In this shelter-in-place season, arts organizations and creatives have faced new hurtles in engaging audiences, donors, and artists. But what better way of overcoming the odds than with a little creative problem solving? Navigating Communications & Engagement for the Arts, a three-week series created by SVCreates, San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs, and genArts Silicon Valley, supports the arts community by sharing strategies employed by a variety of sectors. This is the first of three classes held on October 20th.

“Your brand existed before COVID and it’s going to exist after COVID” — Niall Adler

In the first panel of this interdisciplinary conversation, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Evergreen Valley College Josh Russell moderated a discussion on communication tactics in higher education, co-facilitator Frederick Liang representing genArts. They were joined by panelists Niall Adler, Marketing and Public Relations Director at Mission College, and Guisselle Nunez, Head of Marketing and Government Relations for Chabot-Las Positas Community College District, Alameda County.

Here are five of their marketing strategies that arts organizations can use too:

Strategy #1: Know your audience

Do you know who your audience is? Do you know what age or stage in life they come from? How about their interests and needs? When you know your audience well, Russell says, it’s easier to find what platforms will reach them. For instance, when he wanted to reach a younger audience of high school seniors, he used Spotify as a platform and also recruited high schoolers as brand ambassadors to share about the school on their social media platforms.

If you already know your audience, seek to better understand them. One way of achieving this? Recruit the opinions of individuals in your organization that fit that profile, Adler advices. It’s a free resource and you’ll gain invaluable feedback by asking them a few questions!

Strategy #2: Maintain your audience

Before expanding your network, maintain your current audience. “Consistently remind them what you’re doing, why it’s important, and why you want them to come back,” Nunez encourages.

She follows this remark by explaining why nurturing these relationships is so crucial. “We have a new target audience now, which we’re calling ‘the COVID dropouts,’ ” Nunez explains, people who, for a number of reasons have decided to step away. Find ways to speak to them specifically, capture their attention, and reconnect. Nunez herself has utilized surveys to better understand students’ needs, then addressed these needs by promoting the college’s support services.

Strategy #3: Celebrate Your Local Roots

Though it might seem odd to celebrate your location in the age of Zoom events and online workshops, the panelists recommend still promoting the area in which you are based.

Nunez says that despite remote learning, her school’s students live near campus even now. “We still are emotionally connected to the places that we know and that we live in and that we’re closest to. I would say, take advantage of that!”

Plus engaging a locationally-close audience is an investment in your future. “Your brand existed before COVID and it’s going to exist after COVID,” reminds Adler.

Strategy #4: Make it human by sharing stories

Stories make for great social media content and humanize your brand. One example of this in action, shared by Russell, is Evergreen Valley College showing their support for students by posting highlights from their biweekly food distribution drive in partnership with Second Harvest.

“Find creative ways to bring back people that used to be involved in the organization,” Russell also suggests. With this in mind, EVC has reached out to alumni to collect inspirational quotes for their social media, sharing them in text and video form. This has the added benefit of building new relationships with old friends and re-engaging by honoring them.

Strategy #5: Find inspiration from similar organizations

Lastly, “follow likeminded organizations,” Adler says. Or, worded differently, “Follow your brand.” When you have similar groups in your social media feed, it’s the perfect source for inspiration. So borrow ideas, then put your own twist on them.

You can even take it a step further and reach out directly to these brands. Ask them what strategies are working for them to draw new people — chances are, they will be open to swapping ideas with you.

Watch worshop on our Vimeo page.