E-marketing E-ssentials: Building Your Web- Using New Media to Enrich Your E-marketing Program

Christina Blodgett with Darcy Minter
April 2008

In his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan, the great scholar and communications theorist, coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” The challenge for arts marketers in the age of new media is how to use the mediums of the past, the present, and the future to build a bridge so that patrons can acquire a message with the same depth of experience whether they attend an event in person or online. Darcy Minter, the Communications Director for the Western Folklife Center (WFC) in Elko, Nevada, embraced this challenge by developing resources centered in new media designed for patrons from multiple generations.

Founded in 1980, the WFC works to expand the understanding of the everyday traditions of people who live and work in the West, and to ensure that rural communities throughout the region realize and appreciate their own cultural bounty. To accomplish these goals, the WFC produces programs with an emphasis on rural culture to create exhibits, films, radio programs, recordings and other public presentations grounded in authenticity. In 2006, the WFC developed and launched a new Web site, where rich multimedia content intersects with online communities geared towards capturing the essence of the West for both a local and national audience. During the exploratory phase, Darcy and her team asked their audience for their feedback, which proved to be invaluable.

“When we put our Web site together, our audience told us what they wanted, and it is those aspects of our site that have clearly been the most successful. This process was very enlightening for us: we had a lot of ideas that we wanted to implement on the site, but we found out that our audience was not necessarily interested in the same things. The purpose of our Web site is to create a remote experience for people who cannot necessarily come to Elko for our programs and to connect us remotely with our audience throughout the year. So even though we promote our events in Elko and around the West, we try to give people a similar experience via the Web site. We also hope to connect people with each other and with artists in the West via our blogs, and to educate people about rural life and ranching life in particular.”

New media and guerilla video

Easy navigation, multimedia, and interactive community blogs and forums are the key new media elements of the WFC’s redesign. With a Media Office that produces CDs, radio programs on NPR, and documentary films, a multimedia library has become the backbone of the WFC’s Web site. As a result, patrons have responded favorably with their commentary, and the site recorded 300,000 page views in 2007.

“Multimedia is a great way to help people understand and engage with what we do. People also love the Cybercast because it may enable them to relive the experience of a performance, or watch a performance that they may have missed. The ‘Listen and Watch‘ section is where most of our media programs reside, including our radio programs on NPR, like What’s in a Song, which are short programs highlighting songwriters and a particular song. Also in ‘Listen and Watch’ are our podcasts, and our Deep West videosDeep West videos are made by rural people in the West about some aspect of their lives. We help them create the films if they need it, and then we premiere them at the National Poetry Gathering every year, then load them on the Web site.”

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is one of the most important events the WFC hosts each year. A week-long celebration of ranching culture, featuring contemporary and traditional arts, the Gathering has become an annual ritual and a place of personal meaning for thousands of people. To communicate this authenticity both to people who attend the gathering and to those who cannot, the WFC has started shooting “guerilla video,” which Darcy believes helps expand the Gathering’s vision and reach.

“These ‘guerilla videos’ are not intended to be polished, highly edited pieces, but more vignettes and behind-the-scene moments at the Gathering. We have posted these films on YouTube as well as on our site. We’ve recently created a YouTube nonprofit page where we hope to post parts of our cybercast as well as many of our Deep West videos. It’s another way to get our work out in the world.”

E-marketing to teach and inspire

To drive patrons to these new media resources on the WFC Web site, Darcy uses e-marketing tools from Patron Technology as the conduit to both teach and inspire. As a testament to its success, in a recent monthly e-newsletter Darcy sent, 21.4 percent of patrons who opened the newsletter clicked through.

“We use our e-mail marketing efforts to point people to new media on our site. For example, we send out a monthly e-news where we promote our bi-monthly podcasts and link to them on our site. A lot of people will link directly from the e-news into the site to listen. When we have a radio program coming out on NPR, we use our e-news to let people know to listen in and if they miss it on the radio, they can find it shortly afterwards on our site. E-mail marketing is a very immediate way to let people know about new content. My approach to e-newsletter design has been to emulate the Web site and to use beautiful eye-catching photography in the banners. We use very good photographers to shoot our programs and we use designers and artists for much of our other graphic work, like CD covers and posters.”

As the arts becomes even more a part of the digital age, Darcy encourages other organizations to follow a simple four-step plan that creates a partnership between your Web site and e-mail marketing, one that has led the WFC to success.

“First, create a Web site that gives people an experience of your programs, not just static information about them. Audio and video are great ways to do this and not hard to create anymore. Second, keep your Web site content dynamic. Give people a reason to keep coming back. Third, use your e-mail marketing to drive people to your Web site. Fourth, make sure your e-mail is something people want to read when it arrives in their inbox. Make sure the information is relevant to your audience and don’t send too many e-mails, or people will tune you out.”

With a background in journalism, public affairs, and corporate communications, Darcy has a unique perspective on the mediums we use to communicate with one another. By using patrons’ feedback to tailor programming and content to their needs, Darcy has used new media to help the WFC expand its cultural reach and to cultivate lasting connections at gatherings and online, a lesson that arts marketers in any medium can learn from.

Darcy Minter is the Communications Director for the Western Folklife Center. Christina Blodgett is the Director of Client Services & Consulting at Patron Technology. Join them for Patron Technology’s April Arts Marketer Town Hall webinar on April 30th at 2:00pm EST – click here to register.

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