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

Marketing Musings from the Presidential Campaign: Red Edition

In the last post I wrote about the Democratic side of the Presidential Campaigns, this time we’ll focus a little on the Republicans.

Per the usual disclaimer, I will not speak to ideology or of specific politics, but rather as an interested observer of all things marketing, the presidential campaigns fascinate me and I believe there are some lessons to be learned for all of us that don’t have hundred million dollar budgets to take away as marketing truisms.

Heading into Super Tuesday, the Republicans are being led by an upstart, political newcomer who has mastered the merging of social media and celebrity to engage an unsatisfied population. While, the old school establishment has not found the answer as to how to address this new challenger. A classic case of the old brand doesn’t know how to pivot to take on a new brand.

In a primary campaign that once had sixteen or seventeen candidates, now only five remain. Two are dwindling with single digit poll numbers, while the second and third place candidates represent what is left of the establishment.

Gone are candidates who represented different factions of the party, some which were on paper to be exceptionally capable candidates, but who failed to connect with the voting public.

The Jeb Bush campaign, with incredible name recognition and a war chest of $100 million plus, was unable to go toe-to-toe with the appetite for change within the country. Unfortunately, even with some progressive ideas, the Bush brand simply did not have the luster needed to propel the candidate into a meaningful position within the competition.

This is a lesson to be learned by brands and entities that think by simply doing the same old, same old, you’ll carve out your space. When in all reality, you’ll get a shrinking slice of the pie as newer, more agile competition takes your market share. Sound familiar to my colleagues in the arts world?

Back to Jeb… his stump speeches seemed lackluster and were not able to capture the excitement and enthusiasm necessary to engage the masses. Asking for applause is never a good sign.

The Bush campaign is a political version of a “New and Improved” product that really wasn’t and failed to resonate with the audience. No matter how much money you put into marketing, campaigns such as these are destined to fail by not connecting to the imagination and vision for the future. Of course, the political world skews this concept due to heaviness of the subject matter (economy, trade, healthcare, foreign policy), but one can project these same challenges to any event or fundraiser that simply lacks the energy to drive people to do something.

What do you want me to do? Give me a vision of what it’s going to be like when we get there!

In too many cases, good marketing folks wring our hands saying “we didn’t have enough resources (money, time, personnel)”, when in most cases it really is the concept of what we are selling that is not connecting with our audience.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is the ideal candidate in a world that the 21st Century has created. In this social media-driven, what’s trending, brash is best, speak it like it is, reality-tv world, Trump is the natural evolution.

Trump has proven many of the marketing truisms that are out there. Celebrity is best. Speaking in sound bytes is how people like to learn their news. Twitter is the perfect platform for personalities to share their worldviews.

What’s better than Twitter to share your thoughts if you are a star of the political, entertainment or sports world? But just because it works for them, doesn’t mean it works for every marketer.

Twitter has always been the perfect platform for celebrity, which is why it is having a tough time growing to the next level. Innately, there’s only a percentage of the population that wants to share what they are thinking or doing at a specific point in time.

Twitter is the platform for anyone that has a following. The entire platform is driven by celebrity – whether a movie star, sports icon or a high profile personality local to your community or activity. Most organizations fail on Twitter because there’s no there “there.”

But for a political candidate that doesn’t want to get too deep into detail, too deep into policy, there’s nothing better than 140 characters. And having the mainstream media report “(Candidate X) tweeted today…” Is making it easy for journalists to do their job “reporting” the news.

People want what Trump (or his staff) to give it to them straight. Unvarnished. Right from the horse’s mouth.

When organizations or events use Twitter in that same way, we fail because there’s not a building of a conversation and it’s simply a moment in time. We haven’t built the following necessary for people to hang on our every word. We can use Twitter to broadcast information, but to really tap into our follower’s imagination and make it mean something, more engagement is necessary.

That fact, combined with the small percentage of the population on Twitter, causes it to not be worth the time invested by our colleagues at non-profits or departments where time is the most precious resource.

One of the other marketing stapes that the Trump campaign has been able to master is to find the right tagline and stay on it. Trump has been speaking the words people want to hear. “Make America Great Again.” Pretty simple stuff and staying on message. Despite where the other candidates may take the conversation, he always wins because he’s claimed the space of what his targeted audience wants to hear.

What’s not been determined is whether or not that message is what everyone wants to hear. Is the divide so great between the Democrats and Republicans that most people will overlook the controversial because so much is wrong with the nation? Or will the counterpoint to this message be “America is great and always has been.” Both Republican John Kasich and Democrat Hillary Clinton have tested this messaging. Time will only tell if it catches on.

In the analysis, the results have been pretty remarkable. Through the first series of caucuses and primaries, the Republicans have come out in droves to vote at participation levels higher than the past few election cycles.

Trump has tapped into a common man ethos or the Republican mindset. What stands yet to be realized is whether the cult of personality will eventually win in the general election.

Will the popularity of Trump transcend both parties, even though there are clearly divisive planks in his platform?

From a marketing perspective what is interesting to watch is how Trump’s aggressive style and personality and “winning” messaging plays to so many different demographics. One of the pillars I believe of successful marketing is to “go big or go home.” And it is clear Trump is using this strategy in spades.

If one were writing this script, and who knows someone might be, what is the next, bigger, more controversial statement that can be made by candidate Trump that will simply feed the next news cycle.

The Trump team has been able to suck the air out of the room while the traditional campaigns struggle to gain any foothold, much less try to go on the offensive. It is definitely difficult to move forward when you are constantly on defense and defending your candidate versus making the other candidate protect their turf.

Momentum in advertising is a difficult thing to harness and the Trump campaign at this point is generating more and more each given day. Another lesson to be learned for marketers or fundraisers. Just as it appears his rivals make headway in the last debate before Super Tuesday, Trump regains the momentum unveiling his first major political endorsement thus far from former adversary Gov. Chris Christie. The announcement was perfectly timed in the mid-afternoon of a Friday when he essentially could grab the headlines and own the entire weekend with no chance for his closest competition to answer. Brilliant!

It is clear that politics has changed in this cycle and maybe forever. Establishment is gone. Dealing straight with the public on your terms is the norm. But what of the minorities who feel not included? Will it matter? What of the centuries of political decorum?

The next few weeks and months should be interesting.

Posted in Brand, Content Marketing, Marketing, Politics

Instagram Growing Fast

Here’s a little chart on the current and future projections for the US Social Network thanks to eMarketer.

Facebook remains the king, but Instagram has come so far so fast. Are you using Instagram?

I guess some people still use Pinterest!


Posted in Content Marketing, Marketing, Social Media

Marketing Musings from the Presidential Campaign Blue Edition

Fascinating! It’s really the only word you can use to describe what is happening right now in the 2016 presidential campaign cycle and in particular, how we can learn marketing tricks to help us in our own work. This will be the first of what I hope to be a few dalliances with this topic over the next eight months in the run-up to the election.

Hopefully, what we’ll be able to do is pose a few questions that might shift the perspective on your work and have you think about your own challenges through the prism of how these candidate campaigns have formulated and executed their plans. What you will not get here is any political ranting in favor or against any candidate, unless of course it offends or excites me as a marketer.

I do not position myself to be a political consultant. Actually, I’m far from it. But what I am is an enthusiastic observer and hopefully an acute learner from the lessons being taught when hundreds of millions dollars are being spent on advertising and marketing campaigns. Sometimes the money is spent on ideology, but the majority of it is spent on brands – those of candidates and political parties.

As of this writing, immediately the Nevada Democratic Caucus and South Carolina Republican primary, the races have been winnowed to two candidates on the Democratic side and four on the Republican.

Let’s look at some of the interesting items on the Democratic side first.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was a foregone conclusion eight years ago. For the better part of the last decade she and her team have built the campaign that is now being executed. Yet an upstart self-proclaimed socialist in his 70’s is giving them a real run for her money – especially among the youngest voting constituency – those in their 20’s and 30’s.

One may ask, is this exactly what Team Hillary wanted? After Joe Biden took himself from the race, it appeared as if her nomination was a slam dunk. However, having someone in the role of antagonist, allows the team to stay sharp and on top of their game. Sure there must be some sleepless nights, but it’s forcing the entire team to do their best work and not rest on their laurels.

Meanwhile. Sen. Sanders has tapped into the same grass roots that propelled the current President to office. The small $25, $100, $500 donors are the ones who have created a war chest that has exceeded Clinton’s fundraising for the past month or two. Of course, one might argue some of Hillary’s supporters are staying on the sidelines until the money is really needed in the fall. But if one doesn’t secure the nomination, there truly is no tomorrow.

On the other hand, as we know from our work, simply flipping a switch to turn supporters into donors is not an easy task. It takes time to cultivate and if small, grass roots donations have not been part of the Clinton strategy from the beginning, it may be difficult to ramp up in a short period of time.

Now, let’s look at this from a marketing perspective.

On one hand you have an established name with almost immediate brand recognition. But it appears as if the brand has some of its own challenges. Rightfully or wrongfully, there’s distrust not only in Hillary’s history but also as an establishment candidate. This uneasiness in the electorate seems to be the pathway that the Sanders team has chosen to follow and amplify to great success.

One secret to great marketing is always is to take the perception and leverage it to your own advantage. Call it marketing jujitsu. If you’re promoting a product or event that already has carved out space in the public’s mind, it is imperative to use that for your own advantage. One of the reasons new events and new programming too often fail is because there’s no brand recognition with the public at-large.

In the case of Sanders, they understand Hillary’s weakness and have continued to push the progressive approach which has forced Clinton to move further left than she may want, at the same time as trying to ride the coattails of the current administration.

My own personal perspective is the Sanders team is doing a better job of creating a vision for folks to buy into. Clinton, on the other hand is being much more pragmatic. She has been on the inside and knows the challenges of politics as they exist today – and in her view – what they may look like at the point of the inauguration in 2017.

Sanders on the other hand is building upon the enthusiasm, especially from the young millennial generation, that anything is possible and a revolution can break the stalemate that has frozen Washington for so long.

Here’s another point to make in the world of marketing. Having the opportunity to create a vision for your customers or donors is sometimes more important than all of the pragmatic approaches you can list. This is not an easy strategy; similar to one saying “you need to tell your story.” Most marketing professionals are competent on one side of the ledger or the other but not both.

Pragmatic vs. Visionary. How do you approach your marketing and fundraising? Can you tap into both sides and have folks see the future as you and your organization wish it to be and then contribute or attend or engage? The difference between mediocre success and wild accolades may be the difference in you being able to connect both sides.

Lastly, one of the most interesting statistics I’ve viewed thanks to the geniuses at Nate Silvers’ website is the impact of Facebook on this particular campaign. Check out this link:

Bernie Sanders is substantially ahead on the number of likes across the country, well in excess of Hillary.

One might think given the importance of social media in the last campaigns – particularly in 2008, that the Clinton team would’ve embraced a strategy to build legions of followers and “likes.” However, they have seceded that territory to the Sanders campaign, and one might argue it has worked extremely well for the challenger.

Of course, ‘likes’ are not votes, but you would have to admit it would be an indicator of trends across the country.

Now for a little inside baseball. As we’ve all learned, the youngest are no longer avid Facebook users. Rather, Instagram and Snapchat are what are particularly hot on college campuses these days and Facebook has taken on the platform of choice of those in their 30’s+. So I’m not sure what we can learn from all of these analytics, but it certainly has me contemplating the disconnect between Sanders popularity on Facebook and the strength of his support offline with the millennials.

What is to be learned of all of this? Of course, we don’t have access to the inside data the campaigns have, but from what we can extrapolate, the ability for the Sanders campaign to engage through social media is one reason for his success.

Is this because of the message of “revolution”?

Is this because social media is equated only with big, major changes?

Or is it because those on Facebook want to check in on the gruff musings of a New England politician?

Whatever the case, there’s much more to come in the next few months.

Next time we’ll look at the Republicans and the fascinating way that social media has trumped a $100 million candidate.

Posted in Brand, Marketing, Politics, Social Media

Protecting Your Brand

Here’s a brief overview of copyrights and trademarks for those of you who might have questions.

While its not mandatory for those of us toiling in the marketing trenches to know all of the details, it is certainly good to have a basic knowledge of the terms.

Thanks to good friend Bryan Tuk for the post. Check it out:

Posted in Brand, Marketing

2016 Events Marketing Trends A-Z; First Edition

Hot off the virtual presses, the 2016 Events Marketing Trends A-Z First Edition with letter A-M covered. Article appears on pages 29-31

Thanks to our friends at International Festival and Events Association where this article first appeared.

Watch for N-Z coming soon.

Posted in Brand, Collaboration, Event Marketing, IFEA, Marketing

Super Bowl Meh

A friend of mine and I have had the tradition over the past decade plus to text one another throughout the Super Bowl on the status of the ads, the game, the halftime and in turn, America.

Sometimes there have been exceptional moments to share  and to be a part of the collective experience that is the unofficial holiday of Super Bowl.

The game’s quality aside, throughout this year’s broadcast was “meh.” We found ourselves grasping for some semblance of an ad, a message, a theme that would resonate beyond this morning’s news blurbs on local tv… and there just wasn’t any to speak of.

The trailers for movies were just about the same trailers as we’ve seen for the last umpteen years. Autos seemed off message. Messaging about Marilyn Monroe seemed to be as disconnected with the millennial generation, just as a block of what one could only assume was millennially-focused spots mid- second quarter that fell flat with older demos. Enough with the computer generated or enhanced animals. We’ve seen enough.

While a certain level of creativity was present in many ads – kind of like a spark of an idea – but none of them have me running to YouTube to watch and share this morning, (which I keep reading is the value-add of spending $5 million for thirty seconds of time.)

Buzz Unworthy.

What I really miss is the emotional, smart, thought-provoking cleverness that used to permeate the advertising industry. What I fear is that the combination of the Trump effect (mean spirited, Tweet driven, lowest common denominator messaging) and the reliance upon metadata to make deciions  has extinguished the flame that created messaging that resonated.

As a proponent of arts marketing – and in turn arts advertising everywhere – I will continue to stand on my soapbox and preach the virtues of quality content and efficient messaging to a world starved of meaningful engagement.

Either that or we just need a new Apple product launch.

Posted in Brand, Content Marketing, Creativity, Marketing

It’s Facebook’s World, We Just Live In It

More news on Facebook tweaking their newsfeed. Good two minute back-to-basics video thanks to Mashable.

Posted in Marketing

So How’d You Do? (Part II)

In the last full-length blog post, we looked under the hood of end of year campaigns at some of the takeaways from the projects we worked on at the end of 2015.

With this installment of the blog, I would like to delve into a few more of the keys that made the projects successful, or could’ve made them even more so if they would’ve been executed as originally planned.

• Pre-campaign momentum. There’s really no replacing a good quality project plan, with plenty of energy and excitement rolling up to the start of a fundraiser. Given the holiday season, a well-executed “pre-launch” is particularly difficult for some organizations to accomplish as there is so much underway and mission critical.

However, if you do have the luxury to spend time on the ramp up to your next fundraising campaign, I would highly recommend having 4-6 weeks which is planned to have periods of donor acknowledgement, mission messaging and of course, the all-important quiet time.

We all get so busy within the constant drone of the have-to-do’s and need-to-do’s which fill our communications that the audience of our messaging might become tone deaf to which messages matter most.

If you can objectively set up the game plan for pre-campaign activity, it will make for a much more uniform and strategic game plan for all involved. Just the right mixture of messages from and about your cause combined with salutes to your donors and volunteers can carry the day. When sprinkled liberally with doses of complete silence, it will make your messaging stand out so much more.

• Retention rates – As most of us know, retention rates are of huge importance if we want to maintain the inertia from previous successes. Holding on to donors is the life blood of what we do, yet the median retention rate is only 43% according to the 8,025 organizations surveyed by Bloomerang. That fact alone tells us we have a long, long way to go.

How does your retention statistic measure up? If there’s one key performance indicator (KPI) that we should all be measuring it is how we fare versus the national donor retention average.

But if we’re measuring the donor, why not as well measure the donation retention? According to the same survey, the median gift retention rate is slightly better with 47% being retained from one year to the next.

As for our 2015 projects, we had a 48% retention rate on donors for the same campaigns… slightly above the average. One note: if you run multiple campaigns based on seasonality or some another specific timeline, it is always important to make sure to track past donors in order to compare apples to apples and to avoid mixing fruits and fundraisers.

On the donation retention side of the ledger, we had a remarkable 43% increase from the same donors year-over-year. That’s a pretty great increase and put us on the road to overall success of the campaign. As I had mentioned in a previous post, we may have grown top end donors at the expense of affordability for lower level supporters and this is something that will need to be addressed moving forward.

Refresher on the tricks of the trade – A few things became very apparent when rolling up the sleeves on the grass roots level of a campaign.

First and foremost, always remember to block and tackle. While you can have the flashiest players or social media platforms at your disposal, but if you don’t do the basics correctly, all the new tech toys will just wind up being a distraction. Here are a couple of the “solids” brought back to my attention.

Social is great for conversations, but never forget the tried and true. Snail mail with all of it’s bulkiness, is still the way for many to give. While many projects have been able to move online and the giving rate has stayed 50-50 for online/offline, you have to recognize it’s a really big 50% to walk away from. Make sure you have budget to use the good ol’ USPS at least for the next several fundraising campaign cycles.

We always hear about personalization – but for many of us that goes not much further than the subject line or the initial salutation. What worked very well in our tests was the suggesting of a specific level of donation for each individual. This is a one of those opportunities where you should take yourself out of your day job and put yourself in the place of the recipient.

Pretend you’re receiving a donation letter from an organization you support. Do you know what value you put on that interaction and engagement and what that brings to your life? Or would it be easier if the organization did that for you? Take the step and do some testing moving some of your smaller donors higher and some of your most significant donors even higher. My guess is you’ll be surprised by the results!

Keep Cleaning – Of course your results will only be as good as the content of the letter, the efficiency of the donation forms online and off, but don’t overlook the importance of constantly maintaining your database. This step is critical, yet many organizations don’t have the capacity internally to have this managed on a daily or weekly basis. I am here to say you need to step up and make it part of someone’s job – and if “someone” no longer works for you, it is probably your job until you find a volunteer or intern to help you in your cause. It’s that important!

Make sure when the mail is received and the bad addresses come back they are immediately corrected in the system. Same with hard and soft bounces through your email system. Remember our motto: Digital cleanliness is next to godliness! What to do with bad emails is a little tricky – but you can try reverting to old school techniques like sending a quick “Was it something we said?” postcard, phone call or even stalking on Facebook and messaging supporters that way. (Not that we’re advocating for stalking).

Whatever trick you use – try everything you can to keep people engaged, however if they’ve moved or god-forbid passed away, keeping your data clean will make it that much more effective in the long term.

Well, that pretty much recaps the high and the lows of our most recent end of year campaigns. We hope we refreshed some of the training you’ve had along the way and possibly even showed you a new way or two to think about your next fundraiser. Good luck and happy fundraising in 2016!

Posted in Fundraising, Marketing
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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.