Arts Marketing Insights book cover

Arts Marketing Insights

The Dynamics of Building and Retaining Performing Arts Audiences

by Joanne Scheff Bernstein

Introduction to the book

The behavior of arts audiences is changing dramatically. Although some performing arts organizations have successfully retained and even grown their subscriber base in recent years, since the mid-nineties many organizations have been losing ground in their efforts to both attract and retain subscribers. Competition for leisure time activities is on the rise and arts education in the schools has been sparse for decades, with the result that many arts managers fear the younger generations are unlikely to fill the gap that will be left as loyal older audiences diminish.

People have also changed in the ways they prefer to do business. Many performing arts attenders want to choose specific programs to attend, not purchase a package of performances preselected by the organization. This trend is not limited to the younger generations who are especially unwilling to plan far in advance, but long-standing arts attenders are also becoming far more spontaneous in their ticket purchasing behavior. Thanks to the advances in communications technology, especially the Internet and e-mail, people have come to expect comprehensive information and the ultimate in convenience, literally at their fingertips. Due to the strong emphasis on customer relationship management in many other sectors of society, people expect arts organizations to listen to them and respond to their needs and preferences.

All these factors, plus ever-increasing costs and fluctuating contributed income, have placed a great deal of stress on arts managers. Furthermore, the antiquated mind-sets and approaches of many managers and marketers are putting many arts organizations at risk of failure. Some have been at the forefront of designing and implementing marketing programs that respond to evolving customer needs and preferences. But too many marketers are reluctant to vary from tried-and-true marketing methods, even in the face of declining audiences and revenue. Other marketers are eager to change but do not know where to turn for direction on viable approaches.

This book's title may suggest to some readers that on these pages they will discover "quick fix" solutions. Many of the ideas suggested in this book can be and have been implemented with rewarding short-term results. However, there really is no quick fix. Specific tactics must be developed in the context of strategic marketing principles. This means that better planning is needed as well as better, more thorough, and continuous implementation, evaluation, and modification of the plans. As a result, this book consists of both new approaches to audience development and many of the commonly accepted best practices in marketing theory and plan execution that support these approaches.

Arts Marketing Insights will provide performing arts organizations significant help in focusing on the strategies and techniques that can improve their impact and practices while also ensuring that they remain true to their artistic and public missions. This book combines theory, strategy, tactics, and innovative examples, all with the objective of improving the ability of arts organizations to better meet the needs of audience segments and thereby increase audience size. It explains not only the whatbut the why—why some approaches that have been ingrained in the performing arts industry for decades no longer resonate with many current and potential audience members; why new ways of thinking and new strategies are essential for success.

From cultivating an organization-wide marketing mind-set, developing a strategic marketing plan, building a brand identity, doing market research, understanding your target market to delivering an effective message, designing attractive offerings for various market segments, leveraging the Internet and e-mail marketing, and delivering great customer service, this book covers everything you need to know to put a strategic marketing program in place, manage it, and adapt it for the future. Arts Marketing Insights offers dozens of examples of innovative and effective marketing strategies from performing arts organizations all over the world—strategies that will ensure that the performing arts will prosper in today's rapidly changing social, economic, and demographic climate.

Who Should Read This Book

Arts Marketing Insights is an indispensable tool for arts managers, marketers, fundraisers, and board members, and for arts management educators and students. It is also valuable for others who work closely with arts organizations and desire a deeper understanding of issues in arts marketing—individuals such as foundation directors, corporate executives, consultants, managers of arts service organizations, and the artists themselves.

Marketing is a mind-set for the entire organization, not simply a function of the marketing department. Therefore it is critical for upper-level management and board members to read this book and understand the principles of customer-centered marketing. This book can serve as a comprehensive text for those relatively new to the subject—students and those in the first years of their career in the arts management field—and can be an inspiration and a challenge to those more experienced in the sector to make their marketing offers and communications more relevant to current and potential audiences.

This book will be useful to people in organizations large and small. Large institutions often continue to employ the strategies that made them so successful in the past. These organizations should consider that during the 1980s, 230 companies—46 percent—disappeared from the Fortune 500 list, demonstrating that neither size nor good reputation guarantees success. At the other end of the spectrum, the smallest companies, with negligible marketing budgets, should consider that even if their primary communication with their publics is a simple e-mail message, their offer must be strategically priced, packaged, and described to best appeal to target audiences, and the message must be carefully worded, timed, and formatted. All these efforts require up-to-date, strategic marketing practices.

The Organization of This Book

Chapter One sets the stage. It presents an overview of the current state of the performing arts industry, especially in terms of audience development, and suggests the trends that affect people's arts attendance and ticket purchasing behavior. It also describes modern marketing theories and practices that have permeated society as a whole in recent years and the ways customer attitudes toward marketing messages are changing.

Many factors that determine whether or not individuals will attend arts performances vary by customer group. It is crucial for the marketer to segment the current and potential audience and develop varied programs and messages that appeal to the different targeted segments.

What are the factors that motivate people to attend the arts? What are some of the barriers that inadvertently keep people away? Some factors are based in readily identifiable demographic characteristics. Chapter Two suggests some key audience segments for now and for the future and describes demographic characteristics that are useful for marketers in reaching out to them.

Some factors are human issues—common to people across various audience segments. Chapter Three presents approaches for thinking about the consumer mind-set, such as understanding how risk and uncertainty affect behavior, how people approach decision making, and what benefits people seek from attending the performing arts.

The foundation for developing the organization's mission, objectives, goals, and plans is the strategic marketing process, the subject of Chapter Four. In addition to describing the steps in this process, this chapter offers an extended example of strategic planning from a major dance company in a large metropolitan area.

Chapters Five and Six discuss the key elements in marketing planning: defining and designing the offer, choosing performance venues and ticket outlet options, communicating the organization's messages, and developing pricing strategies—otherwise known as the four Ps of marketing: product, place, promotion, and price. These elements are discussed in light of the focus that marketers should place on customer value, rather than on factors internal to the organization.

If the strategic marketing process is the foundation of marketing planning, then market research can be considered its structural sup-port. Research plays a critical role in understanding customer attitudes and behavior and in planning marketing strategy. Chapter Seven offers an overview of some common research approaches and an example of an extensive audience research project for four arts organizations in San Francisco.

The Internet and e-mail give marketers new power and new responsibilities: the power of instantaneous, comprehensive, and low-cost marketing tools and the responsibility to learn how best to leverage high-tech marketing potential. Chapter Eight goes into detail on the theory and practice of Internet and e-mail marketing and gives several examples of organizations that are capitalizing on these methods in creative and productive ways.

Branding has become a marketing buzz word in recent years, but what is a brand? Why is it important to have a strong brand identity? How can an organization build a brand image that resonates with its publics? Chapter Nine offers answers to these questions and shows in detail how branding strategy was developed at a midsize opera company facing significant changes.

Chapter Ten confronts a major issue facing arts marketers in the twenty-first century: declining subscriptions. From the perspective of many organizations the subscriber is the ideal audience member, and for decades, arts marketers seeking to increase their audience size have worked most diligently on their subscription campaigns. Until recent years this approach was extraordinarily effective. But since the mid-1990s, more and more audience segments are finding subscribing unattractive. Not only are arts marketers less successful at attracting new subscribers, but each year fewer current subscribers are likely to renew. This chapter presents the pros and cons of subscriptions from both the organization's and the customer's perspectives, suggests a new mind-set for the arts marketer on the definition of a valuable customer, and recommends ways to build the subscriber base and alternatives to subscriptions for audience development.

Many people like being single-ticket buyers. This growing preference is not short term; rather it is part of a larger societal trend that will affect arts organizations into the foreseeable future. Those arts marketers who continue the decades-old tradition of considering single-ticket buyers a necessary "evil" to fill seats not purchased by "good" subscribers are likely to watch their audience size decline over time. Chapter Eleven therefore suggests a new mind-set and approaches that marketers can adopt to help them reach new and infrequent buyers more effectively and at lower cost than ever before.

Another major societal trend is people's changing expectations, resulting from the experience of heightened customer service in other sectors. It is crucial that arts marketers listen to their customers and provide excellent customer service that meets people's needs and preferences. This is the topic of Chapter Twelve.

The purpose of this book is not only to offer insights on new theories and processes that improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the marketing function but also to help arts managers and marketers develop their own insights in the face of a changing environment and changing customer values so that arts organizations will survive and prosper, for now and into the future.

The chapters in this book need not be read in consecutive order. You can select chapters by the subject matter of interest to you and gain meaningful value. However, the material in each chapter builds on and sometimes refer to concepts and examples in earlier chapters, and the subjects are treated in a logical sequence. It is my hope that each chapter will provide value for every reader, whether a novice or experienced arts marketer.

I expect that readers of this book will have valuable insights and best practices of their own that relate to the theories presented. To broaden the nature and quantity of examples offered here and to ascertain that the concepts have an ongoing relationship to practices in the field, I invite readers to dialogue with me personally. Please share your insights, your ideas, and the results of your efforts by e-mailing me at Selected contributions will be made available on my Web site ( and attributed to their submitters.