Telling the Bigger Story: Arts Communications Beyond Your Constituents

This post is part of the “Imagining the Future of Inclusive Arts Marketing” blog salon.

As an arts marketing professional for my whole career, I’ve been amazed to find that the challenges and opportunities across disciplines—in my case, theatre, literary publishing, and classical music—are striking in their similarity. So often, as marketers and communicators, we are focused on the immediate future of the organization, thinking only in terms of how can I create the best and most effective campaign? As we bounce from direct mail appeal to social media awareness campaign to end-of-year asks, with an often limited marketing budget and staff constraints, we can’t get the perspective we need to see the bigger story that we are not telling, the one that informs every aspect of the arts ecosystem: how the broader public views the arts.

In 2017, I attended Arts Advocacy Day in Austin, Texas, where I live, and listened to Margy Waller, a senior fellow with Topos Partnership, present “The Arts Ripple Effect,” an in-depth research-driven report on strategic communications for the arts. The researchers were interested particularly in how we talk about the importance of the arts on a national scale, and how this impacts the belief that there is a public responsibility for the arts and culture.

The approach that stood out in their study emphasized one key idea: “A thriving arts sector creates ‘ripple effects’ of benefits throughout our community.” Positioning the arts in this way to the broader public enabled people to see them as a public good that both benefited the neighborhoods, cities, and regions in which they live, and created a stronger, more connected population across diverse backgrounds.

Too often in the arts, I’ve found that many potential audiences and donors will respond to a particular campaign and say that they like the arts, but that either the arts are not “for them” or that they are only interested in supporting organizations that are actively doing good in the world. Reframing the conversation in this way has helped me to craft ongoing narratives that inspire people to see that the arts are not only good but vital to vibrant, healthy communities.

Shouldn’t that be part of the story that we are all telling, every single day? That no matter the discipline or the size of your organization or the budget you have, you are part of a bigger story about how the arts improve life for everyone, everywhere. And that the failure to tell this story in a compelling way can have an impact—not just on your bottom line, but on charitable and corporate giving to, public funding for, and the national discourse about the arts.

Come hear me discuss this as it pertains to capital campaigns—and more—at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Miami Nov. 15-18.

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