Change and the Perception of Change

How can you argue against change? Everyone wants the new, the hot, the fresh. Change means better, right?

Ask anyone if they want to make more money, pay less taxes, be safer and create a better life for their children, who would not say “yes, we need change!”

But at what cost?

As I see the current political climate, the overarching theme is “Change.” It always has been.

After all, how many successful campaigns haven’t used CHANGE as the main messaging? Status quo just isn’t sexy – nor should it be. We are always seeking “better.”

Establishment vs. Anti-establishment is another way to look at the issue as well. Railing against the system as rebels is in our collective national DNA since the 1700’s.

So when the marketer in me tries to analyze the 2016 Presidential race, it becomes clear that despite the personalities, change is what is making the difference.

In the showdown of radical change vs. incremental change, the allure of the radical change will beat incremental change every time. Just the slight chance that we will do vastly better if we risk it all is a choice worth taking. Isn’t it?

What’s the worse that can happen?

So how is this a marketing issue? Well, if you look at any “new and improved” product, the marketer is selling change. Whether it’s a new model automobile, house, lawnmower or dishwasher, most people want the change in their life because certainly that will make us happier.

Status quo is not where it’s at in politics, products or events. It might get the job done, but it’s never going to win over the majority of Americans who want the newest, the best-est widget available. Sure, the brightest have put long hours into figuring out the most efficient way things should operate, but we always believe there’s always a better mousetrap.

What’s interesting in this analysis is that many of our events are successful because of their tradition and what people can count on from attending our offering. How much opportunity is there really for change without the brand you have taken so long to build? That’s a question for you to ask your board, staff and volunteers.

It is a difficult line to walk between brand and change. Brand is something we work on creating and polishing, while change is the new, the exciting and the unknown. Opportunity! Possibility!

The results of the election will become clear soon enough, but in the meantime it is an interesting exercise to view the different shifts in the campaign when viewed through the lens of marketing and to interpret politics of change in a new and different way.

Posted in Arts, Event Marketing, Events, Marketing, Politics

2 Years Removed from the Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ve often wondered what was the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge in support of ALS from 2014. This New Yorker article is excellent.

I for one also wish we were doing more for good than simply playing Pokemon.

Lessons learned never the less from a variety of sources on how we can do our jobs more creatively.

Posted in Arts, Collaboration, Creativity, Event Marketing, Fundraising, Marketing, Social Media, Synergy

Pick Your Force Majeur; Lemons into Lemonade

Into every life a little rain must fall. But for event and festival organizers who spend the majority of their lives promoting outdoor events, rain is the ultimate four-letter word.

But knowing that inclement weather will be a factor and beyond the rain insurance and preparations for an impending deluge, what steps should you take during and after the fact to take a negative and turn it into a positive.

After having recently faced such a situation at an outdoor ticketed-festival, there were a few lessons learned that we thought would be worth sharing for fellow event marketers. While many of these helpful hints have to do with a weather situation, you can certainly use for any project that is interrupted by force majeure.

• Act deliberately. When making a decision to postpone, delay or eventually cancel, make the decision and stick with it. There’s no room for grey even though you may feel compelled to try and navigate and negotiate. Make a decision you can live with and then stick by it.

• Gather the team – Before going public with your announcement, make sure as many members of the team, including all key personnel are gathered to hear the same message. In the circle should be your managers for operations, guest relations, volunteers, marketing and public safety, including representatives of first responders onsite. While these first responders may not be a formal part of your team, your guests will see them and expect them to provide details. The first responders can be your greatest asset when trying to spread the word and to instill a sense of comfort for attendees, especially if there’s severe weather or some other situation that creates confusion or a lack of confidence.

• Position spokespeople prominently – Inevitably there will be questions from your guests such as: is the event delayed or canceled? Are their refunds? Is there additional news? This is why your best people get paid the big bucks. But considering most of us work with underpaid staff and volunteers, we need to make sure each person is trained and up to the task. Be sure these individuals who will function as spokespeople know precisely what to say and what not to say. The messaging is ultimately up to senior leadership and marketing to be succinct and direct about the talking points.

Reinforce that public-facing folks need to stay on script and not ad lib, no matter how belligerent a guest may become. As mentioned earlier, the first responders can help you a great deal in navigating any situation, rely on them to assist you to do the job they are trained to do.

• Communicate Immediately – Given the situation of a ticketed event being canceled or another situation where refunds are requested if not demanded, stick with your official policy. Veering from your adopted policies will only create additional situations with unintended consequences which you might wind up having to address for weeks and months into the future.

Remember whatever you might say to get out of one situation, might create 10x more situations to deal with in the future.

A simple social media post and link to an official position on your website might be good enough. If you have email addresses for the affected guests, an email with the same content is worth the effort. Distributing the email within several hours is best and may help in providing the context of how the decision was reached, what the impact is on the organization and what will be done in the future should the same situation arise.

• After Glow – Once the dust settles, it is always in everyone’s best interest to review the situation and determine what will address the issues of your guests. If this has not already been deliberated at the board level or at least in staff meetings, giving thought to how to make the lemonade needs to be done, sooner rather than later.

As a non-profit organization there could be ways to extend discounts to future events, redirect the funds to donations so that at least the guest can turn the money into a tax deductible contribution.

What if you provided a 25% discount on the next ticket purchase?

What if you entered those affected as entry-level members into your donor or benefactor club, complete with premiums to be used as gifts?

In the end the majority of folks will understand your predicament and give you the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, if you lock down, say nothing and share little, you risk a great deal of the trust you have tried to build.

What we want to do here is turn folks from disgruntled, unhappy customers into stark raving fans. What creative solutions can you come up with to take the lemons you weren’t planning on receiving and turning them into the sweetest, most enjoyable beverage you’ve ever tasted?

Posted in Event Marketing, Events, Fundraising, Marketing

5 Ways “Hamilton” is Winning the Marketing Game

Great article about the lessons to be learned from “Hamilton” and it’s marketing outreach.

Common sense and practicality combine here for some fantastic results.

How can you use these ideas to promote your organization, festival or events!

Posted in Marketing

130 Million and $1.9 Billion – Numbers for the Week

130 million can’t be wrong

Here we live in a climate of hatred, terrorism, a political campaign that is anything but friendly or intellectually stimulating. Marketers spending millions if not billions on ways to create virality and giving names and processes to things that used to be considered normal.

When lo and behold a woman from Dallas puts on a Chewbacca mask, laughs with the sort of laugh that could fill an entire concert hall and can make even the dourest individual among us crack a smile.

Is it the childhood simplicity of the mask doing exactly what it was meant to do?

Or is it something deeper than that? The woman claims she just wanted to prove to her friends the mask was hers and not her kid’s. She went on to add the world just needs something happy to offset all of the negativity which surrounds us on a daily basis.

S I challenge you – How do you take that joy from your work, your pursuits, your passion and share it with others? Not for the sales results, but just for the sheer joy of it all. After all, there is some reason why we get up in the morning. There is some joy for you to share that isn’t about a selfie or a nastygram, but rather the beauty, the joy, the laughter that makes 130 million people smile.

Now about the $1.9 billion.

As of March, 2016, $1.9 billion is the value of the free media that Donald Trump has garnered since his decent down the escalator in Trump Tower and right in the middle of the American political discourse.

As you know I will not weigh in on the candidacy or the campaign other than the lessons we can take away from by far the biggest marketing campaign happening in 2016.

Back to the $1.9 billion. As a definition, this is the value of the time Mr. Trump has been given on all of the networks, cable news channels and beyond. To put this in perspective, it’s over a billion dollars more than his nearest competitor and nearly $1.5 billion more than the closest entertainer/performer (Taylor Swift).

Politics and messaging aside, we all know that the number one element holding all of us back in marketing is budget. What if you were able to spread your message for free, three times more than your competition?

The value of marketing has certainly propelled the candidate who has spent the least, into gaining the largest percentage mindshare and secured the nomination for him. Will the White House be next?

The media on the other hand probably aren’t doing this to forward a political agenda. The needle moves and the ratings soar whenever Mr. Trump tweets or stages a rally or is interviewes. So we are witnessing the coalescence of popularity, media and politics on a scale never before seen.

All I can say is WOW! And all I can think of is how can I leverage these same principles into my work and that of my clients in the world of non-profit and arts marketing.

Posted in Arts, Content Marketing, Events, Marketing, Politics

Culture Defines Us

One of the most thoughtful minds in the public discourse is Charlie Rose. From his PBS program to his CBS reporting, he is able to constantly shine a new light and different perspective on art, politics and the top stories in the news cycle.

When speaking on the passing of the musical artist Prince he uttered some words that put a great deal into perspective for me. To paraphrase he said, “Culture is what defines us which is why the passing of artists affect us so much.”

These are such powerful words to me – especially since my current worldview seems to be so focused on arts and the work that is needed to make arts and culture relevant in the communities we live and everyone in between who creates and embraces the artistic journey.

Thinking more deeply about this comment, the passing of politicians and business people are rarely celebrated in the same way our musicians or actors are. Even athletes do not seem to be celebrated in the same way as artists.

Perhaps its because athletics, business and politics are a win-lose proposition and in most cases capture a specific moment in time, but arts stay with us and evolve over time. A song, book, poem or painting may have several different meanings to you over a lifetime, while a movie or theatrical production can impact you in a great many different ways.

Events and festivals are the manifestation of culture in a communal experience. Where else can we celebrate the things that are special about our neighbors, our community and us? When you’re wondering why we spend the immense energy and resources we do to produce our events, exhibitions or performances, I hope you can take a moment to reflect on the importance of the work we do.

Culture defines us. These three words must stay with us for their power and their simplicity.

Posted in Arts, Creativity, Events, Politics

Some Crowdfunding Ruminations

To my friends in the organizational fundraising world, we need to have a talk about crowdfunding.

What happens if you don’t have a crowd? Clearly, there will be no funding. Yet, still some organizations try to make this square peg fit a round hole.

It’s not necessarily that crowdfunding won’t work for an organization, but as is the case with the new social landscape, the power is in the hands of the individual and you need passionate individuals to carry the ball for the organization.

The Rationale

Whether it’s your next indie-documentary, a small business start-up or a theatre production of a one-woman show on the history of people named Elizabeth that eat insects, you need funding to get started.

Whether you view your fundraising success as validation of your project or your passion or of yourself as a person, your income will be affected by the number of people in your “crowd.”

Sure if you are in the for-profit world, there will be investors that simply want to invest in a stake in your future successes, but when it comes to something as personal as a production, recording, film or other artistic venture, you have to be willing to feel the pain of seeing the “$0 Raised” on your page.

Don’t take this as scorn from humanity as a whole, but rather as not connecting with the right crowd or a large enough of a crowd to move the needle.

Crowdfunding or its sibling, peer-to-peer fundraising, are based on the fact that one person (or a group of persons) have a similar passion and want to use their networks to raise money – and or awareness – of something that is deeply personal to them.

No-one can argue with the billions of dollars that have been raised by the peer-to-peer charitable healthcare projects around the globe to help fight devastating diseases that take lives. There’s nothing that can take away from those successes and the work that has been done is truly awe-inspiring.

But how can we take some of those same basic lessons learned through these platforms to excite and energize our bases. After all, your collective audience giving $10 will add up to millions… but it never seems to be that easy.

I’ve been privileged to work on some peer-to-peer projects that have worked beautifully and some others that have failed quite spectacularly.

Here are some questions that we’ve looked at and might be good areas for you to think about before entering into this world of in our review of these projects based in organizational crowdfunding:

1) Audience – First look at the targeted audience for your crowdfunding project. Does it appeal to the type of person willing to take the time type in their credit card number, process a donation as our normal fundraising happens? What if your audience is teens or late millennials with little concept of philanthropy?

2) What of your timing? What if you were to provide opportunities at a different time in the planning or life cycle of the project?

Are you asking at the very beginning of the project where people can play an engaged role in making something to come to life? Or have you already decided all there is to decide and you are just looking for someone to fund your dream? Unless you are one of the few lucky persuasive individuals that can sell the Brooklyn Bridge or swampland in Florida, its probably best to think of ways to be inclusive in your project development plans.

3) Is your campaign premium driven? Do people really care that they get a thank you on your website or your Facebook page? Do they really want to go to a reception with the Board of Directors or the Artistic Director?

Or do they want to play a role in the direction of the project? How much is that worth to them? How much is that worth to you?

4) Size of Audience: What if you are engaging and motivating a large group? We’ve seen this work incredibly well – and not so well. Of course, you need to have some leadership and guidance either through a carrot or stick – but getting that sort of buy-in needs to eventually manifest itself in the individual.

There’s a certain WIFM mentality at work here, but it is the passion of the individual that makes it so much more than a transaction and can eventually lead to the viral growth of any message or fundraiser.

Yes, you can make small goals and have people do their part, but the off-the-charts success only comes when everyone sees the impact of the collective energy and can create the momentum that makes people want to take part.

That’s more than marketing. That’s a movement.

Why do I write this on an arts marketing blog? Because as marketers as part of small or medium sized teams, we’re going to be asked to add our two cents as to how marketing will help sell this new project as part of our fundraising plan. Everyone is having success with it – why aren’t we?

Unfortunately, the interesting thing about organizational crowdfunding is that it can’t be sold through normal channels.

People will either want to support the project or not based on the relationships more so than the merits of the project.

The key is for the people who benefit the most from the project or program or initiative to become responsible for it’s funding. If that means you need to drop the wall down to include others for the sake of the financial viability of the project, than that is what is needed.

The donor or the benefactor, whatever their relationship to you, must feel an outcome to their investment in your project. If that means they feel closer to you or your organization, than that relationship is what is developed over the course of the transaction.

If I feel as if I’m doing my part to cure a disease, and it strengthens my bond and love for another, than that is a perfect outcome.

Posted in Fundraising, Marketing, Planning, Social Media

DIY Marketing Audits – The Basics

After taking the time to determine whether or not embarking in an audit is the most important and valuable use of your time, it is time to focus on the basics of the audit trail.

While financial audits of organizations are mandated by boards and the government, there’s not quite the same level of importance given to the marketing operations, however one might argue the impact of successful marketing is just as vital to the growth and sustainability of our organizations.

Due to the nature of an audit, there’s a good deal of right brain/left brain interaction at work. Marketing folks tend to be more “free” with the facts and add in the element of the arts, and it may be difficult for some of us to focus on the specifics needed to measure the materials and methods we use to share our messages with the world. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but we want everyone to share in the excitement of the audit!

A well-conceived and executed marketing audit should provide a methodical examination of the different levels of your marketing plan and how it is leveraged to forward the efforts of the organization including its relationship to the strategic plan, advertising, promotion, fundraising and overall public face of the institution.

The process you decide to follow for your audit must be repeatable and measurable. By affixing quantitative analysis to your work, you can begin to think more holistically about your approach each project. With the measurement of your work, it becomes instantly repeatable. The same exercise can be conducted the next year at the same time as long as the baseline is created in Year 1.

Making the marketing audit a repeatable focus of your annual marketing schedule and plan means that you will see the improvement that makes your work better. Or it will bring up those ideas or elements of the plan that still need work or to be shelved until they can be properly engaged. Implementing a marketing audit plan means a commitment to quality and improvement. By performing the audit every year, you will chart the progress of the marketing team and your own professional development in delivering your passion to an audience that wants to participate and engage in what you bring to life.

Through evaluation of your efforts and those who came before you, there should be a complete assessment of all internal and external marketing and communication tools and tactics. You should be able to put all of these items in buckets that are easy to review and reference as you continue to grow and expand your efforts, while not having to reinvent the wheel.

There’s probably no greater waste of time than to change something for change sake. With a formal report that quantifies efforts, you can focus your attention on being more efficient and effective. What manager and marketing professional doesn’t want that?

One final point on the topic of marketing audit basics is that you should not focus on results or outcomes. We all live in a data driven world, and while I love data I believe marketers should be making decisions in a data informed world, rather than solely relying on making the decisions for them. When embarking on a marketing audit, avoid the analytics that we live with in our everyday life and focus more on the tone and context of your marketing and communication efforts.

You should already be seeking out the data you need to program your website, manage content, improve social engagement and maximize email efficiency. A marketing audit is the time where you focus one level up on the quality of your efforts on those platforms.

The decisions you make during your audit will no doubt effect your performance on every marketing platform, but taking the time to make sure what you are saying and how are you saying it is inline with the organization’s strategic and marketing plans can make your work more focused and provide even greater results.

Posted in Accountability, Brand, Content Marketing, Event Marketing, Fundraising, Marketing, Marketing Audits, Planning

Audit Fun for Arts & Events Marketers – An Intro

So here you are, running 100 miles per hour, eyes focused onto your laptop, mobile phone by your side, you’ve got this. You’re a marketing professional ready to make the next event, festival, arts installation, dance performance or concert a success.

But there’s something nagging you. You’re living so much in the here and now, and on your daily to do list, there’s not been enough time to take a step back and reflect on all it is you’ve accomplished.

Or worse, it’s your first week on the job and you need to have some idea where to start. Or possibly, you’re right in the middle of the two?

Perhaps, you’re a volunteer and have some background in marketing but want to assist the organization move ahead.

Well, we’re here to give you the good news. By blocking out a day or two of your time, you should be able to conduct a Marketing & Communications Audit that will give you a baseline of activity for your organization or event.

Before we dive into the actual details of the step-by-step process of a Do–It-Yourself Audit, we should probably review the basics of marketing and communications auditing to give you a framework as a jumping off point.

Philosophically we need to start with the determination of Important vs. Urgent. Every effective professional ultimately has the conversation with themselves, “Is the urgent thing I am doing right now the most important to my project, my job or my career.” Until you determine that what is urgent isn’t the most important, it may be difficult for you to fully embrace the Marketing Audit.

As with all things, you will get out of the marketing audit what you put into it. If you are able to expend the resources (mainly manpower), you will walk away with a much better understanding of where you are and where you need to go.

Four Questions You Need to Ask

            – What is the lightest week of the year for you?

– Who can you count on to assist you?

– Whose opinion can you count on?

– Are you going to do anything with this?

Where a good number of folks lose their direction is at the point where they’ve invested time in conducting the research, but do not have a plan what to do with it after it’s complete. You should be focused not only on taking the snap shot of where you are, but also have a plan to be able to revisit the audit in the future to see how things have improved, or where you might need to focus attention.

Strategic plans, marketing audits – any of these projects which take time need to be valued for the work that is put into them, but also to be living documents and pathways to the future.

If you’re all set and ready to strap in for the audit ride of your life, get ready, get set, GO!

Posted in Accountability, Content Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Audits, Planning, Social Media

5 Marketing Tips from the Presidential Primary Campaigns

No matter what your political beliefs, there’s no doubting hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on this year’s early Presidential election cycle. Here are five lessons to learn from the candidates and their marketing teams:
1. Branding is important, but it takes work, and it’s not a guarantee of success
2. Supplying a vision for people to buy into is vital to create action and support
3. Facebook can indicate engagement but it does not always translate to results
4. Twitter is a great platform for celebrity but not necessarily organizations.
5. Find your message and stay on it no matter what. Consistency is the key!
Read more about marketing lessons from the primary campaigns for the RED and the BLUE.

Posted in Brand, Marketing, Politics
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About Sean King
Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years.  Currently, Sean is a principle in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the United States including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference.  Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street program in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. He also blogs a  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.