Once again I find myself at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference, which is being held this year in Providence, RI. This is my fifth conference, and instead of presenting like I have done in the past, I really wanted to listen in on other sessions to hear what is being discussed. I have been asked to blog about my experiences for Americans for the Arts so these posts can also be seen on their blog.
This morning I was lucky enough to sit in on the Every Dollar Counts: Using ROI to Prove Marketing Effectiveness session. I decided to go to the session because one of my favorite arts marketing experts was presenting--Philippe Ravanas, marketing professor at Columbia College and former VP of Corporate Communications for EuroDisney. I have seen him speak at several conferences and he is always extraordinary.
This morning he discussed a situation he found himself in when he was the Manager of Client Development at Christie's in London. Each year, they would produce a beautiful catalog of auction items that they would send to most of their database. These catalogs were highly coveted, and cost the organization $20 a piece to produce, however Philippe noticed that his ROI (return on investment) for these catalogs was poor. It was costing him too much to produce and mail these catalogs in terms of how much revenue they were bringing in. After researching the problem, he found that they were mailing these catalogs to almost every purchaser, including those people who purchased once twenty years ago and people who only purchased a minor item just to get on the distribution list, as the Christie's catalog seemed to be a popular coffee table item. He soon cut back the distribution, and only sent the catalog to his higher end purchasers. This action greatly improved his ROI on the catalog.
It brought me back to a previous blog post I wrote about the future of the subscription brochure. If you read the post, you can see that I have some serious doubts as to whether or not a subscription brochure works as a sales piece. That being said, our subscribers at Arena Stage love our season brochure because it invites them into the process. There are articles by our featured artists, a letter from our artistic director, beautiful artwork, etc. We have heard from our subscribers that they anxiously await our brochure each year, and that these brochures have become collector's items. So they perform a very valuable function in maintaining relationships with our higher end purchasers, but they aren't necessarily needed to push acquisitions. In fact, we have found that other smaller pieces with a clear central message that cost significantly less to produce and mail actually perform better for acquisition campaigns.
As Diane Ragsdale says in her article Recreating Fine Arts Institutions : "Arts leaders may be tempted to think that the solution to dwindling audiences lies in better marketing, but if arts organizations are going to survive, they have to put more than the season brochure on the autopsy table." I completely agree with Diane...but what happens if an organization isn't even willing to put their season brochure on the autopsy table?