I started this series of expounding on Michael Kaiser’s ten rules for salvaging the fortunes of an arts organization by sharing his opening premise that good programs marketed well are foundational for sustaining a healthy organization. My source is his 2008 book, The Art of the Turnaround, from which I am devoting one message per rule, sharing his thoughts about sound management practices supplemented by my perspective based on my own smaller scale experiences. The topic of marketing has come up before whenever he has demonstrated how one of his first five rules impacts that discipline. But now he is more directly engaged in helping us understand what he means by the employment of good marketing as he expounds on his Rule #6: Marketing is more than brochures and advertisements.
His rule can create something of a “Duh” moment for us if you consider that advertising, of which brochures are merely one component, is itself a subset of the larger concept of marketing. Therefore our response is one of obvious concurrence, since marketing involves various specialties utilized to do more than create effective ads. A comprehensive marketing program helps us to understand our customers and provide them with the products or services that will build their allegiance to our brand. So while Kaiser writes that “If there is one thing I have done to help the troubled organizations I have managed it has been to create a very aggressive and systematic marketing program,” his advice is not quite as expansive as his topic would allow. Instead his focus is on two themes, programmatic and institutional marketing, without clearly delineating a full-blown marketing plan.
When he writes of programmatic marketing his point of reference is “the brochures, advertisements, posters, emails, and so forth that sell tickets” which he then confirms, “must be designed and distributed intelligently and with a goal of reaching a potential buyer.” This is the type of marketing, or at a more basic level the type of advertising, we all do, promoting our events as the major draw for gaining attention and attendance. But Kaiser goes on to state that too few of us engage in institutional marketing, “the marketing of the entire institutional image that gets people excited about supporting the company.”
I remember when Hallmark was not a television channel or even a series of made for TV movies, but a presenter of occasional specials under the marquee title The Hallmark Hall of Fame. During the commercials you would see a few of their seasonal products, but the tag line was about the nature of the company itself, letting us know that we choose their brand of greeting card “When you care enough to send the very best.” Or consider the promise made by an insurance company, which gave us the assurance that “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” Both slogans celebrated the inherent quality of the company and came with the hidden or unstated aspersion that we were not so well off going with the competition.
These statements have nothing to do with a product or service and everything to do with creating an emotional attachment between the company and customer. And that is what Kaiser is after when he points out the fact that too few of us get beyond marketing our projects and programs and miss the opportunity to build trust by promoting who we are instead of relying on what we do as the primary message. But when you have a marketing budget of miniscule proportions, program marketing is about as far as you can go with any hope of generating a significant return, which will cover your operating costs. And in a highly competitive world, differentiation is important and that is done by selling people on the positive and unique attributes of the organization as a whole; a story which seeks to make the company-customer relationship a marriage made in heaven.
My solution is to adopt the Hallmark and Allstate method of adding an institutional tagline to all of your advertisements, wherein one short and magical phrase can carry the full weight of the promise inherent in all that you do. Kaiser seems to support this technique as he states “…creating an institutional marketing plan that includes performances and events that are likely to interest the press and your donor base is achievable by any organization.” The achievement is affordable by combining the two messages, program and institutional promise. What can keep it beyond our reach, however, is the inability to actually come to terms with what that promise is and then stating it in such a pleasingly concise way that it serves to compliment the program message.
With the affirmation that we need both a program and an institutional message, Kaiser goes on to make two other points about his type of marketing strategy. The first is about frequency. He writes, “I believe large organizations should have at least one ‘hit’ a month, not a small mention in a newspaper but a major event or press coverage that impresses donors and prospects about the importance of the organization. Smaller organizations should aim for one hit each quarter.”
You can tell that we are dealing with an arts person since he speaks of his events as “hits” as if they were being charted on some list of America’s Top 40. But the point is understandable. Large organizations, those with a large enough staff to generate the content, should make news of meaningful proportions at least once a month. Most of us will never have that size of staff or even that size of program that we can be newsworthy. So for us little guys the once a quarter rate is manageable. Even then it is a challenge to attain that kind of output and do all the other administrative chores assigned to managers of such smaller organizations. There is no easy answer to managing your workload.
Fortunately we live in a digital age, where we can not only make our own news but publish it as well. We do not have to rely solely on the traditional media outlets to carry the news for us as we remain subject to their pleasure for deciding what will sell air time or print space. Still the weight of generating meaningful content remains in house and can be every bit as demanding as drafting a news release that will capture an editor or producer’s attention. Websites, e-blasts, newsletters (print and digital) and member magazines provide us with the means to tell our story in a cost effective, though time consuming, way. The only drawback is the smaller scope of audience reach when we use our own resources, so don’t abandon drafting that news release despite the loss of sleep you may incur.
Kaiser’s other point about his marketing strategy employs the cliché less is more. It is about intentionally limiting the capacity of an event in order to cater to a specific clientele, those by invitation only elite experiences, where “…you can create great awareness among very potent people with private events….” I have found such occasions to be extremely lucrative, easier to manage and more likely to sustain a lasting relationship with people who can make life easier for you as you meet or exceed their personal expectations. To some this may reek of selling one’s soul to the devil. But if you are managing any entity, which needs a major infusion of cash for its survival, then dancing with such affluent demons can be quite exhilarating as well as profitable. Just think of it as your own version of dancing with the stars, however fallen they might be.