National Arts and Marketing Project: Light the Fuse

Article written by  Lee Wochner:CEO & Creative Strategist for the National Arts and Marketing Project

Arts organizations: The economic bust is over. Most of what was going to break, broke. And you survived. Now’s the time to light your fuse and make the most of an improving economy. It’s time to get ready for the boom. I know: If you’re like most arts organizations, you’re probably not over with that bust just yet. But if you believe that everyone would have been better off being better prepared, here’s your chance to get ready for the upside that will surely follow. The private sector knows this; last week, three of our largest clients rolled out significant expansion plans for 2010. Arts companies can – and should – grow in the boom too. These five easy steps will help you reignite your company.

1. Embrace the change

Buying patterns and customers just went through big changes. Everything is more last-minute, more low-priced, more reluctantly purchased. For many theatres, the bulk of ticket sales seem to be in the last nanosecond. Don’t get stuck wishing for a return to longer lead times and higher prices. Instead, compare what your audiences do now, versus what they did before. And then note: This is the new now. The past isn’t coming back. The key is to ask, What do they do now that I can help them do more of? And then do that.

2. Lack nothing

Having spent decades myself in the arts (theatre, specifically), I understand the temptation to say “We can’t [fill in the blank] because we don’t have [fill in the blank].” But it doesn’t matter what you can’t do because of what you don’t have. In the arts, you will almost assuredly never have everything you need. (And, to paraphrase Steven Wright, if you had everything, where would you put it all?) What matters is what you need to do – and how you can do it. Figure out your goal, and then marshal the resources you do have: the money you’ve got, access to the entire world via the internet, your current buyers and vendors, yourself and your people and your passion. Listing your assets – especially your five best resources – shows you the well you can draw from to grow. Lack nothing, and let nothing stand in your way.

3. Take yourself out for a date

Act like you were buying you for the first time. (Which people will do in the coming boom.) Make sure you’re greeting people right. Check out your marketing. Is it clear why people should get involved, and how to do it? Test drive your art. If it’s honestly not good enough, fix it. And then ask 10 friends to do it for you too and tell you what they honestly think. Adjusting accordingly will make you better prepared for the boom.

4. Look new

It’s a new day, and you should show it. You don’t want to go out wearing what you were wearing during the recession. That’s so yesterday. Refresh your logo. Redefine your message. Tell your story better with a new website. Make it clear that you’re moving forward and people should come with you. There’s a reason that “new” and “fresh” are often accompanied by “and exciting!” That’s the right look for new times.

5. Make new friends

You made it this far by keeping the patrons you had. Now’s the time to add new ones. Look at all your current patrons and find the group or groups that just sort of… materialized. Figure out why. Was it in response to a bookstore collaboration? A local flyer distribution? One or two church ladies who brought all their friends? If you need to, issue a list-wide online survey (anonymous, of course) and find out how they heard out about you, and where they hang out. And then market accordingly, with PR, social media, niche landing pages hidden on your web site, and niche marketing that will grab these groups (door hangers, postcards, special events, sign trucks, sky writing, and on and on). The key element to all this? Looking forward. Earlier this year, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman advised us all not to lose the opportunity in this crisis. So now, let’s not lose the opportunity in this opportunity.

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About nowplayingaustin

The Austin Creative Alliance is a nonprofit performing arts service organization working to cultivate an environment where the performing arts can grow and flourish. We serve over 130 arts organizations with marketing, ticketing, audience development services; AEA paymaster, information & referral services — plus access to affordable health, liability, and event insurance. We also provide online professional development seminars, fiscal sponsorship services for emerging arts groups, host annual unified general auditions, annual theatre industry awards, and consistently advocate for the many benefits the arts bring to our quality of life.

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