“If you want to sell something to somebody, you have to tell them how it will satisfy their desires. It’s one of the oldest truths known to humankind. But in the arts, we don’t really know who our new audiences are, we refuse to learn what they want, and without knowing what they want, we can’t tell them how our products will satisfy their desires. So instead we blather on endlessly about how wonderful we are – or how wonderful people should think we are – and hope that young, culturally diverse people will somehow magically find us as appealing as traditional audiences once did.”
So Trevor O’Donnell diagnoses the problem with arts marketing (at least in the US) today. While his accusations of lazy, ego-driven marketing might be exaggerated, there is much to ponder here. I certainly agree that much arts marketing is still too ‘arts-centred’ and uses too much ‘arts-speak’, instead of being customer-centred and using customer language.
Read his full blog post here. He’s so passionate about this subject he’s written a book about it, titled Marketing the Arts to Death. It’s certainly worth thinking about the language we use, and how we evaluate the quality of our marketing, to ensure our first objective is to establish meaningful communication with our potential audiences, about the types of experience they can expect to have with us.
At the APACA ‘Harvest’ Conference in Hobart in July 2014 Merryn presented a workshop on Program Planning, with Julian Louis from NORPA. “What’s My Plan?” explored the issues involved in developing a program plan for arts venues, including the artistic vision (developing one if you don’t already have one), the audience you want to engage, budgeting, programming for repeat attendance, evaluation, and putting it all together in a written plan. Julian Louis, Artistic Director of NORPA, joined Merryn in contemplating the role of the artistic vision, artistic policies and the Artistic Director, in this process.
‘Artistic excellence has been conflated with creativity in programming. Too often, excellence is used as a defensive shield to dismiss creative programming ideas, as either ‘off mission’ or ‘dumbed down’, when in fact they are neither. Attaining higher levels of creativity in programming is not about dumbing anything down, but about applying ourselves to an even higher standard than excellence. Good marketing is absolutely strategic to the arts, and we can always do a better job of marketing and communications. But audience development is not a marketing problem. Drawing new people into the arts and replenishing the constituencies for the art forms is, first and foremost, a programming challenge.’
Inspired by this quote from US arts researcher Alan Brown and other creative thinkers from around the globe, Merryn has been researching, exploring and thinking about the connection between programming and audience development. “To achieve real audience growth, it now seems clear that programmers, artistic directors and marketers need to work closely together, to program and market experiences aimed at attracting particular audiences,” Merryn notes. “The audiences for some experiences will be smaller than others: that is fine, and as long as it’s factored into strategic and financial planning, should be no barrier to organisational success. But the essential message which is developing from my explorations is that if you want to attract and grow particular audiences, you need to program work that will attract them, market it well, and do it for long enough to build loyalty.”