Mensaje desde España

This week Michelle Paul and I have had an incredible experience in Spain presenting seminars based on our book Breaking the Fifth Wall:  Rethinking Arts Marketing for the 21st Century which has just been published by Fundacion Autor in Spanish as Rompiendo La Quinta Pared: Marketing par las Artes en la Era Digital.  Our sessions have been long by U.S. standards, starting at 9 AM and ending at 5 PM with just an hour break.  So we’ve had a lot of contact with arts marketing professionals in the past few days!

Although many of the questions we’ve gotten about online marketing have been similar to those we get in the U.S., the overall situation in Spain could not be more different. Here, most arts organizations get most, if not all, of their funding from the government. In addition, arts tickets are most often sold through banks, which in many cases also provide financial support to these organizations. It’s as if Ticketmaster had locations at each Citibank branch, but here the bank itself is in fact the ticketing company.

Unlike in the U.S., there hasn’t been much of a connection between earning revenue from tickets and the sustainability of the organization. The funding has come from the government no matter what, and it hasn’t been influenced much by the number of tickets actually sold. In some ways this makes things very interesting, as artistic choices are less influenced by commercial potential than they are in the U.S. The bigger outside factor is the political system. Key arts jobs are political appointments, so when the government changes, many arts organizations find themselves with a management change as well.

Since most of these organizations have not been focused on earning revenue, the notion of building and sustaining a relationship with the audience through marketing and audience development activities hasn’t been a big concern.  And, since there is no tax incentive for people to donate, private philanthropy simply doesn’t exist.

This is how things have operated until now.

But now there’s a 20 percent unemployment rate – in some places it’s as high as 30 percent. The economic crisis is on everyone’s lips. People are scared of what’s to come. The Spanish government changed hands last week in a major election and most people we’ve talked with are waiting to see what will happen when the new government is seated next month. Most expect that there will be draconian cuts to all kinds of government services, and the arts are squarely in the cross hairs.

The arts managers that came to our seminars expect big changes in the near future.  And the most optimistic of them see this crisis as an opportunity to change the way they have operated in the past, and to chart a new future for the arts, one that will likely look a lot more like what we have in the U.S.

As an arts organization you have two things. You have your brand and your mission, which is what you stand for and art you put on the stage or the walls that supports it. And then you have your relationship with your audience, which is the thing that is most enduring and is the thing that you as managers can influence through the way you communicate with them and how you treat them.

What we emphasized in our sessions was that which we believe sustains the best arts organizations — the relationships with their audiences, which trumps ticket sales for any individual performance.  If your patrons feel they have a personal relationship with your organization, then whether or not they like what they saw yesterday isn’t as important.  What we spent time talking about was how as an arts manager you can help create that relationship.

Though the future of the arts Spain may be uncertain, we hope that the managers we presented to this week take this idea to heart and begin a new approach to audience development to ensure that their organizations have the best chance of success in this tumultuous time.

Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.