For more information about Joe Kluger or WolfBrown, please visit www.wolfbrown.com
Welcome to Program Book Talk. I’m Norm Orlowski, your host. Our podcast today provides some terrific insight on emerging audiences, technology in the Arts, and some interesting ways in reducing costs. WolfBrown is a dynamic team of diversely skilled professionals that provide thoughtful solutions to some of the non-profits’ most pressing challenges. Our guest today is Joe Kluger, a principal of WolfBrown with over 35 years of experience as an Arts and Culture executive and consultant in strategic planning, organizational collaboration, facilities, fundraising, and leadership development. Join me now for some great ideas you can use.
NORM: Joe, welcome to Program Book Talk. It’s nice to have you as a guest today on our podcast.
JOE: Thanks very much, Norm. It’s nice to be with you.
NORM: Well, thank you. Joe, we hear and read that the Arts and the core audience is flat or declining. Could you share with us some of the steps that perhaps need to be taken to address the emerging audience?
JOE: I think there is a tremendous opportunity in the Arts to, first of all, counteract the mis-impression out there that somehow Arts and Culture is not central to the lives of people in the 21st century. I think whether you’re putting on a theatrical production, a concert, a dance performance, these organizations are still reaching thousands of people in communities all over America every week. And in these times that are really challenging for people – they’re working hard, they’re under stress – it’s a source of great inspiration as well as entertainment. I think the challenge for Arts organizations is to recognize that the expectations of audience members today are changing.
JOE: Not so much in the kind of art they want to experience, but how they experience it. That applies to the location. Sometimes people want to come to – they want to get dressed up and go the theatre and have a passive experience where they’re watching a performance, and sometimes they want something that’s more immersive, something more participatory. So an outdoor concert in the summertime with a picnic supper may attract an audience of people who won’t go downtown in the middle of the winter.
I think the other big opportunity for Arts organizations is to think about creative ways to change the experience in the concert hall, in the theatre so that those people who want a ritualistic passive experience of just hearing the performance can have that. A lot of younger people are looking for a night on the town, even if it’s centered around a performance experience, to have some social community aspect to it. So organizing performances – the New World Symphony in Miami, for example, has wall casts, where they project the performance on the outside of the building.
NORM: Oh, wow.
JOE: They might have 700 people inside the building for a typical performance, but thousands on a Saturday night. Young people will come and watch the performance, sip a glass of wine —
NORM: No kidding.
JOE: — and so the experience is they’re serving both a traditional audience as well as a younger audience.
JOE: Those organizations that are in more traditional Performing Arts centers can organize social events before, or even in some cases preferably, after the performance. But they can interact with the artists. And so, defining the experience, not by compromising in any way the artistic quality of what you’re presenting, but recognizing that to reach audiences today who have a wider range of experiences that they’re looking to have requires adapting to some extent the way it’s presented, where it’s presented.
NORM: That’s interesting. Kind of like tailgating for the Arts.
JOE: I think that’s a great – particularly if you’re going to hear a Wagner opera, you need to start tailgating at 10:00 in the morning.
NORM: Okay. Joe, the one thing that you mentioned before is that we all live stressful lives, and I think that you would agree, we all spend way, way too much time in virtual space. Is it possible to use the venue as a social gathering place to once again introduce and promote human-to-human interaction?
JOE: Well, just look at what the Metropolitan Opera is doing with its high-definition broadcasts.
JOE: The value of those experiences for people who are attending is not only the ability to see grand-scale opera on a really big screen, but it’s not a big screen in your living room, it’s a big screen in a movie theatre. And when my mother was alive, she would go with her friends and it became an activity, a social activity, a communal experience in which to experience this grand beautiful opera. So the answer is yes, but technology has to be thought about carefully. It is a strategy to achieve ends. It’s not an end in and of itself. So you have to really think through carefully when you use technology in the Arts, what is it helping me accomplish? Am I using it to, as you identified, to create a communal space in which people can experience it?
JOE: Are we using it to, within the performance hall, to change the experience? There are orchestras now that are experimenting with creating video art that is shown on screens on the stage inspired by the music that is being performed because some people want an aural experience, a-u-r-a-l, and some people want a visual experience. It’s controversial. Some people looking for something traditional may not be interested in that, but here’s a really interesting way to maybe attract people who wouldn’t otherwise come to hear a Beethoven symphony. I’ll use a cliché, do you want to hear the Beethoven “Pastoral” symphony? Would you be more or less interested in it, if it were accompanied with pastoral images?
JOE: The third issue around technology is the concept of using it to distribute the performances to people, not in the concert hall or in some other communal venue like a movie theatre, but in their homes. If you have a really big plasma screen, in your living room, would you be interested – how many people would be interested in a performance in their living room with a fireplace underneath and a nice glass of wine? You know, it’s not a communal experience, but it’s a way of experiencing this art, and maybe that’s a market that we’re not currently reaching.
NORM: Interesting. The next question that I have is what role does technology or should technology play in the strategic plan of an organization? Data management, do you get involved with that at all?
JOE: So technology is, it’s a tool; it’s a resource, and it is central to almost everybody’s life today. And it should be for an Arts organization. But again, it’s a strategy to achieve organizational objectives; it’s not a goal in and of itself. So we encourage our clients to think about technology in all aspects of their strategic planning processes. Where does it fit as a core part of your mission? You know, are you using – you know, the mission of every performing Arts organization is, generally speaking, to present the greatest quality event or performance to as many people as possible.
JOE: And the implication of that is that the performance is going to take place live in a communal social setting in a performance space. And all that is, and I would advocate always should be, is the primary function of any one of these organizations, why shouldn’t technology be as central to the mission in bringing this art to more people? Then the strategy questions become how best to do that. As we just talked, should it be into people’s homes, into movie theatres?
But technology also plays a role in how you market the product, in business terms, to the most number of people. Are we identifying clearly the customers we want to reach? Are we soliciting feedback from them as to the kinds of experiences they want to have and where they want to have them? And so technology is a tremendous resource in the marketing function, in fundraising, identifying potential donors, cultivating them, soliciting them, thanking them. Technology can be an immensely valuable tool for non-profit Arts organizations that are looking to spend limited resources in a way that maximizes the return on investment. Just because you’re a non-profit organization doesn’t mean that you don’t have to spend money wisely and that you don’t have to seek out —
JOE: — a measureable return on those investments. And technology is a great disrupter, but a great resource to organizations that see it as an asset in helping to serve their…fulfill the mission.
NORM: Is the role of technology and the involvement with the data management as you talked about, knowing where your patrons are coming from, being able to identify what their needs are, is that just for the large organizations, or can the smaller organizations also invest in that, from a cost standpoint?
JOE: The greatest value of digital technology comes with the leveling of the playing field. If you’re a small opera company in Ohio, you can’t and shouldn’t try to compete with the Metropolitan Opera that is distributing high-definition programs around the world.
JOE: But it doesn’t mean you can’t use technology because of the cost of capturing the content, the cost of distributing it have come down dramatically, it doesn’t mean you can’t use technology to reach your core audiences wherever they may be. If you are the Dayton Opera, you’re primarily trying to reach people within that Ohio region, and therefore, why not use technology to do it? The other thing that technology today represents, that was not there in the 20th century, is the ability to disintermediate, to cut out the middle man that was critical in the old world in distributing audio recordings or radio broadcasts. Today if you can capture the content and you have an internet connection, you can distribute it.
I would also suggest for smaller groups that the use of digital marketing techniques is a tremendous resource in efficiently marketing your programs to people. If you’re a small Arts organization and trying to advertise, it’s inefficient to reach a small segment of the population, which traditional serious Arts and Culture organizations are trying to reach, by advertising on the local news station or taking out an ad in the local newspaper that’s going to be read by let’s say – heard by 80% of your market when you’re only trying to reach 5% or 10%.
JOE: With digital marketing you have the ability to target your message and just from an advertising CPM perspective, it’s a much more efficient way of reaching your targeted audience.
NORM: Good advice. We’re talking about costs; we’re talking about large organizations, small organizations. I’d like to give folks that might be listening to this some things, some take-aways. What are three questions that an Arts organization should ask themselves in trying to reduce their costs, their fixed costs?
JOE: Well, my first answer is…solving a financial problem by reducing costs is not the best approach.
JOE: It’s certainly not, not in simplistic terms. It may be that some organizations are not spending money wisely, but I believe you have to spend money to make money. You have to have an artistic product that is compelling and of a high enough quality to motivate people to be interested in seeing it or hearing it.
Where Arts organizations sometimes get in trouble when they get attached to programs that they’ve been doing year in and year out, and they don’t think about them in terms of their current and future relevance. We advise our clients to ask yourself whether every program is worth doing and whether it meets a compelling community and audience need. Rather than saying what programs should we cut, imagine that every year you start with a blank piece of paper and say, all right, what should we be doing next year?
NORM: I see.
JOE: And, so start from the ground up and ask yourself what do our audiences want, what do our customers want, and then build a season that meets that need. And if it’s a program that you’ve been doing for the last five years, the question you should be asking is, if we weren’t doing that program, would we add it today.
NORM: I see. That’s good.
JOE: If the answer is yes, then sure.
NORM: Add it.
JOE: But don’t hold onto it just because you’ve always been doing it. You have to constantly, in today’s world be making sure that everything you’re doing is not only serving your mission, but serving the needs of today’s audiences, and those are constantly changing. So you have to adapt and change with it.
NORM: Great advice. So the main suggestion is to start every year with a blank piece of paper and then look at the things that, you know, that you want to add.
JOE: Some businesses or governments advocate what is called zero-based budgeting.
JOE: And I like to refer to it as zero-based programming. Don’t look at it from a cost point of view, but from a program point of view.
JOE: How many should we be doing, of what type, for whom, where, and from a quantity point of view, can you make the case that there is enough demand so that – I’ll use this in a generic term – we have a reasonable confidence that at least 80% of the seats for each performance can be sold on average. That’s the number of performances you should be scheduling.
NORM: I see. Good advice. What can Arts groups do to ensure that they have sufficient organizational capacity to achieve their mission when they have to look at cutting staff?
JOE: Yeah. So, again, I’m a proponent of looking at Arts organizations and recognizing that the primary mission is to create and present great art. And so the resources need to be allocated to that artistic endeavor. But you can’t be successful in mounting those productions and making sure that their audiences and donors are there to support them unless you have effective administrative personnel to make it happen. So a lot of organizations in the face of limited resources think the first thing to do is cut the staff, and sometimes that has a negative financial impact. If you’re trying to raise 50 cents of every dollar from philanthropic sources, cutting your fundraising staff or cutting out money that might be needed for research or software on potential donors is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
JOE: So I don’t advocate cutting staff per se. I do advocate that you have to be disciplined in making sure that you don’t have too many people or that you have the wrong people. You have to have the right number of people with the right skills and experience to effectively carry out the organizational mission, and the capacity to do that at the administrative level is as important as it is on the stage. One area that I think Arts organizations could look at as a strategy to increase organizational capacity, not so much to save money, but to develop more capacity to do this at an efficient cost level, is to look at sharing administrative resources. So take Dayton as a perfect example.
JOE: Which is where you’re based, right?
JOE: So you have an opera, symphony, and a ballet.
JOE: And programmatically they serve sometimes complimentary, but primarily different audiences, but by combining the administrative staffs, they’re spending money in a much more efficient way. If you have a symphony, opera, and a ballet in every community is it really the best use of resources for each of them to have their own finance department, and their own IT department, and their own Human Resources? Why not combine them in some way.
JOE: Because those are not areas in which these organizations are competing. Why isn’t that the model everywhere?
NORM: Well, Joe, thank you very, very much for taking the time. I know you’re busy, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We look forward to perhaps down the road working together.
JOE: My pleasure. It’s nice to talk to you, and thanks for all the work you do for the Arts around the country.
Thanks for listening to our podcast with Joe Kluger of WolfBrown. You can reach Joe through the website www.wolfbrown.com. We’re working on lots more podcasts over the next few weeks. And don’t forget to visit our website www.onstagepublications.com
I’m Norm Orlowski. Good selling.