Rethinking Arts Marketing For 2021 and Beyond

During Wave 1 of our Culture and Community in a Time of Crisis study collaboration with audience research firm Slover Linett, we were thrilled to partner with over 650 cultural organizations representing all 50 states in sourcing the insights of their respective audiences. The feedback these audiences provided about their needs and desires during this unprecedented moment in our nation’s history was invaluable to the findings presented in our Culture Track Key Findings report. However, something become immediately clear: the inherent whiteness of the audience and member lists of the majority of cultural organizations who participated in our study. While we were able to reach out to more BIPOC cultural consumers as part of our national sample and weighted these perspectives to ensure an accurate representation of our country’s rich racial and ethnic diversity, we continued to be staggered by the lack of diversity in the lists of the organizations who participated in our study.

Since the fielding the first wave of our study, we’ve been diving deeper into the responses of BIPOC audiences through further analysis so that cultural leaders can begin to more specifically address the needs, wants, and desires of BIPOC audiences. At LaPlaca Cohen, we’ve been thinking about our own role (and our own complicity) in who the cultural sector has been targeting with its marketing and media plans. Over the past decade, much of the cultural sector’s marketing budgets have become increasingly hyper-targeted, and in turn extremely cost-efficient, by employing digital media tactics to find more audiences like those already buying tickets. Programmatic (audience-based) digital media buying, website retargeting, and user look-a-like modeling may have led to short term revenue gains in recent years, but at what cost? We’ve been doing some honest soul searching about who our sector may have inadvertently been leaving out of the conversation during the great digital pivot of the late 2000’s and during the current digital leap-frog transformation brought on by the pandemic.

To state the obvious: Yes – digital marketing “works.” But isn’t now the moment to think about how community radio, local print publications (including those in languages other than English), targeted outdoor in specific neighborhoods, and good, old-fashioned community partnerships and promotions can help reach the audiences that cultural organizations have struggled to serve? We have to meet people where they are, which often involves moving beyond the hyper-targeting of existing audience profiles and expanding outreach into new communities in ways that are culturally relevant and personally resonant.

Organizations must also take stock of the digital tactics they may not be using that can help diversify digital communication and retargeting pools. The digital tactics below are just a few of the many ways we can “zoom out” and ensure that we’re leveraging digital means to reach a wider array of cultural consumers:


  • Do you utilize Google Analytics to understand the cultural, linguistic and geographic makeup of your website visitors? And to understand related audience demographics of any web pages hosting recent virtual/digital content and programs?
  • Google Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Are you leveraging Google’s language targeting to reach beyond English speakers?
  • Social Media Advertising: Do you leverage Facebook’s Cultural Affinity targeting to ensure that you’re reaching a broader range of audience segments?
  • Programmatic Digital Advertising: Have you used cultural and linguistic affinity targeting to reach diverse audiences across a variety of sites and publishers?
  • Connected TV: Have you explored vendors that allow you to reach audiences engaging with multi-cultural and international streaming platforms?


In diving deeper into how BIPOC cultural consumers have participated in culture during the pandemic, the diversity of who’s engaging with online culture leads one to believe that even more BIPOC audiences would engage with our organizations if they feel welcomed, included, and aware of what’s happening

Organizations need to get better about email capture, especially those organizations who identify gaps in terms of the racial/ethnic makeup of their databases – now is the time to find innovative ways to get audiences of all backgrounds interested in hearing from us. Mainly, by providing information that they want to hear about programming that better reflects their lives and communities. This invitation goes hand-and-in-hand with our collective need to create better feedback mechanisms to ensure that all audience needs are being met, as well as doubling down on pre- and post-visit communications that help diverse (especially first-time) audiences feel welcome.

As organizations begin to think about being both of place and placeless (and developing a mix of in-person and virtual programming in 2021 and beyond), arts marketers must become even more regimented about segmented marketing without siloing audiences by race and ethnicity. Arts marketers may find the need to create completely separate marketing funnels for those who have self-identified that they have no interest in ever attending in person, due to distance from the venue or a host of other reasons. Historically, the field has stopped marketing to those who don’t engage with our organizations by way of financial contribution or in-person visitation. We believe this is a dangerous trend. Rethinking key engagement metrics and creating new ways to celebrate and validate a broader definition of the terms “visitation” and “attendance”, especially among new audience members who’ve found our organizations online during periods of COVID-related closure, is vital to any conception of audience development. Both digital and in-person visitors are important focus areas for any organization seeking to broaden its reach.

We must all commit to considering a more diverse media mix and more varied marketing strategies to ensure that we’re no longer talking to the same audience segments over and over. In the end, it will take more diverse marketing strategies to ensure the diversity of audiences we know we’ve failed to fully serve. In lean times, marketing budgets are often the first thing on the chopping block. But as organizations reopen throughout 2021, to focus solely on retaining core audience segments seems irresponsible in light of the moment. Instead, let’s all rebuild our audiences the way we strive to rebuild our sector—with intentionality to reflect the society we are intended to serve. In essence, we too can “build back better.”

-Michael Crowley, Partner/Chief Marketing Officer, LaPlaca Cohen, 2/2/2021