Tesla and Thunderdog: The Week That Was Feb. 5

I’m not normally one to get caught up in the prepackaged hype affiliated with the large-scale undertakings that consume our newsfeeds and cable news.

But in the first full week of February 2018 – I can attest to being moved by two images this week that speak as much of visceral passion as the authentic joy each represented.

Being a resident of the northern suburbs of Philly, one might think I’m an Eagles fan. Not quite. However, the sense of unbridled joy and excitement surrounding the Super Bowl victory this past week was well deserved… which brings me to my first favorite image of the week.


Eagles lineman (and baritone sax player) Jason Kelse took to the Championship parade route in an authentic Mummer costume from the Avalon string band. While the sight of this burly, 300 pound offensive lineman may have caught the majority of the US and world off-guard (What in the hell was he wearing?); for those in the Philly region, they understood exactly the origins of the costume was and what it meant. It was Philly, through and through.
We read a lot about authenticity and being generic. How many people jump on the bandwagon, only to be ridiculed or questioned “why?” or “what were they thinking?” For one brief moment in time, this World Champion ‘Thunderdog’ nailed it. The sight is spectacular and means a great deal to everyone reveling in the success of their team, their Eagles.

Fan or not, the saluting of the Philly region by wearing a costume so traditional that it meant something to everyone who mattered, but was completely lost on the rest of America is an effort well done.

(By the way, his speech from the steps of the Art Museum is a keeper as well!)

Now on to the second image of the week…

tesla spacex

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know my fascination with the Space-X program and their first joyous celebration of the return of the rockets to terra firma after a brief flight a few years ago.

Earlier this week Space-X took to the heavens again, this time in a test of the largest rocket in the fleet. Tucked away in the payload bay was a Tesla convertible complete with Spaceman, a mannequin dressed in space suit, destined to spend the rest of eternity in space. Pretty dull week, huh?

Whether it was intentional or not, the statement made by the image of seeing this car in space is one that touches all of us in a meaningful way.

Sure, this same image could’ve been Photoshopped, but the sheer knowledge that it is real and is fun and joyous, allows us to feel a connectedness and spirit of humanity that is difficult to put your hands around. Yes, it was a publicity stunt, but I for one am smiling at the ability for one to imagine and successfully execute upon one’s dreams.

Salud, Mr. Musk, we can’t wait to see your next accomplishment.

Then, as if the Tesla in space wasn’t enough, two rockets came back to Cape Canaveral as planned on the landing pads in Florida. I believe it was Steven Colbert who said in a recent interview, “Those rockets returning and landing side-by-side… that is the future we were promised.”

I could not agree more.

Posted in Arts, Brand, Creativity, Marketing, Motivation, Synergy

So That’s It?

Each year I take delight in sharing a few of my observations from the “Super Bowl of Advertising”… the Super Bowl. Sometimes the ads we see make us laugh or cry or think, and as far as the marketers are care, BUY. There are usually a few ads that are way above average – and others that don’t quite hit their target.

Unfortunately this year, I don’t have much to say, which I think in its own right reflects more about the status of our culture as viewed through this prism than anything. Again, there is nothing particularly scientific to my feelings, but hopefully provides food for thought or deeper reflection

We are a deeply divided nation. The status of our political discourse on so many levels is broken. #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, immigration, Russia, Democrats, Republicans. It all seems to be a stew where we are lacking true leadership.

I get it. The pendulum swings back and forth – and the days of progressivism have been exchanged for conservatism. Yet, I for one hope that we continue to push the envelope in music, movie, theatre, art and for what it’s worth, advertising.

If the ads we saw on Super Bowl Sunday are holding up a mirror to our society, I think we are lacking. Or is it possible we are looking at ourselves through a funhouse mirror that distorts what we see into some amalgamation of clowns, Olympians, cars and beer. Or maybe that is America?

RAM Super Bowl

There may be two reasons for why hardly anything of note was produced and consumed to the tune of $5 million dollars per 30 seconds. At those rates, it is proof that the sizable audience is there for marketers to reach us. The ad spaces are most definitely not going unsold.

So what may be at issue as to why we lack anything memorable or thought-provoking that connects with us about being American in 2018? Or is it that too many tried to say the same thing and nothing cut through the clutter.

First, and I do hope this is untrue, but it is possible that corporate America simply does not want to rock the boat for fear of a tweet from our President. This would be an awful excuse, yet I believe we can see that it simply isn’t worth standing up for our principles only to run the risk of being hammered by the President in a tweetstorm in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s may not be worth the pain inflicted through social media, no matter how right and true the tone. If you’re not in lock step with ruling party, your efforts could be subject to ridicule, mocking or worse. What a sad state of affairs.

The second, and what I believe to be at work here, is the lack of creativity brought to us because of the manifestation of data in all of our marketing decisions. By definition data is not creative and perhaps the pendulum has swung forcefully into the digital age that creating inspiration has been missed along the way.

With machine learning, marketing automation, algorithms and all of the tools of the cloud at our fingertips, we can now make sure we are only targeting and reaching those on the social media networks and channels that matter most.

By shopping Amazon, searching Facebook and Googling, marketer know all they will ever need to know about us and will fulfill their mission by serving us those things that like-minded consumers consume.

Is it the death of advertising as we know it? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see how the industry changes in the coming years and whether or not creativity is left on the side of the road.

The Super Bowl provides the biggest platform we have on one day to reach as many Americans as possible. One would think the collective industry would take that opportunity to reach to our better angels and aspirations as a nation and as a people. If Ram using remarks from Martin Luther King Jr. and T-Mobile sending the most impactful message of the event on what it means to be an American, we have a great deal of work to do.

Posted in Brand, Creativity, Events, Marketing, Politics, Social Media

Bold North: Branding Brilliance

bold north

As many of you know from posts over the years, I love Super Bowl Sunday more for what it tells us about American culture, marketing and advertising than the actual game of football.

This year is no different, although I am writing about the astonishingly great marketing that has surrounded the game, but again not because of the football – but rather the host committee of Super Bowl LII.

I first saw ‘Bold North’ on a pair of mittens worn by a volunteer spokesperson on a news clip earlier in the week. However, as the coverage continued to grow over the week, I began seeing more and more how the tag was being embraced and leveraged at every turn. I loved it more and more each time I encountered it.

I speak and present a great deal on the topic of brand and branding. “Bold North” is precisely what all marketers look for: succinct, memorable and effective.

In a recent quote in a TwinCities.com article it was shared, “A brand works when it’s a promise you can keep,” said Maureen Bausch, a longtime marketing executive and CEO of the Host Committee, a group of civic leaders that has helped coordinate Super Bowl events, from the original bid to host the big game to this week’s activities. “This is an honest definition of who we are: leaders and innovative risk takers. And yes, it’s cold here. It’s a promise you can keep.”

Read this brief article on the origins of the “North” concept and how it was married to “Bold” to create what some hope becomes the official tagline of the state of Minnesota.

Posted in Marketing

Real Life is Never a Waste of Time

Advertising on the other hand usually is.

Just a few musings on current state of advertising in my humble opinion.

I find myself asking this question a lot – where has all of the creativity gone? Usually I wait until the “Super Bowl of Advertising” – which is the actual Super Bowl – to weigh in on my thoughts. The past several years have been less than inspirational.

With so much beauty and creativity and passion in this world – how can we be stuck with such tepid advertising to motivate us to buy things we don’t really need?

Could it possibly be the penchant for everyone to be blinded by data, artificial intelligence, bots and machine learning that whatever creativity was left after the Great Recession has been killed off?

Real life is still about real people, right? Shouldn’t advertising allow us to celebrate the best in us?

Some thoughts…

  • It’s been two years since I first wrote on the Starwarsification of the planet. And here we go again. I guess when you put the most popular movie franchise of all time within the Disney Company, I guess we can expect this. Nissan has bought into the fun — another step towards the importance of experiential marketing to differentiate companies. But the incessant drumbeat of the movie through a variety of products including even Cheerios (light sabre spoons, really?) have me questioning how different this all can be any longer?
  • GM and Chevy has brought back the “Employee Discount” promotion which at its time saved the America auto industry the first time in the early 00’s before the Obama administration revived the automotive companies from life support the early days of the Great Recession.
  • Snow globes. Is it just me or does every year two competitors wind up with the same theme? This year it is snow globes. Two auto manufacturers have wound up with young children dreaming of snowy fun for the holidays from their sunny, warm homes. It’s probably random, but I’m sure there are some agency folks feeling a little awkward.

Which brings me to us to the inspiration for the title of this post… the fabulous sixty seconds of Apple’s 2017 commercial. Every year, I actually stop whatever I am doing to enjoy this company’s short-form movie making.

Am I an Apple user? Yes.

Does this make me want to buy another product? Not necessarily.

Does it reinforce while I’m in the Apple tribe? Absolutely.


The back story to the spot will take your breath away Apple 2018 -Sway Commercial

I’ll keep sharing thoughts as long as you keep reading them!


Posted in Arts, Brand, Content Marketing, Creativity, Marketing

Where you at?

Salutations! It’s been quite a while since my last post. My apologies.

It’s been quite the past several months of activity – from sponsorships to arts marketing bootcamps to mentorships and a new project on arts-led economic development – the past six months has been quite the ride.

That being said – I’m back – and have a good amount to share with readers. I’ll be posting a few published articles and a few more thoughts over the coming weeks.

Stay tuned…


Posted in Arts, Creativity, Events, Marketing, Sponsorships

Experiential Marketing and You

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… “Millennials are an important segment for marketers to reach. They are the key to our long-term sustainability and existence.”

Hopefully this is doesn’t come as a surprise to you – but we’ve heard this all before with the dawning of the Baby Boomers several decades ago. For over half a century, we’ve been hearing about the “Boomers” and now as they age into their golden years, a ripe, new, even larger generation stands ready to pick up the mantle and move forward.

While the cultural explosion of the Boomer generation was tied with the invention of the television, the Millennials will forever bridge the divide between digital natives and immigrants and the advent of the internet.

After attending a recent youth marketing conference to understand where the next generation will take us, it is easily understood that while the technology may change, the roots of consumerism from packaged goods to events remains the same, yet there’s still something missing between all of the bite, bytes and selfies.

This most critical link is the personal connection between individuals and the products or services of marketers in your community and around the world.

What we offer in the event, festival and arts space is the generation of the social capital necessary to build brands and engage communities. Social capital is the glue that holds us all together and in these days of increasing communication via social media, we rarely are in the same place at the same time with our neighbors, friends, peers or colleagues.

The connections and the sense of belonging felt by being together in person enjoying a concert or engaging in a work of art or participating in a community event is precisely the type of experience that all of the Instagram posts in the world can not provide.

The magic happens when you combine a fabulous in-person experience with individuals who want to communicate and share that in-person experience. These influencers work on their own to build the desire to attend or participate amongst their friends and peers. Those types of remarkable events are what many of us offer, yet few of us leverage to its fullest extent.

A current article published by Digiday “Why the New York Times and other publishers are adding experiential marketing services” says that experiential marketing is just at the beginning of a trend that will only grow over the coming years.

Gone are the days of digital web banners on media sites. Replacing them are experiential opportunities that pair the media and the experience to drive awareness and build business for their clients. We as event promoters are first in line to be able to provide those unique opportunities to brands, but also to the media who are looking to revamp their models to make them more relevant.

Brand marketing agency Freeman, quoted in the Digiday article reported that experiential marketing will soak up at least one-fifth of marketing budgets in three to five years. Experiential being defined as “events, trade shows, sponsorships, exhibits, permanent installations, virtual of augmented realit experiences and/or pop-ups.”

According to another survey by the Event Marketing Institute, 90% of Chief Marketing Officers would increase the amount of money allocated to events and experiences in the coming year, rising by 11% from 2016 to 2017.

When you personally think of experiential marketing, what comes to mind? Perhaps augmented or virtual reality displays are the first examples you can think of when experiential is in the activation plan. However, these integrated technologies come at a hefty price along with set-up and a touring team to help manage and troubleshoot.

For sophisticated marketers, these displays are part of a traveling road show that may be booked months in advance. But clearly from the demand for these activations, they are popular and successful platforms for you not only to provide a high profile opportunity for your partner, but also assists to build your own brand to have people buzzing about your event.

Creativity is the name of the game when packaging experiential opportunities for your partners. Sometimes those ideas are tied in very closely with the product or service of your partner. Other times it is more about building the brand and there isn’t a direct business case for the onsite experience.

Either way, it takes time to roll up your sleeves and find out the outcomes your partner needs to see to justify the return on investment. It is always best to head into these planning meetings with a blank sheet of paper and an open mind to investigate what all of the possibilities can be.

Sure, sometimes you can be challenged by budget and at other times it is logistics, but either way showing your partner you are open to new solutions for marketing and branding challenges will go a long way in building your relationship.

As pressure continues to grow to maximize every dollar in the marketing budget, it is encouraging that experiential activation, even with some of its “squishy” characteristics such as quality of life and community engagement are finally being held up against the antiseptic, bland “data-driven” world which now envelops us.

The definition of success is not only the experiential engagements that provide a remarkable story to share, but also activations that have measurable outcomes that define the resulting impact for our partners. It may be the elusive, Holy Grail for marketers and event promoters alike, but finding the right balance of data outcomes and experiential satisfaction is a goal worth for us all to pursue.

Be creative. Be remarkable. Be effective. If you’re able to achieve all three of these goals, your partners will not only look to invest in your event, they will be looking for new ways to expand and further develop the relationship for years to come.

In closing, I’m always the eternal optimist. Despite the current discourse to the contrary, I am bullish that there is a great deal of opportunity for all of us in the events and arts space to leverage our unique assets to help build genuine, authentic experiences for Millennials, families, retirees, teens, Boomers… our neighbors. After all, we have to remember the oldest Millennials are now parents and the cycle will start once again.

Posted in Marketing

Under the Influence

There’s probably no more topical topic right now in the world of social media and marketing than influencers.

Typically the bastion of the major brands, influencers are starting to filter their way down to the local, community level where the tried and true techniques of major brands have cleared the way for the rest of us in the arts and events space can benefit from the experiments executed by the Fortune 500 brands to figure out the pathway forward.

A Definition of Influencers

By means of a definition, an influencer is a person who has the power to influence many people through social or traditional media. Brands and organizations pay social influencers to recommend products/services/events to people who trust and follow their advice.

There have always been influencers, those with style or brand that others follow. In school, they were the cool kids. A generation ago the term “early adopter” was in vogue. Spokespeople have been around as long as there have been products to be sold and individuals to be emulated. With the movies, television, popular music and sports, celebrity endorsers became the name of the game.

Now, with the advent of social media a whole new echelon of social media stars have come from the blogging, podcasting and YouTube worlds to be the trend setters along side their superstar companions.

As of 2016 the top six celebrity influencers were Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Each typically earn millions on their endorsements on Twitter or Instagram, sometimes collecting $500,000 or more for simple post. (Google “Coke and Selena Gomez” for the most popular and lucrative post of all time).

But add to this list those who have tremendous followings on YouTube in the world of fashion, beauty, food and home design and there are entire segments of the influencer market devoted to them.

Needless to say for the typical event, influencers of this magnitude are beyond our normal scope of budget and reach. But it does get us to thinking about who are the Selena’s, Rihanna’s, Taylor’s and Jenner’s of our community?

The answer is micro-influencers.

Micro-influencers are where it’s at for the event organizers, planners and arts organizations.

What is so ironic is that the major brands who have invested in influencer marketing with these top line stars have come to realize that for some targeting and creation of real grass roots energy, it is sometimes best to focus on micro-influencers to deliver their message.

Yes, there’s nothing like the pull and reach of the superstars of our culture, but the impact of those who are closest to us in our community generally have better rates of engagement and provide us with an unmatched level of authenticity.

By definition, regular influencers have 10,000-100,000 followers and command several thousand dollars per post while micro-influencers by definition are those who have under 10,000 followers and sometimes post for a few hundred dollars or in exchange for exclusive access or rights to an organization and event.

As the industry continues to define itself and mature, more emphasis is being put on the micro-influencers because of the amount of engagement their posts garner. Sure, they might not get the raw numbers of a uber-tweet, but it is more meaningful when coming from a neighbor or friend or someone you trust.

How is success measured?

Measurement of success from your influencer choices comes from not the number of followers, but the level of engagement. This may seem a little counter-intuitive after what so many of us crave is the big numbers of reach, but as we’re learning every day a little more, is that engagement is really what we need.

According to a Markerly survey of two million Instagram influencers, those with fewer than 1,000 followers had a much higher engagement rate of 8% than the influencers with counts of 1,000-10,000 that only measured 4%.

So how do we calculate the rate of engagement? The easiest way is to add the number of likes and number of comments and divide by the number of followers.

Takeaway: Just because an individual has a large number of followers, doesn’t mean they will be successful for you. Focus on engagement first.

Where do you find your micro-influencers?

Finding micro-influencers is not an easy task. It takes a bit of commitment to research and track who might be a perfect candidate for your event’s partner.

On a large scale it might be easier when you can use influencer platforms such as Upfluence, Blogfoster, Buzzsumo, Traackr. However, the most effective way to begin locally is to start searching through your organization’s social media followers to determine who already has an interest in what programming you bring to your community.

As with any deep dive on the web, you’ll find yourself going down a few pathways that lead to a dead-end or two, but you will want to keep your eyes and ears open not only to the social media impact of these individuals but also the bloggers who spend a good deal of time curating and creating content for their audience.

Look at those individuals who are driving conversations that are relevant to you and your event. Those are the types of conversations you want to be part of and may be able to provide insight, context or information that would be welcomed.

Three Quick Tips

Here are three quick tips on how to find the micro-influencers near you.

Tip #1 Post a few campaigns on your website or social media pages and filter responses by location, age and category. If you see the same folks coming up again and again, this might be an indication of an interested party you never knew of who might be able to help you to grow.

Tip #2 Determine the platforms your target personas frequent and monitor them for activity and engagement. If you see the same individuals engaging, reposting, retweeting multiple times take a look into their profile, follow them back or otherwise use the tools on that platform to see whether there is a match.

Tip #3 Search for keywords and hashtags relevant to you and your events to see who are the most engaged individuals. After following for a short time, narrow a list of the top 20 or so that seem to resonate most with your organization and schedule a time to chat.

In summary, it is important to recognize that the business and the activity of these influencers is in your best interest. As practitioners of social media, they are constantly looking for win-win partnerships that allow them to build their following by providing exciting, thought-provoking and exclusive content to their audience. By building relationships with these individuals, they will connect their loyal following to you in exchange for more, better and different content making them more valuable to their followers and provides a point of differentiation.

The marketing world has become a vastly different place over the past few years and social media continues to evolve and change sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. As event marketers that have to keep up with the pace of change, it is important that we look towards micro-influencers as an opportunity within our grasp of engaging and leveraging for the consistent growth of our audience base. At the outset, it may appear to be a daunting task, but the payoff in the long run will provide you with more followers and a more substantial engagement with your audience thanks to the work you put into developing relationships with this vibrant new medium, the micro-influencers in your community.

Posted in Marketing

And a Baby Giraffe Makes Three

As millions of followers can attest to, for a short period this spring a giraffe in upstate New York took the online world by storm. Lasting a little longer than most online trends, the weeks turned into months until alas on April 15 the baby giraffe was born.

We’ve seen falcon cams and panda cams, eagle cams and cheetah cams, but for once this one seemed to even absorb the King household in the daily drama. Would today be the day?

As my friends and colleagues accuse me regularly, I couldn’t help but think of the marketing and business impact of this particular situation. There were all of the standard news articles and visits from Good Morning America, Today Show, et al, as well as the print and online news that kept feeding the story. But it was the authenticity of the journey that seemed to make the deepest connection among the April viewing club. Millions from around the globe were engaged.

Working in the nonprofit world for many years, you can only be happy for the folks at the small animal sanctuary that reaped the rewards of a single camera with little or no narration or story telling apparatus. Rather the growth was the definition of organic on so many different levels, which doesn’t just happen every day any more.

The sanctuary seemed to have their fundraising plans in order to leverage not only texting but social media to capture information of the segment of the millions of followers who wanted to keep in touch. Yet, I still wonder if more could be done to tap into such passion, without selling out?

I was actually conducting a workshop for friends in Indiana at the moment of the miracle of birth. Nearly the entire room knew exactly what was happening, and it came as a relief to many that the wait was finally over just as we broke our session.

Over lunch, my wife texted me with a simple screen shot that she knew I would enjoy. The Toys-R-Us logo that had been a permanent (paid) fixture on the bottom of the screen for weeks, had been replaced with a Babies-R-Us logo. Genius. Pure genius.

Just as I’ve wondered aloud in the past several years of the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge and the fight against ALS, I also think of the future of the animal sanctuary and what will come of their short term success and can it be leveraged into long term positive impacts for the zoo (and April and the soon to be named baby giraffe.)

I did wonder why they decided to take down the full time camera the day before Earth Day. It seems to me, they may have been able to play a bigger role in conservation and the needs of the giraffe population worldwide from such a unique platform – but there’s far too much I do not know about the specifics.

There are a good deal of takeaways for my friends in the arts and events space to learn from this online phenomena. Using best practices in the media in order to tap into the passion is my main advice. Collecting names via text – which we know has open rates near 90% versus what we see in email is a great start to the conversation the owners want to engage in over time. Staying true to one sponsor, without opening up the visual space to look like a hockey rink with logos is another smart step.

In the end, it was a few weeks of good news when there has been a lot of negativity and insecurity in the world. A calming influence of an event that wasn’t trite or concocted.

For now, we’re packing up the car in a few weeks and making the two hour and eighteen minute trip to see April, Oliver, the baby and the cast of characters at the sanctuary. Ahh, the power of the internet when it is used for good and not evil.

Posted in Arts, Brand, Content Marketing, Creative Placemaking, Creativity, Events, Fundraising, Marketing, Partnerships, Social Media, Sponsorships, Synergy

6 Secrets to Become PA’s Next Hot Arts Marketer

Happy to have been participating with the great folks at Americans for the Arts and PA Arts Council on this project for arts marketers in Pennsylvania.

Here’s a blog post on the opportunity for my Keystone colleagues!


Posted in Marketing

America First: A Marketing Premise

I have a purely anecdotal experience to share with you from randomly walking through a big box store recently.

For several months since the 2016 election and maybe even a little before, I wondered when the emphasis on “Making America Great” would eventually bleed through to the marketing campaigns of manufacturers.

I’ve even had meetings with clients brainstorming about the potential of how to incorporate patriotic messaging into their campaigns for 2017 and beyond.

One of my tried and true approaches when initializing the ideation process on new creative campaigns is to take the temperature of what is happening throughout society and making its presence felt on the zeitgeist at the time. Our team asks ourselves, are there trends that can be capitalized upon to make it event the slightest bit easier for messaging to cut through?

Seeing American flags on a number of dishwashers told me America First is going to be on marketers, and therefore American’s lips, for months and possibly years to come.

Next up, what impact will the current presidency have on the songwriters, authors, playwrights and movie-makers on the next generation of creative expression which will be certain to appear? Count me in as eager to see.

Posted in Arts, Brand, Fundraising, Marketing, Planning, Sales
Get posts delivered right to your email inbox; just enter your email address below.
Past blog posts
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 artsmarketingblog.org.  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.