E-marketing E-ssentials: The Art of E-marketing

Christina Blodgett with Ali Walsh
May 2008

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes that in a portrait, “it is the painter who, on the colored canvas, reveals himself.” Over the past several years, technology has become in essence the painter of our surroundings, opening new portals through which to understand and connect to the arts. For individual artists, the challenge has been in discovering how to use technology to build a community that extends both online and offline. Ali Walsh, the Director of Marketing and Operations for Dolan Geiman, a mixed media artist and designer producing Southern-infused artwork and interior accents, has embraced this challenge by using the tools of e-marketing to establish and expand their community while maintaining the creative spirit inherent to Dolan’s work.

For the past eight years, Ali has worked in arts administration at galleries, non-profits, and foundations. She met Dolan in 2002, and they’ve been life partners and business partners since. Dolan’s contemporary folk works, created from reclaimed wood, recycled paint, and found objects, are the foundation from which the duo has been growing a larger arts entity. Creating thousands of new works each year, retailing from $45 to $4500, Dolan’s diverse portfolio coupled with Ali’s marketing and sales strategies have allowed them to evolve beyond a gallery artist model into a multi-tiered sustainable arts business.

“We can inspire greater interest and participation in the arts”

From the beginning of their partnership, Ali has used e-marketing to build their brand and create connections with members of their artistic community, current and potential buyers, and the media. Initially she sent text-only e-mails using Outlook; she now uses PatronMail to build her newsletters and maintain her e-mail database, enabling her to further expand an e-marketing strategy that best captures the voice of Dolan’s work.

“Our marketing strategy is to keep our current customer base informed and interested while creating and taking advantage of opportunities to grow our patron base. With our travel schedule, e-marketing remains the fundamental resource for us to stay in touch and remain accessible to such a large client base. We can cultivate a certain tone in our newsletters to communicate the friendliness and approachability that is very important to our brand. We find that we can use our e-mail newsletter to accomplish a lot more than just updating our subscribers on upcoming events and new artwork. E-marketing facilitates a deeper understanding of us as individuals and our overall brand: we can educate, we can inspire greater interest and participation in the arts. It has the depth of character and personality that print advertising and even our Web site cannot always fulfill.”

With the goal of never over-mailing her patrons, finding the right frequency to communicate with her patrons has been a key component of Ali’s e-marketing strategy. She approaches e-mail design by creating newsletters framed with colorful graphics that are easy to navigate, with clearly defined sections that highlight content specifically geared to interests of her subscribers.

”It’s very important when you’re starting an e-mail newsletter to decide how often you really need to be disseminating information. The frequency is important because you can then develop the sections of your newsletter. We’ve done that for the past year, and there is the fluidity of this evolving. I feel it’s important to maintain some consistent format, where people know they can see these sections in each newsletter, so if they’re only interested in what’s new with some artwork, they know it’s going to be in that newsletter, and they can seek it out. We don’t mail out every time we have a new piece. We wait to have it fit into a symmetrical design. If you’re a theatre company or museum, you’re going to have wonderful graphics developed in-house. It’s very important to have a clean design to allow these graphics to hold their weight on their own – too many colors and fonts will compete with the wonderful graphics that they’ve had developed. We’ve developed colors early on to maintain consistency for our brand, and we spend a lot of time with our newsletters, and for that reason we’ve been successful.”

An environment of cross-promotion

During the past six months, Ali’s newsletters have achieved an average open rate of 39 percent and an average click-thru rate of 21 percent, far exceeding the average 22 percent open rate and 3.5 percent click-thru rate for arts organizations that are PatronMail clients during the same time period. Each of Ali’s newsletters contains images of and direct links to new artwork of Dolan’s on Etsy (dolangeiman.etsy.com, an online marketplace dedicated to buying and selling handmade work) with discounts specifically for subscribers, which has contributed to the doubling of gross sales of Dolan’s works each year since 2005. In an industry where patrons are known to spend only seconds reading e-newsletters, Ali attributes their success to several factors.

“I think part of it comes back to the frequency factor: we send a newsletter only once a month. [Our patrons] are very excited to see what’s new and going on. We do subscriber-only incentives, and we’re always doing our best to reward and acknowledge our clients. We have giveaways, a collectors circle (in each newsletter we have a section we link to on our blog that has news about our clients), and we want to create this environment of cross-promotion where you’re following us, and we also want to follow you. We’re often working these long hours in a bubble, and we want to know what our friends and clients are up to, and this can be cultivated in an environment of an e-mail newsletter. It’s an active relationship back and forth. We also have those consistent sections, and a lot of people on our list who are just interested in new work or fellow artists, and I see these people immediately click-thru to these sections and these items of interest. [Seizing] every opportunity to reward and acknowledge these subscribers so you’re not speaking at them, but with them, is important.”

E-marketing by definition has a mainstream and grassroots component. Organizations have the ability to reach a large audience and simultaneously foster communities by segmenting lists based on patrons’ preferences and also segmenting the newsletter into sections that target multiple interests. Grassroots e-marketing is not just for individual artists or small organizations. Ali believes that large organizations can employ these techniques while maintaining a unique voice that best represents their brand by following universal best practices and adhering to the fundamental law of e-marketing as a portal for information exchange.

“We work very hard to communicate our personality and commitment in each newsletter. The larger the organization, the more difficult this task becomes, but I think this remains an important consideration with e-marketing. Certainly, with larger organizations, e-marketing should communicate brand and mission more than personality and character. Likewise, it should communicate the same creative vitality, depth, and dynamic spirit as the artists the organization is representing. Arts marketers need to have a close relationship with their subscriber list, recognizing the recipients as individuals and not just e-mail addresses. This relationship will influence all aspects of the e-marketing program including frequency, tone, design/structure, and segmentation. For us, e-marketing is not a one-sided process of e-mailing newsletters to subscribers. We try to think of it as an opportunity for active exchange. This makes us more dynamic in our content and recognition of the individuals reading our newsletters each month.”

In artistic terms, a successful e-marketer is someone who uses pre-selected colors of paint that connect to each element on the canvas. It’s marketing with a purpose, not just with a deadline. Ali approaches e-marketing as an art: with care, dedication, and techniques that lead to rewarding results. By using e-mail and technology to cultivate a path to meet and exceed their future goals, Ali and Dolan’s collective voice will continue to nurture the creative spirit while navigating the seemingly infinite reach of the individual artist in the digital age.

Ali Walsh is the Director of Marketing and Operations for Dolan Geiman, a mixed media artist and designer producing Southern-infused artwork and interior accents. Christina Blodgett is the Director of Client Services and Consulting at Patron Technology. Join them for Patron Technology’s May Arts Marketer Town Hall webinar on Thursday May 29th at 2:00 p.m. EST – click here to register.

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