I Don’t Know What You Need To Know Because I Know So Much

This summer I have been seeing a lot of California Symphony Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer popping up in places like videos of conference talks she has been giving. It has been over a year and a half since I wrote about her Orchestra X project so I figured it was time to revisit and reacquaint people with the work she has been doing.

Recently she had a blog post following up on the conversations her organization has been having with the communities they serve. She mentions a theme I keep seeing in formal survey results and collected anecdotes — audiences aren’t clamoring for a change in programming as much as they are intimidated and confused by the decision and experience of attending a cultural event.

The bigger issue, she says, is that those of us on the inside forget what it was like being entirely unfamiliar with information or an experience. Even when we are faced with a new-ish experience, our past experiences allow us to make logical leaps that total novices can’t.

What we learned was that a “basic” level of understanding about the symphony or classical music does not exist among newcomers. Some people didn’t even know the names of the instruments in the orchestra, which to me, the person who had played an instrument all growing up and who wanted to manage a symphony since age 16, was pretty much unfathomable (remember hindsight bias?). The good news, we discovered, was that this group of smart people desperately wanted to learn about everything related to classical music though. And through the discussion we learned that the way we layout and present information on our website made it very difficult for them to do that.

[…]

Virtually every person in the room expressed the sentiment of “awe” when describing the art they saw and heard. No one said, “I need a shorter concert,” or “I need to hear more movie music.” They very much wanted to learn about all facets of the repertoire and were emphatic that the art is incomparable.

Bergauer says that now that California Symphony stopped stressing about programming mix and started focusing on retention versus new audience acquisition. Last season, their new attendee retention rate was over 30%.

Take a closer look at the post. She talks a little more about how rich experiences make us unable to anticipate what new attendees really need to know in order to enjoy themselves.

Our Market Is Everybody (Just Some More Than Others)

Broadway Producer Ken Davenport is singing my song. I know you know this tune, but based on my experience, it bears reiterating.

He talks about how he often gets pitched ideas for new Broadway shows.

One of my stock questions to anyone pitching me anything is, “Who do you think the audience is for your piece?”

This question not only helps me determine whether the Pitcher and I are on the same page, but it also gives me some insight into the business acumen of the person who wants me to get involved in their project.

The red flag answer to this filtering question of mine?

“This show is for everyone!”

While I appreciate the bullish answer, the fact is . . . no show is for everyone. And the more you try to make it for everyone, the more you water it down and make sure that it’s for no one.

[…]

…Your first marketing exercise when you embark on producing a show or building a career is as follows.

  1. Identify exactly who your audience is.
  2. Find that audience and exploit them and only them.

If your audience spreads to “everyone” from there then great, but it’s much easier to market to a niche than it is to the world.

I am sure pretty much everyone has run into a similar pitch or had staff/board members make a statement about a show being for everyone. What is often frustrating is that many people who say this own or work for businesses which are pretty clear on who their customer base is and isn’t.

Even funeral homes which about 98% of us will likely end up patronizing on behalf of deceased loved ones likely each have a demographics to which they appeal more than others.

Davenport’s advice to have a focus that moves from the specific to the general is a pretty good guideline when it comes to marketing decisions.

I suspect people feel that they are conceding a flaw in the product if they admit it isn’t for everyone. Saying a certain group will REALLY like it and everyone else will probably like it to might provide the psychological out needed to identify those it is realistically for.

Where They Use Pom-Poms Rather Than Pens To Fill Out The Audience Survey

Another month, another helpful webinar from our friends at Arts Midwest where different venues around the country talk about how they are integrating the Creating Connection practice into their operations.  This time around people from San Jose’s Teatro Vision and Red Wing, MN’s Sheldon Theatre.

Teatro Vision talked about an interesting project they conducted in conjunction with Day of the Dead activities. They had audiences respond to a number of prompts and then took the responses and used them to create poems which they posted in the lobby. Then they surveyed audiences about whether the poems helped to enhance the experience of the performance.

I had been looking forward to the Sheldon Theatre’s portion of the program for nearly a year. Anne Romens, the Creating Connection program coordinator, had been referencing their work in webinars and the professional development conference session we worked on last year so I really wanted a deeper dive into what they were doing.

If you have been reading up or hearing about Creating Connection over the last year or so, you know one of the basic, but crucial concepts is a focus on the audience and experience. The Sheldon has gone whole hog on that. Check out their website and you can see that plainly. Tell me you don’t want to be there.

Starting at about the 28 minute mark in the webinar, they talk about how there were no humans in any of the archival pictures of their building. Everything had been focused on the architectural beauty of the building. The 16-17 brochure was the first time an audience member attending a show was depicted in any of their promotional materials. If you watch their before and after pictures, you can see what a difference “populating” the building makes.

Executive Director Bonnie Schock talks about the concern her board and community members had that this shift in focus would undermine the value of the organization. But when they talked to their audience, themes of togetherness and shared experiences emerged as primary measures of value over the quality of performances and artistry.

They started to develop experiences surrounding performances- everything from meet and greets with artists to tea parties for performances of Alice in Wonderland. During a celebratory event at the start of a season, they handed out “emergency confetti” packets as people left for use when they were feeling down.

One technique I have seen nearly every group presenting a Creative Connection use is a white board/post-it note board for audience feedback. Not only did the Sheldon use this, they also “surveyed” audiences by having them drop little pom-poms in jars labeled with different sentiments (~40:45 mark).

A lot of great ideas presented by both groups, don’t let my prior interest in learning about one of them keep you from watching the whole thing.

 

#19NTC Topics-Oh Yeah Do I Got Ideas For You

Last week Drew McManus did a call out to the non-profit arts community to submit proposals for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2019. (Proposal deadline is August 17)

Last year, I was excited by the topic Drew was presenting – “Everything Tech Providers Wished You Knew About Writing A RFP (plus the stuff they want to keep secret)

So in the spirit of getting more stuff I am interested in learning about proposed, I am gonna give you a list of some of the things I think would make good topics in the hope some of you will submit something.

  • Data Privacy and Security From Perspective of Communities of Color – I have already reached out to one of the people who made a presentation for the Hispanic National Bar Assn in NYC, but anyone with an interest should submit on this topic. Given that non-profits serving communities of color often need to establish a relationship of trust, this seems like an important subject to address.
  • Analyzing The True Cost of Programs – favorite topic of mine. Related idea:
  • Using Evidence/Data to Rebutt the Concept of Overhead Ratio As A Measure Of Effectiveness
  • Shared /Online Procurement Goods/Services
  • Effective RFP Generation – both internal & external processes
  • Using Geofencing To Better Understand Target Communities – can geofencing help you better understand a community based on where they travel around the community?
  • Ethics of Using Geofencing For Marketing  – i.e. I can geofence a local theater and target people based on the idea that they enjoy attending performances or with the intent of stealing the audience.
  • In-Person/Conference Based Professional Development vs. Online/Technology Delivery. Are there some subject areas better suited to one format over the other?
  • Shared services/technology arrangements – in terms of both back office and program delivery
  • Delete the Facebook Account? – Communication strategies when faced with a concerted social media assault
  • Conforming with Google’s new criteria for Adwords Grants – i.e. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/05/07/nonprofits-can-keep-adwords-grants-following-major-changes-restore-lost-accounts/
  • Energy Saving Performance Contracts
  • Use of technology to provide regular cues to keep strategic plan alive and relevant – i.e. using software/apps to periodically to nag/remind you of milestones in time line, provide encouragement, remind you of ideas you had during the planning session
  • Effective Hiring – from job description to orientation/training  this topic is large enough to be multiple sessions can hit on everything from online job boards/job app apps to new state laws requiring salary range and forbidding asking about salary history

There are plenty more ideas where these came from, but I feel like this is a good broad range of subjects. I have already reached out to a few people encouraging to propose based on topics they are well-qualified to address.

If any of this inspires you in any sort of direction, submit a proposal.  If you got questions, let me know. Like Drew, I am on the conference session committee. Honestly, the conference organizers are really good about providing opportunities for people to ask questions at scheduled office hours and open Q&A sessions, and an online proposal prep group in which you can solicit feedback on proposals you are developing. All these resources are listed on the proposal pages.

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