Towards a Universal Theory: Report from Spain
When I received an invitation from Asimetrica in Madrid to present a keynote at its first “arts marketing annual conference,” I was thrilled to be part of what seemed to be the European version of our NAMP conference. It was held last week and was a two-day event that drew mostly Spanish arts executives and a group of speakers from the U.S./U.K. and Spain. In some ways it was less an international conference about arts marketing than a Spanish arts marketing conference with international arts marketing guest speakers. Nonetheless, it provided a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the challenges of arts marketing here and abroad.
I came to the conference hoping to confirm a long-held assumption that the European model of arts funding was superior to ours. After all, the art forms we focus on (classical music, theater, dance and visual arts) were initially imported, and it seemed self-evident that arts interest must permeate these countries. That’s why governments there fund the arts almost 100%. How lucky these arts group are, I thought, not having to devote their time to raising money from their patrons.
That might have been true in the past, but no longer. The economic crisis that has swept Western Europe seems to me more significant than ours, and the survival of many arts organizations is at stake. When the government is your single source of support, but the government is under siege and unemployment is at 20%, suddenly support for the arts is no longer a given. There were talks describing how governments were preparing to make (if not already making) massive cuts to the arts. The entire regional arts audience development infrastructure in the U.K. is being dismantled because of a huge budget cut.
In an era of severely scarce resources, politics require that funding for the arts is pitted against funding for social services. The dialogue in Europe is very much like the dialogue here: How do we make the case for the value of supporting the arts? Those passionate about it have to make the claim that the arts are worth it, and as important that some other government priority.
But in Europe there is hardly any history of donor development, no “give or get” board structure with deep-pocketed board members to reach out to, and no infrastructure in place to motivate ticket buyers to pressure the government, much less systems or staff to make up for these losses under the gun.
My experience in Spain confirmed for me that the lessons we’ve been preaching in our book The Fifth Wall and in selling our PatronManager CRM system are feeling to me like universal truths for the future of arts marketing and the survival of the arts:
Job number one is to build deep relationships with your audience, and make that as important as making art. Arts marketing isn’t about simply getting the word out and filling seats. It’s all about audience development: Knowing intimately who your audience members are, communicating with them as if you know them personally, and focusing on keeping and motivating the audience you do have as much as finding a new audience.
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One response to “Towards a Universal Theory: Report from Spain”
Gene, your insight about the Spanish situation is, unfortunately, completely accurate.
We’ve been receiving generous funds for the arts word (mostly with a political agenda) since the beginning of our young democracy, chiefly since the first socialist government of 1982. The result has been 1) much higher proportion of money spend in “showcase culture” (big festivals, with big names in it, deficitarian foreign massive productions, etc.) than mid-term investment in developing a local base culture (drama, dance, music education, outreach programs, support of local small companies, etc.); 2) a very confusing notion that you can live in the red forever, producing or programming shows whose sale will never pay for themselves, handing out complimentary tickets by the loadfull, playing to empty houses, expending fortunes in ineffective machine-gun promotions (newspapers, outdoor, buses, tube, etc.) and 3) last but not least, neglecting the knowledge and the care for the audiences: using external ticketing agents that rip-off customers and don’t facilitate any information to venues and companies, neglecting the building of direct mailing lists, improving the customer experience with good catering, good helpdesk service, etc.
Nevertheless, as it was obvious in Asimética’s conference, there is a new breed of arts managers, very keen on keeping and nurturing best relations with their patrons, in search of CRM systems to take advantage of box-office info and finely targeted direct email communications, searching for ways to enhance the customers experiences, having important roles in the ubiquitous social media world, etc, etc, etc.
And the next goal should be to implement fundraising procedures that help us rely less in public funding and more on patrons and civil society alike. Some companies are already walking that path, and good results will pave the way for more to come…