Category Archives: strategy

Strategies to grow membership

At a recent board workshop we discussed different ways to look at the association’s membership in order to understand better how to grow it.

I proposed to look at the cumulative number of members over several years for a more complete evaluation. Typically, we look at the total number of members – or subscribers – as an annual figure and then we pay some attention to churn (non-renewing members). Growth occurs when this churn figure is lower than the number of new members acquired, i.e. more people join than drop out. Evaluating churn makes clear why the first task in an established organization is usually retention, keeping members/subscribers year after year. High rates of retention mean that growth can be achieved more readily (as long as you have not captured your entire market);  it also means that your marketing efforts should become more cost-effective as retention should cost less than acquisition.

When we look at a wider time span, for instance 5 years or 10 years, we gain a different understanding of the degree to which an organization has reached and engaged its market. Is the the cumulative 5-year figure very close to the annual figure or is it much larger?

If it is very close then you are basically stable. If you wish to grow in this scenario then you need to focus on acquisition strategies to accelerate growth.

If the 5-year cumulative figure is much larger, then you might need to think not only about acquisition but re-acquisition. Re-acquisition means re-engaging with people who have made up their mind already about the value you provide by rejecting it for some reason. Re-acquisition is quite a different task, requiring different strategies, tactics, messages and channels. Because these people are not a blank slate (they have developed firm beliefs about your organization and have perceptions founded in their personal experience) I think that re-acquisition is fundamentally more difficult than gaining a brand new member, subscriber, customer.

Strategically this dynamic has to be considering in light of your total market potential.

There are times when re-acquisition can be critical to ensure an organization’s sustainability in the long-run. Given the nature of re-acquisition, strategies designed to re-engage likely run their course over 3 to 4 years. The focus then has to shift to true acquisition because those you wish to re-engage either have done so or simply are not going to have their minds changed unless something important, and likely out of your control, changes for them.

In both scenarios, retention driven by creating value and a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship with members remains paramount.

Igniting a SPARC in Haliburton

I was invited to speak at the SPARC Symposium in Haliburton, Ontario this spring. The organizers had a clear vision for this symposium: to bring people working in all parts of the rural arts eco-system together to explore opportunities and challenges, collaborate across communities and open new doors for exchange, resource sharing and a new kind of network focused on meeting the needs of broad rural arts communities.

With that I sought to create an opening keynote that would help establish the conversation using stories and, yes, conversation. My key messages revolved around the ideas of “where there is a will, there is a way”, and a vision of “building vibrant communities fueled by the performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships” and my proposal to consider “public engagement through the arts” where arts are a means to an ends, rather than the end in itself. I told some stories based on my recent work with a focus on small, rural and remote places across Canada to give substance to these ideas through examples. I shared some data from The Value of Presenting study that shows just how much arts presenting organizations in rural and remote communities are leading the way in community-engaged practices.

The conversation and contributions by participants throughout the talk helped set the stage for a fully engaged, working symposium. I loved the energy, the thinking, the sparks that were flying over these four days in Haliburton.

I was also thrilled to see representatives of several regional presenting networks that I have been working with over the last few years at SPARC; there is much space for collaboration, strengthening connections and learning.

SPARC organizers have turned this and all the other amazing working sessions into a unique interactive online magazine. (Sticks and Stones Productions) You can also access my keynote directly on Vimeo. (The other keynotes and videos from the conference are also available there or through the online magazine.)

Finally, my presentation slides are posted on the CAPACOA site for download .

Over the summer SPARC has turned its attention to developing a follow-up conference this fall with the aim to constitute a rural arts network. If you are interested in these ideas, check out their web presence (web, Facebook, Twitter) and get on the e-news list.

Solving the Start-up Challenge: A National Sistema Organization

During 2012-2013 I led the needs assessment and feasibility study to explore the creation and purpose of a national service organization called Sistema Canada. This brief post discusses the status of this initiative.

Sistema Canada is in the crucial phase of securing financing needed to become a fully fledged organization. With a national feasibility study (PDF report: http://www4.nac-cna.ca/pdf/corporate/SistemaCanada_FeasibilityReport_en.pdf) complete, a strong vision for the role a national organization will play in strengthening the Canadian movement, the challenge of start-up is primarily related to not having that one crucial staff person in place.

While volunteer leadership is mandatory in Canadian charitable organizations through a board of directors, a lesser discussed aspect of sustainable organizational development is the crucial capacity that comes with a first dedicated staff person and how a partner organization can help achieve that.

It is a chicken and egg scenario where some substantive catalytic funds would fill a major gap. Without legal status in place, charitable funding is impossible to access directly. Without funding in place, a staff cannot be hired to drive forward charitable incorporation, prepare proposals and build all-important relationships. That means any interim fund development is a volunteer matter. Volunteers skilled in such areas tend to be busy people working in their day jobs; and in our case, in their own Sistema-inspired programs.

During the feasibility study, I was that paid project resource charged by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the National Arts Centre Foundation with moving the process forward, collaborating with the national steering committee (its members volunteered countless hours), seeking input from all Canadian Sistema programs, providing expertise, building scenarios and, ultimately, delivering the outcome via a report.  With a common vision and mandate agreed upon by constituents across the country, the next step is to find the right partner that can provide the needed financial support and help hire an Executive Director to kick start the organization through fund development for its core programs.

Since our report was accepted, members of the all-volunteer national steering committee have been leading the charge and are working through the challenge of moving Sistema Canada onto sustainable, scalable footing. Meanwhile, an informal network of program leaders continues to share their expertise and enthusiasm for Sistema in Canada.

For regular updates on the US and Canadian movement visit http://ericbooth.net/the-ensemble/

Arts Marketing … or Orchestras are not for everyone

I came upon this discussion of the state of orchestral music in response to Ivan Katz’ analysis  of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings entered by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association early in 2011.

I am entirely unfamiliar with the specifics of these proceedings. In particular the forum posts by a Thomas Alan Broido prompted today’s post referencing something I wrote about: “Imagine: creating a brand new genre of live music making today!

I implicitly suggested that the product/service – “live orchestral music” – would be targeted at a particular segment of the population. Taking a segmentation approach in the first place implies that ticketed (paid) orchestral music is not for everyone. That is not to say that classical music or orchestral music is not for everyone; putting a price tag on it, however, diminishes audience and market potential.

I continue to collect compelling evidence of the intrinsic values and benefits of arts and cultural participation. When the belief in these values and benefits are transferred directly to the ticketed performing arts things become murky. The unshakable importance of the arts as a public good is challenged when box office revenues must be achieved which restricts access which means the public good takes a lesser role, one balanced with revenue imperatives.

To peel back the onion on this conversation could yield new ways of thinking about the performing arts and about orchestras specifically. Thinking about what an orchestra or a theatre offers its paying customers and how to market that vigorously is qualitatively different from what an orchestra would consider if the public good, the health and well-being of the community, was of foremost concern.

On recent travels on Canada’s east coast, I have been discussing his very thing, and I realize that we pay for many pubic good, hydro, food, snow clearing – without them becoming a lesser public good. In the arts, it creates a bona fides marketing scenario, that other areas experience in different ways and in some areas less so. Snow clearing happens through taxation. Hydro development, too, even where there is competition for delivery and such. Food is super competitive, but the staples much less so. Arts, professional arts, actually need to be excellent at break-through marketing and attention getting engagement to command a serious ticket buying commitment. And I know it can be done. (See Cirque du Soleil).

I have been talking about some case studies in the arts demonstrating integrated marketing strategies. Amazing how language I used corporately in the 1990s is so top of mind now in the 2010s. Perhaps it’s just my way of integrated thinking. 🙂

This is a link to the Atlantic Presenters Association newsletter discussing my East Coast presentations and workshops, in early March. So happy to see this amazing feedback. I got to connect with 110 Atlantic arts organizations in one trip. Just amazing.
http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=98ddd3c7538d70d3aa9945907&id=041f96aa01&e=3ce7dd33bd

We can do so much, when we combine the best from all disciplines that help us connect art and audiences. Including full-on Marketing.

Social web strategy for the performing arts

“Many arts institutions even allow their audience members to write their own critiques on the organizational website. This is a scary trend.” Michael Kaiser, President at Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, blogging on HuffPost, a while back.

It’s not clear to me whether he thinks the ability of people to engage with each other is positive or negative for the performing arts, but he definitely says it’s scary. (He might have meant that with regard to the demise of news-media critics and the rise of patrons providing their opinions online.)

In any case, in 2011, year 16 of the commercial internet, this amazes me.

It is neither scary nor new that arts patrons share their thoughts, reactions and recommendations about performing arts events.

Yes, the speed of this sharing is near instant – and potentially widely distributed – in the age of mobile technologies. Smart companies would want to harness this user generated content (UCG) on their own platforms as much as possible and indeed, they’d participate.

Imagine a social web strategy for a performing arts organization predicated on authentic relationships between their organization, artists and audiences: They might thank audience members for feedback, positive reviews, questions and being interested. The artistic director might comment back when they see a reaction that they want to shift to a different place. They could have a conversation and share information and perspectives. They might answer those “what were they thinking!” questions that people post on Facebook, Twitter or on blogs. Marketing staff could retweet and amplify the positive reviews you get. The company could give the behind the scenes insight, tell the back stories and facilitate creators, actors, musicians, dancers to speak for themselves (many do). They would not abuse these relationship for quick ticket sales, but they might occasionally highlight upcoming shows in their venue and in others. They might rally everyone around the love of the arts and spread it.

Can you imagine the power of these interactions for your company – your brand – in the long run?

For years, user generated content has been coveted by consumer companies and entire strategies have been thought up to get it – using contesting, short codes, value added info, exclusive perks. I used it as part of a place branding project for a city in Eastern Ontario back in 2007 with great results. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty put an interesting spin on the genre. Today user generated content (the social media) has become ubiquitous through social networks (that’s the platforms) and the real challenge is not the generation of it, but the harnessing of the conversation real people are having about you, your services, your products. (Real people is key, because there are all kinds of spam engines, and fake UCG where companies or their agents act as imposters – this is not social and it is not what I am talking about.)

The true irony might lie in what great art has the power to do:

It is supposed to be a conversation; an exchange between orchestra and audience through music; an exchange of ideas in theatre; a kinetic exploration through the body in dance; an entertaining experience (in the best sense of the word). It aspires to be: emotive, beautiful, thought-provoking, stimulating or even transforming. It examines the human condition. It can connect people both to each other and to a higher plane of being in whatever way they choose. It can foster greater understanding across cultures or socio-economic groups. And it does it by carrying on the conversations outside of the performance space.

I think, those arts organizations who have figured out to become part of the conversation are to be congratulated and celebrated. That’s why I celebrate the vision and smarts at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, or Shell Theatre in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. (Please add others who do it well in the comments below.)

They may just have realized that the conversation goes on without them anyways. And they can build authentic relationships by inviting audiences not only inside their theatres but inside their web presence, too.

Finally, new audience engagement modes reflect a generational as much as a technological shift. Back in 2006 even Time magazine had figured out the signs of the times by declaring You, yes, YOU, its Person of the Year.

By the way, Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy in 2006. Notably, Time’s Person of the Year for 2010, was Mark Zuckerberg. The speed of business has increased tremendously and it demands nimbleness and adaptablility more than ever.