Monday, June 27, 2011

Untapped Talent

Over the course of the year, I have been fortunate enough to attend several gatherings of artists and marketers, from the National Arts Marketing Project Conference to the #Newplay Convening at Arena Stage to most recently the Theatre Communications Group's National Conference. From these gatherings, a clear theme has emerged. Many artists feel that institutions do not use them to the best of their abilities, and they question why they are not approached to help with planning, budgeting, marketing or other traditionally "administrative" functions. In fact, as it relates to marketing, many artists went a step further by saying that they feel unwelcome by marketing departments.

At the TCG conference during a session entitled "The State of the Artist," sound designer Cricket Myers questioned why she isn't utilized more to promote productions she is working on. This echoed cries from playwrights that I have heard throughout the year asking why marketers don't seek out a playwright's assistance in the promotion of their work.

I think in some cases there is a serious disconnect between the marketer and the artist, which leads to situations of untapped talent on both sides. Why are artists not sought out during the marketing process, and why are marketers not sought out during the creation process? From the stories I have heard from playwrights, it sounds to me like several of them have legitimate reasons to feel like they are unwelcome when it comes to designing and implementing marketing campaigns. Those of us that spend a significant amount of time marketing new work might not understand the exclusion of artists in the marketing process, as outlined recently by Alli Houseworth's comments in "A Theater Marketer's Rant." Marketers that reject any collaborative environment with artists make it difficult for those that invite collaboration. I fear that some marketers are considered guilty by association.

If involving artists in the marketing process is beneficial (as I believe most of us agree it is), I question if involving marketers in the creation process could be as well? Theater is a collaborative art form, and it seems to me that the highway of collaboration should feature two way traffic. In my career, I have seen marketers locked out of rehearsal halls, denied access to draft scripts, and be uninvited to workshops and readings, yet they were expected to understand and promote the work. To those playwrights who question why marketers never seek their opinion, I would like to ask them if they have ever sought the opinion of a marketer?

Marketers and playwrights are both specialists, highly trained and very experienced in their perspective trades, but they are both creative beings as well. Good ideas come from a variety of sources. To assume that a marketer has no value in an artistic decision, or that playwrights have nothing to contribute to a marketing plan is foolish. Both sides lose, and when paired, they lose together.


Clay Lord said...

Chad, I've been trying to figure out why I'm reacting poorly about the idea of marketers becoming collaborators in the making of art. From a balance perspective, it makes a moderate amount of sense - if we want artists in the marketing, why not have marketing in the artistic creation process? But what I think stops me is that, except in relatively specific situations, I think that incorporating marketing into the creation of art means crossing the line from "arts" to "entertainment" -- for which there is absolutely a place, just generally not at nonprofits. It's the reason blockbuster movies do focus groups and test screenings and Broadway shows do out of town tryouts - because they are expressly about reflecting back what the audience already knows it wants to see.

Where I feel more comfort is in advocating for the inclusion of the marketer in the curation of work, which of course is the real role of an arts organization - the selection of specific mission-driven work from the entire pantheon of work available, which often means engaging in a conversation about the impact a piece of work is meant to have on the audience. There, I can see a marketer's place - especially one with talent and an understanding of the nuance of the various segments at play in a given community.

Chad M. Bauman said...


Couple of quick thoughts:

"incorporating marketing into the creation of arts means crossing the line from arts to entertainment, for which there is absolutely a place, just generally not at nonprofits"

I absolutely think that nonprofit theaters are a place of entertainment. Entertainment isn't the exclusive domain of for-profit institutions (can you imagine that marketing campaign--"you aren't supposed to have fun here, we're nonprofit). However, I do agree that nonprofits have a greater responsibility than simple entertainment. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance published an excellent report entitled "Research into Action" which lists four reasons audiences find art relevant: they are looking to "become, connect, recharge or de-stress." I would contend that the best art is not only purposeful, but entertaining, therefore fulfilling several of aforementioned categories.

In addition, I think we are also getting lost in titles. The idea that a marketer is not an artist, or that an artist is not a marketer, is too black and white. Many marketers have exceptional artistic talents and were trained as artists, and many playwrights have spent years learning how to market their work. One doesn't need to be declared or labeled "an artist" or "a marketer" to contribute in those areas.

Where we do agree is in connecting work to community. I personally think that more institutions should hire full-time playwrights that specifically create work for their communities (going to grad school in LA, Cornerstone comes to mind), but until that happens, many playwrights come into a city for a very short amount of time. In those cases, the marketer is the one who has the local knowledge. They live and work in the community. Just as a local port captain guides a ship as it comes into dock, part of our responsibility is to guide a work into the community.

Seema Sueko said...

Great post!

At Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego, we don't have these divisions (we're also a very small organization).

When we start working on "marketing" a show, the first thing we do is have our graphic designer read the play. She then meets with the Director of the play, the playwright (if it's a new piece), and me and we start discussing the vision for the play. Key phrases, ideas, images etc might come out of that initial meeting. But then the graphic designer goes away and she starts working up some options for the visual identity of the show. The others work on the marketing blurb. We share these with each other, and go back and forth a bunch of times. When we get close, we share the draft with the Board of Trustees, community partners and other stakeholders. Creating the visual marketing ID and the marketing blurb for our shows is a collaborative art in itself.

Seema Sueko
Executive Artistic Director
Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company
San Diego, CA