Billboards on Fire!

I came across on interesting donor benefit this weekend which seems like something a number of arts organizations could offer their supporters. My brother-in-law’s mother runs a social service agency. As part of a fundraising dinner/auction, she established a tiered system of rewards for donations similar to what an arts organization might offer.

A benefit of donating into the top tier was to have ones name placed on 3 billboards throughout the county, have ones name included in PSAs, in a full page advertisement in the program and on signage at the event. This reminded me of a chapter in The Guerilla Marketing Handbook by Jay Conrad Levinson and Seth Godin. They mentioned that it was possible to get billboard space fairly cheaply if you weren’t picky about where and when your information was displayed by taking advantage of gaps between contracts on a billboard. (Though certainly one could try to get specific periods donated.)

I had never really explored this option when I was doing marketing and pr because the intermittent availability of low cost periods was not conducive to trying to promote performances and seasons. As a benefit of donation, there are better possibilities. The listing on my sister’s mother-in-law’s donor card says the billboard acknowledgment will occur during 2004. At this point, she has 8 months to make good on her promise. Depending on their relationship with the billboard owners, arts organizations could probably publicize a probable period an acknowledgment would appear by getting the owners to review when contracts expired or the times of the year when there are typically few clients looking to advertise.

Something I will certainly explore or suggest for exploration in my next job.

So, Where’s The Fire?

In an earlier entry (see the subheader “Demon Horses Unleashed!”) I had mentioned some blog entries on the site that discussed why dull press releases were bringing about the downfall of classical music. The discussion was started by Greg Sandow on March 23 and both Andrew Taylor and Drew McManus picked up the discussion in their own blogs.

In his original entry, Mr. Sandow suggested making the headers on press releases more exciting and suggested something along the lines of “Two Headed Cellist Makes Debut”. As a minor tribute to his suggestion, I make the burning billboard reference here. At the time, I thought it was interesting and a lesson for all arts organizations and so referenced it in an entry.

It turns out, it is a topic that won’t die. On Monday, Drew McManus offered an additional entry on it. Mr. Sandow actually hasn’t stopped talking about it and wrote about it Thursday and <a href="Friday of last week.

This additional conversation on the matter gave me pause and caused me to review the press release writing I have done in the past. I certainly thought I wrote a good game in the body of each release, but in light of what Mr. Sandow discusses, I wonder if the titles were boring and if I had included facts that weren’t pertinent.

Honestly, these are considerations that are elementary in any journalism and public relations class. Most marketing and pr departments don’t have the luxury of having a skilled person who can examine releases for these things. They barely have the time to review someone else’s release to make sure nothing is misspelled and the dates are correct. Engaging style often takes a backseat and I think that is what Mr. Sandow’s point is.

In the arts, sometimes our best and only reminder of the basics we are supposed to be following come from independent sources. I appreciate that Mr. Sandow took the time to extend the discussion on this topic. It really didn’t catch me on the first mention, but it certainly has started me thinking now.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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