Thursday, March 31, 2011

CATCHING YOU UP


So much has happened in the past week I need to just catch you up.

I meet with a great guy from Merrill Lynch, in Greenwich last week. Brainstormed, got some wonderful advice, and a commitment to hook me up with more folks to add to our tribe.  He really liked the marketing ideas and the idea of a theatre so near to him if it is in Stamford. 

Next we attended the “Reinventing Stamford” town hall meeting Tuesday night. About 250-300 people I think.  The mayor spoke and since we had not heard back from the Economic Development lady after emailing and calling I decided he needed to hear from me directly.  Believe it or not, I am not that bold when it comes to just walking up to someone important and introducing myself. 

But this was important and so I took my revamped breakdown of what the theatre is all about plus the list of Broadway actors who would be interested in coming out to be a part of our theatre that the wonderful Jamibeth Margolis (casting director in NYC) put together for me and approached him.  I put it in terms of keeping Stamford’s theatre business in Stamford instead of always sending it to NYC and drawing new people from the surrounding areas with our casts and community outreach. 

He was very nice, very interested and gave me his card.  Told me to call him (which I have) and mentioned a space that he thought would work.  Then my team and I split up into four groups and attended the breakout sessions for the evening.  Mine was “Education and mentoring” where I also made some great connections.  Working on calling them this week. Our thoughts on education are like tentacles reaching into the community in a very interactive way. Not just with education but with businesses and other non profits. One of the leaders there said, “A theatre with a socially conscious edge could be a very powerful tool….” 

 An incubator for Arts Entrepreneurs. That is what we are setting ourselves and our website up to be.

Zach, my web designer, and I met and he is working on the logo (which already looks so cool) and his father has assigned part of our project to his web design/marketing classes where he teaches. Our first “Education Outreach” expedition.

We are going to be the first theatre that is “Virtual” before becoming a real live theatre.  The site will be content rich and already drive folks to it consistently before we have a space to perform.  A template for other folks wanting to start a theatre before they have the funds or space and yet still wanting to provide a service for the community that is arts based.

I have to keep creating empowering contexts for myself every time I walk out the door. When I create the, “We are on the cusp of something very new and beneficial for the arts community as well as non profits” scenario I find that business folks are receptive.  More than receptive, they are psyched. They can see how different this is from the “If you build it they will come” idea.

Believe it or not, it’s the arts folks here that tend to throw out negatives.  I could think it’s because the arts folks “know the realities” as my mindset OR I could ignore that idea and create a more empowering scenario and say:

 “Everybody says don’t,
   Everybody says don’t.
   Everybody says don’t walk on the grass,
   Don’t disturb the peace,
   Don’t skate on the ice. 

  Well I say do! 
  I say walk on the grass it was meant to feel!
  I say sail!
  Tilt at the windmill, and if you fail, you fail!

  Everybody says don’t,   
  Everybody says don’t.
  Everybody says don’t get out of line.
  When they say that, then, Lady, that’s a sign:
  Nine times out of ten,
  Lady, you are doing just fine!”


Thank you Mr. Sondheim

Monday, March 21, 2011

WORLD VIEW


WORLD VIEW

How do we keep them coming back?  

You get a young person to come to a show once.  How do you get them to come back again for the next show, and the next. Then as they get older, how do you get them to not only buy season subscriptions, but to spread the word to their friends?

Given the free options like Wii, Hulu and Xbox, etc how do we get young people to understand that what Pete Seeger said is true, “Participation: That’s what’s going to save the human race.” 

I’ll tell you what not to do.  I sat through a chamber music concert this weekend and while the performers were highly talented and had the credits to prove it, I had my doubts that the three young people there (out of 65 audience members) would be inspired to come to another concert.   

I would love to say that having talent and the appreciation of the arts should be enough to draw an audience.  But “if you build it they will come” just ain’t working anymore!
Instead of having five, over fifty, great string players performing yet another 5 movement Mozart and 6 movement Brahmns in the typical fashion why not make it more interesting to today’s MTV crowd?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking the musicians to wear Hawaiian shirts and dance around the room, although there are fun groups that do that.  I am simply asking for some creative marketing/performing from people who want their art form to survive.  When the blue hairs die, who will take their place?  

You may say that is the job of education/outreach programs and I agree, but since every single one of the performers yesterday also taught at a college, why not employ some ‘educational’ aspects for the rest of us? There is also the trickle down effect of music programs being severely cut back in schools.  Who is picking up the slack? Performers need to.

For instance, please talk beforehand and explain to me some of what I am hearing and why Mozart wrote it. Use props. Play a bit of the themes to listen for and fun stuff instead of sending me in blind.   I am a musician and I was bored.

One of you listed that you played on the recording of a movie score.  Maybe you could program your concert with one fun, movie score type thing for the youngsters.  One of you listed in your credits that you were a photographer and graphic artist.  Bring along a big screen with slides of your work that goes along with one of the pieces.  Visual aspects that keep us involved are what will help keep the teens interested. And some of the adults. 

We can’t all be YoYo Ma, but we can learn from his charisma and showmanship. It’s important that we not only offer our talent and the artwork, but that we build our tribes by keeping them involved, educated, entertained and engaged.  We can’t just force our world view as artists on other folks if we want to keep our audiences coming back. We do have to meet them where they are and entice them to come back.

Relate this to our theatre project.  We met with the Economic Development office this week.  As I started to explain the project to the head of this department, I realized quickly that I needed to pull back my energy.  I get very excited and speak quickly, which is good for some folks and overwhelming for others. Usually I just tell folks to “keep up” but since we needed this woman to get excited about the project so that we can keep building our tribe, I switched gears and adopted some of her style, with Deb and Keyan by my side, and presented our ideas.

In a week we will be going to the town meeting for “Reinventing Stamford”.
We have to pick a group to attend while we are there. Mine is Group #2 Winning the Future through Mentoring.  And I quote from their download: “The development of a diverse and complex society can only be achieved by engaged citizens in every segmentof our community.” Armed with our Four Points we will all spread out and find even more folks who we can educate and engage.  Now is the time to build the audience and potential donors. Now is the time to meet people and understand their world view so we can move ahead in a way that benefits them as well as us. We can’t force our ideas but instead we have to find out the problems and goals of this city and offer what we think to be a good solution.

It is extra work. Yes.  We do have to think like business people even though we are artists.  Yes.  Would I just like to present great theatre and hope they all come to see it? Yes!  But as I analyze theatres that have gone under recently, that is what they seemed to have done. Just presented their world view of why live theatre should exist.

Randy West, Executive director of the Way Off Broadway theatre in Iowa is one of those directors who is taking aggressive steps to getting more youth to the theatre.  He has a great program that offers discounts to the theatre/speech kids.  He actively educates his audiences and involves them. I am lucky to have his advice and experience a phone call away. 

Advice to my Western Connecticut State students who now subscribe to this blog: Think about how you can use these ideas in your music programs to help parents and kids understand the importance of music by making it exciting and relevant to them.  Bring in a good local rock band.  Create a “battle of the bands” concert.  Involve the sports teams/coaches in some fun way.  Create a “Glee” of your own.

Remember the goal: The more people who are exposed to the arts and who can learn from the arts, the more creative problem solvers we can develop in the world. That participation really does benefit the human race.

Recommended Reading:  Neurolinguistic Programming for Dummies.







Thursday, March 10, 2011

WATER SIGNS


“Put up your hands and give me all your dough!" 

Let’s get rid of that image as we move forward shall we? What non-profit doesn’t need to fund raise to survive? But do we all have to stand with our guns pointed and our hands out or is there a way to give back when we get?   Sure, the non-profit that fights cancer, saves animals, provides culture or feeds the hungry can argue that the services they provide are the “give back”. 

So how’s that attitude working for your fund raising? Are you thriving? Or like most non-profits…and that includes many theatres...are you bemoaning the state of the economy and its affect on your organization?   Are you constantly talking about the problem of fund raising and audience raising and doing the same things that worked for you five years ago or are you coming up with interesting ideas that just might work now? 

This week I had two terrific meetings concerning the theatre.  One was with Zack, my new web tech guy.  Great graphic artist talent but more importantly he has a great attitude.  He wants to learn whatever I can teach him (I loaned him my Seth Godin book, “Tribes” and the study Steppenwolf did on new marketing to the Milleniums as his first bit of homework.)  He’s also playing around with a website idea because I took him through the marketing plan and the ideas I had specifically for the interactive website.

Yes, before we have an actual theatre, a donor list, a season picked out or the non-profit founded, we are going to have a website that caters to the tribe that supports our mission. You are the start of that by the way. Following our progress and recommending others to do the same. Do you feel like you are becoming a part of our theatre solution?  From the emails I have gotten from many of you, you are having a good time keeping up with it. Feel free to add to our tribe with recommendations to the blog.

The second meeting was with two business contacts that the amazing Debbie set up.  If you are looking for a great commercial real estate agent, I am now her best PR agent, and she is mine!  Deb is what we call a “sneezer” in viral marketing terms. She’s connected, she cares, she is really great at what she does, and she is completely fearless when it comes to speaking with everyone who crosses her path and would be a good person to connect to us. I would like ten more of her. Debbie Peidra at Sabre Realty Group.

As we were sitting at lunch with Deena and Keyan (two people she wanted me to meet) I realized that between the three of them they knew everyone is Stamford.  Again, I went through the marketing ideas and tried hard to take notes as they shot out names and places that would help us.

I always make sure that I walk away knowing what the “next steps” are and Debbie is trying to set up meetings with the next “influential” folks who I will tell you about once it happens.  

Recap:  We added three like-minded people to our tribe this week.  Before we hit crunch time. Before we have to stand with our hands out.  My thoughts are that if you can involve people in the “making of” you might just find that fund raising and audience raising are already in place.  The “give back” isn’t just the good feeling you get from helping us do important work, it’s as intrinsic to you as supporting something you help to build. Finding the “sneezers” is an important first step in new marketing.

And here is a novel thought, the tribe doesn’t have to include everyone.  Just the folks that are like-minded. Deena is like-minded. Keyan sees the big picture.  Zack "gets" it.

Deena invited us to the town meeting at the end of this month where the Reinventing Stamford folks will be gathering. Including the new mayor, whose wife happens to be a dancer, likes dancing, supports dance?  Deena and Deb know everything about everyone. Little tidbits like that are useful. 

Before I hit the highway Deena had sent an email introduction to me and Marc, another great contact with whom I am going to brainstorm.  She said: “You both have a business with a Blue Ocean Strategy” I didn’t know what that was so if you aren't familiar with the concept: http://www.blueoceanstrategy.com/abo/what_is_bos.html)

 Key points I loved were:

*The aim of Blue Ocean Strategy is not to out-perform the competition in the existing industry, but to create new market space or a blue ocean, thereby making the competition irrelevant.

*The three key conceptual building blocks of BOS are: value innovation, tipping point leadership, and fair process.

*While competitive strategy is a structuralist theory of strategy where structure shapes strategy, BOS is a reconstructionist theory of strategy where strategy shapes structure.

I’ve already got ideas of how to get some blue ocean dialogues started with the next important people.

I think this might be how it works, folks.  Blue ocean-minded folks might be able to wash over that outstretched hand image and come up with interesting solutions. 

Must be because I am a water sign.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

POKE THE BOX workbook

As I share this journey with you I need to pass on the tools that are helping me and perhaps they will apply to projects you are working on as well.

I am loving working through this Seth Godin workbook that is a free pdf and a companion to his new book.
http://www.thedominoproject.com/2011/03/poke-the-box-the-workbook.html

It helps to get you started.  With anything.  Quick read with good ideas and questions posed. He addresses "language" and how to take chances.

Peppered in the document are phrases like:

"What would our world look like if more people started projects, made a ruckus and took risks". Seth Godin

And:

"The job isn't to catch up to the status quo; the job is to invent the status quo."  Seth Godin

And one particularly high on my list right now:

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.".  Alice Walker

And I love this one too:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".  Aristotle.

There are many more, but that should get you going. 

Me too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PROBLEM SOLVERS


Furthering Stamford’s Cultural Identity with Professional Theatre


I like how that sounds don’t you? Andy and I came up with that marketing blurb in response to my question: “What problem does a theatre solve for a community?”

Reading the book The New Rules of Marketing and PR, by David Meerman Scott (http://www.davidmeermanscott.com/books.htm) is a dangerous thing for me.  I get five thousand ideas after reading two or three paragraphs.

Old or standard marketing talks about the four P’s - Product, Place, Price and Promotion as being the most important things.  Meerman says that is nonsense and that in order to succeed on the web under the new rules you need to consider your organizational goals and then focus on your buyers first. (read: solving problems for your audience and donors first, not promoting your shows)  He suggests segmenting your ‘buyers’ into groups via a profiling process. 

Most theatre sites I have seen use a mass marketing approach treating everyone who lands on their sites the same.

I also love the book, Attracting Perfect Customers by Stacey Hall & Jan Brogniez, which focuses on identifying your perfect clients/audience members/donors and not being tempted to recruit everyone. Build your tribe with the right folks who line up with your own thinking and they will build your business for you.

The best blogs, websites and programs are not about companies and their products, but about customers and their problems. 

So what problem does a theatre solve for a community?

Yesterday I was put in touch with a great young web designer who is excited to help me create a progressive website for the theatre and who is also willing to let me coach him on the new rules.  I provide the ideas, he provides the tech know-how. I want to start building our audience or tribe right now by educating and involving them.  My web tech also happens to be a student at the University of Hartford where I teach and I can reward him by putting him on stage once we get going and connecting him with the artsy powerbrokers I know. 

As I read more and more new marketing books. As I speak with my business marketing mentors. As I see the new marketing working in my internet marketing business so well that we had another quarter of growth, I find this the perfect time to express my resistance to these phrases from well meaning folks who only know me as “Kristin the actor”. Instead of solving a problem they inadvertently add one…bless their hearts. “Well…Stamford doesn’t really come out for theatre”. Or “It’s going to be hard to raise money” or “You better talk to all the theatres I know that folded first so you know how hard this will be”. Stuff like that.  I don’t want to be rude to anyone meaning well, but I am expressing to the world that I don’t really want to talk to the folks who aren’t thinking progressively enough and utilizing new marketing…starting now.

Before you say “rose colored glasses”, my thinking is that it’s best to speak with successful business owners and to pick their brains, not speak to the ones who encountered difficulties that they couldn’t “pick and roll” around.

Sure, I want to think that everyone needs theatre to exist because it’s wonderful and adds value and is creative and inspires people, just like you do.  But that kind of thinking “just build it and they will come” is not the kind of marketing I am interested in and could just be why some theatres have gone under.  Especially if they didn’t keep up with the social media times. 

As I look at some theatre websites, they seem to create a “big brochure” for their theatre season, “writing for their ego and not their buyers”, as Meerman says.   As I work with my web designer, it will not be to make the splashiest pages. It will be to provide info and to educate my soon-to-be audiences, donors and others interested in theatre, with participatory podcasts, webinars, white papers, videos and audios connecting them with casting directors, photographers, makeup artists, performers and others that have a lot to say about theatre before we even have a physical space. We will build these after we have developed bios and profiles for our customer/donor groups to find out what they need. Not just what we want them to do.

I am interested in solving problems and right now the theatre industry has a couple problems.

But instead of focusing on the theatre-funding and attending problems, I want to focus on how theatre solves a problem for a community and then by providing a website and a new theatre that solves those problems, let them convince themselves that they need this in their lives. Art… Schmart. I know it, you know it. Higher SAT scores, value, right/left brain thinking, outside-the-box development, inspiration.  All attributed to the study or participation in the arts.  I think my job right now is to listen to the folks who are “reinventing Stamford” and find out what they think their problems are and then market our theatre experience right into their brains as one of the solutions.

I am clear that it’s ok to be unpredictably enthusiastic when it comes to a new project and I have always been rather strong-willed on this subject. For example, there is no reason I should have won Miss Ohio and been a runner-up to Miss America. I was not the typical “mold”.  I just told myself I was going to win it that year. There is no reason I should have made my Broadway debut at my age. J   I just kept banging on doors and networking and improving my skills until the right thing came along.

So, I don’t dispute that this endeavor will be hard work. That a lot of people fail and that by speaking to those people, I might understand how their projects failed.  Got that.  I could also have spoken to dispirited beauty pageant contestants and disillusioned Broadway wanna-bes and gotten depressed and quit.  But I didn’t talk to them, I avoided them. I actually told the Miss Ohio people that I didn’t want to hear the gossip about who was supposed to win Miss America. I didn’t want to hear anything negative because it’s that little voice that means well, that can snag your progress.  I would rather be blissfully ignorant and make up my own rules than be forewarned.  That’s just me. Apply it to your life if it fits and gets you to a new place with unpredictable possibilities.

Here is where I would love your imput.  What “problems” does a theatre solve for an area?  1. Entertainment, yes, but why live entertainment verses a cheaper movie or netflix?  2.  Social. That is a big one I think when you are trying to reinvent an area right?  3. Cultural identity.  Again, if you are trying for a ‘greener’, more hip ID that is consciously resilient the culture has to go with it.  4. Involvement, especially in educational ways and perhaps in encouraging diversity.

I know Stamford is aiming for the 25-35 year old group to grow.  Steppenwolf theatre commissioned a report I just read called “Tipping the Culture”. It’s a report on ways that global brands are reaching Milleninials or the 15-31 year olds. Much of our marketing plan already has elements they suggest. For example, this group is not prone to being passive or anonymous in an audience and they want to create content as much as consume it.

 “Kristin, do you know how much work that will be?” Yes. I am already doing it for our internet marketing business.  I just need to transfer it over to the theatre.  I actually have the whole crew of folks that will be contributing to the above.  I promote them, they promote the theatre.  Links, classes, intern opportunities, business to business PR, and an entire web series devoted to promoting Stamford, the new American city.  (their words) 


Out of vogue for me are these words and phrases:  Conventional wisdom.  Typically. Calm down. Be reasonable.  How it’s always been done.   Statistics prove…  Standard. Safe. Bad economy. Na├»ve.


In vogue:  Unpredictable.  Wild.  Charismatic.  Fun.  Persistent.  Driven.  Exciting. Feels right.  Sexy.  Artsy.  Balsy.  Bitchy.  Make a difference.  Listened more than talked. Progressive.  Awesome.  Brilliant.  New Possibilities. Fling it against the wall and see what sticks. New template. New paradigm.  Against the grain.  Thought leaders. Consciously resilient


Now for your feedback. The positive voices in my life!