Success Story: An Artist’s Collective Turns the Corner

The CLIENT

The arts economy in New England in general and Greater Boston in particular, is significant.  ArtsBoston, a 175-member not-for-profit arts service organization that researches  important statistics regarding the local arts community, found that more than 18 million visits are made to arts and cultural events every year, ticketed and free events, including dance, musical and theater performances; visits to museums and art galleries; and attendance at ethnic cultural festivals.

It has been my pleasure to work with two of the three most respected collectives of visual artists in Boston including the largest, whose membership exceeds 200.  Eighteen months ago,  the larger organization referred to me the smaller, 80-member, loosely  affiliated sister organization. The two have overlapping memberships, where nearly the entire membership of the smaller are also members of the larger group.  The membership of both collectives consists primarily of painters, sculptors and photographers, with a smattering of ceramacists and artisans such as bookbinders and calligraphers. Management for each group is separate and independent.

All artists in the collectives maintain studios in an art and design district consisting of several 19th century former warehouse buildings and the artists of the smaller collective are all located in one of those buildings.

Both collectives offer nearly identical special events programming as a method to reach out to potential art collectors.  Each holds an annual open studios art walk event, where member artists open their studios and invite the public in at no charge to see, discuss and when visitors choose, purchase artwork.  Since 1986, the larger group has held its signature open studios event in September and the smaller group holds its annual event in May.  Additionally, since about 1998, the smaller group has held the monthly open studios event branded as First Friday.

The CHALLENGE

The smaller arts collective was facing increasingly diminished audiences for First Fridays, which are held on the first Friday of every month from 5:00 – 9:00 PM January through December.  Attendance at its May open studios event was likewise softening. Artist membership in the group had stagnated.

Competition between the local artist collectives has in recent years become intense, the result of a proliferation of open studios events that has diluted the target audience of middle class to affluent collectors who reside in the tonier city and suburban enclaves.  Boston has 22 neighborhoods and 12 annual open studios events, with dates coordinated by the city and held from April to November each year.  Additionally, nearly every city or town contiguous to Boston, plus numerous outlying suburbs, have over the years launched open studios art walks.  In July and August the action moves to the historic summer artist colonies in MA, including Cape Ann, Provincetown and towns in the Berkshire mountains that beckon to vacationers from around the country.

The DECISION

The collective is managed by two member volunteers.  They reached out to their counterparts in the larger organization and asked how that group managed to maintain attendance for its annual open studios event, which has reversed previously declining numbers.

Within two weeks I met with the leaders of the smaller collective and after listening to their story,  recommended that an energized marketing plan would most likely provide the remedy.  Over the past three or four years,  a shortage of time and a dose of complacency had caused the managers to slack off on marketing their events to the target audience.  Recently, First Fridays had been listed in only one print and three online events listing services.

Member art sales were shrinking because fewer collectors or potential collectors visited studios.  Membership in the collective was dropping slowly, as artists re-examined the value of the collective at renewal time.  Operating income was negatively impacted. Artist participation in First Fridays waned, which could only cause the target audience attendance to wane.  It was an impending death spiral.

The SOLUTION

A comprehensive and consistently implemented marketing campaign was launched in an increased number of targeted print and online media outlets, which was the core of a strategy to greatly improve outreach to collectors and potential collectors.  More visits to studios would enhance the possibility of art sales and promote the conversion of aspiring collectors to collector status.  Over the subsequent months, additional media outlets were identified and included in the campaign.  Presently, 14 online media outlets and five print outlets now carry the First Friday listings each month and the listing for the annual open studios event in May.

A paid display ad (one-quarter page) will now appear annually in a free print publication that has high readership among tourists to Boston, since outreach to that group has become a priority.  To estimate the potential impact of tourist dollars on contemporary art sales in Boston, in 2016 the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, which features 21st century art only, received 210,000 visitors, according to the Boston Business Journal (and the Museum of fine Arts, the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science each received in excess of 1.1 million visitors).

Content marketing is also part of the campaign launch, designed to reach the collective’s members and non-members through the collective’s newsletter.  Membership retention and recruitment are in many ways the heart of the marketing campaign for without active and engaged members who believe in the mission and are happy to carry it out, the collective will cease to exist.

The monthly newsletter now includes a member artist spotlight that features an image of the artist’s work plus a brief artist bio.  The artists volunteer to participate and the response has been enthusiastic.  As a way to persuade the 10 -15 non-members in the building of the collectives’ benefits, an annual newsletter customized to provide an update of the work that the collective’s members find especially useful and making an appeal to join is now being sent.

The RESULT

The number of visitors to First Fridays has gradually climbed to about 500 on average each month.  As documented by the managers, historic lows occur in January and February, when attendance can dip as the temperature drops, the snow piles up and only 200 or so art aficionados will attend First Friday.  Months with the highest visitors are April through June and September through December, when up to 700 visitors may appear.

Membership in the collective has risen over the past 12 months from just over 70 to 80 members.  There remains 10 -15 artists in the building who are non-members.  The group hopes that one or two non-members will sign up each year.

I hope you enjoyed the case study.  Thanks for reading.

Kim

 

 

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Marketing 2.0: How and Why You Measure Results

Marketing is an essential function of every business.   Smart organization leaders understand that continually reaching out to current and potential customers,  with objectives to create loyalty and trust in the company,  its products and its services and building a brand,  are integral to sustaining a healthy enterprise.  Like all business initiatives,  marketing objectives and strategies must be periodically evaluated,  to monitor and measure results and determine how to adjust and optimize the program if results do not meet expectations.  Choose your marketing activities based on your knowledge of customer behavior.

The measurement of marketing results can be broken down according to a method recommended by Joseph Raymond Roy,  a marketing consultant based in Meredith, NH,  who gives us the acronym DATA:

1. Defining,  identify the result your marketing will promote (increasing the number of potential customers)

2. Assessing,  measure the dollar value of your marketing program (look at the number of customers and gross revenue)

3. Tracking,  determine if customers came to your business as a result of your marketing activities (ask new customers how they found you, or all customers in a survey)

4. Adjusting,  if it is obvious,  do more of what produces the desired result and less of what does not produce results.  In other words,  optimize your marketing activities.

Begin the measurement by calculating the amount of money invested in your marketing activities.  Obviously there is also time involved,  which should be taken into account,  but  it is usually difficult to attach an appropriate dollar figure to one’s time.  How much is the time you spend networking worth?  What is the time spent on social media worth,  or producing your monthly newsletter?

You may develop good relationships with potential referral sources,  but it may take 5 months or 5 years to receive a referral.  Speaking engagements and webinars  are easier to evaluate.  A well-respected venue always has value,  whether or not you receive referral business or meet a future client,  because the very act adds value to your curriculum vitae.  Calculate ROI by deducting the value of resources spent on marketing activities from revenues generated by customers who have come to you as a result of marketing activities.

Tracking  (i.e., forward tracking),  the process of building an identifying mechanism into each marketing activity before it is launched,  so that you can measure the results derived.  If you present a webinar,   the registration of participants,  which includes an email address for each listener,  is a most accurate tracking mechanism.  Responding to a product offer with a special code is another excellent tracking device.   The marketer will be able to identify which customer was not only impacted by a certain activity,  but also will know if that person eventually does business with the company.

There are various types of tracking methods,   including Point-of-sale tracking,  conducted when new customers arrive by asking them how they heard about you.  You will also use point-of-sale tracking when you tally up the sales results associated with the purpose of your marketing program,  be it bigger ticket items,  referrals,  or other customer actions.   Reverse tracking  is the process of going through your customer list and documenting how current customers became your customers.

If you write a blog or newsletter,  measure your reach by counting the number of subscribers,  email forwards and followers.  Point-of-sale tracking  will let you know if demonstration of your knowledge and expertise brings customers into the door.

The ROI of PR should be measured in at least two ways:  first,  through Media impressions,  in which the marketer counts how many media outlets wrote a story or made a radio or television announcement in response to a press release that was sent (a follow-up phone call will likely boost the response rate).   Second,  through Content analysis one can evaluate the accuracy of what was broadcast as a result of the press release and the prominence of item placements in the chosen media outlets.

Online data analytics systems  will track all visits to your website,  customized to your needs.  How many potential customers abandon your website and how many follow-up with inquiries or engage by clicking on your newsletter or blog? What is the impact of your social media outlets on your marketing objectives? Here is how you’ll know.

The ultimate marketing metric is the percentage of your customer base that result from marketing activities,  or Marketing Originated Customers.

It may take a service provider 6 – 12 months to have results to measure.  Obtaining a contract from a new or returning client is a longer sales cycle than selling ice cream cones.  Metrics make it possible to know which marketing activities yield the best results and that knowledge will give you the opportunity to optimize your marketing efforts.  You will do more of what works,  perhaps launching an advertising campaign during a particular season or increasing your participation in certain business or professional groups.  Other activities may be diminished or dropped altogether.  Gross sales will give a dollar value ROI to your marketing program when compared to the pre-marketing program value.

Marketing metrics ensure that you receive a solid ROI on your marketing activities.  Appropriately chosen and implemented marketing activities that are tracked and optimized will always pay for themselves.

Thanks for reading,

Kim