Canada's new anti-spam law, should charities be panicking?

Here is a quote from the Government of Canada’s website:

Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) does not apply to non-commercial activity. Political parties and charities that engage Canadians through email are not subject to CASL if these communications do not involve selling or promoting a product.

There are also further exemptions for situations where such organizations engage in commercial activities with people who have made a donation or gift in the last 18 months, volunteered or performed volunteer work in the last 18 months, or were a member of the organization in the last 18 months. These exceptions apply to registered charities, political parties and candidates in federal, provincial, territorial or municipal elections.*

So messaging your followers about your work is clearly exempt from the new legislation and soliciting donations from recent donors is also exempt. However, best practices always involve assuring you are reaching the people who want to hear from you and not annoying others.  Since there is so much publicity about the new anti-spam legislation, it is a perfect time to get in touch with your contacts, confirm their continued interest and demonstrate your organization’s commitment to effective, considerate communications.
If you have not practiced positive buy-in previously with your email contact lists, then the  high priority task should be confirming that donors and subscribers who fall outside of that 18 month window still want to remain on your lists.
 
* https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ecic-ceac.nsf/eng/gv00521.html
 

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Commonsense Social Media for small arts organizations

A few Do’s and Don’t’s about Social Media for artists and small arts orgs
Do remember to include in your plan all your skills that are relevant to a successful social media campaign
You’ve been talking to your supporters, colleagues and audience for a long time and you know them and their interests better than anyone. You also are skilled at reaching out to them creatively and inexpensively. For pete’s sake, you are artists! Those skills will be key in making your social media campaign a success!
Don’t be phony in your social media voice
Social media is … well… social. It’s got a tone like talking to your neighbours about your work today. Your neighbours and friends will be delighted to hear your voice saying “here’s what we’ve been working at in the studio today” in your own voice. Having that voice delegated to someone outside your company will feel phony and insulting to them. If it feels like a trick in social media, people turn off.
Do have the confidence to run your own social media campaign
The best social media campaign is grass-roots, just like you started your arts organization.
Don’t feel you have to spend big bucks on a social marketing professional
No social media “guru” knows your art and your audience like you and your staff do. So what if they have 2,000 Twitter followers, are they relevant to you, or just other social media gurus all jabbering to each other with re-cycled tweets and links?
Do take the time to blog yourself
I know you don’t have the time, but you know the best blog-posts are short ones. Here’s some good tricks. A photo is worth 1,000 words. Snap photos with your cellphone or digital camera and post to your blog with a small comment. Tumblr is a great platform for quickie bloggers. If you are more of a talker than a writer, make brief voice recordings and ask someone to transpose them as blog posts. Or, make a time to sit down once a week with someone in your organization who does like to write and give him or her a list of things to interview you on. Or just have a chat and record it. A 30-60 minute meeting about what’s going on with the company right now should yield a week’s worth of blog posts that can be timed for daily release.
Don’t let a staff member turn the Artistic Director into a sock puppet
If a post is listed as being from the Music Director or AD, it really should be that person’s words. To charge a staff person to write on your behalf without input or approval isn’t fair to them or you.
Do make meaningful connections with colleagues and organizations with common-cause.
Guest write for your colleague’s blog and share your posts with organizations that will be interested for example your post on set-construction with an umbrella theatre organization or your post on financial planning with an arts administration website. Ask your colleagues to post to your sites. Include the news from other organizations in your tweets and Facebook updates.
Don’t be territorial in social media
If all you tout in your blog, facebook page or twitter stream is your own news, you will be preaching to the choir instead of reaching new audiences.
Do listen to your followers and engage with them
Social media is social, so a part of every social media campaign should be to spend a little time reading what your followers are saying: about you, about other arts organizations, and about things in general. Comment, re-tweet, and thank them for their favorable mentions of your organization.
Don’t be a broken record
You wouldn’t invite your neighbour to a party and then invite them again, and again, and again, using the same message, would you? So invite and follow-up in social media much as you would in other media.
Do use more than one social media that is relevant to your company
As a suggestion, pick one blog platform to share your news in greater length than a twitter post or Facebook update allows. Create a Facebook group for your followers to publicize events. Use a photo site like Flickr or Picasa to host photos & slideshows and a video site like YouTube for video snippets. You may or may not find the social aspect of the photo & video sites useful. But embedding photos in blogs and Facebook posts enlivens them. Finally use Twitter to connect followers in short news bursts to your content in blogs and Facebook. As you develop your social media campaign you will find other tools to use, but no one tool will make effective use of your social media time or effectively distribute your news.
Don’t get too enthusiastic about linking and automating your social media messages
As we’ve seen different social media platforms have different uses and formats. A 140 character twitter post sounds brief and possibly rude when repeated on Facebook, so be thoughtful about linking media. Auto welcoming followers used to be recommended but has become so prevalent that many people regard this as spam and will unfollow anyone who uses the tools. Services that spam followers with auto quotes are fairly universally despised and will lose you followers.
Do use buffer apps to time distribute your posts.
You may want to do all your social media posts at one time of day and all your blog posts one day a week, but many posts at one time will bore your audience and also not reach some potential followers. Twitter streams are one place where people only are likely to see the posts made in the last hour, so use a buffer to send your tweets over the day (twitter is probably the only social media where you can repeat a key message like an event reminder). Facebook posts can also be spaced through the day. (I use http://bufferapp.com ) and you can choose whether blog posts will be published now or at a future date.
Do remember that the message of your company is important
Probably only the artistic director and/or senior management can really articulate key messages about projects, mission and artistic direction of the company. Identify the person or people within your company who will craft the social media messages. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the plan and will follow-through.
Don’t give the social media job to the intern
The intern may be able to Facebook up a storm about their keg stand at the party last night but that doesn’t mean they know how to tell your story to your key audience. Interns can help but don’t leave them in charge of the process or be prepared to accept the results.
Do use your grassroots skills in building up your number of followers
Hey you built your mailing list & email list from 0 to thousands, right? How? By asking people who visited your website to join the mailing list right? By capturing Box Office data, by asking people to enter contests and by asking people to save money, save the trees by signing onto your email list instead. When you have events, that’s the time to ask people to join your Facebook group or follow you on twitter. Make it easy with slips of paper they can take away, inserted in programs or available in the lobby on info tables.
Don’t get greedy
Don’t try to build followers by following hundreds of random individuals. They won’t stay and aren’t relevant to your success. In the worst case scenario you could lose your account through being listed as a spammer. Having 100 followers who actually come to your events is better than having 3000 followers with only 25 actually coming to your events.
Do give incentives
You know how to do this! Give potential social media contacts incentives by running contests for free tickets or other goodies available only to Twitter followers or Facebook Friends (but don’t make these goodies valuable enough to annoy other contacts).
Do evaluate your social media plan
How are you doing? Did you sell out a show using just Facebook? Are you getting more re-tweets of your news? How many lists is your twitter stream on? How many mentions did you get on Twitter last month? How many blog visitors have you logged (Google analytics or site-tracker have good tools).
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away
A good social media campaign is not going to happen over-night for most of us. It is slogging work like building a mailing list. If you are not seeing results after a few months you may need to fine-tune your plan, discover why your blog posts and updates are not engaging & growing your audience.
Do remember the goal
You want to deepen the engagement of your existing audience with your company so that they will be more likely to support you by increased attendance and financial contribution. Plus, you want to reach new audiences– while spending less money on advertising and postage. You also want to be able to brag about how efficient and green your company is in achieving these goals.
That’s pretty hot stuff so it’s worth some work, right?

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Choose the right arts marketing firm for your arts organization

There comes a time in every small, growing arts organization when the people involved realize that the busiest time for promoting their activity is also the time that they are busiest WITH the activity as they gear up for performances or art show. They can’t drop everything to follow-up on marketing opportunities but they need the marketing activity to keep on schedule, no matter what production complications might be thrown their way.

Because small arts orgs’ marketing needs are sporadic, they often think of shortterm contracts with a marketing company. How can they get the most out of this business relationship and avoid the horror stories that we sometimes hear when the arts meets the professional world of marketers.
Oh, you haven’t heard any horror stories? Let me share a few from my own experience.
I once came into a position and found the season brochure was behind schedule. The marketing firm had been secured on a contract that was based on a monthly fee rather than product delivery. All the budget was spent and the brochure was still at rough draft stage. The copy on the brochure was almost un-edited cut and paste supplied by the arts organization with in-consistent length of artist bios & performance description, wild shifts in style and a look which was out-of-step with the organization’s mission. After one try at salvaging the relationship, I canceled the contract and we were forced to pay a monetary settlement to extricate the company from a contract where we would be forced to pay for work that might not result in anything we could use.

Lesson No. 1: contract payments have to be attached to successful completion of materials by deadline.

In another larger arts organization where some of the work was outsourced to marketers, we were occasionally shocked and embarassed by advertising materials where the marketers’ lack of understanding of our artistic product led them to distort copy without checking the results with artistic leadership. On one memorable occasion, the marketing firm changed the orchestra’s working title for a concert “Memory and Reflection” to their preferred “Soothing Reverie”. But the work featured on the program was a symphony inspired by the Holocaust, so very far from “soothing”. This was a public relations disaster.

Lesson No. 2 : It has to be clear who has sign-off within your organization of marketing copy to avoid misinformation and/or public relations disasters.

Lastly, I remember an occasion when I asked an office assistant in my arts organization to do some tasks for me that day and had her break down in tears. What I didn’t know was that she was trying to do a full work load assigned by me, and a full workload assigned by our marketing company. She felt like she had two bosses as the marketers phoned each day with things she needed to get for them or materials that they wanted her to mail out. Much of the work she described I had expected the marketers to do themselves, using their own support staff. We had hired a Marketing firm because we did not have the staff resources to do the work ourselves, but they were pushing the work back on us to the extent where little gain was being realized.

Lesson No. 3: “Who does what” is an important part of the conversation with your Marketing company. If your staff has to provide some of the legwork for the Marketers, firm limits and process has to be put in place.

Does it sound like Marketing firms can be more trouble than they are worth? I certainly thought that at one time, but really all of the above situations were mostly the fault of the arts organization, who failed to be clear in their expectations when contracting a marketing firm.
Hiring a part time staff member with some training or experience in arts marketing and communications to work for you in-house is a preferable choice for many arts organizations. If you have a good mailing list and are not hoping to increase marketshare dramatically, this may be the best choice for you. A staff member is more responsive to your needs and more able to provide low-cost grassroots maketing solutions. The advantage of Marketing firms (that you want to assure they will bring to the table) is that they have access to lists of contacts that might be interested in your artistic product, and their volume buys of more expensive media spots will make for more choices in advertising, eg. advertising in an expensive high distribution newspaper will become possible at half price.

Questions to ask yourself as you think about your marketing needs:
  1. Do I most need a marketer or a publicist, or both?
  2. Is my marketing budget sufficient to maximize the contribution of a professional marketing company by making the media buys the firm will recommend?
  3. Can I articulate the look and feel that my company wants in their marketing through samples of our materials, or materials of other companies that we’d like to emulate and/or through a style sheet we’ve constructed?
  4. Have I done my research by asking colleagues who has done their excellent marketing campaigns?
  5. Have I considered who will provide sign-off on marketing materials (considering both knowledge and accessibility/availability)?
  6. Have I considered who will be the point person in assisting marketing company with acquiring the materials/information they need, and distribution of print materials? How much of that person’s job description/time is to be allocated to marketing liaison?
Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to book meetings with your chosen marketing firms. You will want to communicate the following when asking for a plan and quotes:
  1. An outline of your need for material with due dates.
  2. What you will be supplying and when it will be available (rough copy, artist bios, photos, etc.
  3. What you are hoping they will do. Finish copy or just edit and format? Find and supply art or use your art? Find new markets or use your lists? Leverage ad spots?
  4. Who will be point person and how much time/assistance they can give the marketers and who will have final sign off on copy.
  5. Lastly communicate which part of the marketing plan/campaign you will be keeping in-house (if any). Coordination of efforts like your inhouse flyer exchange campaign will help everyone. Surprising your Marketing firm with inhouse efforts will lead to bad feelings.

With all these things communicated, the Marketing firm should be able to present you with a clear plan and costing which will reflect a solid grounding in the reality of your organizational needs and expectations.

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Commonsense Social Media for Small Arts Orgs

A few Do’s and Don’t’s about Social Media for artists and small arts orgs

Do remember to include in your plan all your skills that are relevant to a successful social media campaign
You’ve been talking to your supporters, colleagues and audience for a long time and you know them and their interests better than anyone. You also are skilled at reaching out to them creatively and inexpensively. For pete’s sake, you are artists! Those skills will be key in making your social media campaign a success!

Don’t be phony in your social media voice
Social media is … well… social. It’s got a tone like talking to your neighbours about your work today. Your neighbours and friends will be delighted to hear your voice saying “here’s what we’ve been working at in the studio today” in your own voice. Having that voice delegated to someone outside your company will feel phony and insulting to them. If it feels like a trick in social media, people turn off.

Do have the confidence to run your own social media campaign
The best social media campaign is grass-roots, just like you started your arts organization.

Don’t feel you have to spend big bucks on a social marketing professional
No social media “guru” knows your art and your audience like you and your staff do. So what if they have 2,000 Twitter followers, are they relevant to you, or just other social media gurus all jabbering to each other with re-cycled tweets and links?

Do take the time to blog yourself
I know you don’t have the time, but you know the best blog-posts are short ones. Here’s some good tricks. A photo is worth 1,000 words. Snap photos with your cellphone or digital camera and post to your blog with a small comment. Tumblr is a great platform for quickie bloggers. If you are more of a talker than a writer, make brief voice recordings and ask someone to transpose them as blog posts. Or, make a time to sit down once a week with someone in your organization who does like to write and give him or her a list of things to interview you on. Or just have a chat and record it. A 30-60 minute meeting about what’s going on with the company right now should yield a week’s worth of blog posts that can be timed for daily release.

Don’t let a staff member turn the Artistic Director into a sock puppet
If a post is listed as being from the Music Director or AD, it really should be that person’s words. To charge a staff person to write on your behalf without input or approval isn’t fair to them or you.

Do make meaningful connections with colleagues and organizations with common-cause.
Guest write for your colleague’s blog and share your posts with organizations that will be interested for example your post on set-construction with an umbrella theatre organization or your post on financial planning with an arts administration website. Ask your colleagues to post to your sites. Include the news from other organizations in your tweets and Facebook updates.

Don’t be territorial in social media
If all you tout in your blog, facebook page or twitter stream is your own news, you will be preaching to the choir instead of reaching new audiences.

Do listen to your followers and engage with them
Social media is social, so a part of every social media campaign should be to spend a little time reading what your followers are saying: about you, about other arts organizations, and about things in general. Comment, re-tweet, and thank them for their favorable mentions of your organization.

Don’t be a broken record
You wouldn’t invite your neighbour to a party and then invite them again, and again, and again, using the same message, would you? So invite and follow-up in social media much as you would in other media.

Do use more than one social media that is relevant to your company
As a suggestion, pick one blog platform to share your news in greater length than a twitter post or Facebook update allows. Create a Facebook group for your followers to publicize events. Use a photo site like Flickr or Picasa to host photos & slideshows and a video site like YouTube for video snippets. You may or may not find the social aspect of the photo & video sites useful. But embedding photos in blogs and Facebook posts enlivens them. Finally use Twitter to connect followers in short news bursts to your content in blogs and Facebook. As you develop your social media campaign you will find other tools to use, but no one tool will make effective use of your social media time or effectively distribute your news.

Don’t get too enthusiastic about linking and automating your social media messages
As we’ve seen different social media platforms have different uses and formats. A 140 character twitter post sounds brief and possibly rude when repeated on Facebook, so be thoughtful about linking media. Auto welcoming followers used to be recommended but has become so prevalent that many people regard this as spam and will unfollow anyone who uses the tools. Services that spam followers with auto quotes are fairly universally despised and will lose you followers.

Do use buffer apps to time distribute your posts.
You may want to do all your social media posts at one time of day and all your blog posts one day a week, but many posts at one time will bore your audience and also not reach some potential followers. Twitter streams are one place where people only are likely to see the posts made in the last hour, so use a buffer to send your tweets over the day (twitter is probably the only social media where you can repeat a key message like an event reminder). Facebook posts can also be spaced through the day. (I use http://bufferapp.com ) and you can choose whether blog posts will be published now or at a future date.

Do remember that the message of your company is important
Probably only the artistic director and/or senior management can really articulate key messages about projects, mission and artistic direction of the company. Identify the person or people within your company who will craft the social media messages. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the plan and will follow-through.

Don’t give the social media job to the intern
The intern may be able to Facebook up a storm about their keg stand at the party last night but that doesn’t mean they know how to tell your story to your key audience. Interns can help but don’t leave them in charge of the process or be prepared to accept the results.

Do use your grassroots skills in building up your number of followers
Hey you built your mailing list & email list from 0 to thousands, right? How? By asking people who visited your website to join the mailing list right? By capturing Box Office data, by asking people to enter contests and by asking people to save money, save the trees by signing onto your email list instead. When you have events, that’s the time to ask pe
ople to join your Facebook group or follow you on twitter. Make it easy with slips of paper they can take away, inserted in programs or available in the lobby on info tables.

Don’t get greedy
Don’t try to build followers by following hundreds of random individuals. They won’t stay and aren’t relevant to your success. In the worst case scenario you could lose your account through being listed as a spammer. Having 100 followers who actually come to your events is better than having 3000 followers with only 25 actually coming to your events.

Do give incentives
You know how to do this! Give potential social media contacts incentives by running contests for free tickets or other goodies available only to Twitter followers or Facebook Friends (but don’t make these goodies valuable enough to annoy other contacts).

Do evaluate your social media plan
How are you doing? Did you sell out a show using just Facebook? Are you getting more re-tweets of your news? How many lists is your twitter stream on? How many mentions did you get on Twitter last month? How many blog visitors have you logged (Google analytics or site-tracker have good tools).

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away
A good social media campaign is not going to happen over-night for most of us. It is slogging work like building a mailing list. If you are not seeing results after a few months you may need to fine-tune your plan, discover why your blog posts and updates are not engaging & growing your audience.

Do remember the goal
You want to deepen the engagement of your existing audience with your company so that they will be more likely to support you by increased attendance and financial contribution. Plus, you want to reach new audiences– while spending less money on advertising and postage. You also want to be able to brag about how efficient and green your company is in achieving these goals.

That’s pretty hot stuff so it’s worth some work, right?

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Tafelmusik launches "Sing-a-long Messiah Contest" on YouTube

The folks at Tafelmusik succeed year after year not only with great music (they are among the best that Toronto has to offer) but also with the novel ways that they come up with to connect the music of the past with what is happening here and now in our world. They have achieved this through collaborations with new composers; placing their work in the context of festivals of art like the Metamorphosis festival that draws from new and old works; and now with a fun contest that is powered by the popularity of YouTube and karaoke. Great marketing ideas like this should be celebrated. What makes this one great is that it isn’t just about getting bums in the seats for Tafelmusik’s Messiah this season (not that selling tickets isn’t important) but we are all tired and burned out by clever marketing that is just about “buy, buy, consume, consume”. This campaign is qualitatively different: it is about getting people singing and involved in the arts. That’s important at so many different levels.

If you love to sing and aren’t shy check out Tafelmusik’s website for all the information on the contest.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Zen and the art of organizational maintenance

I think it was David Parsons, the Music Officer at the Ontario Arts Council who said to me that while he used to think of arts organizations as going through processes of recovery that would end in a stable state that would remain indefinitely, he now believed that most arts organizations were constantly going through cycles of invention and re-invention if they did not wish to devolve and die.

I agree. Arts organizations that depend upon their founding energy and original creative mission as the only continuing energy in their engine will eventually meet the law of entropy and run down, engine sputtering and eventually failing.

What makes for a resilient arts organization that can recover from challenges and find new momentum?

I think of organizations as having some similarities to mechanical engines. They are propelled by the forces of varying numbers of cylinders and work at peak performance when all cylinders are firing with equal force. They can limp along when one weakens, if the opposite/complimentary cylinder is strong. Certain configurations of failures cause the engine to seize up and fail dramatically, while others just cause slow oil leaks that take years to grind the engine to a halt. In no small part I am drawing my analogy from the classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” , a book that talks about how the attention to the small details of systems, ensure that the whole runs trouble-free.

What propels a healthy arts organization?

  1. Artistic Vision/Leadership–a compelling artistic vision from artist(s) that is at the centre of everything the organization does. The heart of the organization.
  2. A community that is connected to and responsive to the artistic vision, supporting it as audience, donors and through word of mouth
  3. A Board of Directors that is engaged through buy-in to the artistic and educational vision of the artistic leadership and provides the direction and resources to realize that vision.
  4. Management-volunteer or paid that reports to the Board of Directors and carried forward their strategic plan in partnership with artists and community board members
  5. Staff & volunteers as needed who are selected for the best fit with strategic goals within the living organism of your arts organization.

ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP: It all has to start with the Art.

Artistic Visioning is not something that gets done when the organization has some down time, or as a make-work project funded by OAC’s COMPASS program or Canada Council’s Flying Squad (as is too often the attitude in organizations already in trouble). If there isn’t an Artistic reason for your organization to exist, then quit, get out of the way, give up, fold, you are wasting the audience’s time and scarce resources. There are scores of artists and artists collectives out there filled with creative projects crying out for funding so, “I don’t know, we’ve been presenting concerts for 37 years so we are just trying to keep on doing what we’ve done for those years” just isn’t going to be a compelling battle cry for anyone. If you are parched with thirst for real art, go back to the well, consult with arts visionaries and re-connect with an inspiration to carry you forward again. If your artistic leadership is not inspiring your musicians, your actors, your company, then you have a problem. You are not going to solve that problem by band-aid solutions (programming committees, artistic guidelines, etc.) although those things might help in the short-term. You need to find out what the obstacles (if any) are to the artistic process, help the leader(s) re-charge their batteries, and be prepared to replace the vision or abandon the organization. There is no point to an arts organization without an artistic voice. Does this mean you must be professional? Absolutely not. An arts organization can have at its core a mission to empower and present local amateurs, artistic creation of children and youth.

When do you know when there is a problem in Artistic Leadership?

  • Do reasonably informed stakeholders give radically different answers to the question, “What is X arts organization about?
  • Do Board members frequently feel that the organization has lost focus, is on the wrong track artistically (because so many discordant visions co-exist)?
  • Is programming more often reactive to fundraising, marketing, educational programming rather than being a starting point for those processes.
  • Do marketing and fundraising staff often have difficulty in constructing clear, convincing descriptions of artistic programming for brochures and grantwriting
  • When Artistic Statements are written for grants & brochures: Do they vary wildly from year to year? Are they so generic that they say nothing about the artistic priorities of the organization?
  • Is Artistic vision identified as a problem by major funding bodies?
  • Are peer organizations reluctant to collaborate with you because they view your Artistic Leadership as problematic or lacking in vision?
  • When you perform formal or informal exit interviews with departing contributing artists/musicians or staff, is lack of artistic vision a recurring theme?

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Art has a purpose and that purpose is how it is transformative in the lives and culture of our practicing artists and the community that the arts organization serves. Finding the balance between artistic vision, serving the community and working transformative magic within the community is the ongoing role of community engagement that the arts organization must undertake as a constant. Communities change constantly and so arts organizations must change also in order to serve new constituency and/or move programs and services to areas craving their programming. A mentor of mine was fond of saying “if people don’t want to come, you can’t stop them”.

Think of two scenarios for a family that has recently arrived in a community. In the first the family gets a brochure for a subscription series to the local orchestra. One child has had an orchestra ensemble visit their school and brought home a study guide. The family saw the orchestra playing in the park during the summer, and mom attended a program at the library on music appreciation led by the orchestra’s artistic director. In the second scenario, the family gets a brochure out of the blue and has never heard of the orchestra. Which brochure will go straight in the re-cycle bin and which one will get a second look?

In two organizations that I worked in during times of economic problems for (respectively) an orchestra and an opera company, their communities were alarmed and outraged at any thought that the organizations would fail. Individuals, corporations, area businesses and civic politicians helped to find ways to restore the organizations to financial health. It is interesting to note that neither communities were terribly wealthy nor noted for culture. But in yet another organization I served in, the organization had decided to pare its programming down to cut all community outreach, made an alienating name change, and disenfranchised community participation … all in the same year. Recovery of community trust was a huge challenge for that organization despite its existence in a privileged community.

ENGAGED BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Without #1 Clear Artistic Vision and #2 Community Engagement, an organization will find it difficult to recruit and motivate a volunteer board.

Boards typically go through a development cycle as organizations grow. Take the example of a community theatre. At first the Board does eve
rything from hanging lights, sewing costumes, selling tickets and holding fundraisers. As staff is hired to take care of production and ticket sales, the Board becomes more engaged in fundraising and community liaison. As the organization is able to afford professional grantwriting and fund-development staff, the Board role will shift to stewardship and making connections to major sponsors and donors for staff to follow-up on.

Board Executive and Nominating Committees have to set clear expectations of Board Members and recruit appropriately. When Board Members expect to be part of a “doer” Board and find that the expectation is mainly fundraising and oversight, they may feel sidelined. When Board Members expect to set policy and direction only and join the Board of a small arts organization, they may be surprised or even offended to be asked to roll up their sleeves and help with the nitty gritty. It is important that Board Members understand that their role is to help fund resources, find resources for the artistic work of the organization and work in ways that support the artistic mission of the organization. I have seen Board Members who behaved as though the arts organization was there to provide opera singers for their private parties, buy services from their clients, and that staff should shelve all artistic production work to assist Board Members with the running of gala balls or golf tournaments. While we all have to work together in arts organizations to raise funds, pulling staffing from accomplishing the core Mission, in order to facillitate Board fundraising initiatives cannibalizes artistic resources and is not sustainable.

MANAGEMENT: The role of the arts manager is to take the artistic program and the resources supplied by Board & funders and to implement the program objectives. Through expert knowledge of the industry, the manager employs best practices, allocating resources as carefully as possible to achieve optimum results.

The manager that is both under-resourced and without a clear and well-ariticulated artistic mission & strong community connections is unlikely to be able to achieve good results. If the organization also is burdened with an unfocused, non-contributing Board, the manager alone will not have the power to turn the engine of the organization single-handedly. In order to write grants, appeal to foundations or seek sponsorships, the manager will need a compelling story to tell about artistic & community arts education plans and the support that exists in the community, demonstrated by results, photos, endorsements. She or he needs the community connections of an engaged Board to gain new funding and connect with local industrial and business leaders. If there is a lack of money for marketing artistic programs, the manager will need the Board’s community connection and legwork to promote artistic programs through grassroots initiatives.

Arts managers are there because they really love the arts and they have a tragic tendency to burn out as they try to prop up failing arts organizations.

WHY DO ORGANIZATIONS FAIL? We always hear of arts organizations failing for lack of money, but I have yet to see an organization fail purely from lack of money. An organization that has less money than is needed to fulfill all it’s programming has to be flexible enough to be responsive to the reality and scale back or make economies to live within its means and simultaneously work on seeking more funds. A healthy arts organization with a clear Mission, valued by the community, with an engaged Board and adequate staffing will survive financial setbacks.

When organizations insist on not changing despite annual deficits, money becomes an issue. When artistic mission is muddy, community connections are lost, fundraising becomes extremely difficult. When Board Members are unclear on their roles, unfocused and non-contributing and sometimes caught up in their own politics, an important driving force in the organization siezes up. When managers and staff are called upon to deliver/sell/find funds programs that have no coherence, artistic energy or community connections, it is no surprise that they fail.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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So your arts org is ready to hire a marketing company

There comes a time in every small, growing arts organization when the people involved realize that the busiest time for promoting their activity is also the time that they are busiest WITH the activity as they gear up for performances or art show. They can’t drop everything to follow-up on marketing opportunities but they need the marketing activity to keep on schedule, no matter what production complications might be thrown their way.

Because small arts orgs’ marketing needs are sporadic, they often think of shortterm contracts with a marketing company. How can they get the most out of this business relationship and avoid the horror stories that we sometimes hear when the arts meets the professional world of marketers.

Oh, you haven’t heard any horror stories? Let me share a few from my own experience.

I once came into a position and found the season brochure was behind schedule. The marketing firm had been secured on a contract that was based on a monthly fee rather than product delivery. All the budget was spent and the brochure was still at rough draft stage. The copy on the brochure was almost un-edited cut and paste supplied by the arts organization with in-consistent length of artist bios & performance description, wild shifts in style and a look which was out-of-step with the organization’s mission. After one try at salvaging the relationship, I canceled the contract and we were forced to pay a monetary settlement to extricate the company from a contract where we would be forced to pay for work that might not result in anything we could use.

Lesson No. 1: contract payments have to be attached to successful completion of materials by deadline.

In another larger arts organization where some of the work was outsourced to marketers, we were occasionally shocked and embarassed by advertising materials where the marketers’ lack of understanding of our artistic product led them to distort copy without checking the results with artistic leadership. On one memorable occasion, the marketing firm changed the orchestra’s working title for a concert “Memory and Reflection” to their preferred “Soothing Reverie”. But the work featured on the program was a symphony inspired by the Holocaust, so very far from “soothing”. This was a public relations disaster.

Lesson No. 2 : It has to be clear who has sign-off within your organization of marketing copy to avoid misinformation and/or public relations disasters.

Lastly, I remember an occasion when I asked an office assistant in my arts organization to do some tasks for me that day and had her break down in tears. What I didn’t know was that she was trying to do a full work load assigned by me, and a full workload assigned by our marketing company. She felt like she had two bosses as the marketers phoned each day with things she needed to get for them or materials that they wanted her to mail out. Much of the work she described I had expected the marketers to do themselves, using their own support staff. We had hired a Marketing firm because we did not have the staff resources to do the work ourselves, but they were pushing the work back on us to the extent where little gain was being realized.

Lesson No. 3: “Who does what” is an important part of the conversation with your Marketing company. If your staff has to provide some of the legwork for the Marketers, firm limits and process has to be put in place.

Does it sound like Marketing firms can be more trouble than they are worth? I certainly thought that at one time, but really all of the above situations were mostly the fault of the arts organization, who failed to be clear in their expectations when contracting a marketing firm.

Hiring a part time staff member with some training or experience in arts marketing and communications to work for you in-house is a preferable choice for many arts organizations. If you have a good mailing list and are not hoping to increase marketshare dramatically, this may be the best choice for you. A staff member is more responsive to your needs and more able to provide low-cost grassroots maketing solutions. The advantage of Marketing firms (that you want to assure they will bring to the table) is that they have access to lists of contacts that might be interested in your artistic product, and their volume buys of more expensive media spots will make for more choices in advertising, eg. advertising in an expensive high distribution newspaper will become possible at half price.

Questions to ask yourself as you think about your marketing needs:

  1. Do I most need a marketer or a publicist, or both?
  2. Is my marketing budget sufficient to maximize the contribution of a professional marketing company by making the media buys the firm will recommend?
  3. Can I articulate the look and feel that my company wants in their marketing through samples of our materials, or materials of other companies that we’d like to emulate and/or through a style sheet we’ve constructed?
  4. Have I done my research by asking colleagues who has done their excellent marketing campaigns?
  5. Have I considered who will provide sign-off on marketing materials (considering both knowledge and accessibility/availability)?
  6. Have I considered who will be the point person in assisting marketing company with acquiring the materials/information they need, and distribution of print materials? How much of that person’s job description/time is to be allocated to marketing liaison?

Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to book meetings with your chosen marketing firms. You will want to communicate the following when asking for a plan and quotes:

  1. An outline of your need for material with due dates.
  2. What you will be supplying and when it will be available (rough copy, artist bios, photos, etc.
  3. What you are hoping they will do. Finish copy or just edit and format? Find and supply art or use your art? Find new markets or use your lists? Leverage ad spots?
  4. Who will be point person and how much time/assistance they can give the marketers and who will have final sign off on copy.
  5. Lastly communicate which part of the marketing plan/campaign you will be keeping in-house (if any). Coordination of efforts like your inhouse flyer exchange campaign will help everyone. Surprising your Marketing firm with inhouse efforts will lead to bad feelings.

With all these things communicated, the Marketing firm should be able to present you with a clear plan and costing which will reflect a solid grounding in the reality of your organizational needs and expectations.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Technology in the Arts Conference

It was my privilege to present to people at the Technology in the Arts conference at the University of Waterloo May 9-10 on the subject of classical music in virtual reality.

My introductory presentation can be found here. In addition I have posted my backgrounder document with more detailed technical information here

But the magic really happened when Alessandro Marangoni, stepped up to the real piano in Italy and the virtual piano as Benito Flores and charmed the participants across oceans and media.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Benito Flores; another real musician in Second Life!

Benito Flores in Second Life, known as Alessandro Marangoni, here in real life, has been generously sharing his time and talents with SL audiences over the past few months.
The real life pianist can be viewed here, performing with the Malaga Philharmonic:

YouTube – Malaga Phil. Orchestra – Aldo Ceccato, Alessandro Marangoni

Benito Flores was recently was interviewed and performed on the Second Life cable networks, Music Academy Online program on his life and work as both a real and virtual musician.

Benito also has a blog!

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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