This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

Before a donation is made or the first ticket is purchased; back before a link is clicked or the post is engaged; even before the content is curated, the campaign composed, or the budget is set—a single decision or series of decisions sets all of our work as marketing professionals in motion.

The individuals who are in the room when decisions are made can make all the difference to the following weeks and months of labor to build brand, engage the community, and develop future audiences.

Giving respect to Lin-Manuel Miranda, he had it correct when he wrote we all seek to be in “the room where it happens.”

Why is being in “the room” important to us? For many of our colleagues, they have never had an invitation or a key to “the room.” Executive directors, artistic directors, creative directors, and finance directors have spent their careers in “the room.” They do this without providing access to those who formulate and implement marketing campaigns for artists of all genres. It is important for marketers to see their vision come to life before an appreciative audience that anticipates being moved, transfixed, or inspired by creativity.

For those of you fortunate enough to share your talents with organizations and leaders that understand, respect, and value the impact of quality marketing efforts, this post may not be for you. You’ve already found a home where your work helps to influence, inspire, and invigorate all those who come in touch with it.

However, if you are not one of those lucky few, you only see your work in the transactional elements of day-to-day marketing, and don’t own a voice in the decisions that are made by leadership. Here are a few helpful hints for you to make the case why marketing should be “in the room” to influence the positive outcomes that happen when marketing plays a significant role in your organization.

How Decisions Are Made

Before you begin your crusade to knock down the door to “the room,” we need to understand what drives your organization and its leadership. Are you a mission-driven organization that takes chances in order to serve the underprivileged, break new artistic ground, meet educational goals, or some other meaningful undertaking? Or are the financial goals of the organization front and center during the decision-making process?

Understanding the context behind the decisions ultimately allows the marketing team to create more effective and efficient marketing and messaging.

No matter what drives programming, marketing should have a voice in the conversation. Ultimately, marketing will bear some responsibility on the program’s eventual success or failure. With that being said, shouldn’t marketing be included from the very beginning so the project and the marketing team can be set up for success? It is always better to be able to leverage the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses from the earliest steps of the process.

Making the Case

In order to get your key to “the room,” you need to make the case for why marketing should have a voice in decisions. In order to be heard, data is always a great place to start. Many decisions in business are made using data, so if you are not currently friends with data, I’d suggest cozying up with some good analytics and understand how to tell your story through digits.

Analytics from your website, emails, and social media are easy to access and they have the power to tell real stories about what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t get too far in the weeds; rather, determine which elements have the most impact on your organization’s objectives and goals. Another opportunity is to benchmark your numbers against others in your space locally, regionally, and even nationally in order to tell your story.

M vs. m

The conversation we are having may be best illustrated by the difference in capital “M” Marketing vs. lower case “m” marketing.

Capital “M” Marketing is in “the room.” On a corporate org chart, Marketing would be a C-level role along with CEO, CFO, CIO, etc. and take part in strategic planning and decision making at the very highest level of the organization.

Lower-case “m” marketing is part of our everyday grind. Included here are the marketing tasks of content creation and curation, social media posting, publicity, media buys, copywriting, design, video, and the myriad techniques we use on a daily basis to further the mission, engage the community, and drive revenue.

Start thinking of the marketing efforts in your organization as capital “M” or lower case “m” and you’ll delineate your work for your bosses and colleagues to better understand and appreciate your role and the importance of marketing.

We realize all of this is a lot more easily said than done. In some cases, senior management has calcified over the years around a theory of marketing playing a minimal role in your organization. However, in far more situations, rampant turnover—either in senior leadership and/or the marketing team—have created instability in the marketing and communications plan.

When a lack of consistency is coupled with the culture of scarcity in which most art organizations function, marketing is within a whisker of being cut from the budget on a moment’s notice.

Not only are we advocating for marketing to be treated as one of the main functions of your organization, we are recommending your organization take the next step to formalize marketing into the plans of every programming, educational, or development decision from the very initial phases of the project.

It may seem like a tall task, but those organizations who make the commitment to Marketing will be the ones reflecting on how successful and easy the decision was to bring marketing’s influence to the management team and decision making process.