Who Is More Important? The Event Or Organization?

I had a small disagreement about marketing with one of the people partnering on a show with us that raised the question about what is more important, the artist or the organization.

The disagreement was pretty simple. We had designed an ad to promote a show. Between the sponsor and creator logos/credits and the general design of the ad, there wasn’t a lot of room left. To maintain a clean, attractive look for the show, I suggested that we omit the three names of the presenters. We would have the name of the theatre, but not “presented by X, Y, Z groups, each of which were fairly long.

My feeling was that the show was what would attract the audience. If we credited the three of us, it would look cluttered and the pertinent information would be lost. If we reduced the font size to the point the ad didn’t look cluttered, it would be too small to be of value and not worth including.

Since we had already advertised the show via brochures, posters, postcards and email blasts, most of those who associated our names with quality already knew we were involved with the show. Those whom we would be reaching with the ad would be making decisions based on the show, not who was presenting it. Therefore, our names were not as important in this particular communication channel.

My partners disagreed with my point of view (though they praised the ad image as much better than the brochure and poster images which was gratifying) and we included our names in pretty small type.

It got me to thinking, is there ever a time when the event is more important than the organization taking credit? Choosing to cede space in favor of a funder might be done out of a concrete sense of obligation (or lack thereof, I am aware of some organizations that choose to omit funder recognition.) Valuing the event/artist above the organization is a bit more theoretical and nebulous a decision.

I don’t know that it should be a default organizational policy where you decide the artist always comes first and people will have to work to find out whose efforts were responsible for their experience. There are some cases where people won’t be familiar with a work where the organizational reputation for quality will provide the confidence an audience needs.

In some cases, you may want to take credit for an experience but get very little recognition because the artist’s reputation will eclipse your own. We recently presented Ben Vereen and it was clear from the phone conversations we were having with patrons that our involvement played no part in the decision to attend.

Both Elton John and Neil Diamond are performing in town in January and February and I couldn’t tell you who the promoters are. I could make an educated guess of 3-4 different people. That is probably the best rationale for making sure your name is associated with your productions. Get a reputation for quality and people will attribute great experiences with which you had no involvement to you.

Surveys show that audiences don’t have much awareness of the tax status of the organization providing their nights’ entertainment. If people aren’t discerning between profit and non profit organizations, how aware are they of whether a show is being presented by me or someone who is renting our facility? There are times of the year that bring especially high numbers of calls from people expecting us to resolve problems with tickets they didn’t purchase from us, so I know some people aren’t aware of the distinction.

Knowing that people may not be making as great a distinction between you and everyone else as you might hope, are there situations where the event is more important than your organization? I am not talking about simply leaving your name off marketing material for the sake of aesthetics. I am asking if there is some program you have or dream of having where it doesn’t matter if anyone knows you did it?

Is it possible for a non-profit to get to that place? Do the producers of a Broadway show care if they have high personal/business name recognition if the show is profitable? Can a non-profit be that blasé as dependent as they are on attracting funders who want assurances their support is making a difference?

I don’t know the full answer to these questions because I have just started considering them and it is a complicated matter.

I don’t think the inability to subsume the organization name to that of an artist necessarily has a direct correlation to the situation Diane Ragsdale discussed in November about low pay for artists. As I note, there are many important reasons to keep name awareness high. However, the organization’s perception of artists certainly is going to factor into the question.

With all the instances recounted by Inside the Arts blogfather, Drew McManus, of orchestra boards answering the question pretty decisively in their own favor, it may be a question that needs to be asked more frequently.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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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