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September 29, 2008

Why your arts marketing technology plan should include a CMS-based (Content Management System) website

As arts marketers, we know that having an up-to-date website is one of the primary ways our patrons find out about our activities. But after serving on the board of a small community theatre group, I know the pain that cultural groups feel when they have to wait for that one board member to update the website. Or perhaps it’s waiting for your friend’s cousin to respond to your email that it’s time to put up the cast list. The great news is it doesn’t have to be like that. Imagine a scenario where any company member who knows how to use Microsoft Word can login and make changes to their section of the website? That updating the content could be shared by multiple people without getting in each other’s way? It’s called a Content Management System (CMS) and it should be a part of every marketing plan for arts organizations.

What is a content management system?

Here’s a great definition: A CMS is used to edit your website by giving the user an interface where they can log in and make text, graphic or structural amends to then publish the new pages on the live website. So the important thing to know is that arts groups can make changes to their websites by just logging into a webpage using an ordinary browser. No dreamweaver, frontpage, or other web-editing software needed. Let’s look at an example. Here’s a website for a breeder of Australian Shepherds who has graciously allowed me to use her site as a demo.

arts -- Sample wordpress used as a website content management system (CMS)

A sample wordpress-based website content management system

Looks like a pretty normal site, right? This site used a software called WordPress. If you’re a blogger, you know that WordPress is usually used for blogs, but it also works very well as a website content management system. If you could see the bottom of the page above, you’d see a link to login to the site. Let’s see what it looks like when you login.

The inside of a wordpress website

The inside of a wordpress website

As you can see, once you’re logged in, you find a menu system that allows you to create, update, or delete posts and pages on the site. Let’s edit the post “Show Ring update.” Simply click on the name of the post, and you’ll see:

Editing a post in wordpress

If you noticed that it looks a lot like Microsoft Word, you’re right! Once we’ve made our changes, we just save the post, and it is automatically updated on the actual site. Then we breathe a sigh of relief, for our editing is done. Imagine the possibilities. You can easily have multiple people be responsible for updating different parts of the site, because they are empowered with the ease of doing so. Response times for website updates that rely on an outside person disappear.

Look and feel via “themes”

One of the other nice aspects of using a content management system like WordPress is the availability of themes to change your site’s look and feel. A theme is simply a way to change the look and feel of your site, without changing the content underneath. So an actor can change costumes, but the actor doesn’t change. There are thousands of developers who have already built free theme “costumes” for your site, and they are available for the download. If we go back to our example above, let’s change the theme of the Australian Shepherds site. WordPress comes with a bunch of built-in themes.

choosing a theme in wordpress

choosing a theme in wordpress

We’ll just choose a theme, click on it, and it automatically changes the site to reflect the new theme. Let’s choose the first one here, which has sort of a cowboy look to it. When we go back to the front-end site, we see:

The new site, after we'v changed the theme

The new site, after we changed the theme

As you can see, this is a totally different look and feel for the site. While probably not the best choice for someone who shows championship dogs, you get the picture. In short, this ability makes it ridiculously simple to update the look and feel of your arts website, without a lot of effort or expense. There are many free themes for wordpress available, have a look. While you’re doing that, I’ll change the site back to the regular theme before the owner discovers her dogs showing up in the wild West.

Ok, so how do I get WordPress?

You can download it for free at Or better yet, check with your hosting provider that hosts your website now — many of them offer a “1-click install” of WordPress, which will allow you to get started and play around easily. Or tell your current webmaster you’d like to host the site on a content management system like WordPress, and he/she will be able to make it happen. There are many content management systems to choose from, but WordPress is a good choice for simple websites. You may not choose to run out and convert your arts website to use a web-based content management system today. But if you’re empowered with the knowledge of the benefits of running your site on a platform like this, you’ll be better prepared as an arts marketer to make good choices the next time you revise your website. For more information on website content management systems, we recommend: