This is part of a series of blog posts in conjunction with TRG Arts on the interrelationships among marketing, development, fundraising, and community engagement. (Cross-post can be found at Analysis from TRG Arts.) The point of the series is that they are all rooted in relationship building and maintenance.
Nearly four years ago, shortly after I started Engaging Matters, I published a post (What Is Arts Marketing?) in which I outlined a conceptual framework for nonprofit marketing in the arts. While I stand by much of it, it implies a dismissiveness about sales for which I repent. I was too concerned about the potential for a focus on sales to trump nonprofit missions. That’s not the fault of sales; it’s the fault of execution. For many arts organizations, ticket sales–even though they do not cover costs–are vital to sustainability. As part of my atonement, let me reset and attempt a more nuanced definition and placement of sales in the nonprofit arts context.
A sale is (or should be!) an uncoerced exchange of value between two parties. In the for-profit world, this is some product or service for money. In the nonprofit world, where products or services are often provided without cost, there is no money exchanged at the “point of sale.” Third party payers provide the required funds. However, in all cases, another resource is exchanged: time. The consumer exchanges her or his time in order to gain access to and receive the service. This awareness is somewhat more relevant in the nonprofit world beyond the arts but does apply to free performances and exhibitions. The “sales” message needs to convey the value in exchanging that time for what is offered. It must also make a compelling case for paying the opportunity cost: what else might the person be doing with that time instead? For pay or not, one sales metric in the arts is “butts in seats”/”eyes on walls.” When tickets are being sold, the other is, yes, sales revenue.
So sales, whether body part count or revenue, is important in our field and is the essential metric of marketing. Understanding of the exchange nature of sales, especially the exchange of time for product, helps illuminate why marketing messaging, instead of focus on the greatness of the arts organization or its personnel, needs to focus on the satisfaction (my economist friends can insert “utility” there) provided. The case must be made for why someone should choose the arts experience over other options. To do so, we must know–really know–who we are trying to reach. In essence, that means having a relationship with them that can inform our messages. But the details of “how” are far better addressed by others who have experience in doing so.
- Photo: Some rights reserved by nikoretro