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

Super Bowl Teachable Moment

Whether your a sports fan or not, there is an inherent quality to sports that everyone can take away from such an instant classic as Super Bowl 51 where the Patriots came back from 25 points behind in the last 17 minutes of the game.

The teachable moment is this: Never Give Up.

Earlier in the day, during the seemingly never-ending line up of useless interviews on pre-game shows, Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, caught my attention by saying (and I paraphrase) “The difference between our team and others is that we know how to close. The last 5-10% is what makes the difference. Every one knows how to start something, but success comes to those who finish what they start.”

Amen brother!

In essence this concept is what should drive us all.

In recapping the days events with my 11- year old son, I wanted to make sure he understood the impact of what he had just witnessed.

Finishing what you start – and doing it with a level of excellence – is what we all need to carry forward in our daily lives… even when the deck is stacked against us. Get out there and do it. Whether its homework, a test, a job interview, a new project — or worse an old project that you’ve let wither… finish what you start.

Sports teaches these sorts of lessons just about every day in one way shape or form, but the Patriots victory and its national coverage leads me to think again of the Presidential election.

No matter your thoughts on his message or administration, it was clear Donald Trump was not going to go down without a fight. He was going to finish what he started. Whether that is a good thing or not, and whether it was pride, ego, vanity or something else that kept driving him and his team, it was clear they were going to work 24/7, while their adversaries simply seemed to try to run out the clock on the election – to use a sporting term.

I’m not a Patriots fan, nor a Tom Brady or Donald Trump fan – but there are some things that transcend all that we do and help us to be all we can be. Having the burning desire in your belly to finish what you start is a great start, but actually getting to the finish line – no matter the outcome – is what can allow us to reach our full potential.

Posted in Accountability, Failure, Loyalty, Motivation, Politics

Who’s Your Target? Promos That Don’t Make Sense

There are such things as bad ideas.

I have challenges with promotional efforts that don’t resound with the clarity of message or intended outcome that I think the marketer and their agents intend. Every so often, as an interested observer of the current marketing climate, I feel moved to write about an idea doesn’t seem to quite add up.

Clearly, I have no connection to the Domino’s Pizza organization – and I may have misunderstood or lost the intent of their current promotional campaign, but I lift it up as an example of not connecting directly with the end-user.

In this particular campaign, the promotion focuses on the opportunity to enter to win $10,000 of a store’s profit, Domino’s stock and some other prizes. While I’m not one to walk away from winning cash and stock (and lord knows, I’ve never met a promotion I didn’t like) this campaign just doesn’t seem to connect and feels awkward.

The promotion doesn’t feel authentic to the end-user of the product (the pizza-eater), which in turn feels like it diminishes the brand or relinquishes it to the pile of promotions that never realized their potential. Whether this was devised by a different department, or was meant to appease some other internal directive, it feels a little too “inside pizza” to actually work.

I ask myself, why is a pizza company talking about store profits and stock? Should you not be focused on the product?

As arts and events marketers, we see and hear ideas like this all the time when an individual (or board member) with good intentions believes they have a great idea, but isn’t thought through the different layers of what it means to not only attract attention, but get the end customer, donor or guest to do anything about it.

Most marketers have an internal checklist that they run through their mind when in the ideation process.

What are we really trying to say?

Who is this intended for?

Will it make the intended move to action?

The takeaway from this post is that sometimes just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean it will be successful. At the very least, the idea or promotion you are proposing needs to make an impact with the audience in a way that communicates your message in terms they understand. Mixing items and messages that people do not have familiarity with, nor connection to, does nothing to move you forward and in a way, sets you behind with the exhausting of human and financial resources.

Send me any examples you see that just don’t make sense to

Posted in Accountability, Arts, Brand, Content Marketing, Creativity, Failure, Marketing, Social Media

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
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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.