audience out there has a sizable proportion of older individuals who will not follow you via email and an equal portion of all ages that has opted out of the e-marketing grid for financial or philosophical reasons. They want to see if you care enough about them to get your info to them. Do you?
7.Do not disappear between events. This is particularly important for organizations that have only a few major events a year but are there all year. I know many museums in this boat – especially as special exhibitions have decreased. Find ways to be visible every week, and to create curiosity so that people have to follow what you are doing and thinking. It might be your blog. Or it might be that you start offering salsa classes in the galleries on Friday evenings.
8. DO NOT stop leading. Your organization signals hope, confidence, and meaning to your community. Be out there living the message. Help other organizations. Facilitate civic plans. Be visible, and be confident.
9. DO NOT cut advertising. Okay, you very well might cut advertising dollars, but you’ll do better if you rearrange your advertising dollars. To all of you who have cut back your major entertainment page spending: with so many fewer competing ads, yours will be more visible. To those of you who have wondered where to advertise: you have terrific options now between on-line news media (banner ads), civic calendar/ticketing sites, local cable (incredible deals), and even traditional media. It is turning into a buyer’s market, so take advantage of your opportunities.
10. DO NOT stop saying thank you. In fact, thank your audience and attendees more than you ever have in the past.
I want to come back to point 4, and really every other point about image, atmosphere, communications… I read a recent analysis of Allstate Insurance’s most recent round of TV ads. They are a brand and image marketing giant –i.e. “Like a Good Neighbor We’ll Be There”, “You’re in Good Hands,” etc… Do you remember this winter’s NFL ads, using the Frank Sinatra/Nancy Sinatra “Feeling Kind of Sunday..” tune? It would be hard to find something that did a better job, this difficult year, of creating a happy kind of glow…that tune and sensibility sticking with you until you felt hey, it was Sunday, and time to kick back….so you might as well be there with Allstate…
I challenge you to come up with your own “Feeling Kind of Sunday” imaging for upcoming season. Feeling kind of museum…feeling kind of theatre… Send your ideas and you may see them on the next tips and tools!
And, last but not least, I want to come back to prospecting. What you don’t want to do now is waste money. But you do want to get a call for action/great offer out there to people who will respond. We regularly put together prospect mailing lists like this to target people who wouldn’t be likely to know about a performing arts series through the web. It can be a real challenge, but we see how incredibly well it works. When your returns zoom up there, this is the kind of prospecting to use. For example:
These criteria for everyone on the prospect list (Sample criteria for a given geographic area)
Over 60 (figuring this is still the age group less likely to contain high level web searchers)
Self identified interest in performing arts
Self identified interest in gourmet food
Self identified interest in reading books
Take music/arts classes
Responsive to mail offers
Remember, PLAN TO THRIVE.