Everything you wanted to know about Arts Marketing

An old theatre colleague of mine – a brilliant teacher of actors – once remarked that you could take any single acting exercise and if you explored it deeply enough for long enough it would reveal everything you need to know about acting.  Watching that person in action made me wonder if the same principle applies to any practice.

So if we look at the very current practice of Arts Marketing what will it tell us about Arts and Culture? About our perception and understanding of Arts and Culture? After all  academic courses and modules in Arts Marketing abound; there are MOOCs, there are countless books on the topic, thousands of articles and many journals – not to mention endless opportunities for consultants to conduct audience research, run pilot schemes and develop organisational strategies.

But when we say “Arts Marketing” what are we actually talking about and what actually is the practice of Arts Marketing? First, I think its really important that we draw a very clear distinction between Marketing,  Sales and Advertising because in my experience they tend to get confused in a lot of talk about Arts Marketing.  People will ask “how will you Market that?” when what they actually mean is how will I sell it, or what forms of advertising will I use.

So, MARKETING is  a starting point, a set of beliefs and values (some would say a philosophy). Before marketing came into existence people made stuff and then tried to sell it with varying degrees of success. Marketing starts from the position that you find out what people want first and then you make  that. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but in essence if you engage in marketing you are responsive to the needs and desires of people on the assumption that if you identify a desire or a need common to a sufficient number of people then you have a market. That market will tell you – directly and indirectly – what to make and what to do.  That, in essence is marketing.  All the other stuff (Product, Price, Place, Promotion, Packaging, People, Branding, PR etc.) occurs after you establish what people desire and/or need. Marketing is responsive.

Now, if you apply that principle to Arts  then the suggestion is that the work you produce, promote, curate is in response to the needs and desires – identified through research –  of the people who will ultimately consume or experience your work. If you do not do this then you are not engaged in marketing.

Most artists and arts managers are really engaged in Sales when they think they’re engaged in marketing.

This is a really important distinction. Sales is a one to one relationship based on statistical assumptions.  In Sales you make something and then you offer it to enough people on the assumption that the percentage of them that actually buy it is sufficiently large to generate the necessary revenue.  Really good sales people don’t have a “hard neck” or a personality disorder, they just know that the majority of people they meet don’t want what they’re selling, and that’s fine.  They know that if only 1% of people want what they are selling then they may need to talk to 99 people before they make a sale. It’s not personal its just numbers.

The second really important assumption in Sales is that once you have a customer then the objective is to build that relationship so that they keep buying from you.  While its important to find new customers the priority is to nurture the customers you have.  As some famous sales person once remarked “nobody every sold anything to somebody who didn’t want it”.

Now it is true that you can “reframe” what you’re offering to match the customers needs/desires but this is a face to face, one on one activity.

Advertising is a set of mostly paid tools you can utilise strategically to

  1. inform your market of what you are doing
  2. prepare the ground for your sales team

For example, when a movie buys a vast amount of advertising its informing the specific movie going market of a new experience. It does not need to convince anybody of the value of movie going.

When a bank or Sky TV advertise a new product or “bundle” they are preparing the ground for their sales team – in branch, door to door, or on the phone.

Simple, yes?

So what are the implications for Arts practice.

When you advertise (which costs money) are you informing your market, your community of interest, confident that they will take action or are you preparing the ground for sales? If the latter do you have a sales team in place to follow-up on the advertising or are you shouting into the wilderness?

Or are you really, actually engaged in marketing ? In finding out what people want and need, in identifying and engaging with a community of interest and creating work that meets their needs and desires? If you are not doing this then you are in Sales Mode – using advertising to prepare the ground –  but remember that if you have no follow-up sales team then your advertising is wasted money.

Allegedly, Mark Zuckerberg once said that you cannot create a community: a community already exists – all you can do is create a platform for them to play on. That’s marketing. In an arts context this means co-creation, collaboration and participation.

As Seth Godin remarked “…great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator”.

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