Dozens of members of our arts community got an earful when Joanne Scheff-Bernstein, Northwestern University arts management professor, gave a recent, information-packed seminar on marketing the arts.

According to Bernstein, arts groups may know well their own craft and product, but knowing their consumers well is quite another story. As she began her seminar, Bernstein talked about how marketing is the process by which an organization relates creatively, productively, and profitably to the marketplace with the goal of creating and satisfying customers within the parameters of the organization’s objectives.

A particularly insightful segment of her presentation included a description of how businesses can market themselves. One way is to focus on product orientation. Managers in product-oriented organizations focus their energy on making good products and improving them over time. Another way is to focus on sales orientation. Managers in sales-orientated organizations believe success will come by persuading their customers to accept their offerings instead of going with their competitors.

But the best way of marketing, according to Bernstein, is when businesses adopt a consumer-centered orientation. Such a customer-centered organization, she said, is one that makes every effort to sense, serve, and satisfy the needs and wants of its clients and public within the constraints of its mission and budget.

A perfect example of a business that’s mastered this customer-centered approach is Amazon.com, said Bernstein. Not only does Amazon.com make it easy to purchase items such as books and CDs via the Internet in the comfort of your own home, but the company has even mastered ways of giving customers information on related materials, such as timely articles, books, or critiques related to the purchased items.

It’s in adopting this consumer-centered orientation that our local arts organizations will thrive and flourish, Bernstein said. Although in doing so, arts groups must be able to think about their products in different ways and explore more creative and timely ways of appealing to present and potential new audiences.

In a customer-centered orientation, success will follow when arts groups price, package, enhance, and deliver their plays, performances, and exhibits with the thought of being fully responsive to their customers by meeting their needs. Like Amazon.com, one way in which arts groups can better meet the needs of their consumers is to sell their tickets online. In fact, Bernstein commented that for some of the arts groups she’s worked with, more than 50 percent of ticket sales are now purchased online, a figure substantiated by Deb Ritschel, general manager of the Peoria Civic Center, who claims more than half of the concert tickets to local Civic Center events are also sold online. 

Speaking of online, Bernstein has been working diligently with ArtsPartners in developing a form on our Web site that will soon allow purchasers to give arts gift certificates that can be redeemed at any number of local live events, exhibits, and performances. Another suggestion was that the arts gift certificates personally acknowledge why someone is receiving the gift. Is it to recognize Mother’s Day? A graduation? A retirement? That special teacher at Christmas?

In fact, Bernstein is so completely sold on the arts gift certificate idea that she spent ample time discussing it during her seminar. According to her, by selling them online, ArtsPartners will be showing in visible, tangible ways how the organization is helping build greater audiences for the arts. In essence, through such a service as offering arts gift certificates, everyone wins. ArtsPartners wins because it shows it’s supporting and promoting the wealth of local arts offerings, and the arts organizations win because they’ll attract audience members outside of their own existing mailing and subscriber list.

At the seminar’s end, Bernstein had two closing statements for all of us in the arts community: First and foremost, know our mission and live up to it by providing a quality service or product. Then, follow up our mission and quality products with marketing tactics that show we know our customers, we build collaborative relationships, and we view changes as opportunities-not threats. AA!