Corona Insights Post: Arts & Culture in Allentown

corona logo


How Allentown is using art to shape its downtown


Posted in Arts, Collaboration, Creative Placemaking, Creativity, Partnerships, Planning, Synergy

Cookies Kill Christmas

Getty Images. NPR
Getty Images. NPR

Getty Images. NPR

Although you may not here this from an FDA or CDC official, but parents and gift givers around the globe should be alerted to the fact that cookies, not the sugary sweets you bake, but rather those embedded on your web browsers, have the ability to ruin any hope for secrecy for the gifts that Santa is packing as he heads down your chimney on Christmas Eve.

Led by our friends at Amazon and online marketers of all stripes have corrupted cookies and other tech breadcrumbs for their own diabolical plan to manipulate us into buying whatever gifts we see when perusing their sites, even when our intentions are most innocent.

The Grinch has nothing on the creepiness of social media platforms and Google to troll us with our own browsing history. Then they embed ads from online marketers complicit on wrecking our joyous holidays with the subtlety of a brass band fanfare, as ads are splashed everywhere on screens, just right for little wandering eyes searching for clues to appear.

Sure ad blockers can be an inoculation against this technological flu, but I’m surely not alone from the innocent millions who think this is big brother run amok.

Is it ease or convenience or greed that one is forced to look at the same ads served for days and weeks after a single visit to a site? Or is it just another variation of Lucy’s East coast syndicate trying to wring the last single penny out of the over-commercialized holiday?

As a marketer, I see the remarketing stats for clients. It’s not all that impressive. If a shopper wants to buy a product, they will do it based on the quality, service or status it provides. The small remarketing rate isn’t all that overwhelming in exchange for the privacy I’m sure most consumers prefer.

21st Century window shopping has taken an evil turn as our iPads, laptops and phones have become an open book to those we love who may, even in the most random of glances, may see what gifts are headed their way.

Where is the privacy we’ve expected? That’s gone in spades as the recent troubles by Facebook are probably only the first of what we will come to learn from the big three (Amazon, Facebook and Google) who traffic in our information and our personal stories. Two of whom still trade efficiency for information behind an opaque filter.

Do I expect anything to change in this rant to the stars above? Heaven’s no.

But long gone are the times when young siblings would scour the house for the glimpse of yet unwrapped packages under beds, in attics, behind jackets in closets for a sneak peak of what awaited them on Christmas morning. Now, unfortunately all is revealed in a push of a button, a scroll through a newsfeed or a phone left unattended. Yet another example innocence of youth exchanged for the promise of the future.

Posted in Brand, Creativity, Event Marketing

Room Where It Happens

15648427 - 3d render of meeting room with projection screen and conference table

Excited for post in the Blog Salon. Room Where It Happens gives keys to help arts marketers to succeed.

Posted in Arts, Content Marketing, Event Marketing, Events, Marketing, Planning

Mindfulness, Diversity & Inclusion Pt. 2

mindfulness 2

In the last post, we wrote about the concepts of mindfulness in your marketing. This time, I’d like to delve a little deeper regarding another session I recently attended on Diversity & Inclusion. The conversation was extremely engaging and taught many about what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Here again the focus is on the word empathy.

There is a focus in all of our communities to become more diverse, but what does that really mean?

For us in the arts and events space, we welcome all individuals regardless of background, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are making decisions or providing the inclusion necessary for true equity.

Art, in all of it facets, is representative of individual artists and by giving exposure and a voice to those artists in your community, you can elevate the different cultures and begin to make connections that really matter. Embracing different genres alone allow you to engage a diverse population of artists and arts organization and from there, the relationships and conversations can grow organically for the benefit of all involved.

We are all engaged in some form of audience development. By celebrating different cultures and different backgrounds we weave a tapestry that invites more people to participate and feel a sense of true inclusion. Important to all of this are the methods by which you reach these potential audience members. The tools they use to communicate are as diverse as their race, gender and heritage. Be sure that you are also aware to those different channels so that everyone can participate equally in your programming.

With all of that said, diversity, equity and inclusion really begins at the top level of your organization.

Look at your board of directors and leadership. How diverse are the points of view you are listening to? How representative is your organization to the community you serve? Is the representation equitable and fair?

Too many boards are stuck in the old ways of doing business and are lacking from the ability to listen to their changing communities to best reflect the residents and guests that take part in your events. Worse yet are those few organizations that try to “check the boxes” when it comes to diversity and inclusion and wind up with token representatives from different racial, ethnic or gender backgrounds but without a real voice in the decisions being made.

These are very tough conversations to have, but the success of our organizations, events and of our society hinge on the ability for us to all join together and celebrate our communities and reflect our neighborhoods and cities.

Many organizations already have diversity policies that should be celebrated and used as models for the future. There are many of our fellow event promoters affiliated with municipal or state governments where diversity continues to be addressed on a daily basis. They know the importance of listening to those from different backgrounds and different cultures wind up creating better and more impactful events for their audiences.

Mindfulness, diversity, equity and inclusion are some pretty deep topics for a column usually focused on marketing, but there are times when we all need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Marketing is a sum of all of the parts of our organizations and events. From the individual tactics we use on a daily basis to the brand traits, our success is dependent on our ability to showcase the communities in which we operate. Embrace the diversity of your neighborhoods and use it as a launch point for more successful events and the amazing community building opportunities they present.


Posted in Accountability, Arts, Brand, Creative Placemaking, Creativity, Diversity, Event Marketing, Inclusion, Marketing

Mindfulness, Diversity & Inclusion Pt. 1


The Need for Mindfulness in Health Care

At a recent conference, I had the opportunity to experience a session entitled Messaging for a New Era hosted by Jennifer Edwards, a self-styled dancer-storyteller-strategist-facilitator. I encourage you to check out her work at:

The concept behind the session was that macro changes are facing us all, so we need to rethink the way we make connections and communicate. The trends that will affect marketers in the arts and events world are varied, starting with the fact the tax deductibility of charitable donations will no longer resonate with anyone except the highest donors on our lists (a trend we’ve already seen at many shops).

More importantly to us in the event business is the trend towards the gig economy for those workers in high paying tech, design and creative jobs. These highly desirable individuals will make decision-making on behalf of our organizations more unpredictable than ever before as the 40-hour per week 9-5 office hours we have dealt with for so long, will no longer be the same. Decisions will be made at the last minute and audiences showing up at unexpected times. Are you ready for these changes coming your way?

We should all prepare for the evolution.

However, the most enlightening part of the conversation was an exercise I encourage you to try on your own. (Note: I’m not usually one for enjoying this type of engagement session, but this was one of the best I’ve experienced).

We started by answering all three basic questions:

What makes you feel safe?

What makes you feel heard?

What makes you feel valued?

We continued on by answering the following questions:

How does your organization invite others in to help tell your story?

How can you improve that invitation?

How can you invite those individuals to help share your story?

Furthermore we were challenged to think:

Who can you tap to service the biases you have to certain projects?

We’ve heard so much over time about story telling, but I am a firm believer that you need to be listening to others and amplifying their voice in telling your story. Some of the most successful and satisfying work I’ve been doing recently is because we have engaged the audience and others in their feedback.

Being curious about all of the elements on how to create opportunities is step one and learning from others outside of your normal sphere of influence allows your work and it’s results to blossom.

Empathy and truly listening to those whose voice you haven’t been hearing is a dynamic combination to help you be more mindful in building the bridge to meaningful engagement. This type of engagement is at the core of successful marketing and communications.

Posted in Arts, Diversity, Event Marketing, Events, Inclusion

Tesla and Thunderdog

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 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
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  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.