Sunday, December 30, 2018

12 Easy New Year’s Resolutions for Every Arts Marketer

Thank you for reading!

The new year is always the perfect time to reflect and…oh enough with the fluff - here’s my content marketing series loosely themed around a holiday with a catchy title that makes you want to click. The following are 12 easy things that any marketer (or generalist who is wearing too many hats) should be sure to optimize anytime, not just in the New Year. I even throw in a bonus resolution for the overachievers out there!

Happy marketing and Happy New Year!

Resolution #1: Don't Just Sell, Content is Still Queen



Do all of your emails start with something like “Act fast. Buy Now. Tickets on Sale,” etc.? If so, this resolution is for you. In your email campaigns and social media it can be tempting to write what you want to tell your fans. Instead, think about what they want to know. Here’s an example. You might want to tell them that they should buy a ticket to your upcoming concert featuring a local children’s dance company. In this case, your message would be “Buy a Ticket to our Upcoming Children’s Dance Concert.”  But what your fan might actually want to know is who are the students? What pieces are being performed? What inspired this particular event instead of performing something else? In this case, the message would be something like “Hear what inspires a 7 year-old dancer to be her best.” You tell me which message inspires you more?

Your fans are smart, they know that you sell tickets. You don’t need to hit them over the head with it. Fans want to learn, to be entertained, to be delighted, to be surprised. You need to schmooze them before asking them out on a date. Give them a reason to say yes first. A good rule of thumb is that only every 4th message should have a sales call to action. Eveything else should be teaching, entertaining or delighting your fans to help them see why they should love you.

By the way, keeping your content relevant to what else is happening in the world is always a good thing. It shows you’re human, and that you pay attention to your fan’s lives. For instance, I could have said “Content is still King” in the title of this section (the original phrase was coined by Bill Gates in 1996), but that would be ignoring the fact that 77% of arts managers identify as female, and also would ignore the important discussions happening around gender equality and #metoo. 

Resolution #2: Improve (or Create) Your Landing Pages

Do you know what a landing page is? You might not, and that's okay. When you are advertising an event and a fan clicks on the ad to visit your site, they should almost always be directed to a landing page. Occasionally, this may be your homepage, but most of the time it shouldn’t be. Your homepage is pretty general and could lead someone in a dozen different directions. The more options you give a potential buyer, the less likely it is they’ll choose any of them. Here are some landing page tips:

  • Your landing page should have a specific, upfront goal (for example, buying tickets to a single event). 
  • You want the primary headline or subject of your landing page to match the ad or email your fan clicked on. 
  • Your call to action (“Get Your Tickets” for instance) should be super visible and high enough so the fan doesn’t need to scroll to see it. 
  • The call to action should be a button that is a bold and contrasting in color from the rest of the page. 
  • Including a video can increase your conversion by up to 80%.  
  • Do you have an offer? Be upfront about it! 
  • Use testimonials or quotes from patrons on your landing page. Your fans want to know that they are getting into something other people are also into. 
  • De-clutter your page, and only say what’s absolutely necessary. White space and bullet points are great for readability. 
Most of the time, a landing page is the first impression, and you want to get your new fan in and out with a great experience as quickly as possible. 


Resolution #3: Don’t Ask For My Life Story, Just Let Me Buy a Ticket

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made the decision to buy a ticket, then I’ve gotten to the purchase page and have been overwhelmed by what they are asking me. There are only four pieces of personal information you actually need from your buyer:

  • name
  • credit card number
  • address for payment verification
  • and email to send a confirmation

Don’t ask them for anything else. Give your fan what they want - a ticket - and follow up later with an email if you want to learn more about them.

Here’s a great case study. One of the best symphonies in the world, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, makes it frustratingly hard to buy a ticket. The individual concert pages on the CSO website are good landing pages. They have video, relevant information, good photos, and a very visible “buy tickets” button. But it goes downhill from here. 

I’m a new patron, so I’m just looking for an individual ticket. From the time I click “buy tickets” on the event page, I have to go through six different pages before I am asked for my credit card info. Two of those pages are ticket selection pages, one is a donation page (why I am being asked to donate before I’ve ever purchased a ticket?), one is a login page because apparently I need an account to buy a single ticket, and another is a "create a new account" page because of course I don't have an account, I'm not even sure I'm going to want to come back yet. To make matters worse, their Facebook login integration isn’t working so I actually have to come up with yet another set of login credentials for a website I'm not sure I'll visit again. 



Is this all necessary? No. Again, all you need in order to sell a ticket is name, credit card number, address for payment verification, and email to send a confirmation. If you want your fans to create an account or donate, then you should first wow them with your product and content that adds to their life. If an organization as masterful as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra can get some of this wrong, chances are that your sales process can be improved too.

Resolution #4: Track with Analytics

It's so important to know your audience. A few top level things the I look for are:


  • seeing how they behave on your website
  • where they come from
  • whether they’re on a computer or mobile
Paying attention to the visitor analytics on your website will give you a ton of useful information. For instance, if you knew that 52.4% of your website visitors were viewing your site and emails from their mobile phone, you would probably display your content a little differently (by the way, 52.4% is the global average of internet traffic originating from mobile in Q3 of 2018). Maybe your long paragraphs should be shortened. Maybe your high-res photos should be sized down for easier download. If you don’t know where to begin with analytics, here's a great resource.


My favorite way to use analytics is to see what ads and traffic sources turn into the most sales. If you knew that 10% of your clicks from Facebook ads turned into sales, and 20% of the clicks from an ad in an online arts calendar turned into sales, where would you spend more money?



If you have the time and resources to do A/B testing, I highly recommend it. Trying out a new ad campaign, but unsure of the right message? Test two different versions of the landing page and see which one converts more. Trying to find the perfect subject line or header in an email? Try sending two versions to different parts of your email list and see which has more success. Analytics can do all of this, and there is no better substitute than real data from your fans. 

Resolution #5: Scrubadubdub Your Contact Lists

Speaking of email campaigns, do you know who gets your emails? You might have a list of 12,000 people, but how many of them are real fans that would take an action, or even open your emails? You might be sending thousands of emails to people who don’t care, or worse, are getting annoyed with your emails which increases the likelihood your domain will be marked as spam. Chances are, you are paying to keep those subscribers in your email management system. And if you’re using traditional snail mail (yes, you should be) with an un-scrubbed list, then you’re wasting even more money by paying for printing and postage to send your messages right into someone’s recycling bin.

The overall logic in this scrubbing process is to identify which contacts are inactive, ask them one more time to engage with you, and then remove them if they continue to be inactive. Every email marketing system is different, and since I prefer MailChimp, here’s a detailed tutorial on how to scrub your MailChimp lists. The same logic should go for your snail mail lists.

Before scrubbing, I would recommend a few months of great content marketing first (see resolution #1).

Resolution #6: Call Me By My Name



I've decreased my engagement with an organization this year because they started writing to me by saying “Dear Friend,” “Dear Music Lover,” etc. This was after several years of personalized marketing and solicitation messages, being a regular ticket buyer and donor, visiting them in their office, and even being on a first-name basis with their staff. In the year 2019, if you can’t mail merge your letters and auto populate first names in your emails, then let’s talk.

Resolution #7: Create or Join a Peer Group

Sitting behind a computer can get lonely, especially if you’re the only marketer in your office. One of the best things I did for my career was to join a peer group. We met twice per month for several years, and to this day I seek out these kinds of groups. There are things that only people in your position will understand, and it’s so vital to have a community of support and encouragement. Beyond the “feel good” aspects of a community, there are major tangible benefits you’ll get like learning best practices and getting some industry buzz. Being useful to a peer can even change your outlook on the way you approach your own work.



In arts marketing, a peer group could be a challenge if you’re going after the same ticket buyers. But don’t despair. You can create or find a group of peers from various industries to eliminate the competitive agita. No matter the product, marketing challenges are often the same. What could you learn from a restaurant or sports marketer?

Resolution #8: Beautify Your Space

As a marketer, your job is inherently creative. The place in which you perform your job should match the level of inspiration you are trying to share with your fans. If you think this is touchy feely bunk, think again. Did you know that simply having a plant in the office, or increasing natural light can raise productivity by 15%? You’ve got to love where you spend most of your day if you’re going to love (or even like) what you do there. Be bold, have fun and inspire yourself and your colleagues so that you can inspire your fans!

Too much?

Resolution #9: Ask Your Fans

What better way to get to know your audience than by asking them what they think? Tastes and fads change, so you should know when your fan’s tastes are changing. Doing audience surveys is pretty common, and there are some easy tools like Surveymonkey and Google Forms to help you.

The real work in this resolution isn’t just sending out a survey, but deciding what to ask. Maybe there’s a question in the back of your mind, and you’re kinda afraid of the answer. That’s definitely the question you should be asking. For instance, you might ask your ticket buyers what three things they would change to improve your events. Or you might ask them to rate you compared to your competitor. 

You might even ask them to write a little mini-review of your last event. Sometimes artists and organizations are scared to read reviews, but your audiences are talking about you whether you listen or not, so you might as well listen to what they say. If you’re still in business after the last event, then chances are you’ll get good feedback from your fans!

There are so many different methodologies to getting feedback. The one rule I try to stick to is to ask for feedback that is quantifiable. Using lowest to highest scales (1-5), yes/no responses, or pre-determined multiple choice can give you just the right kind of analysis you need to make the aggregate feedback useful. Freeform feedback is really useful to read, but hard to take action on. So, I try to give only one option in any survey for free-form feedback. Everything else can be quantified. 

Resolution #10: Ask Everyone BUT Your Fans

This is an underutilized tactic in arts marketing research. Why don’t you like us? I strongly encourage you to create your own focus group of people who don’t come to your events. It may be a little harder to find them, but it’s totally doable. You can put an ad on craigslist or email your network of friends to get referrals. It’ll be easier to get people to help you if you compensate them with a gift card or something like that (pro tip, don’t offer free tickets to your events because you already know that’s not valuable to them).



Once you have your focus group (in-person is best, but not totally necessary), you get to decide what you want to learn. It honestly won’t serve you to ask them a lot about your own event or organization because they don’t know you yet. Instead, ask them about their lives. 


  • What are their pain points when it comes to performing arts? 
  • Where do they search for things to do? 
  • How often do they attend other events like yours? 
  • What do they find brings them and their families joy? 
  • Have they ever heard of you, or your competitors, before this exercise? 
You'll learn so much from doing this!

Resolution #11: Don't Forget to Pay for Ads

I know from experience that it’s easy to get into the trap of writing emails and posting on social media, and then sitting back and waiting for your fans to flock to your box office. Unfortunately, much of the time you really do have to pay for ads, so don’t be afraid to spend the money…wisely. You need to rise above the clutter and get as many eyeballs as possible on your great content, and unless you already have 5 million followers on social media, then you have to pay for exposure.


When you’re deciding where to spend your money, tracking with your analytics can be really helpful! 

Here's My Formula
For online, I like to look at the cost per click and cost per conversion. It goes like this. If you spend $1,000 on a particular ad, and that ad results in 1000 visitors to your website, you have spent $1 to “get someone in the door.” Then if 50 of those people buy a ticket, you have converted 5% of your web visitors into a sale. At $50/ticket, you have turned a $1,000 ad spend into $2,500 in revenue. In this case, I would try to get the cost/click down to about $0.75 with the same acquisition rate. It may mean buying more ad space at once or retargeting your user demographics on the ad platform, but it's worth it to find the sweet spot.

For offline ad tracking, it’s a little tricky. I find the most reliable way to track non-internet-initiated sales is with discount codes. If you offer a specific discount code in a newspaper ad, you can hope that everyone who buys as a result of that ad uses the code (they won’t) and you can know your ROI (it’ll be approximate). Radio has a similar challenge. 

Considering that fewer and fewer people are consuming print and commercial radio, I predict that most arts marketers will be spending less and less here as time goes on. 

Resolution #12: Say Thank You

Take every opportunity to say thank you. Even if it’s “Thank you for opening this email, you’ll be glad you did!” These two magic words are so simple and effective.


Resolution #13: Bonus

Follow these brands on instagram for some inspiration!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Classical Music World’s Guide to Beginners

Everyone in classical music is trying to reach new audiences. Anne Midgette’s recent Washington Post article, A Beginner’s Guide to Enjoying Classical Music, along with the subsequent discussion on social media demonstrate that classical music aficionados, critics, musicians, and administrators all care deeply about finding new audiences. Anne’s article inspired me to think about my own philosophy on solving this problem.
I myself begrudgingly admit to being a millennial. I am currently wearing my new “millennial pink” bomber jacket, the color of which I didn’t even know existed until three weeks ago. I have some cred with my Instagram peers, but I also grew up in the concert halls studying violin at a high level. I even played professionally for a bit. I went on to be an arts executive serving two nationally known choruses, and I’ve spoken on arts marketing and programming for new audiences in front of multiple professional associations. All this is to say that I can speak for the new audience demographic while also coming by my classical music snobbery with the utmost sincerity.
Anne and I aren’t the only people thinking about the power of music to transform new audiences (wait — are we done talking about pink bomber jackets?). The Recycled Orchestra is creating a new and unlikely generation of Paraguayan classical music lovers. The Royal Philharmonic is getting techiewith new audiences next season. Earlier this summer, ClassicFM put out their Best classical music for beginners list. Every composer on the list is dead and white (yes, this tone-deaf list was published in 2018. I had to double check the year as well). Refreshingly, Nick Luby and Susan Zhang recently brought their concert truck to new audiences in Baltimore. Many more people across the globe are talking about, and programming for, new audiences. The challenge is that many are doing so while stuck within the sphere of tradition.
According to one study of concert-goers under the age of 25, the main obstacles that prevent them enjoying concerts were “the emotional pace of the music,” the length of concerts, and “the restrained behavior of other audience members, which was interpreted by some as being indicative of a lack of emotional engagement”. Apparently, the venue was an issue too. The study observed that the setting was “serving as a distraction as participants became concerned with whether they were welcome and how they should behave.”
Here’s the conclusion from the authors: “While some respondents were pleasantly surprised by their enjoyment or impressed by the performers, most remained fairly fixed in their views, and it would clearly take more than one concert to begin to assimilate classical music listening within their established musical identities.”
Are you kidding me? They might as well beat the young patrons over the head with a viola until they say Uncle Mozart. Even when trying to study the problem, the variables were set up to assume the problem was with the listener, and the conclusion reflected this stubbornness. The problem is them, not us, you could almost hear the authors of this study lamenting with classical music royaltyI wish this were a rare sentiment, but it’s not.
Ticket discount programs, young professional groups, video installations, pre-concert talks (which I actually love), are all efforts being employed in concert halls across the globe, but the problem is that they assume people need to just “learn how to listen” or “get more exposure” to classical music in order to love it. Viola, meet head.
Mixing mediums is interesting to me. Many thought that showing video accompanied by live music was the silver bullet, and orchestras began to erect large video screens to capture the attention of young audiences. There’s some merit to this, and I kind of love the nostalgia of movies and videogames from my childhood which are sometimes presented in concert halls. On the other hand, I’ve heard some observe that this can feel like an attempt to distract the audience from the music. But maybe it’s okay if the music is part, not the whole, of a grand experience you won’t get anywhere else.
Another effort at attracting new audiences is to offer more “pops” or “new music” programming (which can be code for non-white and/or non-male and/or non-dead). Now, I love pops and new music. But I don’t love how classical presenters often segregate them as somehow different from traditional classical music, keeping the old dead guys (many of whom I also love) on this untouchable pillar, as if music written today isn’t really classical. This segregation only furthers the distance between classical music and that which actually reflects the experience of today’s audience.
If we want more people experiencing classical music, then perhaps we need to expand its definition rather than infantilize those who are creating and ingesting exciting new performances today. Aubrey Bergauer of the California Symphony agrees.
We also need to stop being so condescending when talking to and about “young audiences.” These are real people, who are living and thriving in an historically complex world while also trying to fix the problems left by earlier generations (pollution, social security, Nazis marching in front of the White House, to name a few). Millenials don’t always need to be taught. Maybe in classical music circles they need to be heard.
Millennials want connection, to feel something real. I mean no disrespect to my mentors and teachers who learned from their mentors and teachers, but during much of my upbringing, music was not real. Neither the performance nor the audience experience connected to real life. Rather, it was an escape from reality and demanded so many things that are not natural to us human beings: sitting in silence for 2+ hours; not looking at (and definitely not talking to) the people sitting next to you in the concert hall; never clapping or showing appreciation after an exciting climax of music unless the climax happens to come after the “right” movement, “interpreting” Bach the exact same way my teacher’s teacher’s teacher did because “that’s how you play Bach,” changing out of your work clothes to put on even nicer (and stiffer) clothes during your leisure time, and never ever committing the sacrilege of expelling air from your lungs in a short audible breath in the effort to clear a blockage from your throat (you know, so you can breathe) while the music was playing.
The standard presentation of classical music works to avoid, if not shun, the human experience.
We can talk all we want about which composers are least uninteresting to new audiences. But at the end of the day, those poor lost souls who don’t love classical music because they haven’t been exposed to enough of it still won’t want to put on the required suit / dress, sit still in a room full of people for hours in silence and watch another old white dude wave his arms in front of a group of (mostly) old (mostly) white musicians who don’t even know how to smile (seriously, when was the last time you saw an orchestra musician smile while they were playing?).
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with old, white musicians. I hope to be one myself someday. But we do have a representation problem, on stage and inside institutions. How many young people do you ask to join your board (put the money issue aside because a new perspective is worth more than you know)? What is your definition of a concert venue, and are you willing to get uncomfortable in that definition? How are you addressing diversity in the office? Are you demanding representation quotas in your internal policies? Are you even talking about diversity? Some organizations are doing amazing work around this and are true models. Others are checking the box and feeling better about themselves. Still others don’t even acknowledge it.
Audience decline is a real issue for classical music. There are lots of great people and institutions putting on great programs in an effort to keep audiences coming. Programming, venue, cost, concert etiquette, hiring, music education, and indeed the way we talk about, advertise, and critique classical music are all part of the solution. Yes, consumers could use more education in how and why to appreciate classical music, and I believe that starts with exposure to more music at a young age in every school system — public, private, and otherwise. But more than “teaching” people to like classical music, we need to teach ourselves as artists and institutions what it takes to connect with people and reflect real life today. If you’re still reading this, then you probably believe like I do that classical music can take you to other-worldly places and indeed bring some humanity back into the insane world in which we live. But only if we work diligently to put some humanity back into classical music.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What’s Wrong with Arts Marketing?

Subscriptions are down. Classical music isn’t cool. Organizations rely more and more on fundraising, and most artists don’t know how to market themselves. But when other industries are exploding, why can’t the performing arts follow suit? 

First, let’s look at where things stand. In fact, there is a lot of money being spent on arts marketing in the United States, yet many audience segments are declining. Why is this?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but there is one glaring observation. Performing arts institutions are often not as creative or nimble as the products they produce. Many performing arts institutions have a hard time adapting to change, especially as it relates to marketing, messaging, and consumer interaction, even when it is staring them in the face(book).

The average performing arts organization (opera, symphony, dance, general music and performing arts) spends $243,236 per year on non-personnel marketing expenses (SMU). This amount is usually higher for opera and symphony orchestras of course. With an estimate of 31,000 performing arts organizations in the US (Guidestar), there is an estimated $7.5 billion being spent on performing arts marketing each year. Much of this is being spent in traditional ways, yet evidence shows that more and more audience members don’t trust traditional marketing. 





In short, those marketing dollars aren’t spent in the right way. Let’s look at consumer behavior: 84% of consumers report always or sometimes taking action based on personal recommendations. 70% said they did the same with online consumer opinions (Nielsen). When it comes to trust, 93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media- because 90% trust peer recommendations. But only 14% trust advertisements.(#Socialnomics 2014)

Still, much of the performing arts industry marketing is based on traditional and ineffective techniques such as ad placements, radio, and institutionally driven, top-down, messages. There isn’t much of a vocabulary for influencer or peer-to-peer marketing in traditional performing arts. It’s new. It’s scary. There’s pressure not to fail, and thus not to experiment. I get it.

As an Arts Executive, I often heard things like “why aren’t we in the local paper more.” “How do we get more posters put up around town.” There are decades of tradition that dictate arts marketers need to just do more of what used to work. But doing more of what doesn’t work as well anymore, well…doesn’t work.

Of course, when you’re in an arts institution with all that history, it’s hard to just flip a switch. You risk alienating traditional audiences. You risk a time period in which ticket sales may go down as you experiment with new marketing tactics and spend time learning who your audience will be for the next 20 years. Because most arts non-profits sit just barely on the edge of profitability, no board or executive wants to see a short-term slump in ticket sales, even if the long-term effect will be positive. 

But if you’re reading this and need some more data to show that the long-term effect is worth it, here you go:

·     Consumer-consumer communication is the primary factor behind 20-50 percent of all purchasing decisions (McKinsey)
·      74% of consumers identify word of mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision (Ogilvy)
·      Overall trust in earned media, such as word of mouth and recommendations is increasing while trust in traditional paid advertising is decreasing (Nielsen)
·     8-10 percent of consumers are “influentials” and their message has four times more impact on the purchaser’s decision (McKinsey)
·     93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are influenced by social media- because 90% trust peer recommendations. But only 14% trust advertisements. (#Socialnomics 2014)
·     89% of millennials trust recommendations by friends or family more than claims by brands (Kissmetrics)
·     Millenials are 44% more likely to trust experts, who happen to be strangers, than advertisements (Hubspot)






Saturday, April 28, 2018

Overdue Reflections

It's been almost two years since my last post. I've done a lot of learning, thinking, reflecting, reading and experiencing in those two years. I'll share just a little of that today.

Earned revenue is one way non-profits make money by providing a program or service in exchange for fees (in arts orgs, selling tickets is an example). But there are downsides to having too much earned revenue on your balance sheet. Higher earned income means that there are more people who value concerts than the overall mission. Let's say a concert ticket averages $45 and a donation averages $150. Meanwhile a concert hall has a maximum capacity but a bank account doesn't...wouldn't you be happier to see more people donating? Donation capacity is unlimited, seat capacity is not. This is a longer topic, and you'll find plenty of writing on earned vs. contributed income out there.

Having a lean staff is always helpful when telling funders that their money is going more to programs than to administrative costs. Keeping general operating expenses such as marketing and fundraising low is considered healthy and responsible. But Dan Pallotta has it right when he says, "the things we've been taught to think about giving, and charity and about the non-profit sector are actually undermining the causes we love." We are taught that working in a non-profit means working long days for less pay and with fewer resources than our counterparts in the corporate sector. This results in less personal fulfillment outside of work because most of the employee's time is spent at the office, economic insecurity for many non-profit workers, and a feeling of being hand-tied when trying to do more with less. When we think that a non-profit's mission is vitally important, but we don't invest in the administration of the organization to achieve it, we set up a cognitive disconnect. So staff up folks.

Risk is a funny thing. Many non-profit boards err on the conservative side when it comes to spending and risk. Most non-profit staff are taught not to rock the boat. And many non-profit leaders sit in the in-between of true dreaming and respecting the mores of non-profit culture. 

But all is not lost. Non-profit staff, leaders and boards can take a little bit of risk and see results. One example - at The Washington Chorus, with no extra money or staff, we created a new weekend choral festival for DC Public School kids. We hoped money would come, and it did but not until afterwards. In year two of the program, more money came. Plans are underway for a third year of the program!

Keep risking, keep dreaming, keep pushing. After all, art should push us forward.