Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep the Change (Coming)

Crocuses are stabbing through the winter detritus in our yard. Mud is on the roads. Maple steam is escaping from small rustic buildings dottling the landscape. The Legislature plans to finish by the end of April (wow!).

Change is in the air.

Although I continue to come across artists and administrators who are angry or scared about their current economic condition, by far the majority of them have taken the current crisis as a starting point for exploring how to accomplish their work differently, more efficiently, and/or with greater impact. For example, I have had conversations with cultural representatives from three Vermont communities who are in various stages of consolidating a significant segment of their local cultural efforts to achieve administrative, marketing, and promotional synergies and savings.

This is the kind of change we need.

At our advocacy day on March 17th (huge thanks to all of you who came!) we heard from a variety of people about new ways to capture and use data, or better ways to position Vermont artistic products and services to broaden and deepen Vermont's audience as well as its brand identity.

Again, more change to consider.

Perhaps the most important thing artists and arts administrators could change, however, is how they approach marketing and promotion. In a very quick and totally unscientific, recent sampling of a few Vermont arts organizations I discovered two things: 1) many arts administrators don't really know what percentage of their annual operating budget they allocate to marketing and promotion. They could all form an estimate by calculating the number of events times the rough expenditures on advertising per event, but no one would commit to a firm figure without equivocating; and 2) most administrators having completed the calculation, guesstimated that they spent less than 3% of their total operating expenditures on marketing and promotion.

Here's a new way to look at marketing and promotion. Take an average of your total operating income for the last three years. Multiply that by 10%. There. That's your new budget line-item for marketing and promotion for your organization next year. That's what you are going to spend on a well-considered plan to fill your seats, to engage your audiences in new ways, to invite your legislators to come and speak at your opening night events, to showcase your organization as the center of community life that you know it to be.

"But that's too much! We've never spent more than 2% (it turns out, having now done the math). We need to spend that extra XX thousand dollars on artist fees/travel/dressing the hall/insurance/mindless debates about marketing/etc...."


What if you presented one or two fewer performances and took the money you would have spent up front on artist fees and really developed a marketing and promotional campaign that was designed to fill every seat in the house so full that you had to add an extra show? Wouldn't your board be happy? Wouldn't the artists be happy?

Our state department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) has a long history of marketing and promoting the Vermont Brand almost exclusively out of state. They also have a long history of partnering with private-sector partners and splitting the costs of out-of-state promotional campaigns to lure visitors here from Montreal, Boston, Albany (Capital District), New York, and Philadelphia.

We believe this is a huge opportunity to improve our own financial conditions as well as that of Vermont, which is dependent on tourism for 15% of its revenue.

Let's take aim at a realistic goal: let's get our boards to commit to spending 5% on marketing/promotion within the next two years, and 10% within five years. While you are doing that, we (the Arts Council) will:

  • Develop out-of-state marketing campaigns with VDTM that showcase the multiple reasons to visit Vermont for its art (Vermont is a pretty wide open source for great copy!)
  • Develop in-state marketing campaigns with our arts organizations, local chambers of commerce and others to reach not only the large number of Vermonters who only know what's going on in their own communities, but the large number of out-of-state visitors who stay with family and friends.
  • Encourage arts organizations all over the state to join forces with each other and with us and mimic the very successful brand-oriented campaigns that the likes of the Ski Areas Association and Cabot Cheese have done with VDTM.
In addition to many of the other ideas we have put forward at Advocacy Day about information-gathering, accountability, and application-streamlining, putting a new focus on marketing and promotion may be turn out to be the most significant change for the Arts Council in a generation.

Like I said, change is in the air, and these are all big.

Breathe deeply.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Very nice thoughts about two special people, Alex.