I am always amazed when I speak to performing arts organizations and realize that they only have a vague idea about how much it costs to produce a program book. Most of these organizations believe that they are breaking even, or possibly making a profit when publishing their own program books. The reality is that a quick analysis of all the unseen costs usually proves the opposite.

Time Is Money

What many fail to consider is the amount of time it takes their staff to self-publish their program books. This is the time that could be spent doing things that provide a better ROI for their performing arts organization.

By simply taking a hard look at the true costs of self-publishing their own program books, it would show the reality, but many organizations are stuck in their ways and make excuses for not doing so.

When we are in discussions with an organization about taking over their program book publishing, our process starts with a simple questionnaire. Our quick questionnaire uncovers the hard questions that need to be asked to get the true reality of their program books. I literally tell my contact to get a strong cup of coffee and by the time they’re finished with their coffee, they will also be finished with our program book questionnaire.

But it never ceases to amaze me at some of the answers we receive. For example, one organization recently explained, “We simply determined that we prefer the flexibility that a hands-on process provides us, including the capacity to develop our materials on a timeline of our own design. Working through a third-party like yours, or any other, limits that flexibility as well as opportunities for local connections and cultivation that managing our own book provides.” Just typing that one answer took more time than completing the whole questionnaire would have!

Never the less, what that person was actually saying is, “I’m sorry we are not open to change.” I would venture to also say that they don’t work well with objectives and would rather call on the same businesses year after year asking for another “donation” rather than educate the local and surrounding businesses on the features and benefits of performing arts program book advertising, let alone the great things that are happening at their performing arts organization.

Missed Opportunity

The reality is that this particular performing arts organization is missing out on an opportunity to turn their program books into a profitable publication as well as a strong marketing piece for their organization. One that also strengthens the local connections by creating a win-win scenario with local businesses who could benefit from expertly managed advertising and a professionally designed program book. And this is not the only performing arts organization that thinks like this. I see this all the time!

Publishing performing arts program books is expensive, hard work and an art form, and leaves no room for error. But when professionally published and managed, your program books can truly be a showcase publication for your performing arts organization as well as a high-end program book that your patrons come to expect.

Ambassadors for Your Performing Arts Organization

In addition to a better image for your performing arts organization, there is a wide range of benefits to businesses who advertise in performing arts program books. Having a team of professional program book account executives who can convey these benefits to local businesses will mean significantly more engagement from the local business community with your performing arts organization. There is no relationship stronger than this mutually beneficial relationship.

A question to ask is: does your staff have the knowledge of performing arts advertising to properly convey these benefits to the business leaders in the community?

But also, a good performing arts program book publisher is much more than just that. With the right program book publisher, you’ll be able to combine printed program books with expertly designed mobile experiences as well as professionally produced performing arts digital signage throughout your venue for total audience engagement.

And all this can be done while making money instead of just breaking even, or worse, losing money!

The Numbers Tell the Story

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but one should not base business decisions on opinions or “gut feel.” Performing arts program books are very expensive and time-consuming to manage, and a final decision about how to handle your program book publishing should not come until you’ve had the chance to look at the hard numbers.

The Most Important Question: Are You in the Performing Arts Business or Publishing Business?

But most importantly, you should ask yourself a very simple question. Are you in the performing arts business or publishing business? I would venture to guess it is the former.

I honestly believe that if you compare the numbers of publishing your own program books to the numbers of outsourcing and honestly answer the question of whether you are a niche magazine publisher or not, I guarantee that you’ll find that outsourcing your program books to a professional performing arts program book publisher will always trump doing them in-house. Good selling!

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