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Author Archive | Joe Patti

Info You Can Use: Can You Talk About Your Arts Org’s Secret Sauce In Less Than Two Slides?

A little while ago Entrepreneur website had an infographic Guy Kawasaki created of the “The Only 10 Slides Needed When Pitching Your Business.”

I bookmarked the article because even though most non-profits don’t pitch investors the way a Silicon Valley company might, they still need to convince various constituencies to support them and doing so in a simple and effective manner can be important.

Or in other words–how to do a presentation without using a massive Powerpoint presentation. Kawasaki’s infographic maps out the order in which 10 slides (15 maximum) should be presented.

At first glance, you may not think every slide is applicable, but just think about the grant applications you make. How many of them ask about your business model, strategic planning, problem you are addressing, promotional plans, evaluation method, list of board and staff members and justify why you receive funding based on past successes? All of that is in the infographic by other names.

If you are talking to potential audience members or volunteers, you can eliminate some of these slides. The question still remains, can you go out into the community and talk about the programming and opportunities you offer in a simplified and interesting way, or are you going to have a slide for each of your events?

The slides can be metaphorical by the way. This is more about tight organization of thoughts than the availability and use of a projector and screen at a presentation. Trying to include too much content in your presentation is akin to trying to cram as many images from your upcoming season in one slide in order to limit it to 10 total. It reduces the effectiveness of the whole.

Right at the top of the infographic is says, the low number forces you to focus on the absolute essentials…the more slides you need, the less compelling your idea.

Kawasaki’s chart has one slide for the Value Proposition – “Explain the Value of the Pain You Alleviate or the Value of the Pleasure You Provide,” and one slide for the Underlying Magic – “Describe the technology, secret sauce or magic behind your product…”

These are the bread and butter areas of the arts. Arts organizations are all about the pleasurable experience and magic. But can you make that case in just a couple slides, even if you were allowed a total of four slides between these two areas?

Can you do it a way that is focused on the pleasure the audience/participant will receive? Nobody buys secret sauce that only the cook thinks tastes good. People have to know they will enjoy the secret sauce as well.

Obviously, this practice is transferable to other areas of the organization, especially marketing. Can you communicate the essence of what your event is in a poster, broadcast or print ad, social media post, email blast, etc? Can you make the case for donating in a brief curtain speech or solicitation letter? Can you give a gallery tour/play talk/concert lecture that makes people want to come back and learn more or do their own research?

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Why In God’s Name Does This Seem Like A Radical Notion!?

Seth Lepore wrote a piece on HowlRound about the need for Artists to Be Entrepreneurs. I thought it was pretty well written and on the mark.

However, I have been feeling extremely frustrated by the response to his column. The amount of retweets of the piece has had me cursing under my breath because it feels like people are just discovering this idea for the first time. I know it has been a continuous topic for the last decade at least. Add to that the common refrain that arts organizations should be run like a business and I have a hard time believing this is a revolutionary notion to anyone.

I was going to start this post with the phrase “Last week Seth Lepore wrote..” because I have been seeing people mention it so much it feels like it has been a week since the post first appeared. It has only been three days.

I don’t usually like to post on topics that are getting a lot of traffic and generating conversation elsewhere. Especially if I don’t have any new insight or counterargument. But I posted a comment on Lepore’s piece saying this topic apparently needs to be discussed more often if it is garnering so much notice.

So here I am, calling additional attention to the issue.

As I suggested, I don’t really have anything to add to what he wrote. Quite honestly, just thinking about this topic is agitating me more than you can imagine and it is difficult for me to calmly compose a post.

Partially this is due to the fact that the anecdotes Lepore relates about the lack of training in these areas are completely familiar to me. I referenced the idea that performing arts training programs aren’t doing enough to train students for careers in a post last month.

Some of the content of that post comes from direct experiences I have had with formal performing arts training programs that don’t train students to manage their own careers. Nor do they encourage students to create and experiment with their own independent projects and few students seem interested or motivated in doing so on their own.

I have worked at a community college without even a certificate program in performance where students had full time jobs, went to school and were taking the initiative to create their own projects and getting involved with other people’s. Some of it stunk, but it got better every year.

I don’t know what motivated one group to create work independently of their instruction and not the others except perhaps that other people around them were already modeling that behavior and inviting them to participate. And perhaps because some of their instructors enabled them by telling the students to bring in some materials and they would show them how to make masks, etc.

But there are plenty of training programs that operate amid those sort of dynamics. As Lepore suggests, a significant contributing factor is likely that faculty never emphasized the value of entrepreneurship, investigating collaborations, etc. They never insisted students learn.

Some will obviously learn by trial and error. Others may never get to a place where they feel like they know how to take control of their careers. Certainly, knowing how to manage and promote yourself well is no guarantee of a successful career. But acquiring these skills will better enable you to understand what is not working and why.

The best suggestion I have for rectifying this situation–for making posts like Lepore’s seem common rather than groundbreaking–is to ask the school you got your arts degree from what they are doing to train their students and enable them to handle their careers. If you didn’t graduate from such a program, (and even if you did), when you meet faculty from other arts training programs, ask them the same thing.

Turn it into one of those buzz/demand generating schemes where people go into a store to ask about a product, then have family and friends call about it, too in order to make it feel like there is an unmet demand for that product.

Which in this case is absolutely true.

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Draw Me A Picture of An Arts Attendee

Even though the articles on Non-Profit Quarterly’s website are relatively short, I found an article last month about fundraising for the homeless gave me a lot to think about.

According to the article, homeless charities are essentially forced to pander to the image of the homeless as old men living on the street in order to raise money even though the truth is 36% of homeless are families and 65% don’t live on the streets.

Research published in the British journal Sociological Research Online noted (my emphasis)

“Given the homogeneity of the images produced in this research, and further studies which show complex, contextual information can lessen the impact of a fundraising campaign, we could argue that charities are acting rationally in continuing to fundraise in such a way, even though in rooflessness they are focusing on a relatively small element of the overall problem of homelessness: ‘the public must be given what they appear to want: images of charitable beneficiaries that fit comfortably with widely held stereotypes about ‘victims’ and which prompt the largest amount of donations.’

The article talks about how some charities recognize the need to balance educating the public about the truth while also acknowledging that “you also have the way that people perceive that problem and what they perceive the solutions to be…”

Reading this, I saw some parallels with what arts organizations face. There has been a lot of conversations in recent years about the mismatch between what arts organizations need funding for (i.e. operations) and foundation funding priorities.

What really got me was the idea that non-profits are often slaves to the image the public has of the constituencies it serves. The British researchers had people draw what they envisioned when they thought of homeless people and many people drew the whiskered old guy sleeping on the street. (I should note the study sample size isn’t terribly large so the results may not be entirely conclusive.)

I wondered if arts organizations were to ask their patrons or people in the community to draw their concept of an arts event attendee, would the pictures be of people in suits/tuxedos and evening gowns even if the reality was jeans and khakis with barely a necktie in sight?

In light of this research, I started wondering if arts organizations might be better served by embracing the high society stereotype they are trying to escape, at least when it comes to fundraising efforts.

If regular event attendees end up rendering an image that diverges from reality of the experience, it may be that they associate their self image with the one on paper. In that case, you may not want to do anything to disabuse them of that notion.

Though this is a complicated situation. They may have drawn the pictures they did because all your marketing materials feature performers in tuxedos and evening gowns reinforcing that image even though your audiences largely don’t dress in that manner or identify with that image.

In this case, continuing an effort to have marketing and fundraising materials and events attempt to diverge from the high society stereotype and more closely align with the audience reality may ultimately garner better attendance and donations.

While there are a lot of nuances of audience psychology to factor in, the rather obvious element in all this has always been that wealthy people make large donations that help keep everything operational so the image arts organizations have tried to project is one that appeals to them.

Like those who serve the homeless, arts organizations may be trapped into perpetuating an image that attracts the most donations versus presenting an image the best reflects the reality or ambition of their activities.

All that being said, I am still intrigued by the idea of asking people either to draw or describe the type of person who attends an arts performance. I have this feeling that a survey requesting a picture might actually end up with a higher response rate than a typical survey.

And it may provide some insight into the image the organization should be projecting in order to appeal to the community. (I have to confess, I had an amusing vision of a crayon stick figure drawing of a man in a top hat and woman in an evening gown slamming the door of theater in the sad faces of two less finely dressed people.)

If anyone tries this, I would love to hear what the results are. This isn’t out of line with what people are asked to share on social media sites and there are arts organizations who are already engaging people in this manner. Nina Simon could ask of visitors at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History to do this and no one would think it particularly novel.

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Info You Can Use: Does The Blue Logo Make You Trust My Blog?

If you are one of those organizations which find success packaging and promoting their shows as part of seasons, you may be looking toward the design of promotional materials for your upcoming year.

With that in mind, it seems like a good time to point out this article on the Psychology of Color that appeared about a year ago on the Entrepreneur website.

(Though you don’t need to have a subscription campaign to design for this article to be of use to you.)

The article does a good job of addressing all the ideas people have about what color means, what colors best appeal to different genders and which are best used for calls to action.

The author, Gregory Ciotti, essentially says most of the assumptions and theories are complete bunk. People bring too much of their personal and cultural experiences to colors to be able to attribute an consistent, specific emotional reaction to them.

It is better to try to pick colors that will generally align with your brand personality rather than to evoke a specific feeling with a color. Context matters more that just about anything else.

Certain colors DO broadly align with specific traits (e.g., brown with ruggedness, purple with sophistication, and red with excitement). But nearly every academic study on colors and branding will tell you that it’s far more important for your brand’s colors to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical color associations.

Consider the inaccuracy of making broad statements such as “green means calm.” The context is missing; sometimes green is used to brand environmental issues such as Timberland’s G.R.E.E.N standard, but other times it’s meant to brand financial spaces such as Mint.com.

And while brown may be useful for a rugged appeal (think Saddleback Leather), when positioned in another context brown can be used to create a warm, inviting feeling (Thanksgiving) or to stir your appetite (every chocolate commercial you’ve ever seen).

Bottom line: I can’t offer you an easy, clear-cut set of guidelines for choosing your brand’s colors, but I can assure you that the context you’re working within is an absolutely essential consideration.

One thing that may or may not enter your consideration of color is gender. There is a difference in color prefer between males and females. Given that women often drive the attendance experience, it may be useful to cater to women’s color biases.

(Though you should probably avoid anything that runs strongly counter to male biases lest the sight of a brochure or webpage entrench their resistance to attendance.)

Additional research in studies on color perception and color preferences show that when it comes to shades, tints and hues men seem to prefer bold colors while women prefer softer colors. Also, men were more likely to select shades of colors as their favorites (colors with black added), whereas women were more receptive to tints of colors (colors with white added)

The last thing that Ciotti works on debunking is the idea that a specific colored button on a website increases the number of purchases. He says rather it is the isolation effect making that button highly noticeable on a webpage, even if you have poor eyesight, that helps create a call to action.

So a red button on a page with a lot of green is more successful than a green button on that same page. The same is true with a mix of color and font size.

The article has a lot of infographics and images which illustrate his point so if any of this sounds interesting, it is worth a visit to the article.

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