13. Arts Marketing

by karen orlowski

Arts branding sucks, according to Brian Millar in his article titled, “Arts Branding Sucks. Here are 4 Ways to Fix It.” I would agree with Millar’s statement, because when I see a poster for arts something, I am not typically moved enough to go see whatever it wants me to see. Now that I am interning at the Jordan Schnitzer MOA, my eyes have now been opened to see the in house perspective on marketing, and for that reason alone, I found this article interesting and applicable to other industries as well.

Selling U2 is easy, Millar says, but if a name doesn’t sell itself, then somebody has to. He says that mistakes commonly made at arts organizations, is that they hire people too passionate to sell it properly. He uses ballet as an example.

1. You love ballet. Don’t imagine everybody else does.

People don’t end up as marketing director of a ballet by accident. They do it because they love ballet in a way that flour marketers probably don’t love flour. So they make a fatal assumption: that ballet is interesting to the rest of us.

Millar says promoting U2 is as simple as hanging up a poster with a picture of Bono on it, but “an unknown theater director needs to work a lot harder to get the audiences they deserve.” He says that if a name doesn’t sell itself, “then approach the problem like selling a battery or a pack of frozen peas…”

So forget ballet, and think about your potential audience. What are the tensions in their lives? How could ballet help them make a breakthrough? What if you sold ballet to guys as a first-date idea? Now you’re talking to a much bigger audience–in their language.

2. Forget Research. Movie posters are pointless, Millar says. Alike movie trailers, there’s very little you can do to standout. Except for a few examples of trailers that Millar gives. He cites TBWA’s “legendary adman Jean-Marie Dru” for his perspective on focus groups. He would ask his creatives to tack the work from their competitors on the wall, and then he would say:

What are the clichés of the category? What can we tear into? The answer you’re looking for is on the wall in front of you, not in a focus group.

3. Instead of focusing on what you’re selling, find out what people are buying. Millar says that by doing this, you can open up your audience and talk to a larger amount of people. For example, he says that if you sold the ballet to guys as first dates, then you are talking to another audience, and you are talking to that audience in their language. Another example- The Young Vic Theatre; it was known in the industry as a “director’s theatre,” but after the theater took that and branded the directors as storytellers, the theater’s season almost sold out.

4. Selling isn’t selling out. Millar says that the “world is full of advertising claiming that a product will change your life.” He believes that “great art is the product that really can, if only it’s sold right.”

Great arts marketing makes more than money. Performers and creators live for full houses. An excited audience makes a show magical.