Chad Bauman over at the Arts Marketing blog published this post today as part of a series to have industry leaders express their thoughts on the biggest marketing challenges coming our way in the next decade. While I find it intellectually interesting to hear what these folks have to say (he has an impressive list set to weigh in), I believe the exercise will only be useful if we take the challenges named and examine what we are doing now to prepare for / overcome them. I think we, as an industry, have become skilled at naming problems from the past, present, and future, real and imagined. However, we often stop there and wallow in what we couldn’t control (sound like the newspaper and music industry??) Let’s try to avoid that this time, shall we?
So, I’m going to start by giving my thoughts on what we can do now regarding the challenges mentioned by Thomas Cott and Rick Lester in the current blog post. Please, add your own thoughts. And, please, let’s stay focused on concrete actions we can take and not get back into the “no, THIS is the REAL problem” conversation.
Thomas Cott: Thomas lists a number of challenges, among them the demographic shift in our country and the growing “minority majority.” What are we doing right now with not only our marketing but our programming to embrace this change? Refer back to Trish Mead’s 2 AM Theatre post on diversity and think about how you are approaching this issue. I watched Babes on Broadway last night for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed its light, frothy feel right up until the last 20 minutes when Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and the entire cast put on blackface for the minstrel number. I was flabbergasted. I thought, wow! I’m glad we are past the period in our history when folks thought that was OK! Then, this morning, I thought, but what are we really doing today that is including all the voices out there in our conversation? If they aren’t part of the conversation, you can bet they won’t be sitting in your seats. What actions are you taking now?
Thomas also sites the change in spending habits for many Americans. The only way we will get people to spend their hard earned dollars on our production is now and will continue to be that they see more value in the experience than they see in the money they spend. What are you doing to demonstrate the value of your work in the lives of your patrons? If we focus on the dollars we will lose, every time. We must focus on what live performance provides that you can’t get anywhere else. The visceral connection with the artists and the rest of the audience. The emotional impact of communal experience and, yes, even ritual. The lovely folks over at the Pew Internet and American Life Project published this report siting that people who are active on social networking sites are more likely to be out and about in their communities, too. We are looking for more personal interaction, more real experience. It is this experience that money does not dictate and it is this experience we need to sell.
Rick Lester: Rick highlights that we were actually once good at marketing to participatory audiences. They may have performed chamber music in their living rooms whereas now we create music on our computers, but it is a participatory society nonetheless. How do we harness this surge in the desire for arts participation? (and, among those who we so bemoan didn’t have arts education in school … curiosity, if cultivated and encouraged, trumps formal training every time.) How are you inviting your audience into the process? Open rehearsals? Reader’s circles for short-listed scripts for future seasons? Classes? Open mic nights? Perhaps a series that brings talented amateurs in to showcase work they do that ties to your mission? As I said before, you have to invite them into the conversation if you want them to come.
That is all I have time for right now, but I hope it gets the conversation for tactics started. There are challenges in every era and rarely do people believe they are in a “golden age” while it is actually happening. Let’s create our own golden age by adjusting now and prevent the need for reacting later.