We live in an age of astonishing invention. The new communication tools developed over the past 20 years are remarkable for their power and penetration. How many of us do not own an iPhone, iPad or BlackBerry or do not use websites, email blasts or social networking in our daily lives and in our organizations?
Why then, when we can communicate like never before, are arts organizations having an increasingly difficult time making a compelling case to potential audiences and donors? Why do sports and popular entertainment dominate our media and our minds like never before?
The Internet has provided us with astonishing tools that allow us to:
• Educate thousands upon thousands of potential audience members and donors at virtually no cost. We can provide information, videos and recordings with the push of a button. Our marketing materials used to be so static, now they can better reflect the work we do.
• Provide the information we need to sell our less well-known repertory. We could never afford to offer the information needed to see less accessible repertory using traditional marketing techniques; now it costs nothing to provide large amounts of information.
• Keep track of those who express any interest in our work. We can now capture the names of anyone who expresses interest in our work by visiting our website. This allows us to target our marketing efforts in ways that were formerly too expensive and cumbersome.
• Offer special deals to selected customers through targeted mailings. Providing discount opportunities, especially at the last minute, is easier than ever before.
• Provide opportunities for our constituents to stay in touch with us and provide feedback through social networking outlets. We can involve our constituents in easy and effective ways using Facebook, Twitter and other sites.
• Address the needs of constituents in rural areas who were heretofore too expensive to reach. It costs the same to reach a rural prospect as an urban one if they have Internet access.
• Lower the cost of programmatic marketing campaigns so we can sell more tickets and spend less on advertising and direct mail. By shifting marketing efforts to online activities from paid advertising, programmatic marketing cost--the cost of attracting ticket buyers--can be lowered substantially.
And yet, to most arts leaders I meet, new technologies are viewed as a threat. They are perceived as competitors for our audiences' time and attention rather than our biggest allies. Arts organizations have been slow to exploit the power of new technology and cling to older, more expensive techniques that are not as effective.
We are clearly doing something wrong. We must find ways to embrace the new technologies. We need to apply the creativity we bring to our stages and galleries to the use of these new tools.
The business world, entertainment industry and sports world are all doing so.
If we don't make a committed effort, we will fall hopelessly behind and the arts will lose their place in our society.