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October 19, 2008

Internet marketing for the arts 101: 9 technologies all arts groups should be using

There are many ways to spend your time marketing or developing your arts organization. But which are the most effective? We’ve narrowed it down to 9. A recent survey of arts organizations compiled by the Wallace Foundation tells us that most groups feel that the use of next-generation technology is vital to audience development. On the next question, when asked how organizations feel they are doing with implementation of next-generation technology, the vast number of groups surveyed said “not as well as we’d like to be.” One issue seems to be that many groups have yet to master what we like to call “previous-generation technology.” Let’s examine what is known to work, in an effort to build an arts marketing foundation for you, the arts group. We feel that groups should focus on having all 9 of these techniques in place before putting a lot of effort into other technologies. So, play around with the “new” stuff, but remember your marketing roots first. In no particular order…

1. Get a CMS-based website (Content Management System)

We’ve expounded on the benefits of having a CMS-based website in another post already, but in a nutshell, a content management system allows you to make updates on your site using a regular web browser (no web-authoring software like Dreamweaver required). Suffice to say, it’s important to be able to update your own website, whenever you want, without relying on outside help. If a show gets canceled, if you post an online video, or if you just want to update your patrons with timely information, just update the site. Add to that the variety of easy to install website themes, and a simple interface with web-tracking software like Google Analytics, and it’s easy to see that a CMS-based site is the way to go.

2. Online arts grants research

The net has great resources to find grant money for your arts organization. Grants are available from local, regional, and national foundations, along with grants from arts agencies and arts service organizations, and even local corporations and businesses. We like foundationcenter.org, and afpnet.org. Research deadlines, requirements, and submission guidelines, mark your calendar to apply, and get those applications in process.

3. High-resolution online photos for publicity, marketing, and more

There are a variety of Web 2.0 photo-sharing sites out there, that will host your high-resolution photos for free. We like Flickr.com and photobucket.com These are a requirement if you’re hoping to get a write up in your local newspaper, and don’t forget the captions — feature writers need to know who is in the photo! Photos should be 300 DPI to be used for print. Make them visually interesting by not lining people up and having them look into the camera (newspaper writers often call this type of photo “execution at dawn,” and it’s something you should avoid). Get close to people’s faces as they are taking part in the art, singing, acting, dancing, etc. A good photo can make the difference between interest in your event…or not.

4. Online video

A short video placed up on YouTube and embedded on your site is a fantastic way to provide a sample preview of your event. People are wary with their time, and a sample can make a big difference in their decision to attend. A good, short video (30 seconds to 1 minute) is a great piece of content to provide the press, online calendars, blogs, etc. Does your local arts and entertainment editor at the newspaper have an A&E blog? Try pitching him/her on your video clip — they are always looking for content. For an easy video, try using your regular digital still camera, set to the video setting. Most cameras have this now, and it allows you to shoot a clip onto the camera card, which you can later easily upload to youtube.com. We also like dropshots.com and photobucket.com. Check with any rights-holder for your event, but they will usually allow a short video clip to be shot and posted for promotional purposes.

5. Email marketing to your arts patrons: an arts audience’s best friend

There are few better ways to keep your arts audience in-the-know than email marketing. It allows you to send out announcements of event information, surveys, behind-the-scenes interviews, ticket links, and much more, while allowing you to track user response (who clicked on your email, forwarded it to friends, etc. We like inexpensive and comprehensive email marketing services such as Constant Contact (who we partner with) and PatronMail.com. You’ll have access to easy, pre-designed graphical templates to add your logo, propel your brand, and go. And patrons can subscribe/unsubscribe themselves via your newsletter and your site. Simply a must have!

6. Postcard marketing

Postcard marketing? You mean on paper? What’s the online connection? Yes, it’s true. The postcard still has a big place in your marketing arsenal. It has great pass-along value, and can stick around on the fridge for a long time. You can purchase lists of U.S. Mail addresses in your area and reach new potential audiences, at companies such as infousa.com (something you shouldn’t do with email lists), and Web 2.0 has really brought the cost down and the options up. We like online printers such as vistaprint.com and psprint.com. They both offer fast service, high-quality product, and ease of use. Both of them even offer mailing services, so for a bit more money, you can stop licking stamps.

7. Online ticketing/event registration

If your cultural organization sells tickets to your events, we think that offering an online ticketing solution to your patrons is a must. It will allow you to divert a load off of your box-office staff, so they can be used to shoot an online video or put together an email newsletter (see above). Studies have shown that patrons are ok with paying online ticketing fees, as long as they are small, and online ticketing is one of the best ways to gather contact information from your audience members. It’s automatic when they buy from you: you’ll get name, address, email, phone, etc. Follow up with them for your next event, and turn them into repeat customers. There are many ticketing systems out there, and we don’t have a favorite, but we do like brownpapertickets.com, and vendini.com. But ask around and see which system groups in your area like, and go from there.

8. Online donations for the arts

There are several easy ways to add online donations to your site and your marketing material. Donations are tax-deductible for patrons if you are a 501c3 non-profit company, and they are popular to use around the holidays and the end of the year during tax planning time. It’s another great way to gather contact info of a strong supporter of your organization, and is “always on” via a button on your site. We like Google Checkout, and Network For Good.

9. Utilize online web calendars and media sites

There are several online event calendars that cover national, regional, and local events. This is easily one of the biggest and easiest ways to spread the word about your event, and search engines love it. Media sources need information and arts content about events from arts groups, and if you can align your offering up with their requirements, you have a good chance of getting coverage. Sites like zvents.com, upcoming.org, and eventful.com all list thousands of events, and many smaller sites pull event information from these larger sites. make sure you provide all of the regular information (who, what, when, where, how much) along with complete dates, times, and your contact info. Your captioned publicity photos and online video clip also plug in well here. We’ve mentioned a couple of big sites, but also check with your local newspaper, TV, and radio stations, as they often have online calendars as well. Do research their requirements though; if your event is happening outside of your newspaper’s coverage area, not only will it not be useful to send, but you may lose points for when you DO have something that is relevant to them. Many of these arts marketing techniques play well together. For example, a theatre company could inform its audiences by interviewing the director of your theatre show, and putting it in an email newsletter that also includes an online video clip of the show, links to photos, and a button to donate. Make an arts marketing technology plan, carry it out for the season, and measure the results. You’ll be surprised how effective these arts marketing tips are for bringing in new and engaged audience members that are more informed and more appreciative of your arts offerings. Looking for help in getting some of these arts marketing techniques up and running? Have them running, but lack the manpower to maintain them? Contact us for a free, no-obligation discussion of your arts-marketing needs. Like this post? Please share it with people who might find it useful, or post it online via the “share this” link below:

About Ron Evans

I am an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Group of Minds. I advise leaders on behavioral psychology, marketing & technology to nudge audience behavior. Get in touch via email, on Twitter, or Google+: +Ron Evans