The Performing Arts: Government Grants vs. Marketing

Marketing in the performing arts such as small theatres is a challenging business, the public does not always pay attention to marketing tactics, and theatres compete with a tremendous amount of competition like cinema, sports, other theatres and yes television. Also marketing in the arts is not a refined strategic exercise as lot of it is “hit and miss “ without very much planning , which is a shame because communities need live theatre to help make it a vibrant place to live and work.

It is of course difficult to market theatre with only a small amount of money or to gauge impacts on such amounts. But with some proper planning and good marketing strategy one could expect to see strategic marketing efforts having an impact in the entertainment marketplace.

A recent news article in my local newspaper the Ottawa Citizen caught my eye and made me wonder about business practices and marketing in the performing arts.

“The Great Canadian Theatre Company has been given a $175,000 grant as it tries to raise funds to cover a bank loan. Council on Wednesday approved the grant, although a couple of councillors had pushed for the city to provide the money as an interest-free loan instead. Money for the grant will be taken from interest that has accumulated on provincial funding for a new concert hall, instead of the city’s account for one-time and unforeseen expenses. The GCTC asked for the money as it works with a fund-raising consultant (paid for by an anonymous donor) to come up with money it owes Scotiabank. The theatre company took out a $1.6-million loan in 2007 to cover a shortfall in the money it raised to cover the cost of the $11.7-million Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre on Wellington Street West. By June, GCTC is supposed to have paid off $294,000 in interest and principal on its bank loan. “

OK, so the city bails out this theatre which is questionable as governments should not be bailing out theatres or any other business (of course this does not include banks which are too big to fail and General Motors and Chrysler). This should not be the role of government. Funding the arts is one thing and I do support this type of funding , but covering loans etc. is another story.

What really troubles me is the reaction of the theatre after receiving this money. The theatre rep  was on local radio a few days later after receiving this money. When asked what they were going to do to increase revenues for their  theatre the reply  was  hiring a fund raising consultant who would help them  find ways to get grants from governments and foundations for the  theatre.

Not once in the interview were  the words marketing or promotion mentioned. If they were then I must of missed something.

Rather than paying a fund raising consultant would they not be better off hiring a marketing consultant with experience in sponsorships and event marketing, as well as theatre and or arts marketing. Who knows they  may have found some volunteers with this experience but the  knee jerk reaction was to find a fund-raising consultant.  Perhaps it is not surprising that on average 63% of revenues in theatres across Canada comes from box office or box office-related activities. (source).

I do not claim to have expertise in theatre marketing although the first marketing plan I ever wrote as a student  was for the Centaur Theatre in Montreal as a marketing project. That was a long time ago and fond memories of working with them, especially Artistic and Executive Director Maurice Podbrey who felt that marketing if done right could put “bums in seats” . The Centaur Theatre Company is Montreal`s largest English-language theatre company. It was founded in 1969 by The Centaur Foundation for the Performing Arts. From what I understand the theatre is going strong as it continues to market itself with a diminishing English community in a very French environment. It enjoys a subscription base of over 6,000.

To those who toil in the world of the performing arts I recommend you get a copy of  the following book Standing Room Only: Strategies for Marketing the Performing Arts by Philip Kotler and Joanne Scheff.  The authors apply the full spectrum of marketing principles to an industry that has long resisted them–the performing arts. Drawing on a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, the authors review all of the key marketing functions–from segmentation to pricing to public relations–in the context of arts management, illustrated through numerous examples. They argue that by embracing fundamental marketing principles and launching innovative marketing strategies, music, theater, and dance organizations can fulfill their artistic missions while building strong customer bases.

What do you think? Let me know, especially if you are in marketing for the performing arts.

5 Replies to “The Performing Arts: Government Grants vs. Marketing”

  1. Hi Jim,

    On the other side of the world (New Zealand), with a whole range of different conditions – no philanthropic tradition for a start – but I still found your post very useful.

    I have just started a blog on theatre marketing as it’s my personal cause celebre within my local industry. First post was triggered by a governmental funding document which, similarly to the article you quoted, did not feature marketing as a fundamental to the degree I thought it warranted.

    1. Great to hear from New Zealand. Yes marketing is underrated in the performing arts /theatre business, so as a consequence the industry believe the best strategy is to hit the government for money.

  2. I think this is one of the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things, The web site style is wonderful, the articles is really excellent : D. Good job, cheers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four × 4 =