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I Am My Own Focus Group

This weekend I attended the National Arts Marketing Project conference in Providence with my colleagues Dianne Debicella and Alex Gray.  The topics discussed concerned how to market to both new and existing audiences, as well as how to attract funders and other interested parties to the work that we do in the arts.  Many things I had heard in the past -- subscriptions are declining,  "everyone" uses Facebook, no one looks at direct (snail) mail, etc., etc., etc.

The data that was revealed was interesting, but I feel that a lot of people overgeneralize in terms of "what people want" or "what people do."  In speaking with some of my colleagues from organizations like Theatre Development Fund, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and the Greater Austin Creative Alliance (an Open Arts Network partner), I basically came to the conclusion that I am a marketing anomaly.  In fact, I should be dissected and studied so that marketers understand that there are some very different people out there -- and that the Facebook-loving, subscription-hating, texting-during-performances audience member of my age range is NOT me.

Here are some things that I would like arts marketers out there to know, even though I may be the lone person on a small island in the middle of a big ocean who thinks and acts this way:

- I am 18-35 years old.  To be more exact, I'm in the range of 30, give or take two years.  I am an avid attendee of artistic events.

- I'm not overly fond of Facebook (generally).  I use it for work, but barely ever update my personal profile.  Please don't send me a Little Green Patch or something about Mafia Wars.

- I don't like Twitter.  I get it, but I don't like it.  And most of my friends don't like it either.  At least I have a profile, whereas most of my friends do not.

- I generally don't read marketing emails unless the subject line is really intriguing (eg, "50% off tickets to such-and-such!").  If the email is just providing information about a particular artistic event (and especially if it's a daily, weekly, or monthly newsletter), I generally just delete it.  Sorry if I hurt anyone's feelings.  I figure I have 4,531 other outlets through which I'll catch the information if it's really that important to me.

- I actually like subscriptions when they are inexpensive, have a full season of events I'm interested in, and give me really good options/perks.  For example, I subscribe to generally one to two off-Broadway  theater companies each year.  This year, I subscribed to Playwrights Horizons since the shows looked very interesting and, since they offer a package that gives you four tickets to the season (for $20 each!) that you can use any which way you want (one ticket for four shows, two tickets for two shows, four tickets for one show, etc.).  I also subscribed to Signature Theatre Company because they have really inexpensive tickets that are insanely difficult to obtain unless you're a subscriber.  And, the subscription price was maybe only $6 more than if I had bought single tickets.  Plus, again, they had three plays I was very interested in seeing.  I have definitely subscribed to particular theaters one year, loved the shows, but didn't resubscribe because I wasn't interested in the next season.  Maybe I'll re-up in the future, maybe not.  Who knows?  So, yes, I'm finicky, but I do subscribe when the season, price, and benefits are right.

- I like snail mail!  Does no one else find it fun to get mail that isn't from a credit card company?  When I get home and see that no mail has arrived, I find it somewhat depressing.  So, when theater companies send me a pamphlet about their upcoming season (especially if includes info about special pricing), I'm pretty jazzed about it.  Yes, I realize I'm contributing to deforestation, but I get so much e-mail in my inbox that if they sent me the same thing via e-mail, it would probably get deleted.  Sure, I'd find out about it through other outlets (periodicals, websites, etc.), but I don't mind getting mail.  And more and more companies are using recycled paper now.  Or at least they should.

- I use my cell phone (a smart phone with web, text, a camera, and a little butler that comes out and serves me tea), but I turn my phone off (completely!) when appropriate (eg, when I'm watching live theater).  I text frequently, but am not a texting fiend -- I don't believe that my friends need to know where I am every second of the day.  I'll get back to them when the show is over.  (And don't people realize how bright their phone's light is?!?!)  I don't use my phone (or a separate camera) to take pictures at everything I go to.  I find that the memory is better than trying to take a digital snapshot of every waking moment of my life.  I love taking photos, but I feel like I see people trying to take pictures of EVERYTHING at all times.  I wonder if they are actually taking in and enjoying the moment or if they are just trying to get the best shot.

- I don't want to be "involved."  A lot of marketers talk about how people want to be let in on the artistic process, how they want to see rehearsals, how they want to talk to each other and to the artists after an artistic event, etc.  Not for me.  I'll have a post-event discussion with my guests over dinner and drinks.  I don't want to watch video interviews of the artists on YouTube.  I don't want to tweet my reaction and see how others respond.  To put it in a more understandable way, I [generally] don't watch DVD extras.  I just spent two hours watching the movie, I don't want to dedicate another hour to watching the director's commentary and deleted scenes.  I just want to see the finished product.

Now, this all makes me sound like a grumpy old man, I know.  It also makes it sound like I disapprove of people who enjoy or embrace the things that I do not.  Far from it!  I think it's great that people access and interact with art in so many different ways.

So, why am I writing this?  I simply want arts marketers to know that, though they can't please everyone, there are other segments of the population out there.  And we want to be marketed to  as well.  There are those of us under the age of 65 that still want subscriptions and want you to tell us to turn off our cell phones before the performance.  There are those of us that like a piece of snail mail once in a while.  And there are those of us who, if we really value the work you do and really value the way you treat us as audience members, would consider donating to your organizations.  So, don't forget us.