One of the marketing challenges for arts organizations is balancing its pragmatic and artistic prerogatives. Marketers can easily find themselves at odds with organizational trustees charged with curating the artistic, cultural or aesthetic vision. Without oversight and diligence, and despite a common interest in organizational success, the outcomes of these discussions can leave stakeholders feeling misrepresented, misunderstood and skeptical of one another. One part of the dilemma is the need of the organization to protect its cultural authenticity, its vision, and cultural authenticity is what can become problematic for marketers. That’s not to say that marketers are inconsiderate of what it means to be authentic, quite the opposite. Marketers have long recognized that audiences mobilize in very different ways around “brand speak” or gimmicky messaging, typical of corporate campaigns, versus the brand dialogue that emerges within customer communities independent of the marketing machine. The latter’s authenticity being a product of planning, patience and long-term custodianship. The same forces are at work when it comes to arts organizations.
Arts organizations, especially those with artistic directorship, invest in artists. More to the point, they invest in the vision of the artist. Often the vision of the artist can transform the vision of the organization itself. It’s through this relationship that the enduring value, the authenticity, of arts organizations emerges. The same organizations rarely invest in the vision of a marketer. Rather, they invest in the tactics that marketers produce in support of more pragmatic objectives. As a result, the output of the artist and the marketer are scrutinized in very different ways, but often through the same lens. This very subtle distinction can result in ongoing repercussions throughout the organization if not reconciled.
So how can we reconcile the vision prerogative of the organization with the need for marketers to engage short term, hard sell tactics on an ongoing basis? The answer, not surprisingly, is for the marketer to excavate tactics from all aspects of the organization’s artistic dialogue and perhaps the broader arts community itself. Social media can provide a window into the subtleties of audience engagement around authentic messaging. Posting a simple photo from a production meeting, or a series of throws from a brainstorming session can help bridge the authenticity gap and result in more uptake than, say, simply posting details of the latest promotion. Marketers can themselves invest in the visions of artists just as organizations do. Rather than producing a poster internally, why not call for a submission from a local art collective? Hard sell messaging will always be a necessary element of any marketing strategy, but finding opportunities to introduce elements distilled from the organization’s daily artistic dialogue is far more likely to provoke genuine responses from audiences. And those are the responses that resonate with authenticity.