TRG blog: Arts marketers without borders
comments powered by Disqus

TRG Blog: Analysis from TRG Arts

Arts marketers without borders

Vincent VanVleet | September 17, 2015 8:26 AM

This post is part of a series by TRG and Piper Foundation Fellow Vincent VanVleet where he’ll report on his discoveries as he travels the country to research the impact of patron loyalty. Read more of his posts here.

Image by (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I've now visited with executive, marketing, and development leaders from over 11 different organizations in eight cities. I have learned many amazing and remarkable things that my colleagues are implementing across North America, but my attention keeps returning to one thing. Every organization has the same structure: unanimously in our institutions, marketing and sales are one team.

Here's the dilemma:  Marketing is actually a resource for the entire organization, not just for generating ticket sales.

Marketing’s current role

The marketing function’s role is to synthesize what the organization is trying to say. This department can communicate our story to patrons in the same way artists use theater, song, and dance to hang the right move on the moment or the right lyric on a note. It captures our heart and draws us into the story.

As Jill Robinson has said, marketing is omnipresent and is an institutional function that cuts across every department in the entire organization. We access these incredibly talented folks to help us formulate our development campaigns, shape graphics and imagery, and messaging for maximum impact.  Marketing also helps us garner awareness and attention for educational programs, gift shops, lobby concessions, bars and restaurants. Marketing is also responsible for analyzing data and keeping up with best practices. They must have a finger on the pulse of how to garner market share in an ever-increasing litany of channels that patrons and donors consume.

Marketing’s job is to amplify the conversation and awareness of everything we do. So why are their talents and skill sets so often merged with the sales department and relegated to only selling tickets?

If marketing is responsible for ticket sales goals, guess where the institutional priority lands?  Of the organizations I’ve spoken to, only one has a 50-50 earned vs. contributed revenue split, and still 86% of total revenue comes from patrons. (More on measuring patron-generated revenue here.) Most organizations have told me that they receive, on average, 70% earned revenue and 30% contributed revenue. When executive leaders link sales and marketing, they are saying that tickets are marketing’s only priority. This can mean lost opportunity from other revenue streams, whether contributed or through programs like food and beverage.  

What it could be

Imagine marketing as a neutral party, with independent sales and development teams that are responsible for selling tickets and securing gifts. (Even better if development and sales integrate their approach with each other.)

Or, to take the above plan even further, imagine no development or sales departments. Just one team of account managers doing acquisitions, retention and donor/patron relations with each patron in their portfolio. Similar to corporate account management models, teammates would be motivated by healthy competition and compensation be based on results. When I think about desired results, I think not about just financial results, but behavior results. For example, how many patrons/subscribers/donors did the account manager retain in their portfolio?  How many upgraded? How many did the account manager get to donate $100 or more? The director of that team would support, train, and root each team member.

The key in my hypothetical scenario is that the patron deals with one account manager for all their needs. As in existing patron service office models, the patrons have the direct phone line and email address of their account manager. When possible, any communications come from that account manager. Imagine the patron getting things like email blasts for upcoming shows and notecards on seats, as well as personal calls. The messaging and strategy is designed by marketing, but delivered by their account manager. Every touch is designed to create loyalty to the organization.

We have all heard the saying “What got us here won't get us there”.  If that is the case, what will?  I think changing how arts organizations are structured is the first critical step in setting the stage for getting us there, a place where we can take a significant leap in creating loyalty and relationship building. The worn-out structure of marketing and sales excluding development and education departments does more to limit us than free us. Once we shed those confines, we can start to truly connect with patrons and donors. They are who we do it all for.

Is a structural change such as I am outlining enough to deliver exceptional service and build loyalty among audiences? Who among us will test it first?  


Be notified of future content like this with eNews.

Sign up for TRG's eNews and you'll be notified when more content like this is posted, as well as getting our latest research, blog posts, and webinar announcements delivered straight to your inbox. Simply fill out the form below:

* indicates required


Case Study: Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

Annual operating budget up 32% in 5 seasons

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma 
 Photo: Joseph Mills

After a poor year for earned revenue in 2012, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (LTO) had rebounded and was experiencing a growth spurt. In 2013, Director of Marketing Danyel Siler had turned her attention to single tickets.

Her hard work had paid off, but season tickets were still a challenge. “Season tickets were steadily declining,” she said. “The season ticket campaign had been done the same way for years, maybe even decades. And we blamed the fall on the trend that subs were declining everywhere. Our executive director, artistic director, and I all knew something needed to change, but we didn’t know what.”

Read More>>


Jill Robinson
Adam Scurto
Amelia Northrup-
J.L.Nave Vincent VanVleet Keri Mesropov

Upcoming Events

Executive Summits:


March 14-15, 2019 - TRG Arts Executive Summit; York, England

May 9-10, 2019 - TRG Arts Executive Summit; Colorado Springs, CO


Admin Login