7 Basics to Building a Successful Arts Marketing Program


In marketing, the tendency is to go straight to the tools and programs: Get out there and drum up some business, People!

Or, all too often: Let’s drum up some people so we can stay in business, People!

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How, though? Twitter or Instagram? A new website? Event marketing or paid advertising? Discounts: where, when, how much? Posters? Flyers? Email? Avoid Mistake #1:

Don’t confuse the push of sales with the pull of smart marketing.

Panic button or post, before you push send, think before you act. Rethink your marketing before you start your outreach. Create a marketing structure addressing your organizational resources, goals and needs.

Here are 7 imperatives for building a successful arts marketing program:

1. Look at marketing in one of 3 ways:

  • The foundation beneath all other business and artistic activities.
  • An umbrella overarching all other business and artistic activities.
  • The hub of a wheel, central to all other business and artistic activities.

2. Think of marketing as having 2 separate, but equally vital, sub-departments:

  • Institutional Marketing: Activities that impact or support organizational growth, visibility, public perception, customer experience and business development across business units. This includes branding, positioning, communications and creative, for example.
  • Program Marketing: Direct revenue production such as single tickets, subscriptions and group or volume-based sales, retail and “other” revenue channels such as licensing, sponsorship, intellectual property rights, facility rental, advertising and special programs. Indirect revenue areas, such as educational programs and contributed revenue through fundraising and development.

3. Marketing is not part of development:

  • Either Marketing + Development = Institutional Advancement — or they may be considered peer efforts that work in tandem. But one is not part of the other: each has a clear and different purpose and a clear and different decision-making process and revenue source. The goal is integration between the teams for audience development, efficiency and resource management, a culture of collaboration and support for independent goals.

4. Marketing is not the same as sales. Your ticket office is not your marketing team. Marketing encompasses, but may not be limited to:

  • Strategy (both institutional and programmatic, including retention, new audience development, non-traditional audiences, integration, resource management, goals and priorities).
  • Communications (uncompromising focus and standards across all channels).
  • Revenue building (see Program Marketing).
  • Creative Services (in-house or outsourced, brand, message, and story must be well-managed).

5. Marketing’s regular, ongoing function, whether outsourced or fully-serviced in-house, should include:

  • Research — for data-driven decision-making
  • Strategy — short- and long-term planning
  • Brand management — relentlessly
  • Creative — concept, design and production
  • Communications — program and institutional, and PR
  • Digital — web, E- and social
  • Direct marketing and advertising
  • Group and volume-based sales
  • Retail and merchandising
  • Audience services and box-office operations
  • Licensing and new revenues
  • Events and community outreach
  • Special projects

6. Consider organizing at least 3 working groups to maximize efficient resource management, cross-functional effectiveness and collaboration:

  • Sales/Business Development: primary focus on earned revenue (tickets, subs, retail, groups, volume-based business). Secondary focus on earned revenue from other programs (education, workshops) or contributed revenue (fundraising, development, membership). This team drives revenues and bridges box office operations. Work is both strategic and operational.
  • Audience Services: primary focus on incoming sales (online, phone, mail, walk-up) and outgoing sales (online, phone, mail, offsite), and customer service (box-office, telemarketing, front of house, group sales, events, community) Work is primarily operational with ongoing emphasis on team-building, training and building exceptional customer experience at every touch-point in support of revenue.
  • Communications/Creative: comprised of design, production, brand management, web, e- and online, social media, merchandising, PR and communications — all primarily institutional functions. Primary focus on brand management, messaging, positioning to ensure a platform of high standards for internal and external communications.

7. Expand your arts organization’s vocabulary. Talk the talk so you can walk the walk:

  • Institutional Marketing
  • Program Marketing
  • Positioning
  • Branding
  • Strategic Communications
  • Audience-centric
  • Data-driven
  • Integration
  • Cross-functional
  • Identity across brand, message, story
  • Differentiation, relevance, customization
  • Asset and resource management

Skip the guesswork. Go with what’s appropriate. Get good advice. Avoid mixed-up marketing. As with four new tires, a well-poured foundation or a sturdy umbrella, the upfront investment will pay off for years to come.

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Leslie Cargill
Leslie Cargill is a “smarketer” and communicator, privileged to work with leading brands like Boston Ballet, United Way, the Museum of Science and the Boston Red Sox. From baseball to ballet, she advances experience-based programs in the arts, tourism, education, entertainment, healthcare, fitness and sports. While the goal is to retain and grow an existing base of business, the trick is in developing new or "non-traditional" audiences. She was Director of Marketing and Communications with Boston Ballet before returning to her consulting practice where she serves as advisor, project manager and interim CMO for her clients. She believes in a good mix of marketing basics, a campaign approach, and both program and institutional strategies in branding, positioning, messaging and communicating. A dyed-in-the wool New Englander, she splits her time between Boston and her family home on the coast of Maine. She can be reached at leslie@cargillboston.com. Or call Leslie at 617.913.9000.