Much of the work we do is inherently community-focused: supporting, promoting and rooting for the arts, heritage and cultural organizations here in Greater Hartford. But it’s important for us all to remember the larger national arts scene of which we’re an important part. Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading arts advocacy group and service organization, is a great way to stay connected to industry trends and, a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend one of their conferences—the National Arts Marketing Project’s annual conference (or NAMPC)—in Charlotte, NC.
Readers beware: I’m about to geek out on all things arts marketing.
The conference was a great opportunity for me to meet with national colleagues, hear some new ideas and really exciting projects, listen to experts in the field and discuss the issues we’re all facing. Now, I’ll bring what I’ve learned back to the organizations we support, an “added-value” service that helps connect our community with the larger arts and creative industry across the nation.
The sessions were great and the keynotes were spectacular–we heard from Eric Ryan, one of the co-creators of Method Products (think dish soap and laundry detergent at Target); cdza, a YouTube musical sensation; Nina Simon, the author of one of my favorite blogs, Museum 2.0, and a leading expert in the field of participatory arts experiences; and Rohit Bhargava, the author of Likeonomics, a bestselling book about generating customers by boosting your “likeability.” Small group discussions and workshops focused on everything from ticket pricing, to audience development; how to attract and retain emerging leaders and young professionals; finding the intersection of fundraising and marketing; and social media, web site development and how to calculate and track your return on investment.
I started to notice some emerging and recurring trends. Presenters, speakers and attendees alike all started saying the same things. Although the applications vary, here are three major ideas—my take-aways—from the conference:
- Be authentic. Audiences and arts attendees are tired of marketing “gimmicks,” so stay away from canned copy, tired visuals and endless discount offers. Instead, talk about what makes you and your organization unique and exciting–what does your theatre company do differently? How does your symphony stand out?
- It’s all about relationships. Donors, ticket buyers and volunteers are all looking for ways to engage and connect with your organization. Don’t treat them like dollar signs; treat each individual as a friend or family member, someone invested in your organization who wants a deeper, longer relationship with the work. It’ll pay off dramatically.
- The world has changed. Get used to it. Many arts marketers were talking about the “old way” it used to be. Putting up billboards, sending thousands of pounds of mail, paying out the nose for newspaper advertising. The world has evolved and changed; the way people find and use information is dramatically different. Arts organizations need to be nimble and (this should come easy) creative to attract and retain new audiences. Listen to patrons and donors, give them new experiences and keep them surprised to make it stick.
Everyone at the conference agreed that it’s an exciting—and terrifying—time for arts organizations, because we get to try new things and discover new ways of introducing the arts to our communities. Digital technology and social media provide opportunities to engage audiences like never before. And the personal touch still goes a long way; ticket buyers and donors still appreciate the phone call, the handwritten letter to let them know how much their support is appreciated. It takes only minutes, but goes a long way to building life-long relationships.
I certainly left the conference energized and ready to take on the world, with some new ideas to interact and engage with our community—readers like you!—and show you the amazing work of our arts, heritage and cultural community. As with every job, it’s nice to escape the day-to-day to look big picture, interact with experts and hear that you’re not alone: there are hundreds of people just as excited and terrified as I am!
As they become available, I’ll link to the videos from the general sessions and any other information that might be interesting to read. Until then, you can check out photos from the conference, follow along the twitter conversation (over 7,000 tweets were sent!) or follow me for my play-by-play of sessions and discussions.
Special shout-out to the amazing team at the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte, a fellow United Arts Fund and Local Arts Agency doing amazing work for the arts, cultural and science institutions in Charlotte. They gave me a warm welcome, a nice dinner out, and the opportunity to connect with their marketing, development and community investment leaders to talk new ideas, share stories and connect about united arts-related initiatives. Plus they are a FUN bunch. Check out their web site and follow them on twitter, too.