Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2013: The Year of the Patron

Photo via flickr
Follow the conversation in the blogosphere, on social media or the year-end collection of intellectual thought on the arts, and you’ll find variations on several themes: Values – economic, artistic, experiential.  The relative merit of technique and technology.  Disappearing public and corporate support. Can innovation remodel the industry model? 

In today’s important dialog, the patron is missing in action. 

One troubling indication is the frequency with which our firm observes strategic planning initiatives being built around facilities, programs, operations, technology, and campaigns.  Everything BUT the patron is being examined in those visions for institutions’ futures.

As we begin a new year, we are putting the patron front and center in our consumer analysis and thought. TRG’s CEO Rick Lester sounded the first notes late last year in his posts about the lessons that arts managers could learn from the Obama team’s winning data strategy. Knowing the voter by using data won the day.  Rick’s point applied to the arts industry prompts our assertion:
Knowing the patron by using data is a core competency that
every arts organization should master in 2013.

This is an aspirational assertion. Our industry is far from even recognizing “patron knowledge” as a necessary competency.

That’s a finding, not a criticism.  It’s clear to this consulting firm that arts practitioners today must be able to do more and know more about a wider range of activities, media, techniques, programs, and technology than ever before.  Industry colleagues are doing all of this with less predictably available resources than ever before.  Staying focused in the face of so much to learn, know and do is a formidable challenge.

But, focus, we must.


“Follow the money…”
This advice Deep Throat famously gave The Washington Post during the Watergate investigation resonates in today’s arts funding reality.  Patrons are the source of paid attendance and visitation.  They invest in memberships, subscriptions, and annual fund programs.  They buy education programs, gala events, and items in your gift shop.  They influence corporate support, foundation giving, and public funding.

Patrons are, for U.S. arts organizations, the main (sometimes only) source of income – both earned and contributed income. In all transactions, the common denominator is not the campaign or program that delivers revenue.

The source to be followed in our industry is the patron.


Follow data to follow the patron.
It is possible in any data system to look at whatever patron history is available and gain knowledge about patrons – what they have bought, when, how much they spend, and where they live.  Even this very basic data can lead to more patrons and more investment by the patrons any organization already has.

But organizations get tripped up over data.  It’s a pain point that too many organizations relieve by avoidance.  Little wonder they do; ours is a data-oriented industry with no data management standards. (And that’s another story for another time.)  Organizations that get past the challenges find that smart data use can help arts practitioners know the patron better, engage them more, and make them lifelong loyalists.

When? Now.

Master the art of patron knowledge.

At TRG, we can think of no better investment for 2013, because we see these benefits:
Talk to patrons like you know them...  Familiarity fosters relationship.   Relationships lead to loyalty.  Loyalty generates sustaining support. There are cool things that can be done with data that make it possible to have direct, courteous, meaningful interaction with patrons – the kind that keep patrons engaged and coming back.

…in every communication by any member of staff.  The patron sees your organization in every encounter with every individual. Knowing the patron not only better informs campaigns.  It helps everyone interact with patrons in the way that a valued supporter will appreciate being treated.

Find the right channel for communication.  The options for communicating today are dizzying.  Knowing the patron helps inform the choice of channel as well as the right mix of new media and classic technique.

Stop doing things that don’t matter.  No organization can adopt every new technology, act on every board member’s great idea, fix everything with one approach.  Knowing the patron helps make priorities clear and makes saying no a positive strategic outcome.
Stay tuned.  How to develop patron focus and direct it strategically will be part of TRG’s ongoing contribution to industry knowledge this year.

We want to hear from you about your own focus right now. Take this quick survey and let us know what’s impacting your work.

1 comment:

  1. I've been saying this for some time. If we don't get children involved in participating in art organizations, show in all aspects of the arts...they won't grow up needing them or supporting them. We need to realize they are the future patrons.