Because small arts orgs' marketing needs are sporadic, they often think of shortterm contracts with a marketing company. How can they get the most out of this business relationship and avoid the horror stories that we sometimes hear when the arts meets the professional world of marketers.
Oh, you haven't heard any horror stories? Let me share a few from my own experience.
I once came into a position and found the season brochure was behind schedule. The marketing firm had been secured on a contract that was based on a monthly fee rather than product delivery. All the budget was spent and the brochure was still at rough draft stage. The copy on the brochure was almost un-edited cut and paste supplied by the arts organization with in-consistent length of artist bios & performance description, wild shifts in style and a look which was out-of-step with the organization's mission. After one try at salvaging the relationship, I canceled the contract and we were forced to pay a monetary settlement to extricate the company from a contract where we would be forced to pay for work that might not result in anything we could use.
Lesson No. 1: contract payments have to be attached to successful completion of materials by deadline.
In another larger arts organization where some of the work was outsourced to marketers, we were occasionally shocked and embarassed by advertising materials where the marketers' lack of understanding of our artistic product led them to distort copy without checking the results with artistic leadership. On one memorable occasion, the marketing firm changed the orchestra's working title for a concert "Memory and Reflection" to their preferred "Soothing Reverie". But the work featured on the program was a symphony inspired by the Holocaust, so very far from "soothing". This was a public relations disaster.
Lesson No. 2 : It has to be clear who has sign-off within your organization of marketing copy to avoid misinformation and/or public relations disasters.
Lastly, I remember an occasion when I asked an office assistant in my arts organization to do some tasks for me that day and had her break down in tears. What I didn't know was that she was trying to do a full work load assigned by me, and a full workload assigned by our marketing company. She felt like she had two bosses as the marketers phoned each day with things she needed to get for them or materials that they wanted her to mail out. Much of the work she described I had expected the marketers to do themselves, using their own support staff. We had hired a Marketing firm because we did not have the staff resources to do the work ourselves, but they were pushing the work back on us to the extent where little gain was being realized.
Lesson No. 3: "Who does what" is an important part of the conversation with your Marketing company. If your staff has to provide some of the legwork for the Marketers, firm limits and process has to be put in place.
Does it sound like Marketing firms can be more trouble than they are worth? I certainly thought that at one time, but really all of the above situations were mostly the fault of the arts organization, who failed to be clear in their expectations when contracting a marketing firm.
Hiring a part time staff member with some training or experience in arts marketing and communications to work for you in-house is a preferable choice for many arts organizations. If you have a good mailing list and are not hoping to increase marketshare dramatically, this may be the best choice for you. A staff member is more responsive to your needs and more able to provide low-cost grassroots maketing solutions. The advantage of Marketing firms (that you want to assure they will bring to the table) is that they have access to lists of contacts that might be interested in your artistic product, and their volume buys of more expensive media spots will make for more choices in advertising, eg. advertising in an expensive high distribution newspaper will become possible at half price.
Questions to ask yourself as you think about your marketing needs:
- Do I most need a marketer or a publicist, or both?
- Is my marketing budget sufficient to maximize the contribution of a professional marketing company by making the media buys the firm will recommend?
- Can I articulate the look and feel that my company wants in their marketing through samples of our materials, or materials of other companies that we'd like to emulate and/or through a style sheet we've constructed?
- Have I done my research by asking colleagues who has done their excellent marketing campaigns?
- Have I considered who will provide sign-off on marketing materials (considering both knowledge and accessibility/availability)?
- Have I considered who will be the point person in assisting marketing company with acquiring the materials/information they need, and distribution of print materials? How much of that person's job description/time is to be allocated to marketing liaison?
Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to book meetings with your chosen marketing firms. You will want to communicate the following when asking for a plan and quotes:
- An outline of your need for material with due dates.
- What you will be supplying and when it will be available (rough copy, artist bios, photos, etc.
- What you are hoping they will do. Finish copy or just edit and format? Find and supply art or use your art? Find new markets or use your lists? Leverage ad spots?
- Who will be point person and how much time/assistance they can give the marketers and who will have final sign off on copy.
- Lastly communicate which part of the marketing plan/campaign you will be keeping in-house (if any). Coordination of efforts like your inhouse flyer exchange campaign will help everyone. Surprising your Marketing firm with inhouse efforts will lead to bad feelings.
With all these things communicated, the Marketing firm should be able to present you with a clear plan and costing which will reflect a solid grounding in the reality of your organizational needs and expectations.