The 7 Deadly Sins of Arts & Cultural Marketing

The end of a year is a good time to remind ourselves to PURGE ourselves of counter-productive habits and beliefs – an opportune time to revisit the classical Seven Deadly Sins:  Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy and Gluttony.

It’s time to expunge the Seven Deadly Sins of Arts & Cultural Marketing:

  1. Wrath. Anger at the world for being the way it is makes no sense. Yet arts & cultural marketers who blame the media, the audience, their competitors and their funders are legion. It’s only human, of course, to rail at a situation seemingly impossible to overcome. But it accomplishes nothing. That’s why wrath is a sin: It diverts energy from solving problems to brooding on them. Wrath is overcome simply by facing reality. Deal with the situation.
  2. Greed. Grabbing short-term gain at the expense of long-term growth is sadly typical of many organizations (especially in tough financial times). Creating long-term value is essential to survival, but greed blinds us to that and causes us to maximize revenue, no matter what. The cost: Audiences – real and potential – sense the distance between them and the organization. Participation dissipates. Eventually, so do ticket sales.
  3. Sloth. Do it the same way. Why bother to change? Brochures and newspaper ads are enough. That used to work, so let’s not bother to re-invent the wheel, okay? How do I know the old way won’t start working again? Why should I believe that the new way will have any effect? It’s best to do things as we’ve always done them.
  4. Pride. You did it. The community had nothing to do with it. You – and you alone – pulled the wool…I mean…made the sale. It was a competition: You or the audience. And you won! You did it! Aren’t you wonderful?
  5. Lust. Lust contrasts with its legitimate cousin, desire. It’s a subtle distinction but important. Desire means wanting an outcome for the sake of the outcome. Lust means wanting an outcome for the sake of your ego. Some arts marketers fall in lust with the process and forget the reason for the process. Love those cool brochures! And what about our logo!
  6. Envy. Wrath’s calm relative doesn’t bother getting angry at media, audiences and the rest, it just resigns bitterly to the (seeming) fact that everybody else has it better. If only the symphony were as sexy as the opera. If only the opera had the youth appeal of the ballet. If only the ballet had the established creds of the symphony. If only the education department had a bigger budget.  If only, if only, if only…. Stop looking at other people’s successes and look first to your own. Look hard enough and you’ll begin to discover why you’ve had the successes you’ve had, and you’ll be on the road to repeating them.
  7. Gluttony. A glutton eats anything, without regard for that food’s affect on his or her body. A gluttonous arts marketer just wants people to buy tickets. But the strange truth is that, the only thing worse than having no audience is having the wrong audience. A mismatch of audience and product will send the audience home in disgust and keep the right audience out of the loop!

As applied to arts & cultural marketing, the Seven Deadly Sins all involve concentrating energy on sales, sales, sales, at the expense of ignoring the ticket-buyer.

Audiences are cultivated, not sold, and Job One for arts & culture in the 21st century is to grow them.

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  1. says

    What drives me batty is the theatre that uses deep discounted tickets to fill seats, when they haven’t even begun to apply the basics of marketing. Things like announcing upcoming shows without dates or details on buying tickets for example. Or not sending out a press release because they don’t want critics to attend. And not returning phone calls for interviews, preview stories and the like.

    It happens far more often than it should. And then these same companies choose to make their discounted tickets the draw instead of the performance.

  2. says

    Great article. Helpful, and sobering, for arts amin folks especially. #5, Lust, is an especially easy pitfall, at least it is for me. Arts organizations, and nonprofits in general, are keen to publicly justify their existence by spotlighting their value to the community. We’re all about improving the quality of life in one way or another. But often what actually fuels our ambition is firstly a desire to improve our balance sheet, get more subscribers, grow our brand equity–the same things that drive most commercial businesses. Of course, concerns of these sorts are necessary as points of consideration/evaluation on our path to success. It’s just so easy to allow them to become not only our barometers but also our chief motivations.

  3. Jeffrey Babcock says

    Thanks for this timely and very accurate post, Matt.

    Too few organizations, particularly presenters, pay any attention to the “why” of their mission and their season lineup. Instead, they just list the “what..” Take a look at programming around the country and you’ll find that most seasons look very much the same, year after year, much of it now road weary and stale. But too many presenters succumb to planning their seasons exclusively around the routing schedules developed by agents. Take a look at the kind of promotional materials most of these organizations distribute and you’ll find little if any difference to what they have done for multiple decades. Online is simply a transfer of their print promotions; radio ads are the same old formula, and few have even a remote clue about how to effectively “engage” their audience with the many social tools available to them. , and you’ll find that the emphasis is on “what” is being presented (too often just the stock verbiage supplied by artist management agencies). Dull, boring, generic.

    Where is a point of view that distinguishes one organization from another? The reality is, with very few exceptions, there is none. Seasons are formulaic, narrowly conceived, and often poorly promoted and produced.

    As you note, its the “same old, same old” and generic retail tactics that are failing to connect with today’s audiences, especially those younger than, now, 60+. Don’t expect much in the way of innovation from the artists (at least from most of them). Generic routing schedules lead to trotting out the same, tired “road shows” as they’ve been offering for decades.

    The insularity of the arts community is at fault. They talk about innovation, but ultimately that has had little substantive impact on the ground game. It always sounds great at the gathering of marketing directors, but back at the office the tendency has been, from top to bottom, to rely on the same old formulas that used to work so well.

  4. Jerry Yoshitomi says

    Right on the mark. Interested in hearing about what virtues you might imagine as antidotes to these sins.

    Over a decade ago, at a conference, I gave a speech on the seven deadly sins of public arts funding. I’ll look to see if I have a copy.

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