Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Exploring cumulative membership numbers/subscription accounts

At a recent board workshop for a professional association we discussed membership and different ways to look at membership in order to help us understand how to grow it. Remembering some work I had done a few years back with a performing arts client I proposed that it is worth looking at the cumulative number of members over several years. Typically, we look at the total number of members - or subscribers - as an annual figure and then we pay some attention to churn (new members acquired minus non-renewing members). Growth occurs when this churn figure is positive, so that more people join than drop out in a given year. Churn rates also make clear why the first task in a mature, established organization is usually retention, keeping members/subscribers year after year. High rates of retention mean that growth can be achieved more readily (as long as you have not captured your entire market that is);  they also mean that your marketing efforts should become more cost-effective as retention should cost less than acquisition. .

When we look at a wider time span, for instance 5 years or 10 years, we gain a different understanding of the degree to which an organization has reached and engaged its market. Is the annual figure and the cumulative 5-year figure very close or is it much larger?

If it is very close then you are basically stable, without worrisome loss or solid growth year-over-year. If you wish to grow in this scenario then you need to focus on acquisition strategies to accelerate growth.

If the 5-year cumulative figure is much larger, then you might need to think not only about acquisition but re-acquisition. Re-acquisition means re-engaging with people who have made up their mind already about the value you provide by rejecting it for some reason. Re-acquisition is quite a different task, requiring different strategies, tactics, messages and channels. Because these people are not a blank slate relative to your organization, and because they have developed firm beliefs about your organization and have perceptions founded in their personal experience, I tend to think that re-acquisition is fundamentally more difficult than gaining a brand new member, subscriber, customer.

Strategically this dynamic, however, is well worth considering in light of your total market potential.

Re-acquisition may indeed be a critical effort to ensure an organization's sustainability in the long-run. IGiven the nature of re-acquisition, strategies and tactics designed to re-engage likely run their course over 3 to 4 years. The focus would have to shift back to true acquisition at that time because those you wish to re-engaged either have or really are not going to have their minds changed unless something else happens in their world.

In both cases, retention driven by creating value and a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship with members remains paramount.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Igniting a SPARC in Haliburton

I was invited to speak at the SPARC Symposium in Haliburton, Ontario this spring. The organizers had a clear vision for this symposium: to bring people working in all parts of the rural arts eco-system together to explore opportunities and challenges, collaborate across communities and open new doors for exchange, resource sharing and a new kind of network focused on meeting the needs of broad rural arts communities.

With that I sought to create an opening keynote that would help establish the conversation using stories and, yes, conversation. My key messages revolved around the ideas of "where there is a will, there is a way", and a vision of "building vibrant communities fueled by the performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships" and my proposal to consider "public engagement through the arts" where arts are a means to an ends, rather than the end in itself. I told some stories based on my recent work with a focus on small, rural and remote places across Canada to give substance to these ideas through examples. I shared some data from The Value of Presenting study that shows just how much arts presenting organizations in rural and remote communities are leading the way in community-engaged practices.

The conversation and contributions by participants throughout the talk helped set the stage for a fully engaged, working symposium. I loved the energy, the thinking, the sparks that were flying over these four days in Haliburton.

I was also thrilled to see representatives of several regional presenting networks that I have been working with over the last few years at SPARC; there is much space for collaboration, strengthening connections and learning.

SPARC organizers have turned this and all the other amazing working sessions into a unique interactive online magazine. (Sticks and Stones Productions) You can also access my keynote directly on Vimeo. (The other keynotes and videos from the conference are also available there or through the online magazine.)

Finally, my presentation slides are posted on the CAPACOA site for download .

Over the summer SPARC has turned its attention to developing a follow-up conference this fall with the aim to constitute a rural arts network. If you are interested in these ideas, check out their web presence (web, Facebook, Twitter) and get on the e-news list.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Solving the Start-up Challenge: A National Sistema Organization

During 2012-2013 I led the needs assessment and feasibility study to explore the creation and purpose of a national service organization called Sistema Canada. This brief post discusses the status of this initiative.

Sistema Canada is in the crucial phase of securing financing needed to become a fully fledged organization. With a national feasibility study (PDF report: http://www4.nac-cna.ca/pdf/corporate/SistemaCanada_FeasibilityReport_en.pdf) complete, a strong vision for the role a national organization will play in strengthening the Canadian movement, the challenge of start-up is primarily related to not having that one crucial staff person in place.

While volunteer leadership is mandatory in Canadian charitable organizations through a board of directors, a lesser discussed aspect of sustainable organizational development is the crucial capacity that comes with a first dedicated staff person and how a partner organization can help achieve that.

It is a chicken and egg scenario where some substantive catalytic funds would fill a major gap. Without legal status in place, charitable funding is impossible to access directly. Without funding in place, a staff cannot be hired to drive forward charitable incorporation, prepare proposals and build all-important relationships. That means any interim fund development is a volunteer matter. Volunteers skilled in such areas tend to be busy people working in their day jobs; and in our case, in their own Sistema-inspired programs.

During the feasibility study, I was that paid project resource charged by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the National Arts Centre Foundation with moving the process forward, collaborating with the national steering committee (its members volunteered countless hours), seeking input from all Canadian Sistema programs, providing expertise, building scenarios and, ultimately, delivering the outcome via a report.  With a common vision and mandate agreed upon by constituents across the country, the next step is to find the right partner that can provide the needed financial support and help hire an Executive Director to kick start the organization through fund development for its core programs.

Since our report was accepted, members of the all-volunteer national steering committee have been leading the charge and are working through the challenge of moving Sistema Canada onto sustainable, scalable footing. Meanwhile, an informal network of program leaders continues to share their expertise and enthusiasm for Sistema in Canada.

For regular updates on the US and Canadian movement visit http://ericbooth.net/the-ensemble/.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Arts Marketing ... or Orchestras are not for everyone

I came upon this discussion of the state of orchestral music in response to Ivan Katz' analysis  of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings entered by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association early in 2011.

I am entirely unfamiliar with the specifics of these proceedings. In particular the forum posts by a Thomas Alan Broido prompted today's post referencing something I wrote about: "Imagine: creating a brand new genre of live music making today!"

I implicitly suggested that the product/service - "live orchestral music" - would be targeted at a particular segment of the population. Taking a segmentation approach in the first place implies that ticketed (paid) orchestral music is not for everyone. That is not to say that classical music or orchestral music is not for everyone; putting a price tag on it, however, diminishes audience and market potential.

I continue to collect compelling evidence of the intrinsic values and benefits of arts and cultural participation. When the belief in these values and benefits are transferred directly to the ticketed performing arts things become murky. The unshakable importance of the arts as a public good is challenged when box office revenues must be achieved which restricts access which means the public good takes a lesser role, one balanced with revenue imperatives.

To peel back the onion on this conversation could yield new ways of thinking about the performing arts and about orchestras specifically. Thinking about what an orchestra or a theatre offers its paying customers and how to market that vigorously is qualitatively different from what an orchestra would consider if the public good, the health and well-being of the community, was of foremost concern.

On recent travels on Canada's east coast, I have been discussing his very thing, and I realize that we pay for many pubic good, hydro, food, snow clearing - without them becoming a lesser public good. In the arts, it creates a bona fides marketing scenario, that other areas experience in different ways and in some areas less so. Snow clearing happens through taxation. Hydro development, too, even where there is competition for delivery and such. Food is super competitive, but the staples much less so. Arts, professional arts, actually need to be excellent at break-through marketing and attention getting engagement to command a serious ticket buying commitment. And I know it can be done. (See Cirque du Soleil).

I have been talking about some case studies in the arts demonstrating integrated marketing strategies. Amazing how language I used corporately in the 1990s is so top of mind now in the 2010s. Perhaps it's just my way of integrated thinking. :)

This is a link to the Atlantic Presenters Association newsletter discussing my East Coast presentations and workshops, in early March. So happy to see this amazing feedback. I got to connect with 110 Atlantic arts organizations in one trip. Just amazing.
http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=98ddd3c7538d70d3aa9945907&id=041f96aa01&e=3ce7dd33bd

We can do so much, when we combine the best from all disciplines that help us connect art and audiences. Including full on Marketing. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Halifax presentation and workshop