Sunday, February 21, 2010

How We Can Support New Work (an addendum)

My latest blog post entitled How Marketing Directors Kill New Work caused quite the stir among my colleagues. For those that know me, I have never been one to shy away from controversial issues, especially if I have a strong position on the subject. With that being said, I stand by what I wrote, but decided that I should probably add an addendum as several good points were raised by my readers.

I was challenged by some to address the steps that marketing directors can take to help support new work. I must admit after rereading my post, I found myself to be a little more critical than helpful, which wasn't my intent. So below are some suggestions, ideas and responses to comments:
  • Seek the help of the playwrights. In promoting new work, particularly if a new work speaks to an audience unfamiliar to you, seek the help and advice of the playwright. You know your organization's audience, and they know the target audience of the play. Combined, you should be able to find ways to attract your traditional audiences to the work and develop methods to entice new audiences into your doors. In my couple of years at Arena Stage, playwrights like Lisa Kron (Well), Daniel Beaty (Resurrection), Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), and Matthew Lombardo (Looped) have been incredibly helpful in developing marketing strategies. Still to this day, I find that playwrights are surprised when I ask for their input on marketing strategy, messaging, artwork creation and outreach events.
  • Budgeting. Several colleagues lamented that executive leadership forced them to set earned revenue goals too high on a new work knowing full well that they would not be able to achieve them. My advice is to develop earned revenue projection tools that are accurate and stick to your guns. In the past two years, our earned revenue projections at Arena Stage have been off by less than 1%. We have developed a sophisticated system that has been proven to work in even some of the most difficult economic circumstances. Although the entire senior staff discusses the assumptions and logic behind the forecasts, ultimately we support our revenue forecasts as a team. The surest way to ensure failure for a new work is to set an unattainable goal, for when you miss the goal by a wide margin, it can cause leadership to shy away from new work, when in reality it was a forecasting issue, not a programmatic issue.
  • Start early. Every arts administrator has to deal with issues of capacity, particularly in an economic climate where many companies have had to reduce the size of their already overtaxed staff. In taking on new work, we should remember that audience development is a slow and time consuming process. It can take a year or more of intense, dedicated work to make inroads into an untapped community. All too often, due to the typical planning cycles of regional theaters, marketers are not given enough time to develop and execute an effective strategy. Artistic directors can help marketers by lengthening their planning cycle for new work, so that marketing staff have ample time to develop an audience.
  • Don't Over Do It. Ask any marketing director, and they will tell you that acquisition campaigns are much more costly than retention campaigns. When looking at audience development, we are dealing with large acquisition campaigns. These campaigns take a significant investment not only in terms of money, but also in terms of staff time. Unless a marketing team is exceptionally large, I would advise tackling only one or two projects per year that focus on new audience markets. Any more, and you run the risk of not being able to provide the support these projects need.

The entire team ensures the success or failure of a new work. It is important to note, as I was reminded several times in the past couple of weeks, that a marketing director is only one member of the team. However, I can only control the actions of one person -- myself -- and that is why I focus on what we as marketing professionals can do to increase the success of new work.

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