Borrowed Advice

I wanted to take a moment to pull together a few threads from different sources all discussing, to one degree or another, marketing and patron interaction amidst the digital age. And when you tie them together, they create a fascinating counterproductive cycle that ensnares too many groups: ex post facto planning > trying too hard > not knowing when to stop.

Out Of Sight…

Let’s acknowledge an ugly truth: there are performing arts organizations that still look at their online presence outside the auspices of strategic marketing development.

It’s sad, but true.

Colleen Dilenschneider examined this weakness in a post from 6/4/2014 that examines ways nonprofits are clinging to outdated thinking (h/t You’ve Cott Mail).

You separate marketing and digital marketing because you think they are different.

This is generally indicative of an organization that thinks “digital marketing” is more about mastering tools and platforms (e.g. Facebook) than mastering a long-term engagement strategy to strengthen your organization’s brand and mission.

Symptoms may include:

  • Digital initiatives that may appear cutting edge but don’t actually contribute to your organization’s mission or financial bottom line
  • An inability to activate online communities to behave in your organization’s interests despite having numerous fans on multiple platforms

Treatment: Certainly, organizations benefit from having a team that excels in online community management and maintains a thorough understanding of social media tools and digital engagement opportunities. That said, it is critical that these team members maintain constant involvement with the broader marketing and public relations leadership so that they may be empowered to integrate a strategy for ongoing engagement that yields returns rather than simply utilizing social media tools for social media’s sake.

You’re Trying Too Hard…

This offering is a bit different in that it is written from the perspective of a web developer Jon Evans in the 6/7/2014 edition of TechCrunch giving advice to clients, but it applies in spades to arts orgs.

Sometimes, I dream about what could be accomplished with the money the field as a whole has wasted on worthless apps, cutesy videos, flash mobs, etc. that are really nothing more than me-too attempts at snatching the brass ring. In the end, they produce poorly designed messes that do little more than embarrasses everyone.

Stop Trying To Make Viral Happen

I know, I know. You have it all figured out. You just need to get a few people to start using your app, and they’ll tell a few friends, and they’ll tell a few friends, and so on, and so on, and voila, you’re the new WhatsApp. Right?

And hey, you know what? Something like that just might happen. Some of the apps we’ve built for our clients are genuinely pretty great. But do you know the only reason why it might happen? Because your app is cool or useful. Do you know one reason it might not happen? If you keep reminding your users to log in with Facebook, or share with Twitter, or pin to Pinterest, over and over again. Such demands are neither cool nor useful.

Dear clients: yes, you do want to make it easy for users to share. But if your app doesn’t go viral, it’s almost certainly because it isn’t useful/good/fun enough, rather than because it doesn’t have a sufficient density of prompts to share. You don’t want to obnoxiously pester your users with calls to action. Furthermore, if “going viral” is your only marketing plan…

Put It Out Of Its Misery Already…

Last week, a client asked about the potential for building some education oriented games for their website and as a resource, they produced a link to a baseball themed game at a larger budget orchestra.

The reference turned out to be a game designed 100 percent in Flash thereby making it 100 percent useless for anyone using a iOS device (not to mention quite a few other mobile platforms).

On one hand, the draw of maintaining a digital effort that may have once been all that and a bag of chips in 2008 is alluring. After all, if it runs at some degree or another, what’s the harm in leaving it up, right? Plenty, and you have to learn to take a step back and let go of something that isn’t worth the effort.

To that end, an article by Kevin Stone in the 5/19/2014 edition of provides some excellent pointers on how to go about the process. It’s a superb guide and kudos to Stone for putting it out there.

The closing of a product has a precarious status in the business world. While every publication from Time to Harvard Business Review like to remind us that risk and failure are essential to design and the startup community, very few words are written on the act of closing a product — what it takes, what to consider and what to expect.

Many of us will work on a failing product at some point in our careers. While some of these failures will follow the long, quiet realization that very few people use the product, other situations will require you to proactively stand up, admit that something is not working and take action.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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