A Passion for the Arts9 years, 10 months ago
George Affleck advocates an integrated communications approach for promoting arts organizations.
In a recent article entitled Artistry and Editorial Frontline editor Rob Gray stated, "Over the years Frontline has carried hundreds of articles on the art of good PR, far fewer on good PR for art." The piece described the application of "good PR" practice to launching a contemporary art and crafts gallery in the UK. Complementing this article, which dealt solely with visual arts promotion and publicity, is a view from a Canadian communications agency that specializes in arts and culture clients – and an integrated marketing solution.
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – Curve Communications (Curve) is an agency whose client roster includes some of the most prominent and respected arts organizations in Canada, including The National Ballet of Canada, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, and Blackbird Theatre, among others.
As a small boutique agency we have earned considerable attention for our PR accomplishments, which have included such feats as rallying the city of Vancouver and the province of BC to save its homegrown contemporary ballet company – Ballet British Columbia – before it fell into bankruptcy, or launching former National Ballet of Canada Principal Dancer Chan Hon Goh’s presenting company with a run of sold-out performances.
Encouraging and engaging
Through strategic and aggressive PR campaigns, Curve encourages and engages the public to attend important and relevant arts and culture engagements, boosting the profile and visibility of under appreciated and little known arts companies.
So what is the secret to successful arts and culture PR? To start with, we look to hire team members who are former artists themselves and have an innate sensibility and connection to the various arts media – my team includes former professional dancers, actors and musicians. The enthusiasm that this staff holds for performance is readily apparent when you hear them making calls and pitching to journalists – their passion is infectious.
Passion is important no matter who the client or product you are pitching. However, it has a special significance when it comes to performing arts, and the presence of it in a pitch is integral to connecting with a critic or journalist.
Of course, all the passion in the world won’t help a publicist if they cannot speak articulately about the subject, and this is where hiring individuals with a performance background has been particularly beneficial for Curve. These individuals have a deep appreciation and understanding for the work that they share with the journalists and are therefore able to speak the same language.
That said, the secret to the success we’ve achieved for our arts and culture clients is that we would never use PR alone to support a show – we always implement an integrated marketing solution.
The motivation that goes into purchasing something as intangible as an artistic experience is incredibly complex. The public attends arts and culture to be entertained, to be intellectually challenged, to socialize, to participate in a ritual, to name but a few.
In most cases, there are so many criteria to hit in order to convince an individual to make a purchasing decision in support of the arts that a single article or ad can simply not accomplish it. For our arts clients, we therefore implement complementary PR, marketing, promotions, advertising, online and grassroots strategies – with each component supporting the others. This allows you to create the kind of presence and mass awareness necessary to create buzz around an event.
Allow me to offer the following three rules of thumb when exercising integrated marketing for an arts and culture event:
1. Be Everywhere: Using advertising, posters, promotions, flyers and PR – establish a solid blanket awareness for the show. Creativity counts here and prevents the campaign from going over budget. Organizations such as libraries and community centres regularly have networks in place to help disseminate materials, and many arts organizations have a wealth of volunteers who are more than happy to support the company by dropping flyers off at their neighborhood shops. Urban centres are regularly ringed with suburb communities who have their own newspapers. Provided you can find a local connection, these papers are delighted to write features and profile stories on upcoming productions and the artists from their communities.
2. Spice it Up: As a society, we have become pretty good at skimming over ads, and not engaging them on an intellectual level. Awareness is still registered on some level, however, and it can all come rushing back when you reach a potential audience member in an unexpected location, in a surprising way. Determine who your target demographic is before you commence the campaign, where they gather, what they consume, and be sure to have obvious and repeat visibility in these specific locations. This might usually mean coordinating out of the box promotions such as costume exhibitions at a mall, a speaker series event at a library, a street team at a key event, a publicity stunt in a high traffic area, or a public performance. Whatever is decided and thought up, it is important that it reflects the character and nature of the work itself (see rule 3), so it can be immediately linked back to the performance or client.
3. Tie it All Together: Conventional advertising wisdom holds that an individual needs to see an advertisement a minimum of three times before it has any measurable impact. The veracity of this aside, the campaign will have a better sense of "being everywhere" if the consistent messaging, imagery and tone are present across all aspects of your campaign – from poster to pitch to promotion. This has the effect of stronger recall and enhances the impression that your event is "everywhere."
The arts are a win-or-lose proposition; if a seat is not sold, there is no opportunity to win it back. It therefore behooves arts marketers to ensure that the often-limited funds available are allocated in a manner that sees their maximum utility. Curve’s three rules provide an excellent road map for accomplishing this and our track record of success is testament to their effectiveness.
George Affleck is Curve President & CEO.mail the author
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