The National Arts Marketing Project Conference: What Grabbed Our Organization’s Attention (Other than the Marching Ducks)

By Hollie Rivers, Georgia Ensemble Theatre

So much grabbed my attention at the National Arts Marketing Conference in Memphis in November 2017, which I attended on a scholarship provided by The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable initiative.

First of all, MEMPHIS—what a city! This city was buzzing with arts and culture anywhere you looked: from the colorful mural-lined streets, marching Peabody Ducks, Beale Street blues, and barbeque EVERYWHERE. I returned with a notebook full of detailed notes, worksheets and inspiring arts advocacy swag. Very new to the Georgia Ensemble Theatre at the time, and fairly new to the professional world of marketing, I tried my best to be the best sponge I could be. I wanted to soak up everything. I was so excited to start strengthening our organization from within, diversifying our audience, partnering with influential groups like healthcare organizations and veterans in the community, conquering the ever-changing marketing options on Facebook, using our free resources more effectively, trying out what works for other arts organizations, and implementing creative exercises for problem solving within our organization.

We all hit that wall of the real world when we return from such an amazing conference—we’re sometimes forced to reckon with what is truly attainable at this stage in our organization’s life cycle. Fortunately, I was optimistic, and determined! We have already made some impactful change in our organization, but before I get too ahead of myself, let me outline the things I found the most exciting.


“Culture is Everything”—Diversity OPENING KEYNOTE

The co-founder and COO Luba Tolkachyov, and Global Strategist Rodrigo Alanis of Gravity Media delivered a powerful opening keynote about the importance of culture and diversity in the arts. They produced a diagram that showed Arts & Culture can be broken down into five vital parts: empathy, community, belonging, critical thinking, and imagination. They had this fantastic reference to “The Oath of the Athenian Citizen,” outlining what it means to be part of a community.


The Oath

“We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the City's laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public's sense of civic duty. Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”


As creators of art we have a duty to our community. Art is what fuels the fire for change and culture is the heart of human progress. One striking statistic in this presentation was that by 2060, the minority will become the majority. In other words, the United States is becoming more and more of a melting pot and resisting that change in culture can hurt your organization.

They left us with four great “keep-in-minds”:

  • Dive into their world: embrace different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds.
  • Go beyond borders: don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and embrace change.
  • Learn, Create, Measure: learn from others, create new approaches, measure your success.
  • Immerse, Collaborate, Iterate: Immerse yourself in other cultures, collaborate with other cultures, and keep doing it!



It’s no surprise that in order to have success, any organization must have a skilled staff. I was pleased to encounter multiple helpful discussions and lectures on strengthening a staff, reinforcing a healthy workplace, and implementing new ideas.

One big umbrella theme was to have more cross-departmental conversations and include everyone: the part-time teachers and actors can make strong contributions to the organization overall. Valuing the thoughts of everyone - and treating everyone as a member of the team - allows more ideas to be explored and can bring important points of view. Getting more of your team members involved in problem solving conversations will increase the progress made by your organization.

There is sometimes disagreement in the workplace amongst Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millennials. During this conference, there was overwhelming agreement to pay attention to what’s next. Bring on the modernization! Things are changing whether you like it or not. A marketing manager who quickly became my best friend said: “Just because our patrons are older, doesn’t mean we have to stay stuck in the past with technology, marketing, and process.” We discussed a few ways to convince leadership of modernizing and embracing new ideas:

  • We can use data to explain why new ideas work: you can’t ignore the data!
  • We can provide examples: demonstrate how other organizations do things and how it has worked for them.
  • We can focus on the results: “because we did “x”, we achieved “y”.”



Speaking of those crazy Millennials (of which I am one,) one thing is for sure: social media is an ever-changing, rapidly growing beast - but we can conquer it.

Post content that makes “fans” want to be your “advocates”: Referring back to the Gravity lecture, the feeling of community is so important. Reaffirming your organization’s partnership and support for other types of organizations (e.g. healthcare entities, veterans) will score you points with your own Facebook community. Look for things that pull at people’s heartstrings, and people will begin to back you and become your cheerleaders. Another example: puppies. Puppies are super cute, duh. Two words: SHAREABLE CONTENT. Partner with a local animal shelter on an event or take your staff on a trip to donate an hour of your time to cuddle with a furry friend. Facebookers want a cause to get behind, and that can be you! Partner with other non-profit organizations and get your name out there, help a great cause, and gain a mutually beneficial relationship.

It’s okay (and SMART) to spend a little money. Facebook will keep changing the rules on you, and data says it’s becoming more and more difficult for your post to actually get seen. Investing money in boosted posts and Facebook ads will be well worth your while. It’s not surprising that posts and ads backed by money will be seen by more people, but Facebook is starting to get a little too smart. It’s possible that soon, Facebook will require you to pay for posts to be published and seen by your followers! Luckily we aren’t there yet, but we need to make smart moves. Facebook also doesn’t like when you post links to other pages (because it takes you off of their site). Switch it up and start posting more pictures, videos and gifs.


How has Georgia Ensemble Theatre put these great ideas to use?

Embracing Culture and Diversity:

  • We have made valuing diversity and culture a point of discussion in our strategic planning process, resulting in adding diversity and culture to our mission statement and affirming it in our core values.
  • We are currently embarking on a large-scale theatre education international exchange program in Hangzhou and Shanghai, China, where our education department has traveled to teach theatre to 5- to 7-year-old Chinese students. In the summer, the Chinese students will travel to participate in our summer camp in Roswell, Georgia.

Steering Our Arts Organization Towards Success:

  • We are updating our vision and mission statements to reflect the current staff’s ideals.
  • We are having more conversations as a staff and are implementing changes. We have had many recent meetings and staff surveys to evaluate where we are currently, what we can do better, how we can modernize, and what risks we should take as an organization. Moving ahead with new ideas can be scary but we are doing it.

Social Media Presence:

  • Our Facebook presence has lit up since we attended the conference. By posting more and more, and testing the waters with our approaches, we are getting better feedback and more interaction. Our organic reach has increased by 50% since November and is steadily increasing. During the last month (as of 4/4/18,) our Facebook page likes have increased by 130%, our post engagements are up by 130%, our followers have increased by 121%, and actions on our page have gone up by 108%! These results have motivated us to post more images, create more videos, test out gifs, and invest even more money in boosting our posts.
  • This past Thanksgiving, our entire staff participated in The Bert Show’s BIG THANK YOU, delivering hand-written letters of thanks to every serviceman and woman deployed outside the United States. We posted a photo of our staff with their letters which got a big response from our supporters.
  • We are highlighting our partnerships with the community and are currently exploring the idea of hosting a Healthcare Workers Appreciation Night (during a show sponsored by Northside Hospital.)

I’m proud to say we’ve made great strides in utilizing what knowledge we brought back from the 2017 National Arts Marketing Project Conference, and we can’t wait to keep learning and implementing what we learn.






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