I’ve clashed with quite a few accountants in the past because it seemed to me they couldn’t be content with managing the money, they had to behave like they were running the business. The mistake they made, I thought, was to confuse the tool with the result. Then I realised we marketers do it too.
It’s hubristic for marketers to think they should influence the creative aspects of an arts organisation. Even the commercial world makes a mistake when it puts its fate in the hands of marketers. Like accountants, marketers see the present, whereas artists- in common with entrepreneurs- see the future. Famously, the Sony Walkman was rejected by the marketing department based on their experience and research but Sony’s co-founders persisted and the result was a 30 year success story.
Since the arts first discovered marketing, arts marketers have been at best mistaken and at worst arrogant to think of what they do as any different from commercial marketing. It may be easier for arts marketers to believe in their product but we use the same tools and we are all in the business of maximising the return. Just because many arts organisations are non-profit, there will still be a target return, even if it is not financial. What we do as arts marketers is vital but it doesn’t make us artists.
The complexities of the digital age have encouraged marketers to think that because they understand the new ways of communicating better than many artists, they can take the lead. Nothing fundamental has changed. We marketers still need to understand the market for a product, how we can reach it, then persuade people in appropriate language to participate. Part of that understanding is coming to terms with interactivity and the power of the ‘prosumer’. If an arts organisation wants to use digital media to have a new relationship with its audience or to create new art forms, it will be marketing’s job to offer research about how digital media work, to understand the objective and to facilitate achieving it. It will not be its job to imagine the artistic activity that results.
Your marketing work is vitally important to the success of a company so if you enjoy marketing, stick to it. If you want to run the company, apply for the job of Chief executive.