How Arts Marketing Can Avoid Khan’s Fate From Start Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

Arguably, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the best Trek films that managed to save the franchise. It relies on a solid foundation of cinematic storytelling that resonates with a diverse audience delivered through several timeless lessons.

Case in point, during the starship battle toward the film’s climax, both ships are fighting in a nebula, which severely impairs their visual and tactical systems. As a result, they engage in search and maneuver patterns to outwit the other.

The protagonist, Khan Noonien Singh, is a genetically enhanced human from the late 20th century who, thanks to some cryogenic nap time, turned up during the era of Kirk and Spock. While smarter, stronger, and pretty much better than 23rd century humans, the latter repeatedly get the upper hand thanks to Khan’s hubris and inability to learn and adapt.

Mid-battle, after analyzing Khan’s tactical patterns, Spock informs Kirk that while Khan’s attack patterns were intelligent, they were rooted in 20th century thinking.

“He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.”

Khan’s inability to adapt and over-confidence in outdated tactics led to his defeat.

While this could be an apt analogy for any number of practices in this field, it’s particularly apt for marketing and the ongoing struggle for communicating the value of buying a concert ticket.

Too often, marketing copy relies on creating connections that require a high level of knowledge instead of focusing more on finding value points for ticket buyer segments.

This isn’t to say those tactics were never successful; quite the contrary, they did a great job over the last quarter of the 20th century.

But they unwittingly contributed to our current operating environment where there’s too much fear over peer scrutiny when coloring outside of those lines. The lesson to learn from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is straightforward: past performance does not guarantee future results. Adapt or die.

Twenty years ago, saying this was akin to shouting into a well, but I’m thrilled to see a new generation of arts marketers embrace a new approach. They are moving into influential decision maker positions and seeing success

Sure, they have to drag a fairly large collection of traditionalists across each stakeholder group kicking and screaming every inch of the way. Sadly, there will be some that suffer the same fate as Khan and continue quoting fabulous marketing prose while everything they built crumbles into ruin.

“No Kirk, the game’s not over…until the last that we grapple with thee. No… No you can’t get away. From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

In the end, those who embraced adaptation persevered.

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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