Diversity Success Underscores Fundamental Marketing Strategy

We often hear about efforts made to diversify arts audiences, but not often are the results as impressive as they are at the High Museum in Atlanta. In a recent Artnet News article titled “How the High Museum in Atlanta Tripled Its Nonwhite Audience in Two Years,” the author outlines not only the museum’s success (a tripling of its non-white audience) but also how they did it. It’s a terrific guide for any arts organization embarking upon the same goal.

What struck me as particularly relevant was its approach to marketing. According to the article:

Before 2015, the High spent the vast majority of its marketing budget on the promotion of a few blockbuster exhibitions. The result, Suffolk says, was that most locals didn’t think of the museum as a place that fostered regular, repeat visits. If the blockbuster shows didn’t appeal, they had no reason to go. If the blockbuster shows didn’t appeal, they had no reason to go. Now, the High spends 60 percent of its marketing budget to promote a cross-section of its exhibitions.

There often is a fundamental tension in the arts between promoting a big show versus promoting a relationship with an institution. The former tends to work in the short-run. If you have a big production—the likes of, say, a Hamilton—and that’s what you promote, you’ll surely bring in the audience. But converting that audience to see the rest of your season is going to be a challenge. We know this is also the case when we try to convert those who came to a free symphony concert in the park into becoming regular season ticket holders.

The better, and longer-term strategy is to build a relationship with your patrons based the value of your institution as a whole. When you market the institution, people become attached to what you stand for, and they will come back. That’s certainly a big part of what the High Museum did, and it’s a strategy worth repeating over and over.

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