Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Congratulations my friends...

Congratulations are in order for two of my colleagues here in DC!

Kevin Moore, Managing Director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, has accepted a new job as the Managing Director of the Cleveland Playhouse. Kevin has been the Managing Director of Woolly Mammoth since 1998, during which time the company raised over $9 million for the construction of their new theater.

Patrick Madden, Vice President of External Relations for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, has accepted a new job as the Executive Director of Sister Cities International. Madden has served as the vice president of external affairs and the publisher of Inside Arts magazine at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters since 2003, where he managed fundraising, government affairs and membership departments, in addition to directing the organization's communications outreach.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Evolution of the Bulletin Board, ListServs and Blogging

At work, I am preparing a couple of sessions on viral marketing and the use of new technologies. As part of this process, I started a discussion with my colleagues at Americans for the Arts about the pros and cons of using blogs, based upon an entry in Andrew Taylor's The Artful Manager blog about how blogs are now being used as PR tools.

I am lucky to have as colleagues at Americans for the Arts some of the nation's foremost experts on arts marketing, including Gary Steuer (V.P. Arts & Business Council), Will Maitland Weiss (Executive Director of the Arts & Business Council of New York), Julie Peeler (Vice President of Arts & Business Programs) and Suzanne Ruley (Coordinator of the National Arts Marketing Project). I threw a couple of questions out to this group concerning blogging and started a great conversation.

I wanted to share with you an e-mail that I got from Gary Steuer yesterday. Gary not only provides some great insights on blogging, but gives a very good description of the evolution of bulletin boards, ListServs and now blogs.

From Gary's e-mail:

OK – time for me to weigh in – very interesting conversation! Opening up cans of worms not a bad thing – can’t fish without worms. While I have not entirely jumped on the RSS/Blog bandwagon yet, I suspect you are right Chad [on predicting that new technologies such as blogs will replace ListServs]. In many ways it reminds me of the way ListServs have replaced bulletin boards. In the early days of the internet (I am dating myself, but I go back to the early 80s when it was not even “The World Wide Web” yet and there was no GUI…), bulletin boards were all the rage, allowing users to post ideas that others then responded, creating an ongoing dialogue. One of the problems with bulletin boards was that they required users to visit them frequently, and actively participate, otherwise they sat there dead. In the beginning this was not hard to do, but over time, interest in bulletin boards waned, because it was too much work to remember to regularly visit them. They continued (and continue) to work only in certain very specific instances – when there was an issue people were truly passionate about, like medical and health issues, sports, or technology tech support. Once ListServs began growing in popularity, people found that means of communication much easier than bulletin boards because they had the dialogue “pushed” into their inbox, rather than having to visit a web site to participate. We had to respond to this even with the ArtsMarketing.Org Web site – in the early years it featured a bulletin board, with occasional guest experts to facilitate topical conversations. We could never get enough people to regularly visit to make it work. We had to switch to ListServ and e-newsletter communications which allowed us to push information into people’s in-boxes, making it easier for very busy people to stay informed.

However, as ListServs and e-mail volume in general have proliferated, I think there is something of a backlash against ListServs, and with ListServs you also lose the ability to follow a thread of conversation, since each contribution tends to exist as an individual nugget not easily connected to the larger conversation. As with bulletin boards, they still work, and I suspect will continue to play a communications and community-building role. But the advent of blogs, with the combination of RSS technology, multi-media, and now blog widgets, has created a new more dynamic communications medium that retains that same “push” feature – delivering the conversations you want right to your desktop.

The challenge will be that as more and more groups adopt blogs and RSS feeds, how much time and screen-space will people be able to devote to the thousands/millions of choices available to them, and how long will it take before we overload Blogs and move onto something new? Can direct feeds into our brains not be far behind? (Anyone ever see the movie “eXistenZ”? If so, you will understand what I am talking about…)

I do think it is important for us (and the arts as a whole) to stay at the leading edge of these trends, especially as we try to engage younger audiences – and field members – who will not respond to or even tolerate what they view as outmoded means of communication.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Book Review: Arts Marketing Insights

Book: Arts Marketing Insights: The Dynamics of Building and Retaining Performing Arts Audiences by Joanne Scheff Bernstein.

In this book, the author sets out to describe the shifts in audience behaviors over the past decade, and how it affects the marketing strategies employed by arts marketing professionals. The author does a good job of describing the shifts which have occurred in audience behavior throughout the past decade, but if you are looking for the same level of insight and brilliance which she has demonstrated in earlier works (mostly her collaborative work with Philip Kotler), you will be disappointed. This book gives you the basics—understanding your customer, the use of marketing research, and yes, even the beloved four P’s: product, price, place and promotion. Bernstein even outlines some of the most feared problems in the industry such as declining subscription rates and the aging of our audiences, and suggests using the same techniques which marketers have used over the past ten years to combat those problems. And this is where the book stops. Forgive me, with all the stuff out there now on marketing in the arts, I expected someone with Bernstein’s reputation to add much to the current critical debate over the future of arts marketing. What she does is provide a nice recap of what most of us already know.

I found her chapter entitled “Leveraging the Internet and E-Mail Marketing” the most disappointing. For a book published in 2007, I found it odd that there was very little, if any, discussion on how the use of technologies, other than websites and e-mails, could be used to communicate with potential audiences. What about Podcasting? RSS feeds? Social networking websites? Blogging?

To wrap up, if you would like a basic snap shot of the current problems facing arts marketers today, as well as a nice review of marketing basics, this book is for you. If you are looking for anything else, I am afraid you will be disappointed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Freshen Up Your E-mail in the New Year...

After a couple month study of e-communications at Americans for the Arts, I compiled some recommendations that I thought I would share with you:

To Improve Deliverability
1. Eliminate Hard Bouncing E-Mail Addresses from your e-mail list. Once two e-mail campaigns have been sent to an e-mail address and have hard bounced, they should be flag as no longer active.
2. Be Careful When Writing Subject Lines. When writing a subject line, it is important to be proactive and stimulating with content, but be careful with your wording because it might trigger a spam filter on the receiver’s end. Subject lines with all CAPS, strange spacing, unusual symbols and the over use of common spam words such as FREE!, can cause a campaign to be caught in a spam filter. Check to see if your e-mail marketing provider has a spam content checker. In addition, you should set up a AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail test account and send each campaign to the account before sending to see if the message is blocked.

To Improve Open Rates
1. Avoid Sending E-Mail Campaigns on Monday or Friday. Industry best practices have always suggested that e-mail campaigns should not be sent on Monday or Friday. Typically, these two days of the week have the lowest open rates. Our data has shown the same results. Mondays have the worst open rates followed by Fridays.
2. Shorten the Length of E-mail Campaigns. Even a dedicated, loyal consumer will avoid reading a campaign if it is too long. No matter how important we think the copy is, a consumer will not read it if it isn’t presented in a succinct manner. Longer campaigns should be shortened by the use of a “more” button. Write a catchy headline and a very short description for each article. If a consumer would like to read more, he can click on the “more” feature. A website redirect can also be used. If the information is available on the web, there is no need to repeat it in its entirety in an e-mail campaign. Instead, use links to direct readers to the information on the web. Under no circumstances should we be sending a campaign with more than 1,000 words.
3. Improve Subject Lines. Many times, a consumer will make the decision to open or not open an e-mail campaign based on the subject line. Please use the following recommendations when writing a subject line:
a. Avoid the Use of Internal Jargon.
Avoid using any internal jargon that general audiences may not understand.
b. Brand Your Subject Line.
If you send out a monthly or regularly timed e-mail campaign, start branding it. A practice that has been recommended by e-mail experts is including the name of your company or entity (i.e., ABC/NY) in the subject line, usually at the beginning and enclosed in brackets. For example: {ABC/NY} Encore Award Nominations. This practice reinforces the from line, ensuring recipients that it's coming from a trusted source.
c. Have Someone Else Write, Edit, or Review Subject Lines.
Oftentimes, the writer of the e-mail is too close to the content to write an intriguing and clear subject line. Have someone other than the person who creates the e-mail itself write, edit, or at least review the subject line. Use this person like a newspaper headline writer, and ask them to write the headline for the e-mail campaign.
d. The Shorter, the Better.
National studies indicate that shorter subject lines (usually of less than 50 characters) have higher open rates than longer subject lines. Also be very careful when writing longer subject lines because most e-mail providers have a maximum number of characters they will allow in the subject field.
e. Make Sure the Subject Line Catches the Attention of the Reader.
The reader will make a decision based on the subject line whether or not they will open the e-mail. Don’t be afraid to try subject lines that are more aggressive, creative, or tantalizing.
4. Provide Readers an Incentive for Opening a Campaign. With every e-mail campaign, there should be an incentive for the reader to open the campaign and read it. These incentives don’t necessarily mean discounts, rewards, or other offers, although they can be used to generate more interest. Oftentimes, readers will read e-mail campaigns if they know they will be given something of value (i.e., content they couldn’t find otherwise or content that will improve their daily lives).
5. Personalize Subject Lines. Most e-mail marketing companies will allow and support personalized subject lines. For example: “Chad, Please Remember to Renew Your Membership.” We need to check with Magnet Mail to see if this is a possibility.

To Improve Click Rates
1. Actionable Items Should Be First Up to Bat. Many e-mails are read in a consumer’s preview pane. In 2007, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail will add preview panes to their Web-based clients, adding to the already significant use of preview panes through Outlook and Lotus Notes. When designing your campaign, make sure you put the most important, actionable items in the top two to four inches to ensure that those who will read the e-mail in the preview pane are able to view them.