Arts Marketing Trends A-Z: 2019 Edition

As we close the book on 2018 and open a new edition for 2019, the world of arts marketing and marketing in general continues its furious pace, with most of us trying to keep up with our daily responsibilities all while new technology and insights come at us at a greater velocity than ever. So, what exactly are the trends we should be keeping an eye on for 2019?

Data, Data, Data

Macrotrends such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are being incorporated at scale across the globe, but have yet to trickle down to the day-to-day workings of arts organizations. And while it may be several years until they move from cutting edge to best practices, there are still lessons we can learn from those on the bleeding edge of technology.

Driven by the power of data and realized through Google and Amazon, more and more marketing and communication is being customized and personalized for the customer’s benefit. As a trend only in its very earliest stages, it is one that the larger arts institutions are already incorporating in their planning, and before long will be at our doorstep. Watch for new ways to engage your audience and deliver the right content in the most effective and efficient manner in the coming months, as marketing continues the trend from art to science.

Facebook 2019

2018 was probably a year to forget at Facebook headquarters, but in no way does it lessen the Zuckerbergian influence on the tactics of arts marketers. We should be mindful of changes that will eventually come to reign in the expansive reach of Facebook and the data they collect and harbor. Either by the will of the general public or mandate of regulators, you can already see potential constraints meant to protect users’ privacy; but in the meantime, Facebook remains the conduit to reach vast numbers of the arts’ most ardent supporters.

The trend in Facebook from the heady days of “free love” have been replaced with a techno-media giant that, similar to the print and broadcast relics of yesteryear, relies solely on the money of advertisers and marketers to fuel its growth and innovation. If you do not have a substantial budget for supporting your social media plan or do not have a full time social media specialist working to harness the almighty algorithms, time spent on curating and cultivating your online presence may not have the impact nor the results you desire.

Around the maturing world of social media as Instagram continues to grow, Snapchat seems to stumble, politicians and superstars tweet, and YouTube reaches for 2 billion users, there are microtrends that keep us on our toes waiting for the next innovation. One only can imagine what’s in store for us over the coming twelve months.


One trend that continues to grow in popularity across all levels of marketers is that of influencers. The original concept of influencers—individuals who use their position of fame (or infamy) to influence followers on social media—has morphed into the micro-influencer phenomenon. Micro-influencers by definition are those with less than 10,000 followers on social media outlets, and now have become the rage of marketers who want to unlock the secrets to the social media box.

Think of influencers and micro-influencers as the new version of the tried-and-true “celebrity spokesperson.” In most cases these relationships can work, but only if you are willing to put the time into developing the relationship as a win-win for organization and artist.

In any community, we know there are certain individuals who have the ability to lead and help us in our causes. The power of influencers is the ability to identify those who are passionate enough about you and your organization to become part of it and share their network with you. More than a quid pro quo arrangement, welcoming a micro-influencer into your marketing team can be extremely beneficial as you are able to connect with demographic and psychographic groups that are similar to your core audience base, but also allows you to develop new and meaningful relationships that will benefit everyone equally.

Arts and nonprofit marketers have long sought the support of influential people in the community to support their efforts. What gala or annual campaign would be a success without the well-connected, well-respected honorary chairperson? This is essentially the concept behind micro-influencers and we should already have a comfort in dealing with this aspect of relationship building. Watch for arts organizations to spend more time building influencer partnerships with artists themselves—as who better to lead audiences to the newest exhibit, concert, performance, or event than a well-respected artist?


Community is another trend we see becoming more important in the arts world around us. While community has always been there, a better definition of community is where the trend is leading us.

Community tends to be an all-encompassing word, but in terms of your strategic plan, community might mean different things for the work you do, the work you dream to do, the impact you have, or the impact your benefactors want you to have. Community could be the neighborhoods you intend to reach who are currently untapped, underserved, or in some cases unreachable. Community for the organization could be everyone who is currently attending, supporting, or otherwise benefitting from the service you provide to artists, residents, and guests.

Defining the artistic community is another variation on a theme. Who is included in your local or regional arts community? Do you include all artists, arts organizations, arts educators, academia, attendees, supporters? And the list goes on. If you are in a geographically expansive area, perhaps community means the downtown versus the suburbs versus the rural area of your region. Let’s not forget your online community, where everyone has a voice but can be left by the wayside if your posts don’t show up in their feed.

All can be defined as community, and all must be serviced by your organization—so defining what community means to your organization can allow you to begin the difficult work of prioritization and becoming more focused in what methods you use to strengthen and grow all the important communities associated with your organization.

Other trends such as intentionality, Generation Z, and creative placemaking will marry up with 20th century constructs like brand, service, and loyalty to bring a little old to a little new.

I hope I’ve given you a small sample of the trends and topics that will be top of mind as we go into the new year. Join me on January 10 for the ArtsU webinar Arts Marketing Trends A-Z: 2019 Edition webinar and get a look at trends in Arts Marketing for 2019. Register today and get the New Year off to a great start!

NAMP Preview Image: 

Marketing New Works: Making the Unfamiliar, Familiar

The words “new play” or, even more so, “new musical” tend to strike excitement in the hearts of artistic directors, terror in the hearts of managing directors, buzzworthy glee in the hearts of funders, and, unfortunately, hesitancy in the hearts of audiences.

This is not a universal truth, but I think those of us who have tried to present new or unknown works know that it is an entirely different animal than producing something audiences have an instant recognition of. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It means the marketing strategy requires getting in and getting your hands dirty in ways that might be uncharted for your organization, particularly if you don’t have a subscriber base.

I run a professional theatre in Madison, Wisconsin focused on new and lesser-known musicals. My master’s thesis was focused on a question that had plagued me since starting the company at age 23: “How do you convince audiences to attend pieces they’ve never heard of?” (I’ve spent too many years having coronaries over our ticket numbers and doing 2 a.m. “panic math.”) The existing research was fairly scarce, so I did a survey of about 150 theatergoers nationwide. Parts of my research were published in HowlRound and through the Culture Lab Research Library, for which I had the pleasure of creating a collection in association with Wolf Brown and Drexel University. In 2018, my theatre sold 88% of our tickets for a season that consisted of a workshop of a new musical called Hephaestus, the Wisconsin premiere of Little Miss Sunshine, and a curated revue of musical theatre songs about women that were not about looking for love called Beyond the Ingenue. Slowly but surely, the things I’m learning are working.

A workshop performance of “Hephaestus,” a new musical by Nathan Fosbinder that will be getting a full production at Music Theatre of Madison in 2019. Photo by Sharon White.

I also got to speak on this topic at the 2017 National Arts Marketing Project conference in Memphis, alongside three other very smart marketers from around the country. The session was standing room only, and it gave me hope. “Other people have the same struggles!” It also scared me to death, for the last thing I have is all the answers. There are so many facets to producing a piece that is new or rarely performed, particularly to an audience that is conditioned to seeing the same popular titles over and over. In this post, I’m happy to give you the overarching theme that helped me to understand how to get audiences on board.

The key word is familiarity. That may seem completely counterintuitive to what we’re talking about, but it’s not. Your piece might not be familiar, but that doesn’t mean the subject matter is also unheard of. This is where you can begin when building your marketing campaign for a lesser-known piece. It also might seem obvious, but all too often I see the same marketing strategies applied to new works as to well-known ones, with boards and staff often blaming the resulting low ticket numbers on the fact that “new works just don’t sell.”

All works of art are about connection. So, what is contained in the piece that audience members can see themselves connecting to? Love? Relevant issues? Familial troubles? Race? A historical event? A burning question? A mystery to solve? A certain musical or visual influence? The list goes on and on, and I guarantee you every piece has an element you can pull out and use in your marketing to pique theatergoer interest. Some are going to be far more difficult than others, which is why I always maintain that whoever is doing your marketing should be part of selecting your season.

I am in no way suggesting that your work not be adventurous, daring, even shocking. Innovation is essential, but without audiences, we lose our ability to innovate in the long term. What I am saying is, when you reach out to your audience, what will you tell them that will strike a chord of familiarity and make them want to learn more? The more obscure the piece, the deeper you may have to dig. But you have to find it.

This, of course, doesn’t solve the whole problem. Next are the issues of providing thorough information, opportunities for education and engagement, and previewing the piece in a variety of ways. Because whatever familiarity there is in the subject matter, you have another hill to climb in convincing people to make the financial, emotional, and time commitment to turn off Netflix and come to the theatre. The Wallace Foundation did a lengthy study with Ballet Austin on the topic of gaining audiences for unfamiliar works, and the results indicated this very thing: Familiarity is the first step, but a multi-faceted marketing plan that builds trust and helps the audience to feel their investment is worthwhile, is an important part of building an audience for new works.

There is no magical equation, and there is much more to learn when it comes to this topic. But I have always felt the key for building audiences for new works is to utilize the same innovation we put into our art when we develop our marketing plans. After all, we’re all artists at heart.

Read more about this and other marketing topics on my blog, Arts Marketing Matters.

NAMP Preview Image: 

How CRM Can Help You Outperform National Arts Industry Revenue Benchmarks

Content presented by PatronManager.

In economic news, we sometimes hear that the arts aren’t doing so well. Among other challenges, we hear that they’re losing older audiences and not gaining young audiences at a fast-enough rate to support the very significant costs of doing business. So, how can your arts organization defy this trend and become a sustainable entity for years to come? I have three letters for you: CRM.

CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is both a philosophy of one-to-one marketing to customers and the technology that makes it all possible. With a robust CRM system in place, your organization would have the ability to manage all the disparate activities that were once in separate systems, such as ticketing, fundraising, marketing, and data reporting. But outside of the obvious convenience of having one system, what specifically can this kind of technology do to tackle challenges facing arts organization in today’s society? Here are six examples:

1. It will transform transactions into relationships.

Having the ability to process and track ticket transactions in the same CRM system that captures all other information about a patron puts those transactions in context, giving everyone at your organization a comprehensive 360-degree view of your relationship with that patron.

2. It will reduce churn and build patron loyalty.

Imagine that you could quickly and easily run a report of all ticket buyers for the previous night’s event, figure out which ones are first-time buyers, and then send out an email to them right away, inviting them to come back and see another performance. With a CRM system, reaching out to those first-time patrons within 48 hours of an event doesn’t even require a coordinated effort across departments—one person can handle the whole process in a few clicks, or even on an automated basis.

3. You’ll have the ability to easily solicit every donor as you would a major donor.

Your major donors continue to give you money because you know them and treat them as special patrons. You communicate with them in a personalized way. You solicit donations from them knowing their giving history, as well as their giving potential. Your asks are targeted and meaningful. But most organizations don’t treat every donor like a major donor off the bat. Well, a CRM system would enable you to change this. You could quickly and easily send more personalized asks and acknowledgment letters, because you always have a patron’s complete history right at your fingertips.

4. Your marketing and fundraising efforts will be more targeted.

A rich database in a CRM system will enable you to hone your lists and dramatically improve your results. If you can classify your ticket buyers by purchase frequency, zip code, type of performance they prefer, or how much money they’ve given, and target your marketing messages and fundraising appeals accordingly, you’ll see better results.

5. Efficiency and collaboration among your staff will improve dramatically.

When you have multiple transactional systems, each staff member is working in their own private universe. A CRM system provides a single common platform. It increases the efficiency of your staff, fosters teamwork, and eliminates missed opportunities so things don’t fall into black holes.

6. You’ll eliminate institutional memory loss.

An astounding amount of valuable personal information is stored in staff members’ heads. Individual interactions—lunches, parties, emails, and phone calls—exist only as long as that staff member continues to work for your organization. When they move on, that history is gone. With a CRM system, your staff is writing the history of your organization every day. They are creating an integrated record of your relationship with your patrons, and it’s being stored permanently and in a retrievable, organized way.

So how does this translate into tangible results for your organization?

Last year, the United States Census Bureau made revenue data available from the IRS tax filings of all performing arts organizations in the United States from 2013 to 2016. We thought it would be interesting to look at the same data from our customers, using PatronManager (our CRM system built on the Salesforce platform), in the same time period, and compare it to the national average.

Among non-profits in the performing arts sector, PatronManager customers experienced 9.2% average growth each year compared with 2.6% nationally. That puts total three-year growth at 24.3% for PatronManager customers and 8.2% nationally. If you look at all performing arts organizations, both non-profit and commercial, our customers experienced 22.7% average ticket revenue growth each year compared with 6.9% nationally. And the three-year growth was 64.5% for PatronManager customers compared to 24.2% nationally. Those are impressive to be sure, but there’s more! (Source for all data in this paragraph: 2013-2016 NAIS Industry Statistics; PM transaction data from 280 orgs during same period)

In the same three-year period as the government study, PatronManager customers increased the number of tickets sold by 18.7% each year. That’s a total of 59.8% over three years—plus, they increased the number of donations made with a ticket purchase by 13.8% each year, or 46.8% over three years. That’s an amazing return on investment, and it’s all made possible by the power of CRM.

Because these numbers are averages, we fully realize that some customers are performing better, while others are still struggling. Furthermore, we know that many, many factors contribute to both revenue gain and loss from year to year. But, the benefits of having a CRM system to run your business cannot be disputed.

Click here to download PatronManager Client Growth infographic and our whitepaper Six Ways CRM Will Revolutionize Your Business.

NAMP Preview Image: 
Author(s): VanDeCarr, Paul
Date of Publication:

This guide is for anyone who wants to create social change, and who wants to learn how storytelling can help.

Should You Be Letting It Go?

This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

When I first started working in arts marketing, we spent a lot of human resources and efforts on media relations. At my first job, close to 20 years ago, we had one communications officer whose sole responsibility was writing copy for press releases, media advisories, and stroking the egos of reporters and reviewers pre- and post-performances. A preview article in our local paper could sometimes sell up to 100 tickets in one day, and we would utter “you just can’t buy that kind of publicity.”

As we know, those days are long gone. Now I sometimes see my media releases reprinted word for word in the online version of our local newspaper, with no opportunities for an interview. There certainly are no arts reviewers left in my community I can try to woo with comp tickets on an aisle and an exclusive internet connection so the review can be filed before the paper goes off to press.

As I was preparing for my presentation at the upcoming National Arts Marketing Project Conference Nov. 9-12 in Seattle, “Using Marketing Influencers to Grow Audiences,” I interviewed a number of bloggers, digital media experts, marketers, and influencers to get their take on the highs and lows of using social influencers to promote your products and experiences. We have had some great success over the past year with using small, localized influencers in my city of Kingston, Ontario, but you will have to come to my session to learn more (and hear some great guest panelists).

Trusting someone to share their uncensored opinions about your upcoming exhibition or concert season for potentially thousands of people to see is not only stressful for the marketing department, but certainly the front-line and artistic staff as well. Letting go of the control of the message tends to make communicators uncomfortable, and with good reason. Here are five red flags to consider if you want to start working with digital influencers.

  1. Life gets in the way. Many digital influencers are individual people with personal brands that they have built up over years of effort. If you are using localized influencers and you live in a smaller city like I do, there is a good chance these people are not making a full-time living blogging or doing sponsored posts on Instagram. These people are hyper visible, but life happens, and job changes, pregnancies, and other life challenges may be shared online and get personal quickly. Are you OK with having your brand be promoted online with someone who may cry on IGTV or have their lifestyle blog turn into a mommy blog once they have a baby?
  2. The media influencer is the message. The key to success on social media is authenticity. That means your carefully crafted message may not be translated the exact way you were hoping if you have given the person the flexibility to write it in his or her own voice. Are you OK with giving someone else full control to share how they feel about your product?
  3. Arts influencers just aren’t that popular. In smaller cities, many of the high profile micro-influencers are into city attractions, food, drink, and fashion. There are exceptions, of course, but there aren’t a lot of influencers who specialize in theatre, visual arts, opera, and classical music. Is your target audience the same audience who engages with your local influencers? If not, it’s not worth the investment.
  4. They want to be paid. Complimentary passes or tickets are not usually enough to warrant the time and effort for an influencer to promote your experience or product. Be prepared to negotiate a fee and in return some analytics will be shared with you to measure the success (or not) of your campaign.
  5. It might not work. Measuring direct conversions from digital influencers can be really tricky. You might be able to use a special URL from their site or channel, but sometimes it’s not that easy. When you give away some of the control of the narrative, you also lose control over the analytics and customer journey. There is no guarantee that working with influencers will help you sell tickets or attract more visitors.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some articles that question the value of brands working with digital influencers.

It’s time to address the elephant in the room: Influencers don’t really influence anything or anyone! by Elinor Cohen

Dear Marketers: Please Don’t Do Influencer Marketing—We’re Begging You by Brendan Gahan

Are you still willing to let it go? Come and hear the other side of this story—including a case study of mine—at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Seattle.

The “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon is presented by Montalvo Arts Center.

NAMP Preview Image: 

Social Media in an Arts Marketer’s Promotional Toolkit

This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

Social media has become a bona fide and critical component of the customer path to purchase—and arts marketers are taking advantage.

Arts marketers often assume that only young people use social media, doubting the effect it might have on older patrons in their target audience. However, according to social media management tool Sprout Social, each generation expresses interest in things on social media during their customer journey:

“Millennials follow brands for entertainment value (38%) and information (42%), whereas Gen X is more likely to follow for contests (41%), deals and promotions (58%). Baby Boomers fall somewhere in the middle and are looking for a healthy mix of deals and promotion (60%) and information (53%).”

Arts marketers are successfully using social media to make their organizations more relatable, promote upcoming shows or exhibits, and gain memberships with special announcements and behind-the-scenes content.

While a positive experience at the box office or on-site can lead to a purchase or return visit, social media is becoming more important in this role. In fact, 71% of people say they are more likely to buy from a company when they have a positive experience with them on social media.

Even with a limited staff, it’s important to dedicate someone on your team to this role to ensure your brand is actively engaging with patrons on social media. As recorded by eMarketer, adults are projected to spend 98 minutes per day on social media in 2019 (Facebook: 43 minutes, Snapchat: 28 minutes, Instagram: 27 minutes).

Tips for building a social media strategy to keep up with trends
  • Importance of storytelling over sales. Social media has long been a tool for driving traffic and sales to an organization’s website. While this still holds true, social algorithm and consumer trends are moving towards storytelling over sales. Post photos or videos with call-to-action text and links, aimed at generating comments and shares that increase engagement.
  • Show personality. Show your organization’s personality to let your audience connect with your brand. A common rule of thumb is 80% of content should be fun, interesting and sharable, reserving 20% of posts as direct sales messages.
  • Make posts short and sweet. Optimize by staying within 100 characters or less. According to eMarketer, shorter posts are more effective and “posts with 80 characters or less have a 27% higher engagement rate.”
  • Engage and monitor. Set a schedule to monitor and respond to customer service issues, possibly once per day. Users are increasingly going to social platforms to post reviews or voice complaints and concerns. Welcome the feedback, and create an uplifting environment. If any issues occur, make sure to apologize with sincerity.
  • Experiment with ads for better reach.

    • “90.5% of US companies are using social media for marketing purposes,” which is causing a decrease of reach on organic posts. To make sure your content is reaching your target audience in the most effective way, consider paid social ads.
    • Determine your budget. If you haven’t used paid social before, start small and then grow. Starting with even $15-$25 can boost results as you become familiar with paid posting.
    • Decide on the goal of the post (ex: drive traffic to ticket sales webpage).
    • Promote share-worthy content. Invest in great photography, particularly when paid ads are applied.
    • Create and use videos as a technique to engage your target audience. According to Sprout Social, close to 60% of all U.S. internet users selected Facebook to watch videos.
NAMP Preview Image: 

Engaging the Deaf/disability community: A Marketer’s Exploration

This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

I was recently asked to consult on a theatrical production, and the experience translates perfectly to a blog about marketing. First, I’d like to start with a little bit about me. I’m disabled (mobility/chronic illness), I’ve worked in the field of arts accessibility for more than 30 years, I’m hearing, I’m a sign language interpreter, I have no deafness in my family, I’ve been involved in the theater for more than four decades, and I run a nonprofit organization, Hands On, which produces sign language interpreted performances at many NYC theaters. I consider myself and my organization well respected in the Deaf community.

I have done quite a few workshops on marketing to the Deaf/disability communities, which I also will be offering at the upcoming National Arts Marketing Project Conference in November (hint, hint), but this recent experience was my first “official” entree into the field of marketing, working alongside marketing personnel and learning much about marketing lingo and strategies. It was a wonderful learning experience.

Here’s some background. I was asked by the Marketing Department at Playwrights Horizons (a very prestigious Off-Broadway theater in New York City) to consult on marketing their current production—Craig Lucas’ I Was Most Alive with You, which had many Deaf artists and technicians involved. We talked about a variety of issues, some marketing specific and some general, with the goal being to help the theater gain a better understanding of the Deaf community and Deaf audiences (and especially the Deaf community in NYC). My main job was to help Playwrights Horizons to connect with and get the word out about the production to the Deaf community.

For me, the idea of learning about marketing from marketers was an interesting and challenging task. I must applaud the theater’s desire to reach out to a community that was new to them. I was especially aware of their sensitivity to what they knew and what they didn’t know (that last part is an important distinction). All too often people can think they know how communities behave or assume that all approaches can be the same, but this theater was very open to questions, discussions, and recommendations.

Looking back now, I think this collaboration was an important step in how we work as a team to not only market to a new audience, but how we learn more about different cultures, mores, and norms of a community we might not know well but want to include. The ability to ask questions and have open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations to learn and understand new audiences was a part of this process, and so important—not only from the perspective of marketing a specific play, but in understanding a different community that we’re not a part of (Deaf/disabled people). My hope is that this opens up conversations and thinking about disability far beyond this one experience.

Cultural appropriation—who speaks for who, and who’s included in the conversation—is very much on my mind. I have no problem speaking for myself as a disabled woman; it’s my identity and I’m very clear that while I do not speak for the entire disability community, I speak for myself as a disabled person, and my thoughts and ideas are valid and true for me and me alone. We need advocates and allies. But we need to be a part of the conversation. This recent experience has shown me that we need to be able to have the connection to where we haven’t been before and where we have yet to enter. Working with a community rather than working for a community is an important distinction and something we all need to remember.

I have always considered much of what I do as “marketing,” although officially and technically my title is not as a marketer. I have always worked to figure out how to reach out to members of the Deaf/disability community, and to link what’s happening that’s accessible in more “mainstream” environments to a community that might not be aware of what’s going on. Designing accessible programs to any disability group—whether it’s the Deaf community, the blind/low vision community, people with mobility disabilities, autism, the list goes on—has always, in my mind, been an issue of marketing: there’s no point in investing time and money in a program to a specific audience, only to have no one show up. It’s the old adage: “If you build it, they will come”—but they won’t come if they don’t know it’s there or if you don’t know how to reach them.

What I’m seeing now, and this is a wonderful and a new challenge we’re all experiencing, is Deaf and disabled actors, technicians, directors, and staffs being asked into mainstream situations. With that being said, I’m hoping that theaters continue to reach out to us, to people in the communities, to see how we can work together so we can move away from what up to now has been a “special needs” mindset into a more “regular” happening.

My recent foray into professional arts marketing shows me that there’s much we can learn from each other on ways to link historically overlooked and disenfranchised communities with the mainstream theater communities who want to invite them in. Communities of different disabilities have their own networks, their own cultural mores; and who’s invited in, who’s allowed in, and how far in we can go is a learning process we all should be looking at.

NAMP Preview Image: 

Expanding Audience Connections

This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

Arts organizations often find a delicate balance in planning a season that generates necessary revenue and attendance, while still being driven by a meaningful purpose. Attached to this balancing act is another set of spinning plates: how do you target specific audiences without alienating others? From classical concert halls to avant-garde museums, to community theatres and university art centers, many organizations feel an underlying duty to provide artistic and cultural experiences not only to entertain and engage but to educate and provide a platform for exploration that is welcoming to the widest audience possible. The ultimate goal is to provide opportunities rooted in a place of purpose, guided by your mission, that have the ability to reach a largest possible range of individuals.

When planning a season, I feel there are two main approaches—plan a season focused on audience engagement with revenue in mind, or plan a season focused on audience engagement with the organization’s mission in mind. The two are generally combined, but I argue that keeping the stronger focus on your mission will benefit your organization in the end and increase overall attendance. Producing off-mission or pure “entertainment-value” pieces only to generate revenue may provide short-term success for your budget and attendance numbers but has long-term effects on your mission and brand. The key is in planning a season that supports your mission with opportunities for “cross-interest” connections to increase attendance to new audiences.

Planning a meaningful arts season on a college campus provides a clear example of “cross-interest” connections or, in academia, cross-curricular connections. If the mission of your organization is to provide intentional learning opportunities in the arts for students on campus, for example, then the season should be designed as an educational resource for faculty that enhances academic programming. Faculty have influence over their students’ decision-making and can also mandate requirements for attendance; so, offering an art season with inherent cross-curricular connections leads to increased engagement.

Similarly, there is great power in using cross-interest connections when presenting work that honors or explores a specific gender, culture, race, sexual orientation, or any self/demographically identified community of individuals. Take an exhibition that features traditional textiles from an indigenous community. One cross-interest connection would be to find representations and appropriations of these patterns in modern culture to reach to a wider audience, both raising awareness of the culture and the art behind their weaving traditions. If the exhibition marketing only focuses on the traditional materials featured in the exhibition and does not highlight the modern-day connections, there is an audience being missed—and it is the most important audience too: a new audience.

If the work you are presenting speaks only to those who are already paying attention, then the potential audience is of course limited. You also limit the power of the work being presented to educate and provide a platform for exploration to those who wish to learn, and even better, for those who need to have their eyes opened. Increased attendance and revenue go hand in hand with increased awareness and understanding. Often those cross-interest or cross-curricular connections need to be made overtly transparent and targeted to the various communities you wish to reach and engage.

This notion of cross-interest connections can even be applied in the most basic terms. For example, if you are presenting traditional classical music and want a stronger interaction with a younger demographic, see if there are any movie or commercial references with the music you are presenting that can serve as a stepping-stone to engagement. Another example would be a theatre wishing to push the envelope in design. The choice to utilize a classic piece to showcase the design offers the ability to attract young audiences without alienating the old. Please note that I mean old as in the age of your patrons as well as loyalty, although this may be one in the same. Finding common threads to engage new audiences while still reaching the old can be difficult, but the balance is possible.

Season planning that is guided by your mission should present connections into new audiences without too much stretching or searching. There can be a desire to force connections where they do not naturally occur, yet it is better not to make a connection than make one that is not clearly defined. There is a definite balance in supporting your mission and offering opportunities with intrinsic connections, but the process is worth the results. The image of spinning plates often bears a strong resemblance to the balancing act of planning a season; it all comes down to a strong and stable foundation, from which new plates can connect to the first, spinning apart but together in motion.

NAMP Preview Image: 

Striving for Positive Change through Arts Programming

This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

For years in the arts, we have strived to conceive of and grow meaningful programs that are engaging to a variety of communities. However, sometimes a step is missed and even if a program or event is successful, a lasting relationship with a community is not built or maintained afterward. An honest, unreserved commitment to community collaboration brings healing and positive growth.

While reflecting on 2018 thus far and thinking ahead to 2019 in the world of arts marketing, the word communication keeps coming to mind. We have all noticed the importance of not only clear, but respectful communication over the last year—even over the last month. It seems to be much easier to miscommunicate a message or feeling in this fast-paced time, but taking the time to connect, especially when creating art and building community, carries greater importance now than ever. The New Philanthropists (TNP) is an Austin-based organization that strives to increase diversity and inclusivity in the nonprofit sector by ensuring leadership reflects the communities it serves. A group I am a part of, Austin Emerging Arts Leaders (AEAL), was recently part of the first group of local organizations to complete a TNP Board Inclusion Assessment. To begin this program, the AEAL board of directors had to communicate with each other and TNP our goals for positive change within our organization. Starting that communication eliminated any “elephants” in the room and provided trust between TNP and AEAL to continue the important work of growing and changing together.

Compassion comes next in the process of developing successful community partnerships and programs. If one doesn’t listen and respond with compassion after initiating communication with a community or possible collaborator, the early stages of building that relationship are broken. During the TNP project, after AEAL provided honest feedback on the makeup of our board leadership and how we want to better reflect and represent our community, TNP responded with compassionate understanding and possible next steps we could take. The key is to reciprocate and transfer that compassion into any new relationships we make in building our future leadership. Compassion should be used in any programming or marketing strategy as well.

I have always felt that once you have spent some time developing clear communication and addressing the initial steps of programming with compassion, collaboration is the key to lasting success. An organization with which I was honored to work with this year, Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District, exemplifies successful collaborations in community building. A lot of the inspiration for the panel discussion I’ll be participating in during this year’s National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC) in Seattle came from the creative placemaking project I helped with earlier this year with Six Square. In helping preserve and promote this section of East Austin, I learned the importance of “place-keeping,” as well as the need to collaborate with neighborhood businesses and city government and corporate entities. Another recent Six Square program, the reanimation of the 12th St & Chicon mural, utilized effective community engagement techniques such as town hall discussions with community members. In our NAMPC session on November 11, we’ll talk about more specific ways that collaboration can help strengthen community relationships.

Building community is often a goal for arts organizations because we all want to know we have a place to go where we are supported and accepted. A question I hear a lot is, “How do we reach out to new communities?” To me, the answer is easy. Just reach out. There are steps to community outreach and engagement just like there are steps to building a relationship with anyone. The key is to learn and listen to the history, current needs, and future goals within a community, so you can become a part of it (if you’re not already) and work toward those goals together. If you feel like you are outside of a community, then you are not achieving engagement and are scratching the surface of any relationship or collaboration. All of this takes time.

Mural reanimation project by Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District. Art by Chris Rogers, photo by Sarah Rucker, 2018.

If your organization feels like their outreach and engagement is not as successful as they had hoped, remember these four key approaches to bring you back to the root of meaningful arts programming. Without clear and honest communication, compassion for your colleagues, collaborations with new and old friends/groups, and the goal of building community, positive change cannot be achieved in the arts and the world around us.

NAMP Preview Image: 

Get to Know Your Audience: A Human-Centered, Data-Driven Approach

This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

Making the case for audience research

To communicate effectively, it really helps to know who you’re communicating with. As an arts marketer communicating on behalf of an organization, audience research is one of the most important tools we have to understand:

  • who our audiences are (or who we could newly bring into the fold)
  • what our audiences want, think, or respond to
  • where (and how big) the opportunity is if we launch a new program or performance
  • a perspective on how the status quo is going for our current audiences and therefore how much we should invest in changing our current approach

Using audience research to find the answers to those questions helps ensure the rest of our marketing budget is wisely spent and more likely to achieve our goals.

Audience research also is an integral part of being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. If we only rely on the insights of our internal stakeholders to make decisions, we miss out on the diversity of perspectives from our audiences. No matter how large the organization or how diverse the staff, it’s impossible to capture the rich diversity of characteristics, insights, and lived experiences of all the many people who are among our current or potential audiences.

Even with all the benefits that audience research brings, it’s rarely planned for and budgeted into our marketing efforts or our strategic plans. Sometimes that’s because we’re not sure where to start or what an effective audience research process looks like. If that’s the case for you, come on up to Seattle for the National Arts Marketing Project Conference next month to learn more about a practical guide to actionable audience research. Read on for how to get the most out of your audience research process by balancing quantitative and qualitative approaches.

Data-driven approaches to getting to know our audiences

Surveys are one of the most common quantitative methods for collecting information about our audiences because most surveys tend to count data points (i.e. what percent of respondents said X). During an audience research process, you might also leverage an existing data source (like census data or your organization’s website analytics), conduct A/B testing (showing some audiences version A, showing different audiences version B, and comparing the response to each), or undertake a data-heavy observational study (measuring dwell time at an exhibit or biometric responses to a performance).

These audience methods are good for answering questions around who, what, and how many. As in: who are the types of people in our audience; what do they want from our organization or from their experience at an arts event; and how many people out there might be interested in something we’re considering doing.

Benefits to data-driven methods of audience research:

  • Scalable. You can collect and analyze more data points from more people. This larger set of data provides a higher confidence that what you discover in audience research applies to most people and allows you to find more nuanced differences between groups.
  • Cheaper. These methods typically require less time and money, which also makes it easier to collect information repeatedly in order to discover longitudinal trends, and across many demographic profiles for a more comprehensive analysis.
  • Less subjective. Data isn’t totally objective—it’s always filtered through the lenses and biases of the data collector—but having a collection of data points makes it easier to spot patterns and more likely that everyone who looks at the data agrees about what it means.
  • More truthful. Anonymous surveys and unobtrusively observing the behaviors of audiences can sometimes elicit responses that audiences wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with us directly.

Challenges to data-driven methods:

  • Sensitive topics are tricky to navigate in a survey where you don’t have a lot of time to explain what you mean or make sure the audience feels comfortable with a line of questioning.
  • You have a predetermined, limited range of question topics and answer choices. The wild new idea or totally unexpected result rarely comes from a data-driven approach (alone) because there isn’t an opportunity to take the research question in a new direction based on the responses you’re getting.
  • Data typically can’t tell you why something is happening, only that it is happening. To get at the root of the reason why someone does or believes something, you often need a conversation.
Human-centered approaches to getting to know our audiences

Interviews are one of the most common qualitative methods to collecting information about our audiences and they can happen in many formats: in person, via phone, one-on-one, or in small focus groups. Depending on the research questions, you might also conduct user testing (watching audiences interact with an early version of something and asking follow-up questions about their experience) or ethnographic studies (watching audiences in their own environment to discover traits or behaviors the researcher wouldn’t have known to ask about).

These audience research methods are good for answering questions around why and what else. As in: why is this potential audience not engaging with our organization yet; or what else could we do to better serve our existing audience?

Benefits to these more humanistic methods of audience research:

  • Dynamic. You can change your approach on the fly based on what you’re hearing from the interviewee, you can take more time to explain or dive into a complicated issue, and during sensitive areas of discussion you can read the room and redirect conversation.
  • Immediate results. Sometimes all you need is one response to a user test to know something isn’t working the way you intended. Depending on your prototype (your early version of something), you might even be able to make changes in real time in response to audience feedback.
  • Stories are memorable. As you think about using the results of audience research to inform your practices, I often find that stakeholders are more likely to remember the story of a single audience member’s reaction to something than the percent of our audience who shared a similar reaction. Evocative stories typically come from these human-centric research methods.

Downsides to qualitative research methods are basically the inverse of data-driven methods:

  • Not as representative of the entire population because you’re only capturing insights from a limited pool of people.
  • Not as cheap to conduct this type of research because you are likely to need more time from a facilitator and more budget to incentivize audience participation.
  • Not as easy to find the threads of meaning in text-based transcripts or photos/video without a skilled researcher on hand.
  • Not as reliable to hear truthful answers to difficult questions; audiences are more likely to bend their answers to fit what they think you want to hear when they have to face you directly.
A balanced approach is best

Each type of audience research helps fill in the gaps from the other method. What people say is not always representative of what they do. Balancing quantitative and qualitative approaches shows you intention and action. Some stakeholders will only trust the data in aggregate, while others will latch onto a quote from a single individual. It’s best to include both types of research to make your final recommendations for change more convincing.

Throughout the research phase, try to conduct quantitative and qualitative approaches in a parallel, iterative approach so that insights from each can inform the other. You might:

  1. Start with a tiny bit of qualitative research to make sure you’re generally on the right path and have the opportunity to test potential questions.
  2. Scale up those questions to larger groups via quantitative methods that allow you to collect and analyze lots of data points.
  3. Use all that data to identify key lines of questions for your qualitative approach around “why” you’re seeing what you are in the data points and “what else” the data-driven approach might have missed.
  4. Return to the data set(s) if you uncover something unexpected in conversation and observations.

Want more tips on audience research? I hope to see you in Seattle for the NAMP conference Nov. 9-12, and join me for my session, “A Practical Guide to Actionable Audience Research.”

NAMP Preview Image: 


Resource Library Home