Engagement Principles from a Marketer

In The Farmer and the Cowman I posited that arts marketers and community engagement advocates (in my case, probably “zealots” would be more appropriate) should be great friends and collaborators. In it I mentioned a series that Trevor O’Donnell (MARKETING THE ARTS TO DEATH) is doing on inexpensive approaches to marketing research. In another “hall of mirrors” moment of blogging, I was grinning ear to ear at his list of principles for marketing research via engagement (Cheap, Easy Research Tip 4: Engage) when I came to his last principle where he called me out. In spite of that, and in spite of the fact that this is adding yet another mirror to the dizzying equation, I want to highlight Mr. O’Donnell’s points. The seven, addressed to senior arts organization staff members, are as follows:

1. Get out of your office.
2. Step out of your comfort zone.
3. Listen.
4. Get the rest of your organization involved.
5. Record and disseminate what you learn.
6. Engage on multiple levels.
7. Don’t do shotgun engagement.

If you take these out of a marketing research context, you see them as being the essential steps in relationship building, of successfully engaging with the community. (And principles 4-7 are–at least to me–clear advocacy for mainstreaming engagement.)

I was particularly taken with this part of Mr. O’Donnell’s amplification of his second point:

“Culturally diverse” audiences come from cultures that differ from ours. [! The exclamation mark is mine.]

In my comment on the post, I said that might make a good cross-stitched sampler. Understanding this truth from the “outside the arts” perspective is important if we have any hope of connecting. (As but one example, the whole arts experience is foreign and intimidating to those for whom it is unfamiliar.) Understanding this from “our” perspective, the fact that we often don’t have a clue about norms and expectations of those from other cultures, is perhaps even more important. And I’d like to make the point, again, that it is our responsibility–even from a strictly practical point of view–to learn the things we do not know because it is our need that is the most immediate.

So, in this bizarrely self- (and circularly-) referential world, thanks Trevor for adding to the theoretical principles of engagement. Farmer and cowman indeed.



Hall of Mirrors Photo:AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Pierre Metivier

  1. Hey, Doug,

    I hope you know I’m a huge fan of your work. As far as I’m concerned, the fundamental problem with the arts is that we’ve come to believe that communication means sitting in conference rooms packaging canned message into little rectangles and spraying them at the world outside.

    You know, and I couldn’t agree more, that true communication means getting out of those conference rooms and interacting – sincerely, generously and humbly – with the communities we exist to serve.

    Marketing and engagement may have slightly different motives, but when it comes to methods and goals, I think they have an awful lot in common.

    P.S. Sorry to have missed you in NC last week. Thanks for the book! I started it on the plane home and it’s excellent.