Thursday, December 18, 2008

Notes from Americans for the Arts' National Arts Marketing Conference

Kevin Johnson’s Americans for the Arts National Arts Marketing Project Conference (AFA NAMP) Summary

I don’t have a marketing background, I’m more of a techie. So when COPPeR's Executive Director Bettina Swigger encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to the AFA NAMP Conference, I saw a great opportunity to learn a ton. I was fortunate enough to receive a full-scholarship to the conference that paid for my round-trip airfare, hotel and conference fees. I felt like I was in way over my head at times, but I did my best to tread water and really enjoyed myself at the conference—and I learned a lot of valuable information from the presenters, other conference attendees, and from the experience itself. I’ll just briefly tell you about what I considered to be the highlights of the three-day event.

Day 1 Keynote - Word of Mouth with Ed Keller from Keller Fay Group
Everyone’s heard that “word of mouth” is among the most effective marketing tools any business can utilize. But Keller offered evidence that indicates that this isn’t just hooey: he claims that the small minority really does make a big impact. In his book The Influentials, Keller writes that one American in ten tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy—these people are the Influentials. So who are these folks? They’re the people who make society, culture and the marketplace run. They’re the people who are self-reliant, active and engaged with their communities, they’re connected socially and civically, and they act on their passions–whether it’s a passion for creating beauty, or for what they believe really matters—so what results is that these people motivate, inspire and influence others.

Although we are regularly bombarded by advertising that is assumed to have this phenomenal power over the consumer, Keller says people still overwhelmingly make their decisions about spending their time and money by talking to other people. Some of the research Keller cites indicates a substantial differential when comparing the measured effectiveness of advertising versus the consultation of friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers (and even in some cases, family!) The areas Keller identifies as most susceptible to the influence of word of mouth include the obvious—which restaurants to try, attractions to visit, and web sites to use—and some that surprised me, like which prescription drugs to try and what to do about retirement planning.

He talked a lot about utilizing social networking technologies like Myspace and Facebook. “Be where the information is,” Keller says.

The next session I’d like to outline was called Online Space: The Final Frontier
This session demonstrated how some cutting edge arts organizations utilize new media and Web 2.0 tools like streaming video, blogs, podcasting and web site interactivity to engage with and add value to the lives of their audiences.
The Science Museum of Minnesota’s Science Buzz web site showed how a museum, for instance, can integrate their exhibition components into interactive materials generated by both museum staff and site visitors. The innovative content associated with Science Buzz has changed the way visitors perceive the Science Museum and has spurred new partnerships and funding opportunities.

Then in a lunchtime session, Karen Brooks Hopkins from the Brooklyn Academy of Music spoke about the intersection of marketing and fundraising. I found this to be one of my favorite moments while at the conference—the food was pretty good, but the presentation about BAM’s operations was stunning. BAM both maximizes the use of their facilities (which are numerous and very impressive) and ensure that their marketing and fundraising efforts “speak with one voice” as she put it. I can’t really do justice to what she was able to deliver, so I’ll just say that I highly recommend checking out BAM’s web site to get more information. (

Next: Advanced E-mail marketing – Eugene Carr from Patron Technology detailed strategies for creating compelling subject lines for mass email messages, design tips that can be the difference between a closed window or a click-through, some low cost/high impact list building techniques, and behavioral list segmentation.

If you don’t already, I would suggest using a service like Constant Contact or PatronMail for your mass-communications. These services can be relatively low cost (especially for nonprofits) and include vital tools like list management features, metrics for tracking your efforts, ready-made templates in a variety of styles to quickly build your emails, and survey technology to gather feedback from those that you serve.

Some tips: most of these are really simple things like send your e-blast out on a consistent basis so that readers learn to expect it, offer occasional low-cost giveaways to increase subscriber interest, always ask the people you’re in front of if they would like to subscribe and be judicious in the use of exclamation marks, all-caps and other potentially annoying text embellishments—rather, choose your words carefully so that you can more effectively communicate your excitement.

Learn how to interpret your email statistics so that you can determine when you need to make adjustments. You can also analyze the particular interests of portions of your database which you can then segment into smaller, more focused groups. By focusing on the preferences of a specific group, you can deliver a more compelling, and thus effective message to your audience.

Day Two’s keynote was delivered by Alan Brown from WolfBrown Consulting. Alan delivered an unexpectedly entertaining presentation on customer database segmentation. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and on helping cultural institutions, foundations, and agencies to see new opportunities, make informed decisions, and respond to changing conditions. By using values-based questions in the creation of audience participation surveys, he’s able to offer measurement tools that assess the intrinsic impact of performing arts experiences. By analyzing this information, arts presenters can make better informed choices about the programming they offer. None of this sounds terribly interesting, but I swear to you, he was a hoot and the techniques produce powerful results.
Neat stuff – I am a sucker for great design, and I picked up—literally--pounds of marketing collateral during my time in Houston. One particular campaign that I thought was really cool was “Get Your Art On” produced by the Austin Circle of Theaters. This two-week city-wide celebration of arts and culture coincided with the Americans for the Arts National Arts and Humanities month and the CreateAustin initiative, which is a community visioning project similar to the DreamCity 2020 endeavor that you’ve no doubt heard about. They produced a slew of cleverly executed marketing pieces including stickers, a series of whimsical postcards, posters and even coffee sleeves—all starring a very cultured Armadillo and all emphasizing how the arts truly matter in their community.

Finally, the coolest thing about the NAMP conference was discovering that thanks to the leadership and invaluable experience of people like Susan Edmondson and Bettina Swigger, COPPeR is already doing a lot of these things. For me, it was an affirmation that we’re heading down the right track and made me really excited to come home and get back to work.

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