The Best Kept Secret

Posted by Mr. Sean King, Sep 18, 2018 0 comments

A rare gem. Under the radar. Off the beaten path.

Along with marketers’ least favorite phrase: “getting the word out,” these short descriptors are meant to be compliments by supporters who harbor no ill-will, yet to everyone involved in some way with arts marketing, they are the bane of our existence.

So how exactly do we become the “worst kept secret,” a “popular” gem, take our place “on the radar” and get our path “beaten?”

The genesis of this post began in a recent conversation with other arts marketers representing various backgrounds and differently resourced organizations. Those in attendance shared their frustration with labels that perpetuate themselves as false indicators for the hard work we collectively share throughout the arts, either as artists or administrators.

Whether spoken or unspoken, the goal for all of us in the arts is to develop new audiences and deliver upon our promise with the communities in which we serve. These business objectives make the role of marketing at least as important as many of the other functions that make up a successful, vibrant, and relevant organization.

None of us rises each morning with the intention of keeping our work, our artists, and our organizations secret from the general public. However, in the maelstrom that is current events, marketing, communications, and social media, our messages are drown out by a variety of local, regional, and national attention-grabbers.

So what are the four steps for you to change your organization from the “best kept secret” to the most popular place in town? We hope these few ideas serve as the antidote to fixing your “secret” problem.

  1. Do not engage in any marketing activity that does not produce some measureable return on investment or improve your brand. Efforts that unintentionally keep you a “secret” are simply wasted. There should be nothing sacred on your list of marketing projects. If you’ve done a catalog or brochure for the past 30 years, determine the value in measurable returns. If you spend half of your time curating posts for social media, ask yourself, “Have we sold any tickets or cultivated any donors or welcomed any volunteers through those efforts?”
  2. Emphasize the social in social media. Do not discount the power associated with FOMO (fear of missing out). FOMO is more powerful than you might think. It is what makes most galas successful and some exhibits fail. You should be posting and publishing your audience’s participation and engagement alongside the artwork and the artists. Let’s face it, most of your supporters are at least as well known to your community as the artist or artwork being engaged. So think of clever and creative ways to celebrate your audience without being intrusive or pandering. Not to mention, people love to share great experiences—give them all the opportunities possible to share those for your benefit.
  3. If you are not investing resources in Facebook, your efforts are not being seen and appreciated by the audience you intend to reach. Your organization should have a budget solely for Facebook and your Insights should be measured on an ongoing basis to determine their effectiveness. Most of us only have time in our schedules for one social medium. Don’t waste your time trying to master many, when the significant majority of your adult audience is spending their time on Facebook. This may change in the coming months and years, but for now, FB is the place where to place your money. Additional tip: Be sure to use the 4-1-1 content rule. Four pieces of non-selling content and one general organizational post for every one post for direct sales or ask.
  4. Make every attempt to add marketing staff to the senior management team and be a part of the conversation when programming is considered, budgets are proposed, and strategy is planned. Having marketing at the table is akin to having the arts in the conversation regarding neighborhood and community development. A role for marketing on the team is common sense and makes improved results possible. There are few other investments that can create as large of an impact to your organization beginning with day one as adding marketing to the management team.

The converse of the “best kept secret” challenge also came up in the conversation that inspired this blog. What if your entire organization is based on the fact of performances in and around the community to the point of ubiquity—yet, you’re still scraping by to raise the funds and support necessary to function on an ongoing basis. What metrics do you use to measure success in these cases?

In other words: If you are successful in carrying out your mission, but lack the resources to build the sustainability necessary to carry you forward, what is your measure of achievement?

I know it’s a challenge many of us relish, and there is not an easy answer to this question, but it is one worth posing as we set our standards for success and sustainability and work backward from there.

In the meantime, join with me as we raise our well-conceived and curated signs, placards, Facebook posts, email newsletters, and collateral material in protest of the “rare gems,” “secrets,” “radars,” and “paths,” and thrust open the doors to all in our communities who seek enlightenment, engagement, and inclusivity through the arts!

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