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Fixing Marketing For The Arts

David KimThanks to some friends, I was invited to and got to attend a small, private concert Friday night by violinist David Kim, the concertmaster for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

It was thrilling.

First, importantly, let me tell you that I am not an “arts” guy; I am a “sports” guy – one of those rabid fans who devours statistics and stories, strategies and rumors as if it were my fulltime job (which it actually used to be). I have a huge appreciation for the athletic excellence on display in professional sports.

So the invite to this mini-concert was nice, but my wife and I were not overly enthusiastic simply because we had no idea what was in store for us.

And then Kim began to play, standing in front of about 60 people, about 25 feet from me. And I could see, up close, the speed and precision of his hands; the angles at which his bow glided across the strings. The music was beautiful and perfect, but the visual was what made it exhilarating. Between pieces, Kim took questions from the audience. He was charming, smart and informative.

So why tell this story on a blog about marketing?

Because, as Brian Millar recently pointed out in Fast Company, arts branding sucks. Millar points out that most marketers with arts organizations are preaching to the choir; they typically have taken the job because they head-over-heels love the arts, and they have no idea how to reach people who share their love.

So here’s the point – I have long felt that arts organizations market their stars like professional sports teams do. But they really don’t. I believe it’s because they’re afraid to step out on the limb, to invite more media scrutiny of individual members; they’re risk averse. They’re worried that turning someone into a star will make that person more expensive to retain, or upset the delicate balance an orchestra needs to

Consequently, there is very little innovation in arts marketing; they’re still making relatively small ad buys, hoping the theatre critic writes a good review and praying for a mention in the New York Times. They will never break through this way. They will never reach a larger audience by doing the same old thing that hasn’t worked for decades. How about a campaign that understands that we live in a preference marketing economy?

Or how about pushing local news media to cover the arts the same way they cover sports. For instance, why do local TV stations still have a sports report at 11 o’clock each night? NOBODY gets their sports news this way anymore; arts organizations should be pushing TV execs to scrap their sports departments and start a nightly Arts report. And then to deliver it like a sports report, with excitement and energy and great visuals. If I were a TV News Director, I’d embrace the concept in a heartbeat because it would differentiate me from the competition.

David Kim is one of the best in the world at what he does, and fans of the Philadelphia Orchestra are very aware of him. (If they’re reading this post, they think I’m an uncultured doofus – a whole lot of truth there).  But the larger universe does not know who he is.

You can’t do tiny, private concerts for the whole world, but there is no question that more people need to know who David Kim is and be exposed to his world class talent.

It’s the job of marketers to expand the circle and make this happen.

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