GETTY: Crafting the audience

In past posts about the June leadership roundtable at the Getty (see bottom of this entry for links in the series) on the nonprofit and forprofit cultural industries, I’ve focused almost entirely on the production side of the discussion (cash and capital and capacity, oh my). Equally compelling is the consumption side, where nonprofit and commercial find and engage their audiences.

The general sense of the difference between nonprofit and commercial was one of scale and scope. Commercial cultural enterprise (aka, entertainment) was seen as a 800-pound gorilla of marketing muscle, while nonprofits were seen as mom and pop operations. Here’s an extended quote from the session’s briefing paper that framed the discussion (available for download here or here):

Marketing for the non-profit arts remains relatively speaking, Neanderthal, and compromised by the combination of lack of resources and by an over-reaching scale of ambition. In particular social agendas for wider access often create multiple agendas for marketing that have a political and moral logic, but little financial logic. The problem is not only one of resources or political and social ambition. Many non-profit arts organizations face tremendous challenges because of the specificity of their product. Reproduction is either impossible, as in the case of original works of art, or considerably lowers its value, and consequently its attraction for the consumer. Limited mobility and duration of events — whether theater runs or exhibitions — also prevent these entities from engaging a broader audience base.

Once again, however, the conversation is distorted a bit by our bias to equate ‘for-profit entertainment’ with big corporations. When we say ‘commercial culture,’ our brains find their way to multi-national media companies, major labels, and big film studios. More relevant to most nonprofit cultural organizations — more often than not, regional organizations — are smaller, local commercial enterprises that vie for the same audience (restaurants, movie theaters, bookstores, nightclubs, and on and on). These, thankfully, are equally Neanderthal in their strategy and limited in their budget.

The cost of a single major studio film is twenty-fold larger than my local symphony’s total annual budget — and their potential market is several thousand times bigger. While I’m as quixotic as the next guy, that windmill isn’t even in the same time zone.