Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reading list: Great by Choice

From the blurb: "Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?"

Sounds an awful lot like the np arts orgs world, doesn't it? Why is it some theaters succeed, balancing budgets, retaining audiences, basking in critical acclaim? While others stumble along, maybe having a hit or two, always wondering if people can be paid, eventually shuttering rather than enduring more stress?

Collins doesn't set out to write about our world (unfortunately. Mr. Collins, if you ever do, please call me to be on your research team.) but his key findings--in all of his books--apply not only to the publicly traded for-profit corporations he studies but to the myriad sized and structured art centered, community building, nonprofit arts organizations we love.

The companies he looks at in GbC all have the same traits: their leaders have Level 5 ambition; they have empirical creativity AND fanatic discipline AND productive paranoia; they stick with a SMaC (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent) recipe; and manage their luck, both bad and good. I'm sure if we looked at our arts orgs, the ones that have survived turmoil and grown to greatness, we would find the same principles to be true.

The point I want to make here is how can we use these principles in our own organizations now that our world of funding and audiences, engagement and advocacy, has changed from a "build it and they will come" to "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks".

To examine each point in turn would be a good blog series, but the one that strikes me as most interesting today is the SMaC recipe. For all our talk about adherence to mission statements and blind fanaticism to value propositions, we do not, as a rule, have a Specific, Methodical, and Consistent recipe for achieving our missions. This recipe should be based on both what works and should be repeated over and over again, what doesn't work and should never be done, and have built in what our success metrics are based on. There is room for amendments, but only with empirical evidence that such amendments are necessary and beneficial.

Each arts org will have a different recipe, certainly. My point is not to try to argue what those recipes should look like, but that each organization should have one. The leadership needs to sit down and hammer out what their SMaC recipe is, as they have seen produce results and differentiate themselves in the market. This is not doing strategic planning for the next 3-5 years of projects and presentations. This is not specific art, marketing, or development plans per se. This is a statement of what the organization will do methodically forever in order to achieve its goals (of course, there is a presupposition the org knows what those are).

In our time of trouble, of downsizing, right-sizing, cutbacks, and closures, figuring out how to consistently move forward means finding a business recipe and sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A marketer and a researcher walk into a bar...

Me and Scott. The awesome level in this
room was off the charts.
This past week I've been able to meet two of my new favorite authors/speakers locally: Richard Evans, of EmcArts, and Scott Stratten, of Unmarketing. I have been reading their information for around a year now and was ecstatic at the opportunity to meet them both on my home turf.

While they would likely find they have a lot in common if they sat down and talked it out, at first glance it doesn't appear that way: one is a researcher in the arts field, the other a marketer. However, both of them share key insights that apply to the new work of engaging customers.

1. Active Participation
Richard talked about how marketing for innovative arts organizations is about engaging active participants with both the process and product of art. Scott makes the point that businesses don't define their brands, customers do. In both instances, it's about the value the customer places on our organizations that matter. What we need to do is help their estimation go up by being partners, not lecturers.

2. Hire the Right People
Innovative arts organizations are shifting their hiring processes away from specialized training to art-centered workers who thrive in teams. Scott posits: "I'd rather hire people who are passionate about service and train them how to do their job." (May I throw in one of the _Good to Great_ maxims here? Get the Right People on the Bus. I <3 Jim Collins. He's on my "meet one day" list, too.) We can't teach passion. We can't teach people skills. Sure, we can refine them, we can build on them, but you either care about the general public or you don't. If you have a position that engages customers, make sure you have the right person in that job.

3. Adapting in Real Time
Are we nimble, flexible, able to take advantage of opportunities, be they negative or positive? Richard shares much on these topics in seemingly disparate areas such as governance (champions of change), finances (risk capital), and especially adaptive capacity (the ability to initiate change in response to environment). In discussing social media, Scott says, "We don't have lead time any more. Everything happens in real time." Customers don't stop and wait for us to catch up. Our patrons either find what they want or they go elsewhere. We have to be tuned in enough to be able to immediately respond in a way that will make them say "Awesome!"

Take good ideas where you find them. And run. Who's on your "Have to Meet" list?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thoughts for NAMP blog post

I've been invited to participate in the National Arts Marketing Project Blog Salon about marketing the arts, in advance of this year's conference in November. As I'll be leading a roundtable discussion there on Customer Service in the Small Shop Arts Organization, I thought I'd write about how to keep audiences coming back for more.

This post is just some thoughts and ideas about the topic, things to remember, or spark questions.

-power of a name. How often are you greeting patrons by name, before they tell you what it is?

-good service makes the whole event. Crappy service can mar good art.

-building relationships takes time.

-ask questions, then write down the answers so you can follow up next time.

-share information with staff, up and down.

-how are you hugging your customers? Once marketing gets them in the door, what actions are you taking to make them raving fans?

-do you have a customer service mission? Not a list of rules, but a mindset about how customers are valued?

-does everyone in your org have a passion for people? This is critical, from box office staff to development to artists.

-you don't need to have expensive technology to build customer databases. All you need is the wherewithal.

-can you name your top 5 patrons? How about 5%?

-are you following up with patrons when they don't show up for a while? "R u ok?"

-share information. Sure, there may be things that an informal patron doesn't need to know, but sharing little things can have a big impact.

-asking for feedback, then actually listening to it and trying to implement.