The New Arts Model (Repost)

Michael Kaiser recently wrote about the new arts model in the Huffington Post.  What are your thoughts on his thoughts?

If I hear one more pundit or read one more blog suggesting that ‘old models’ of arts organizations are dying and that ‘new models’ are needed I am going to scream. Expert after expert are calling for ‘new models’ without explaining what these new models are or what specifically they are meant to address, except for a vague unhappiness with how things are working (or not working) now.

We in the arts face major challenges, including, but certainly not limited to, the short-term economic situation in which we all work. But simply suggesting that ‘things must change’ without giving us concrete proposals is not helpful.

What exactly do these people mean by ‘old models’ anyway? Do they mean that arts organizations are all going to die and that there will be no more arts institutions in the future? I doubt that will be the case. I predict that in fifty years there will still be large and mid-sized and small organizations producing theater and music and dance. There may be more or less of them than there are today and there may be several venerable organizations that do not survive. But that does not mean that big arts organizations are going to be extinct. Many large corporations die as well. Remember Arthur Andersen? American Motors? Texaco? Wang? No one is selling off the stock market today suggesting that the corporate model is dead simply because some corporations go bankrupt or merge with others.

Do these experts mean that in the future all art will be created by groups of artists who work on specific, individual projects and then disband? I hope not. That means that every time artists conceive of a project they must start from scratch to find the resources they need. They will not benefit from the family of donors and ticket buyers that current arts organizations count on for support year after year. They will have to reinvent their support bases anew every time they wish to produce art. And they will not benefit from the huge marketing networks that established arts organizations have created. It will be far more difficult and expensive to attract audience members if this scenario obtains. There will be no subscriptions because there will be no organization that can guarantee a series of performances. And the name recognition enjoyed by major arts organizations will be a thing of the past.

Do they mean that large-scale arts projects will be replaced by smaller ones? That would be a shame. As much as I truly enjoy a chamber-sized program, I also enjoy large scale works. Are we never to experience Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand again? Or Der Rosenkavalier? Or Swan Lake? Must we toss out an entire canon of great works in an effort to make way for the new? Of course we must invest in new operas and dances and works of theater. But we can also cherish the great works that have formed the foundation of our culture. There is no question that our view of what is art is growing and diversifying. This is all to the good. My experiences with Arab and Indian and Chinese art have been life-changing and have broadened by view of the world. But that does not diminish at all my love of Beethoven and Shakespeare.

Read Part II of his article here…

Have you thought about an arts virtual assistant?

Launching today: arts virtual assistants, a new firm trying a different approach to solving “brain drain” caused by high turnover in arts and cultural organizations. gives arts groups access to skilled part-time workers who know the arts and can do tasks such as creating email newsletters, engaging audiences on Facebook, or writing grants. This creates savings on overhead, while allowing nonprofit workers to gain work from a wide audience of clients. To see a video and learn more, check out the homepage of and follow on Twitter @artsarmyVA

Butts In Seats: 5 Tips for Event Marketing Using Social Media

Social media is an important piece of the event marketing puzzle.  Unlike most nonprofits that are marketing one product all year long (a charitable cause), a performing arts organization markets multiple different products (performances and events) throughout each season.  It can be challenging to market diverse offerings whilst still under the umbrella of one organization.   Let me share my top 5 tips to marketing events that will generate buzz and improve conversions.

1.Don’t forget about the 80/20 rule. This is a rule that I live by regarding social media marketing, whether it is when I’m marketing an event or not.  I find that the best ratio to keep people engaged but not tick them off is to have 80% engagement and 20% broadcasting.  Even when you have an event to market, talking 100% about that event is just going to turn people off and they aren’t going to listen to one word that you are saying.

2. Engage creatively. This one goes together with tip #1 about the 80/20 rule.   You may ask, why should I waste time tweeting or posting about stuff that has nothing to do with my event when I’m trying to sell tickets?  Well, that is pretty simple to answer.

If you are engaging with people, you will be top of mind so that when they do hear something about you or your event, they will remember the interaction and be much more likely to check it out.  A creative ways to sneak a bit of broadcasting into your engagement posts is to set up a search column in TweetDeck or HootSuite (or whatever program you are using to monitor your social media) with keywords related to your event.

For example, when Palm Beach Opera presents Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, I set up columns for not only the opera title, but also for related terms such as Puccini and Miss Saigon (which is based on the opera).  This way, I can converse with people who are talking about related things without directly “selling” my event to them.  This way, when you do send out those 20% of posts that are directly about the event, you have already engaged a potentially new group of people in addition to your existing fans.

3. Make sure your website is up to par. This may seem obvious but it is surprising how many times I see this not being done.  The best way to get the word out about your event is to have it prominently featured on the homepage of your website.  Also, the event should have its own dedicated page with a unique URL.  This URL is imperative to any promotion of the event online whether it is using social media or email.

When promoting an event using social media, add the URL to each broadcasting post.  Do you think the URL is too long?  Use a link shortener like or to make the link more manageable.  An added bonus to these shorteners is that you will be able to see how many people clicked on the link with their built in stats.

4. Make it easy to buy. A good user experience is very important in closing the deal with an attendee. The buying process should be as simple as possible.  You should always allow tickets to be purchased for your event online.

If you don’t have your own ticketing system or if this is an occasional event, try an online service like or BrownPaperTickets.comthat creates an easy environment for ticket buying.  The biggest no-no is to promote an event online and then have the only way to buy tickets be over the phone.  You want to make sure that it only takes a couple of clicks between your tweet and buying a ticket.

5. Follow up after the event. Don’t forget to follow up with your attendees after the event in a timely manner.  Encourage people to share their thoughts about the event on your profiles.  If you offered social media discount and you are able to track ticket buyers with a code of some sort, send an email or a direct tweet to them just after the event with an easy way for them to provide feedback.

If you didn’t use a code, it is still a good idea to make contact with your ticket buyers right after the event to thank them for coming and ask for feedback.  Also, don’t forget to keep a separate list of the email addresses of your ticket buyers.  This will come in handy when the next event comes as you know they will be a captive audience.

Ceci Dadisman is the arts marketing go-to gal! She is the Director of Marketing & PR at Palm Beach Opera where, in addition to all of the usual marketing duties, she manages all aspects of the company’s technology and new media projects, including social media, website, iPhone app, and live web streaming.  During her time at Palm Beach Opera, she has brought Palm Beach Opera to the forefront of the social media and new technology realm proving that companies of all sizes and budgets can do great things in the world of digital marketing.  Ceci was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA – home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, sandwiches and salads with french fries on top, and some of the top arts organizations in the nation. She graduated from West Virginia University (let’s go Mountaineers!) with a music degree in vocal performance and is a professional singer.

Why bigger isn’t always better

If you are an arts organization that has a budget of less than $500,000 (or even less than $1 million) and you need marketing help don’t immediately think that you need to hire a big marketing firm or ad agency to get your marketing off on the right foot.

Here are a few tips and things to consider for small or emerging arts organizations looking to hire outside marketing help to revamp or set up their marketing:

1.  Be Prepared

No matter what stage of the game your organization is in, whether it is a new organization or an existing one, identify the key goals you would like to accomplish.  This doesn’t just mean “We want to sell more tickets and get more donations.”  Those are goals that every arts organization on the planet has.  Think a bit more specifically on how you want to get to those broad, overarching goals.

A great place to start is to identify the things that aren’t working.  Perhaps you have a website that you can’t update easily or it is outdated, you want to start selling tickets online, you need a fresh look for your logo or collateral materials, or maybe you are a new organization and need to get a solid foundation built in the right way.

Having some specific things in mind will help any potential firm or consultant zero in on exactly what you need and determine whether or not they can help you achieve those goals.

2. Search Wisely

Marketing for an arts nonprofit is very different from marketing a for-profit company and even a non-arts nonprofit.  Just because a consultant has done marketing for nonprofits before doesn’t always mean that they are adept at navigating the idiosyncrasies of an arts organization.  The same goes for a consultant who has never done marketing for nonprofits at all.  That does not mean that there are not marketers out there who can adapt very easily from one sector to the other but it is always a good idea to start with people who have experience in arts marketing before.

Also, when meeting with prospective consultants or firms, be very forthcoming about your budget.  If you can only spend $5,000 for marketing for your entire season, they will need to know that right off the bat.  There are some firms that only deal with accounts of over a certain dollar amount and there is no use getting further into talks with someone that fundamentally won’t work out.

If the consultant or firm says that they will work with small budgets, be sure to ask them what other clients they currently have or have had in the past with similar budgetary restrictions.  What types of grass-roots marketing have they done in the past?  How were they able to achieve maximum results for minimum dollars?

One last note:  Be very wary of large firms that offer to work with you free of charge.  This is very suspicious and I’ve never seen it end well.

3.  Sometimes you get what you pay for

And sometimes you don’t.  Us nonprofit-minded folks like to try and think creatively to see what we can get for free.  Free can be very good but it can also be very bad.  If you know you desperately need to re-vamp your website, 9 times out of 10 hiring your Co-Founder/Artistic Director’s 16-year-old nephew (or your 2nd violinist’s wife or your board president’s neighbor) to do it pro bono is not the right choice.  I can tell you this with almost 100% certainty:  you will not get a sleek, professional looking website that can sell tickets and process online donations built in a timely fashion that you can easily update yourself without any knowledge of HTML.  (And just for the record: Yes, every size organization can have and should have a website that is all of those things and you don’t have to spend even $1,000 to get it.)

That said, there are some things that you can certainly get for free that can be very beneficial to your organization.  You can have friends, family, and other interested parties help with supplementing your social media or serve as brand ambassadors for your organization to spread the word.  (Notice I used the word “supplement.”  This is very important.  Your marketing professional be the #1 person in charge of your social media plan and strategy as well as overseeing all those who tweet and post on behalf of the organization.) If you know of someone who likes to blog, get them on board as a guest blogger on your site to keep the content fresh.  If you sell your own program ads, send supporters out there to help you make contacts in the community with potential advertisers.

All of the things that go into marketing an arts organization (whether they cost a pretty penny or won’t cost you a dime) have to be orchestrated by someone, though. This is where your consultant or firm comes in.  Things tend to work out much better when you have a qualified person managing all of this who knows what they are doing. 🙂


Group Buying: Does it work for arts .orgs?

Everyone is hearing a lot about group buying sites lately such as Groupon and Living Social.  (There are tons of others, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on those two because they are the biggest and most well-known.)  Arts organizations are getting curious to see if it could be a good thing but cautious as to if it will really work.  The answer to that question is a resounding “yes” if it is done correctly.  Before putting an offer on one of these sites, there are a few things that you must remember:

1.  The purpose of putting out an offer for an arts organization is to move inventory that would not sell otherwise.  This might seem elementary but we must keep this top of mind when choosing the performance, seating section, and price for the offer.

2.  Remember who the offer will be sent to.  These people most likely do not already come to your performances.  Choose your repertoire for the offer with that in mind not only so that you can sell more of the tickets but also so that those people that are having their first experience with your organization will have a good time and want to go back.

3.  Price the offer right.  As said above, most of the people purchasing your offer will probably have not been to your theater before.  Even if you are discounting a ticket that would regularly be $150 down to $80 that is still too expensive for someone who is not yet invested in your product and doesn’t share the same view of its value in the marketplace.  I recommend going no higher than the price point of $40 with something more like $20 – $30 being optimal.

My one beef with these sites that has come out of my dealings with them thus far is the amount of inventory that they want.  If they want to continue to be able to offer performances along with cupcakes, pole dancing classes, and spa services, they need to realize that arts organizations are dealing with a limited amount of inventory to start out with.  There are only so many seats in a theater.  Once those seats are filled, we can’t magically add more.  Even an opera company that performs in a 2,000 seat theater can probably only offer 200 – 400 seats per run of a show because of subscription and single ticket sales.

In short, unless you are selling out 100% of your performances, there will always be inventory for these types of deals.  Personally, I would rather get a person into the theater at a $20 price than have the seat go empty or give it away for free.

3 Reasons to Choose iContact over Constant Contact

First off, let me tell you that I am receiving no compensation from iContact nor do I have a customer service horror story about Constant Contact.  What follows is simply my opinion.

Why I think that non-profits should use iContact instead of Constant Contact for their mass e-mail communications.

1.  iContact is cheaper.

Here is a pretty graphic from their website illustrating this fact:


2.  iContact gives you added features without extra cost.

With iContact, you get lots of other great features without spending extra money.  The two biggies for me are the fact that you can do surveys and have a public newsletter archive.  These are two very powerful tools for non-profits.  We all know how useful a survey can be but have you ever thought about what you could do if you could post a URL to your last e-newsletter?  This is what the public archive allows you to do.  Not only can you send messages to the people on your list, but you can share that same message with your Facebook fans, Twitter follwers, blog readers, etc.

3.  Better control of custom HTML.

Let’s say you have paid a designer to create a custom HTML e-mail template for you.  That is super for the first month when they are sending it out for you.  But what do you do in the upcoming months when you don’t have super HTML skills?  iContact provides three tabs that let you easily access the HTML as well as make edits in a preview fashion that doesn’t require any HTML knowledge.



Are you wondering if they have a non-profit rate?  Yes, they do.  And they have all of the list segmentation tools and stats that you are used to.  If you are using Constant Contact consider saving a lot of money per year and switch to iContact.

Arts .Org Web Rock Stars

There are lots of great examples of large corporations and companies who are using the web and social media in innovative ways.  These are excellent inspiration for us arts marketers.  I find myself wondering, “That is great, but how would I apply that?”  Or, “That would be really cool, but we don’t have a need for something that involved.”

That said, where are the arts .orgs that we can use for inspiration?  Who is out there doing really great things?  I’ve got three examples for you that demonstrate using different aspects of the web and social media:



This interactive brochure is, quite simply, awesome.  It has all of the elements of a regular brochure (as the name suggests) plus sound clips, performance videos, and video commentary.  This is truly a prime example of true audience engagement through the use of an organization website.  Bravo!



In a fantastic little daily ode to #operaplot, Eric McKeever of Opera Columbus tweets an opera plot in haiku form.  There are no prizes if you guess the correct opera, just personal satisfaction and an @reply for your Twitter username.  I have found myself racking my brain many times at his clever prose, clearly showing the value of this small (and FREE) way to get your audience involved.



So many arts .orgs have YouTube channels, but many of them are simply repositories for performance videos.  Whilst that is a very valid use of a YouTube channel, it lands a bit flat in terms of engagement.  New York City Ballet‘s YouTube channel is a fantastic example of the power of original, behind-the-scenes content.  One of my favorite videos features endearing footage and commentary of the dancers when the were children.


All three of these examples can be used as a foundation for projects at any size arts .org.  Looking for a first fore into video?  Create a simple vlog that would require minimal editing.  Hesitant to dive into Twitter?  Maybe put more effort into your Facebook fan page.  Don’t have the budget for complex web features?  Simply post links to additional content (YouTube, outside websites, etc.) on your site.  Be creative!

Arts Convention Alert

Attending conventions and conferences related to your .org can be VERY rewarding.  Here is a short list:

Opera America

Americans for the Arts

Dance USA

American Musicological Society

Arts Reach

Technology in the Arts
(2009 information is not available yet – so bookmark this page!)

Why your arts .org should use Twitter

It allows you to get the point of your message out quickly and easily to an audience who wants to hear it for FREE!

Arts organizations are historically slow to jump on the technology bandwagon and that is just as true with social media.  Sites like Facebook and MySpace had already exploded before most arts .orgs started using them.  Now everyone from the huge Metropolitan Opera to the tiny Masterworks Chorus of the Palm Beaches have Facebook fan pages.  

So, if you are already on Facebook and MySpace, why add Twitter?  Isn’t that too much?  Well, no, it really isn’t.  Twitter is sort of like a Facebook status update only outside of Facebook.  You’ve got 140 characters to get your point across.  And if you need more – you can link to it easily.  

In the .org world, where convoluted, wordy marketing verbiage is the norm, Twitter forces you to resist the urge to wax loquacious and get to the point!  Got $10 student tickets for Don Giovanni?  Great!  Then that is your “tweet” along with the link on how to buy on your site:

$10 Student Tickets for Don Giovanni:

Simple and easy to understand.  

Also, don’t forget that the people that are following your updates on Twitter, want to know what is going on at your .org.  You’ve got a captive audience!

Check out these arts .orgs on Twitter:

HoustonBallet / Houston Ballet

paballet / Pennsylvania Ballet

MapleBallet / Maple Youth Ballet

FortSmithBallet / Fort Smith Ballet

DanseEtoile / Danse Etoile Balle

sfballet / San Francisco Ballet

sfopera / San Francisco Opera 

palmbeachopera / Palm Beach Opera

operamemphis / Opera Memphis

Conopera / Ctr for Contem Opera


LondonLyric / London Lyric Opera

operaboston / Opera Boston

usuo / UT Symp | UT Opera

NashvilleOpera / Nashville Opera

operatheater / Center City Opera 

roh_london / Royal Opera House

vaopera / Virginia Opera

BirminghamOpera / Birmingham Opera Co

LyricOpera / Lyric Opera

MNOPERA / The Minnesota Opera

AustinOpera / Austin Lyric Opera

kcopera / Lyric Opera of Kansas City

SacramentoOpera / Sacramento Opera

atlantasymphony / Atlanta Symphony

nwsymphony / New World Symphony

chicagosymphony / Chicago Symphony

BaltSymphony / Baltimore Symphony

londonsymphony / London Symphony Orch

V_S_O / Vancouver Symphony

gcsymphony / Gulf Coast Symphony

Service Fees

I will be the first to tell you that I am not a fan of service fees. They seem to be on everything nowadays.
I AM, however, a fan of service fees on group ticket orders. I generally think they shouldn’t be above $5 for regular orders with perhaps the option for a higher rate if someone wants their tickets overnighted or something similar.
If your order were 2 or 3 tickets, yes, that would seem high. But on an order of 50 tickets; not so much. Also, if you’re not tracking your postage use, you should. You’ll find out quite quickly that mailing all of those little padded envelopes chock-full of tickets can cost a pretty penny.
Just be sure that your ticketing system allows you to manually subtract that fee if necessary.