Shirtless Men As Institutional Marketing

Oklahoma City Ballet Executive Director Shane Jewell wrote a piece recently on the Clyde Fitch Report discussing the ways in which his organization has used performance and institutional marketing to promote itself.

In discussing the familiar practice of performance marketing, Jewell goes to some length to distinguish the video they did for their production of Cinderella as a trailer rather than a commercial. What might be confusing is that in the next sentence he states the commercial won Gold at the Oklahoma City ADDY Awards.

After re-reading the post, I assume he wants to emphasize that they didn’t view it as a commercial because it diverged from the expected pattern of

“…live-performance footage with voiceover and text. This is possibly a company’s biggest waste of time and money. The only people who would enjoy this type of commercial are those who are already fans of ballet, and more than likely they do not need a commercial to alert them of upcoming performances… The goal of performance marketing is to attract new audiences.”

My initial concern was whether the trailer might set up unrealistic expectation in people who were not familiar with ballet. (Though on the other hand, we pretty much expect trailers won’t be completely accurate representations of movies so it probably isn’t a big problem.)

What I really want to focus on though is the ballet’s handling of less frequently used institutional marketing–essentially the effort of demonstrating that your organization is a part of the community rather than apart from the community.

Noting that their community is very athletically oriented, the ballet created a print ad using their dancers to depict the fierce cross state rivalry between Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma. (You can see the ad in Jewell’s post.)

They also created a video emphasizing the athleticism of their dancers which they ran during the portion of the year they weren’t performing.

Oklahoma is a sports state so we played to the athleticism of our dancers and you don’t even realize you are watching a ballet commercial when it begins.

Here is the ad. Whether it was intended or not, I felt like the “Oklahoma City” graphic at the end with “Ballet” only popping in for the last second, communicated a sense of “we are you.”

After seeing these ads, it probably won’t surprise you that Jewell’s last bit of advice is- “know your audience. And have your men take their shirts off.”

You may be looking at this videos and thinking it must be nice to have the production budget to be able to make these videos. Jewell said the ballet trailer increased ticket sales enough that they covered the expense of making it.

While it is true that you often have to spend money to make money, I can personally attest it can be very easy to direct funds toward ineffective efforts. It can be extremely difficult to justify spending money on marketing that is not connected to a revenue generating activity. That is money you could use for that very purpose three months down the road.

There are opportunities for institutional marketing that don’t necessarily involve producing ads. I am reminded of the activities the Trey McIntyre Project engaged in around Boise, ID. In addition to their concerts, they generated flash mobs, danced at the local NBA farm team basketball games and participated in an art installation in a local hotel (starting around 3:30).

Certainly these type of things demand resources of their own. Time spent on them is not being spent on rehearing or creating, but the option is there.

And there is always having your men take their shirts off.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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