Not Only Is Marketing Everybody’s Job, It Has To Be Done All The Time–Even Now

I highly recommend watching Collen Dilenschneider’s Know Your Own Bone site over the course of the Covid-19 epidemic. Every Monday she is posting data about intention to visit cultural entities in as the epidemic unfolds. She says her company is receiving data in real time. I am surprised to learn people are taking the time to respond to surveys.

In any case, it appears people anticipate going to cultural entities in the next 3-6 months. That didn’t significantly change between March 16 and March 23, but she warns we may see a shift in the next week as the reality of the situation begins to sink in.

With this in mind, she is cautioning people against letting their marketing efforts flag during this period of time and offers suggestions about how to shift the focus of those efforts from “visit now” to keeping yourselves on people’s radar.

Because there can be pretty large time gap between when people decide to visit an entity and when they take action to visit, marketing you do now is informing people who will arrive months down the road. She also points out that it often costs more to re-engage audiences than it is to retain them.

At the end of her post, she offers 4 suggestions for re-focusing marketing efforts:

A) Strategic deferral in paid media to local audiences

In response to the observed decline in immediate-term intentions to visit among local market members, it makes sense to selectively defer campaign spending for paid media that targets audiences with relatively short lead times….

To be clear, this does not at all mean ceasing all marketing and not communicating with local audiences. It means strategically deferring select paid media efforts for this market, and holding these funds in abeyance for deployment at a more opportune moment.

B) Replace investments aimed at immediate activation (“visit now!”) and focus instead on maintaining top-of-mind status and broad awareness

…However, the current environment suggests more of a “maintenance” approach that intends to preserve awareness of what your organization does and stands for in order to keep your cultural institution at the forefront of people’s minds.

Unaided awareness and top-of-mind metrics are measurable –… Organizations want to be ready to immediately reactivate audiences when they reopen, and that means maintaining high levels of awareness and being top of mind in the meantime.


C) Meet people where they are right now: Online


There is a terrific opportunity for creative connection right now that proves relevance far beyond your walls – from providing resources for parents aiming to home school or keep children busy, to conducting events with staff experts on social media, to sharing penguins exploring their empty aquarium to give a sense of what’s still happening behind the scenes. The opportunities for creative and engaging ways to execute our missions and connect with our communities are seemingly endless. They are a good idea right now.

Finding ways to execute missions, support communities, and stay top of mind are strategic initiatives that position organizations to better succeed when their doors reopen.

D) Be responsive – not reactive

…This is not the time for knee-jerk reactions and short-sighted “gut instinct.” This is the time to think through opportunities and the current condition so that cultural entities are in a position to succeed when their doors reopen. This may be especially difficult as executives field calls from fear-driven board members demanding speedy, unfounded, and feelings-based actions.


In regard to marketing investments during this time, an immediate instinct may be to achieve significant short-term savings. Some may even consider going dark. Be careful. Data suggest that doing this without considering how these cuts are likely to increase costs and reduce attendance revenue upon reopening may be a financial problem rather than a solution.

Your organization has likely worked hard to show how you elevate the community. You’ve cultivated a level of awareness. You’ve worked hard to achieve top-of-mind status for certain audiences.

Now is not the time to let people forget that your organization exists.

Now is the time to show people how effectively you stand for your mission and your community – both when your physical doors are open and when they are closed.


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.


5 thoughts on “Not Only Is Marketing Everybody’s Job, It Has To Be Done All The Time–Even Now”

  1. “Organizations want to be ready to immediately reactivate audiences when they reopen, and that means maintaining high levels of awareness and being top of mind in the meantime.” Yikes!!!!

    I would worry about the fatigue among an audience in maintaining awareness of an institution that is not accessible in one’s preferred manner, custom, or planning. And especially now, with so much else taking up that normal mental real estate, it might backfire and only trivialize what we are promoting as so obviously not at the same level as our commitment to dealing with the crisis. People can start to confuse what the meal tastes like, why they actually care about what we do, with merely how it looks from a distance. It gets substituted by association.

    There is a season for everything, and you can’t plant some seeds in the dead of winter and by sheer force of will and effort make them come to life. The timing matters. The concern is that you start building resentment by adding to the mental toll. If people start to think, “Hey, I can’t get this service now, but I keep getting spammed for it,” it starts to look more and more like junk……

    Instead of marketing one’s own deferred value, it makes more sense to make the broader claim that art itself matters, whatever the circumstance, and that how we come through this will say as much about how we lived up to our better selves or down to our worst. So when the season comes to till the soil, to plant, and to harvest we will not have spent our beans on infertile soil that only eroded with the mindless urge to till our own field at all costs. We will be better served by attending to the season of fallow, when other things are more important to deal with. Juggling an important ball with one less urgent the eye will always look after the one more pressing. Don’t give people an excuse to drop ours. Don’t force them to choose.

    That may seem like a pessimistic view, but in moments like these you can make fatal mistakes. Some things need to be temporarily let go of so that when the time is right they can emerge again undamaged by the untimely and desperate attempts at resuscitation. If you wake a person with an induced coma you only increase their risk. The point isn’t to stay conscious, or stay in peoples consciousnesses, it is to be there when the time is right.

    Of course this is uncharted territory, but not everything Dilenschneider is suggesting makes even the remotest sense.

  2. Colleen warns against trying to sell something that isn’t available to be experienced. There are options that keep you at the forefront of the mind without trying to sell anything.

    You can provide videos or downloadable activities that families can do together since the kids are stuck home.

    Here at my organization, we had some content in our backpocket about the different Grand Opera Houses around the country since it was the fashion at the turn of the 20th century to name theaters in that manner. We had intended it for the summer lull, but we are bringing it forward now.

    • I may have been harsh in my reading of Dilenschneider. I think that for as smart as she is on may important topics her advice isn’t always motivated in ways I appreciate. I suppose there is some bias I picked up along the way, and I may be too quick to see the negatives over the broader good she aims at. Apologies for that…..

      I do applaud you and others for taking this time to connect with our communities in meaningful ways. That has to be important. But the phrasing you quoted from Dilenschneider just gave me the creeps. I was reminded specifically of the post you ran June 20th of 2018. The idea you were describing is how our motivations can be misperceived, that in trying to do something GOOD we may end up looking like we are gaming people with the appearance of good. ‘Virtue signalling’ I think it is being called these days.

      Your post from 2018 was an important insight into what can go wrong, especially when folks are trying to do the right thing for the right reasons. So it seems absolutely vital that we take as much of the cues for misperception off the table. Even if we are not actively ‘selling’ anything, we can’t let the public be confused that our motivation at this point is somehow still about ‘us’. The Starbucks CEO was absolutely terrified that his attempts to remedy racism would be seen as more marketing. Marketing in normal circumstances is, well, normal. In a climate where the focus is so narrow, as it is today, we must pay special attention to doing what is right FOR the community, whether-it-is-right-for-us-or-not. If we are perceived as merely doing what it takes to promote our own identity and importance this will quickly backfire. Even saying organizations should be “maintaining high levels of awareness and being top of mind in the meantime” sounds offensive and selfishly oriented.

      Think the community first. Whatever else happens should be earned because we were willing to do the right thing at the right time rather than doing what it takes to benefit our own brand. Your 2018 post was spot on.

        • I love it! I think any engaged activity of this sort stands on its own. It doesn’t need the association with the museum to justify it. The fact that the museum can help facilitate these activities is a itself selfless act, I would hope. That is, it isn’t inward or institutionally directed as much as it is inclusive of some larger ideal and identity. It seems an example of how institutions like the museum can help build things with real social value. Not because the museum itself has to be the benefactor, but because the community as a whole includes the participatory relationship itself.

          My beef with the “maintaining high levels of awareness and being top of mind in the meantime” mantra is that it isn’t a selfless or even necessarily inclusive attitude. And those are the things we need right now. Less ‘me’ and more ‘us’, and even sometimes more ‘you’. What do we, inclusively, need? What do YOU need? How can I help? The ‘top of the mind in the meantime’ attitude suggests a fundamental separation between the institution and its public. As if the public didn’t belong, somehow, but were merely required for the institutions own self serving and preserving purposes. It is the attitude, no matter how it is dressed up, of the squeaky wheel straining to get the oil.

          In the end the arts matter not because of the institutions but because they are a part of who we are. The screaming hand drawing activity is an example. It matters because this is something we do.

          The screaming hand was inspired by a person’s death, and the idea of mortality is certainly on most people’s minds these days. It is a big question to know what to do in the face of such a situation. How does the end of something, a thing or person’s life, matter to us?

          I am reminded of three scenes from the film Tampopo. The first is where a man in ill health goes to a restaurant and orders exactly what he shouldn’t get, medically speaking. He gorges himself and almost dies. Because, in this instance, the experience of the food in the present moment is that important to him he is willing to die for it. The next relevant scene is of a woman who is on her deathbed. Her grieving husband, at his wits end, demands that she cook her family a meal. She staggers up from the bed, makes the meal, and then dies shortly after serving it. She was given a brief moment to continue living because preparing the food was worth staying alive for, because it was who she IS. The meaning of her life, her identity, was inseparable from the art and activity of making food. Her past served to form that identity. The last relevant scene is of a gourmand being shot, and in his final words he relates to his lover how he had wanted her to experience all the glory of food that he enjoyed, that he had been looking to the future as an excuse to enjoy food with her. He was suggesting that the future had meaning because it included these things.

          This is why art matters. It is who we are, where we come from, and where we hope to go. It is our motivation. If an institution can facilitate or serve that, it has meaning. But if the meaning is simply the institution itself, then that is a wholly different proposition. We need to be cautious here.

          Maybe there is a time when institutions can ask for help, and maybe now IS one of those times. But let’s be honest about it. People DO want to help. But only because they believe. And only because they belong. Disguising our need by misdirection, as some sort of marketing ploy, is both dishonest and manipulative. If it can be forgiven in normal circumstances, to me at least, in these current mortal circumstances, it only seems offensive. The survival of familiar society itself is in question, and that needs to be faced squarely, honestly, and philosophically. It does not need to be entertained through some marketing campaign.

          Institutions are at a crossroads no less than individuals are. Do we aim for our higher, more generous, selves? Or do we aim merely at survival? We (you and I) love the arts because this is who we are. It is our past. We hope for the future of the arts in some semblance of what we know because we have aspirations. Are we also willing to ‘die’ for the arts? And if we don’t need to make the ultimate sacrifice, is there still more we can give of ourselves so that art gets to live another day? Are we prepared to take risks that will promote the arts but potentially at our own immediate or final expense? What can we do for our neighbors? What can we bring to the table? More stuff like the screaming hand drawing activity, I would hope.

          These are big questions, and they cannot be answered merely by marketing our way out of a tough situation.


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