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Monday, February 23, 2009

Lessons From a Turnaround Artist

Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, has made a career out of breathing new life into arts organizations once on life support. He recently wrote a how-to book about his experiences, "The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations" and just this month started an online hotline for troubled arts groups.

I think some of the issues facing struggling arts organizations are similar to issues facing some of our clients, so I read his interview in the WSJ with great interest. Here's what caught my attention:

"When there are economic challenges, the first things that staffs and boards cut are programming and marketing, and that's the worst thing you can do. You're guaranteeing yourself you'll have less revenue next year, and that's how sick organizations get really sick." He went on, "If you start by cutting the programming, rather than everything in the back of the house, you're signing a warrant that everything will just get worse, worse, worse."

His solution is "great art well-marketed."

I think what he's focusing on makes sense, namely that programming and marketing are really the beating heart of the organization. They're what make it vital and without it, how will people see the work?

Since we often find ourselves creating programs to help our clients market ideas and information, I'd like to offer three questions to consider before launching the next video project: How can we re-purpose the work to reach a broader audience? How can we reach new arenas and viewers? How can we insure a longer shelf life for the material?

We recently completed a video to introduce an alternative energy process that could have enormous potential in our battle to protect the enviroment. But the process is complicated and not everything could be adequately covered in the short overview video we created. Knowing this upfront, our initial proposal included re-purposing the material to create short video packages for the web, each one exploring in greater depth an issue raised in the video. Not only is it a good way to do more with less, it also opens up the possibility for greater outreach as well.

This is a more effective and cost-efficient way of working. And I think the key to all this is to spend some time thinking about programming and marketing from the very beginning. Planning for it ahead of time can really pay off.

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