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Business Possibilities For Creativity in OK

(Written for Oklahomans For the Arts newsletter September 2011)

For the last 10 years or so, those “in-the-know” in Oklahoma City have been tossing around the idea of the Creative Class. The term comes from Richard Florida’s book “The Rise of the Creative Class” about creativity and its effects on economic development. Although I don’t agree with all of Florida’s assertions, I do see the tremendous value of creative thinking for business, government and non-profit leadership.

But let’s be honest, Oklahoma has not always been the swiftest at embracing new ways of thinking or getting things done. I can tell you from personal experience, even with all the lip service the Creative Class concept has received, that the power of innovative thinking is still being overlooked, or at the very least misinterpreted.

Members of the Creative Class combine intelligence, education and visionary thought into a well-rounded and highly effective employee, consultant or board member. No reason to tell them to “think outside the box” because they ignore the box.

How does your business get ahead of the competition? Have a bigger, better roster of creative employees in leadership roles. The next game-changing product, innovative marketing campaign or technological breakthrough will be born from original and imaginative thinkers.

But yet, everyday I see business and civic leaders fall back on a “how we’ve always done it” mentality. They hire the same people for outdated job descriptions and celebrate mediocrity in a nice suit. Many leaders are still only looking for followers. Change can be hard for some.

On the flip side, we’ve all witnessed how being open to new ideas and questioning how things work often produce the dynamic results. Empowering employees to take creative approaches often garners the best results. Take a look at Google, Facebook and Tom’s Shoes to see business successes born from taking a new and different approach.

With Oklahoma’s current success and growth, comes fantastic opportunities to embrace the Creative Class. The bright future of our great state can be even brighter by harnessing the power of creative thought and taking a chance on something new.

Audience Development for Traditional Arts Organizations

There is a great challenge facing many traditional arts groups (Philharmonic, Ballet, Chorale and some non-contemporary art museums) today. Their most loyal fan base is growing increasingly older. As this group continues to age, they are less able to buy tickets and offer financial support. This is known as aging out.

Unfortunately, younger generations are not as engaged in the traditional arts due to lack of school programs plus a huge variety of entertainment and creative outlets thanks to new technology. Short attention spans, lack of motivation and loss of relevance makes this group hard to capture. The last thing cool to the young adult crowd is something their parents (or even worse their grandparents) enjoy.

Arts organizations have a Executive Director for leadership, Artistic Director for vision, Marketing Director to entice audiences and a Development Director to secure funding. The position that is missing, but essential for securing patrons for traditional arts organizations, is an Audience Development Director.

An Audience Development Director would work specifically to attract, engage and retain a younger demographic by influencing programing, planning events and creating marketing directed to a younger demographic. All this while not alienating the organizations core (older) supporters. Attention to creating new audiences will take a long time to see results, but will pay off in big ways.

There is an old saying “Never send a boy to do a man’s job”. Do not leave  younger audience engagement to staff, board members or volunteers who cannot directly relate. You wouldn’t ask a teenager to plan a high tea for great grandmother, so do not letseniors plan engagement and communication for younger patrons. Develop these audiences with programing and events that make sense for their age group. Collaborate with young leaders and up-and-comers to create something attractive to this new crowd. A great example of how this is done is Overture, an audience development program administered by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Associate Board.

Every great organization has highly trained and experienced professionals in every department. By adding an Audience Development Director to that mix, a traditional arts org. can meet the need for new/expanded patron base and public support. Without new audiences, these art forms will surely suffer. This type of market segmentation has been utilized by the advertising industry for years. Now is the time for the arts to do so as well.

Non-Profit Event Sponsorship Tips

I was participating in a recenLeague of American Orchestras roundtable when the question was asked “How do you secure sponsorship for smaller, non-signature events?”. The biggest hurdle seemed to be businesses approaching these request “only as a marketing opportunity”.

As a marketing director who handles non-profit donation and sponsorship request, I offered up this advice for making your event attractive for sponsorship:

  • Be prepared and professional. This is after all a business transaction. Do not pitch to my emotions but my business sense.
  • Have an offer. Do NOT present “whatever you want to do”. This makes me nervous. Marketing people are used to a defined relationship. We pay for ads or commercials and get a defined amount of space or time. Your approach should be the same. You can have options such as package A or B, but these should be spelled out.
  • Marketing is based on customer demographics. Tell me who is coming to your event. Also, tell me who is on your committee, supporting your organization and on your board. Give me the average age, income level and what they do for a living. If your audience is my target market, I will sponsor the event. The more information you have, the more interested I will be.
  • Provide me with event information, logos and marketing materials. I probably will provide additional promotion of your event for free.
  • My company has rules about how our logo can and cannot be used. If you make it clear that you understand this and will play by these rules, you are much more likely to get a yes from me. Ask for our style guide and you will win bonus points.
  • Most sponsorships include event tickets, but don’t stop there. Add perks that don’t cost you anything like reserved seating or a chance to meet with other sponsors and large donors. As a business leader, these are the people I am interested in meeting.
  • If I say no to a sponsorship or cash donation, do not hesitate to ask for in-kind support. Also, ask for referrals to other marketing directors and business owners who might be interested.
  • Be flexible. I might choose one of your sponsorship packages BUT have some additions or subtractions. Be open to suggestions which might open a new avenue of marketing you had not considered. If these suggestions are not good for your organization or cost extra money you cannot afford to spend, it’s OK to say no. Just give me a good reason why.
  • Do NOT promise something you cannot or will not deliver on. I will call you out on it and be very upset at not getting what I expected. I will tell other marketing professionals about my experience.
  • Tell me when and where the public will see the event marketing with my company name and/or logo on it. This includes invitations, brochures, e-mails, your website and social media, event signage, tickets, promotional items, gifts or goodie bags, speaker mentions and presentations during the event or any other associated items. Tell me how long this information will stay on your website or printed materials after the event has past.
  • Plan a public Thank You for your sponsors after the event is done. Make sure I know this is part of your marketing plan.
  • Send a follow-up item to our offices with your logo on it as a Thank You. All of my clients and employees will see it on a regular basis. This can be as elaborate as a trophy or plaque to as simple as a hand written note on letterhead.
  • Do not take a no as never. Ask again in the future, unless I very directly tell you not to. Sometime it’s just about timing.
  • Add me to your marketing list (email blast, mail, newsletter, etc…) it will make next year’s pitch even easier. Do this if we sponsor your event or not.
  • Remind me a portion of the sponsorship is tax deductible. Send me a tax letter with my thank you gift. Do not make me ask for it.

In the end, if you have a professional pitch, well developed with demographics and marketing opportunities spelled out, I will be interested in sponsoring your event. If I think you are easy to work with, will protect my brand and do what I expect of you then I am very likely to sponsor your event. Good luck!