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Reframing Your Image During Unexpected Events

Unexpected events are just that: unexpected. You can’t always accurately prepare for them, but you can certainly effectively respond to them. The patrons you marketed to six months ago are not the same people you’re marketing to today. Ways of life, both personal and professional, have fundamentally changed for everyone, and the messages you communicate must adapt to a new set of conditions and emotions.

Any good arts marketing exercise begins with defining what you do and why. These essential elements rarely change. What does change, and is likely in need of revisiting now, is who you do it for: your patrons. How have they changed? Are they the same people post-event, or are they different people, new people? What do they need? How do you and your organization fulfill this need?

It’s a little complicated.

Like everyone, your arts patrons are experiencing a complex mixture of emotional states. Some are cautious and uncertain about health and safety, income security, and the long-term effects that current events may have on the economy and ways of life. At the same time, others are energized. They are eager to spend, they’re tired of waiting, and they want to get back to normal. Still others represent a complex mixture of both and are conflicted about how to move forward. Collectively, these ways of thinking and feeling create a diverse set of needs and expectations, and it’s up to each organization to try to understand and speak to these needs.

Understand, reframe, communicate.

Reframing your organization’s image begins with understanding your patrons’ psyches in ways you have never had to before. It’s a safe bet that almost all of your patrons are conflicted to some degree: Secure and insecure. Confident and cautious. What they need is for you to make them feel comfortable enough to engage your organization with confidence. To do this, you have to understand the patron mindset and acknowledge how it may have changed.

Illustration by Wavelength Marketing, LLC

Once you’ve recalibrated your understanding of your patrons, you can start to reframe your image by using simple, direct, and authentic messaging to communicate with them. For example, an orchestra that offers seasonal or yearly memberships may now present memberships with a monthly budget plan. Reframing the membership in this way addresses patron concerns about financial insecurity by putting the offer in simple terms that allow them to know immediately if they can afford a membership now, and over the next few months when finances may be less certain. Reframing doesn’t change who you are; it simply chooses mediums and messages that will make you more accessible to your patrons.

You may find that some of your patrons’ new behaviors and expectations are challenging or even frustrating, but it’s your job to respect all of your patrons, regardless of whether or not you agree with their level of caution or concern. Strong organizations that build lasting and loyal followings do so by being sensitive to the needs of their patrons and validating those needs with careful, thoughtful communication.

Way More Than “We’re Here for You”

A common response to a dramatic event is often “we’re here for you,” which is natural and appropriate when you initially want to reassure patrons that you’re looking out for them. But you can’t hang your hat here, take a seat, and expect the show to go on as usual. It will be very easy to emerge from the other side of this believing that you’ll pick up where you left off, but it could also be a costly mistake. Your patrons have changed; you need to find out how, and respond.

At your core, your organization and its mission haven’t changed. You want to make your patrons happy and continue to share your love of the arts with them. Reframing your image is a simple way to refresh your understanding of who your patrons are so you can better respond to their needs and ensure you’ll remain a vibrant part of their arts community.

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