Mapping the MarComm Continuum

Posted by Mr. Clayton W. Lord, Oct 06, 2011 0 comments

Clayton Lord

As the marketing and communications director at an arts service organization, I’m often approached by marketing directors at our over 300 member companies with questions about various channels of marketing and communications.

Recently, a frazzled executive director at a small company (one of those that often doesn’t have a dedicated or even semi-dedicated marketing person) contacted me to have a conversation about social media. She had a board member who thought they could expand their reach dramatically by reaching out through social media, and she wanted to know how to create a Facebook page to do that.

I was sad to have to tell her that that strategy probably wasn’t going to work. The truth of the matter is that social media, like all the tools in the marcomm toolkit, has a specific spectrum of usefulness—and unfortunately, the type of social media interactions she was talking about just weren’t going to get her very much traction with people who didn’t know or care about her organization already.

Whenever I think about a marcomm plan, I work in my head with a very basic and non-scientific spectrum, stretching from what I term “engagement” (i.e. making those who already know you feel more engaged with you) to “development” (i.e. making those who don’t know you, well, know you).

Along that spectrum I slot the basic types of marketing and communications, and I try to get a balance out of those activities that’s going to ensure I’m tickling the base enough that they (a) know about the event and (b) are enticed to continue their support, while also reaching outward strategically to get some new people in the door.

Very rudimentarily, that spectrum looks like this:

In-Venue materials are both things like in-venue offers and collateral, dramaturgical materials etc. They’re fantastic for increasing an audience member’s experience, and may also encourage them to return with friends, but ultimately they, like social media, only work for people who have already made the effort to know you.

Social Media activities, as I discussed above, are really about making a fuller, more insider, experience for your existing patrons – these tools are often viewed by overworked leaders and under-informed board members as the new saviors of teetering arts organizations—cheap or free, ubiquitous, customizable—but the very premise of web services like Facebook, Twitter, etc is that people have to opt-in before seeing anything.

As you move along the spectrum you get to existing audience incentives, which really sit where they do only because of the potential power of word-of-mouth, which at most organizations ends up being reported as the number one or two way people hear about a show.

Maintaining a strong set of incentives (and requests) to existing patrons through things like an in-house email list, program inserts, etc—things that directly solicit their involvement in increasing your audience—starts to bridge the gap between engagement and development.

Direct Mail further bridges that gap, especially now in the age of list cooperatives, which allow arts organizations access to high-likelihood patrons that don’t already attend their particular organization. That said, the impending possibly death of the U.S. Postal Service and the rising cost of such mailings make direct mail’s future seem possibly a little grim.

And then we get to the stuff whose viewership you can’t really control—advertising and PR.

Increasingly, especially online, you can target your advertising, which can increase your return, but if you are doing print advertising or more blanket campaigning on radio, you’re only segmenting in the most vague sense. The upside of this is that it really hits a lot of potential audience members and, if it’s good, reels them in.

PR, that is preview and review articles, can do even more. One company in the Bay Area says they gain or lose $50,000 depending on the rating they get in the local paper, and that’s all from the single ticket buyers.

In writing this out, it’s clear why the common wisdom is that it takes a lot more effort to get a new person in the door than keep someone who’s there.

Whether in terms of money, time, or energy, the tools available to a marketer seeking to find new blood are expensive.

All the same, and perhaps this won’t be a surprise, but pouring a bunch of time into the stuff at the other end of the spectrum, while useful in its own way, isn’t going to get you a lot of new people—no matter how much your board might think it will.

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