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Although Arts Organisations are often said to be poorly developed in marketing areas, it is unclear whether this is a response to the atypical environment they exist in, or simply due to limited skills and resources. This paper looks at Performing Arts Presenters (PAPs), profiling what they do in the way of marketing, how sophisticated they are, and the reasons they behave they way they do. In-depth interviews with marketing managers indicated that PAPs are confused about the role of marketing, relying mainly on Public Relations instead. While it was widely acknowledged that marketing would be beneficial, the marketing that is executed is generally ad-hoc and basic. This lack of marketing action is due primarily to a lack of skills and resources and a historical preference for PR, not as a considered response to the Arts environment.
Heath McDonald and Paul Harrison
Deakin University
Although Arts Organisations are often said to be poorly developed in marketing areas, it is
unclear whether this is a response to the atypical environment they exist in, or simply due to
limited skills and resources. This paper looks at Performing Arts Presenters (PAPs), profiling
what they do in the way of marketing, how sophisticated they are, and the reasons they
behave they way they do. In-depth interviews with marketing managers indicated that PAPs
are confused about the role of marketing, relying mainly on Public Relations instead. While it
was widely acknowledged that marketing would be beneficial, the marketing that is executed
is generally ad-hoc and basic. This lack of marketing action is due primarily to a lack of skills
and resources and a historical preference for PR, not as a considered response to the Arts
Arts Organisations are frequently characterized as being poorly developed in areas such as
marketing (DiMaggio 1988, Blundell 1998; Kalic 1999; Shmith 1998; Thompson 1995; van
Ulzen 1994). This characterisation may be unfair given the atypical nature of the industry,
which often must rely on independent producers to create artistic work before marketing
practices can begin ( Björkegren 1996; Radbourne & Fraser 1996; Ryans & Weinberg 1978).
In addition, Arts Organisations must often view the encouragement of creative independence
and innovation as a vital organisational goal, or even a reason for existence (Davis, 1996;
Derum, 1995; Rentschler & Potter, 1996), although these may not necessarily be in the best
marketing interests of the organisation. This necessary “production orientation” means that
the principles of marketing are often adapted by Arts Organisations in order to effectively
satisfy both organisational and customer requirements.
The question remains - Is the way that Arts Organisations undertake marketing activities
actually a result of poorly developed skills and understanding, or is it a legitimate response to
an atypical environment? This paper examines this question by focussing on one particular
type of Arts Organisation – Performing Arts Presenters, and then looking closely at the way in
which they undertake marketing activities. The reasons for undertaking these activities, in the
manner that they are, are also investigated.
Background to the Study
Marketing and Public Relations are two aspects of management that would seem particularly
useful to Arts Organisations. The recent Major Performing Arts Enquiry (Nugent 1999)
argued that some of the major challenges facing performing arts organisations included
audience development, more strategic use of marketing budgets, sponsorship generation and
segmentation – all marketing activities. It should be noted that marketing, traditionally
defined as “the performance of activities that seek to achieve an organisation’s objectives by
anticipating customer needs and directing a flow of need satisfying goods and services from
producer to consumer (McCartney and Perrault 1997, p22), is a relatively new concept to
most Australian Arts Organisations. This is evidenced by the fact that only in the last five
years has the major Arts funding body, the Australia Council, actively promoted and taught
marketing concepts to arts managers.
Arts Organisations often have low promotional budgets and a large range of publics whose
actions are vital to future organisational success (Nugent, 1999). It could be expected then,
that due to the suitability of PR to this type of organisation we would see PR activities widely
undertaken by Arts Organisations. Indeed, the practical experience of the researchers
suggested that PR would be more widely used than other marketing activities. Although
theorists have had trouble agreeing on a single definition (Kitchen 1997), in this paper PR is
defined as “the company’s efforts to foster better relations with the various publics or
shareholders” (Rossiter and Percy, 1997, p 334). It stands as a promotional tool that can be
most easily and effectively implemented by organisations that have limited financial and
staffing resources, yet rely on the support of customers, sponsors and employees (Hogg,
From a theoretical standpoint, PAP’s should not differ in the way they practice marketing
(McCartney and Perrault 1997) or PR (Kitchen 1997), as both are said to be easily applied to
a range of organisations including small, non-profit and member-driven companies. Those
authors who have argued for the adoption of “marketing public relations” claim that
organisations like PAP’s need to practice a combination of both marketing and PR activities
to be successful (Kotler and Mindak 1978, Kitchen and Papasolomou 1997). Kotler and
Mindak’s (1978) table illustrates how this combination could work, and shows the activities
undertaken and the spheres of responsibility of marketing and PR. This table (Table One) was
used to classify the activities PAPs reported undertaking, although it could be argued that the
table has some inherent bias in that many of the discrete activities represented may be
interrelated. Whether it is possible to undertake many of the PR activities listed without also
doing some form of market assessment and segmentation is debatable. The table however,
remains the most widely used in literature on the topic (Kitchen 1998).
Table One: Spheres of Responsibility for Marketing and PR (Kotler and Mindak 1978)
Marketing Marketing Public Relations Public Relations
Market Assessment
Customer Segmentation
Product Development
Sales Promotion
Product Advertising
Image Assessment
Customer Satisfaction
Media Strategy
Corporate Advertising
Employee Attitudes
Identity Media
Social Investments
Performing Arts Presenters
Some organisations create performing arts products, others present them and some do both.
The focus of this study was on those organisations that were involved in the presentation of
performing art products. These organisations (PAP’s) were chosen because they take the
financial risk for the production and distribution of performing arts products. These are the
organisations most heavily involved in the marketing and promotion of the products,
compared to those who solely create productions for sale for sale to venues and other PAPs.
Examples of PAP’s include the Tasmanian Arts Council, Melbourne Theatre Company, and
the Bendigo Regional Arts Centre.
Method and Analysis
The objective of this study was (1) to gain general insight into the role that marketing and PR
plays in the PAPs and (2) to identify the reasons behind their actions. As such a qualitative
methodology was utilised in the first instance. The population under consideration was
Professional Performing Arts Presenters (PAP) in Victoria and Tasmania. Using the
Australian Performing Arts Directory (APAD, 1996), twenty organisations were randomly
drawn from a total population of sixty PAPs. Of these twenty organisations approached,
twelve agreed to participate in the research.
The definition of professional and organisational size is a problematic element in any research
involving arts organisations. For the purpose of this investigation, the researchers defined a
professional organisation as one that has at least one full-time equivalent paid staff member
responsible for management and marketing of the organisation’s products. Organisational
size for this sample ranged from a professional staff of two, to a staff of more than one
hundred. In the twelve organisations studied, four had a staff of less than three, five had a
staff of four to ten, and three had staff numbers between ten and one hundred. This ratio is
reasonably indicative of the wider population of PAPs in Victoria and Tasmania (APAD,
1996). Within the twelve organisations in the research sample, annual turnover ranged from
$200,000 to $40,000,000. All organisations were non-profit, had a voluntary board or
committee of management and received some form of government subsidy. The twelve
participants, representing 20% of the population, were judged to be a good approximation of
PAPs in these two states, particularly on two key dimensions: size and level of
In-depth interviews were conducted with the person responsible for marketing. Open-ended
questions related to marketing and PR practices in the organisation were put, thereby allowing
the interviewee to use the jargon and language relevant to the industry. Questions centered
around three central themes:
1. What do PAP’s do in the way of marketing activities?
2. How sophisticated/developed are their practices?
3. Why do they behave the way they do (i.e. are their actions an appropriate response to
industry conditions)?
After the interview, the researcher was provided with a tour of public areas in the organisation
and collected PR and marketing material such as flyers, marketing plans, research and
newsletters to provide further insight into public relations and marketing activities.
Marketing activities undertaken
The most significant finding is that when classified according to the Kotler and Mindak
(1978) table (Table One), the PAP’s generally conducted very little that would be considered
“marketing” activities. In most cases, the majority of marketing activities took the form of PR,
advertising and promotions. In fact, few of the managers differentiated marketing from PR
activities, or understood the way these activities are currently viewed by theorists. Two
comments from CEOs reflect this confusion:
“I think marketing and PR are inseparable, very much so. PR is the main form of marketing
we do”
“PR is the public perception of the company and how as a company we can manipulate that.
So I think far more than marketing, which is about selling the product, I think PR is about the
feel which is out there, the hype that surrounds the company and I think that we are in control
of that, we generate that and we can manipulate that. We manage the public perception
through a director’s club [where] we give them functions such as breakfasts and the
opportunity to mingle with company members and artists. We’ve just relaunched the company
with a new logo. We’ve spent of lot of money. It’s about corporatising the look of the
Of the twelve organisations interviewed, only four dealt with any activities in the marketing
sphere (Table One), while all used various combinations of activities noted in the PR column.
The most commonly reported “marketing” activities were producing publications,
sponsorship, fundraising, lobbying and staging events such as product launches, all of which
are classified as PR (Kotler et al 1978). PAP’s undertaking marketing/PR activities mainly
focused on customer satisfaction surveys, although these surveys were relatively ad hoc and
were seen as a peripheral activity of the organisation.
Within the four organisations undertaking marketing activities, customer segmentation (such
as identifying the youth or ethnic markets) and product development (such as presenting more
contemporary works) were the most clear examples. Most PAPs had used advertising,
although it was generally outsourced, and had toyed with changing pricing and distribution
variables. These efforts however, were generally not reported to be part of a strategic attempt
to match organisation capabilities with customer needs but rather were part of trial and error
experiments. For example, one company had used a ‘15% off the ticket price’ promotion, but
had not measured the success of the promotion beyond basic ticket sales. Critical to the
success of price promotions is understanding whether the customers are new customers being
converted to the product, or current customers who are taking advantage of lower prices
(Mela, Gupta and Lehmann 1997).
Despite expressing a desire to utilise marketing within the organisation, few managers were
undertaking marketing activities to improve business performance.
Marketing/PR techniques (Kotler et al 1978) such as surveys had only started to be used, and
in some cases was seen as too substantial a drain on other resources in the organisation,
“…that’s really hard to do at the moment. We don’t have the personnel or skills to be able to
go out there and do that [surveys]” In some cases, marketing was also perceived as a barrier to
the creative goals of the organisation, with many organisations stating that other
marketing/PR elements such as customer satisfaction with the experience were not a key
element of the organisations’ goals, “the artistic director doesn’t necessarily set out to make
our audience happy or satisfied. That’s not how we work,” commented one General Manager.
Whilst the marketing actions may have been limited, the PR activities were generally
strategically driven and well executed. All of these organisations had long experience with PR
activities and felt comfortable with their usage in their organisation, perhaps explaining why
PR activities dominated the “marketing” function. Grunig and Hunt (1984) outlined four
levels of PR sophistication ranging from ‘one-way reactive’ actions through to the preferred
‘two-way proactive’ PR. Typically the PR activities of organisations similar to PAPs, i.e.
theatres, are identified by Grunig and Hunt (1984) as being one way and reactive. We found
however, that whilst some PAPs were reactive, i.e. they only responded to change rather than
created it, they more often practiced two-way communication rather than simply
disseminating information. Many organisations were both proactive and two-way
communicators, particularly the Tasmanian PAPs. One Tasmanian commented that “we have
to be close to our publics, because we lack the infrastructural support of the mainland.” She
went on to comment that stakeholders and their publics have a substantial impact on
programming and product development, as well as providing feedback on community
attitudes and the impact of PR and promotional activity.
Observed Practices
These interviews have given us a picture of PAP’s as being underdeveloped in their use and
understanding of marketing practices. There was no significant difference of the uses and
comprehension of marketing between large, resource rich PAPs and small, resource poor
PAPs. Perhaps the only difference between large and small organisations was the ability of
larger organisations to undertake audience research. However, this research did not inform the
overall strategic planning of the organisation.
Marketing is often confused with PR activities, and when marketing practices are performed
they tended to be piecemeal and responsive rather than part of a larger strategic plan. PR
activities, being far more familiar to the marketing managers of PAPs, were heavily relied on
to communicate with the marketplace. However these activities tended to be performed at a
level of sophistication above that which such organisations had been previously credited with
(Grunig and Hunt 1984).
It can also be concluded that these practices have less to do with the atypical environment of
Arts Organisations than with poor levels of training, a lack of funding and strong historical
precedents. A strong desire to undertake more genuine marketing practices was expressed but
was widely believed to be beyond the resources and capabilities of the organisations
interviewed. Interviewees felt that they had been forced by funding bodies to undertake other
forms of marketing beyond PR and advertising, even though they didn’t have the skills,
resources or time to do so:
“Because we are [funded] by a number of different government funding bodies we have lots
of markets to serve and lots of reporting mechanisms. We now use marketing so that we can
tell the funding bodies that we are heading down the right path.”
None of the managers in the organisations researched held marketing qualifications. In
addition, none of the managers had held previous marketing positions in other jobs, although
three managers had public relations/publicity experience in arts organisations, perhaps
indicating a lack of applied experience in traditional marketing areas. Prior to their current
position, all of the interviewees had worked as an artist or manager in the arts industry, or in
two cases had been primary school teachers. It is common in the arts industry for managers to
be recruited on product skills rather than business skills (Radbourne and Fraser 1996).
Performing Arts presenters in this research were characterised by a strong reliance on Public
Relations practices, with the majority employing both two-way and proactive activities.
Marketing was not well implemented. Outside of advertising and some price discounting,
only one third of the organisations undertook any sort of marketing activity as defined by
Kotler and Mindak (1978). Those that did practice marketing tended to do so in experimental
ways, without a guiding strategy or long-term planning. This strong reliance on PR over
marketing was not observed to be based on a determined response to unique environmental
conditions, but rather a result of low levels of training, inexperience and confusion about how
marketing benefits the organisation. PR was preferred due to historical precedents, and
because of the simplicity of many PR activities. PAPs acknowledged that marketing would be
beneficial to their respective organisations, and some move towards adopting marketing
techniques was evident. This movement can be concluded to be a response to both increased
demands from funding organisations and increasing competition in the entertainment and
leisure industry (Nugent, 1999).
Managerial Implications
Managers of PAPs would benefit from a heightened understanding of the benefits of
marketing beyond public relations activities. Although the findings indicated that some PAP
directors believed that customer satisfaction per se was not necessarily a goal of the
organisation, it could be argued that in the organisational environment other marketing
activities such as ongoing customer research, segmentation, pricing review and market
assessment (see Table One) would benefit the organisation (Nugent, 1999). As identified,
none of the managers held marketing qualifications. PAPs may benefit through the
recruitment of managers and marketing managers with marketing qualifications or experience,
rather than PR or purely product experience.
Limitations and Future Research
It is important to recognise that despite the interesting findings and implications of this study,
the data is restricted by its methodology and future research would be justified in a number of
areas. The intention of this research was to gain general insight into the role that marketing
and PR plays in the PAPs and to identify possible reasons for these actions. To this end, a
qualitative methodology employing open-ended questions was utilised. Testing these initial
observations with a quantitative methodology would be the obvious next step.
Due to the nature of the PAPs business, which is to “sell” a product after it has been
developed, the following questions regarding the role of marketing and PR warrant future
investigation: Would PAPs benefit from the more extensive use of marketing techniques, or
does PR provide all that is required? Would a heightened understanding of PR be more
beneficial than a heightened understanding of marketing per se? If marketing were seen to be
beneficial, what particular elements of marketing would be most advantageous?
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... According to Towse (2010), this is a principal-agent problem, where governments (principals) must set up the right incentives to encourage arts organizations' (agents) compliance with their goals. Strings are attached to arts funding (McDonald and Harrison 2002) and, when seeking support, arts organizations are increasingly required to make explicit what justifies their legitimacy (Herman 2019). At the same time, government subsidies to the arts have, in recent years, declined in terms of total contribution and contributions to individual organizations (Kirchner, Markowski, and Ford 2007;Zan et al. 2012;Bertelli et al. 2014), augmenting the challenges for nonprofit arts organizations (Arnold and Tapp 2003). ...
... At the operational level, policymakers determine the strings attached to public funding: they prescribe how arts organizations should behave in order to obtain it ( McDonald and Harrison 2002). These prescriptions are not always unequivocal; the "vagueness" around the meaning of policy goals has been brought to the fore, as well as the "gaps" in grant application processes (Caust 2017, 7). ...
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This is a classic textbook in public relations, which emphasizes a theoretical, managerial approach to public relations.
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The authors examine the long-term effects of promotion and advertising on consumers' brand choice behavior. They use 8 1/4 years of panel data for a frequently purchased packaged good to address two questions: (1) Do consumers' responses to marketing mix variables, such as price, change over a long period of time? (2) If yes, are these changes associated with changes in manufacturers'advertising and retailers'promotional policies? Using these results, the authors draw implications for manufacturers' pricing, advertising, and promotion policies. The authors use a two-stage approach, which permits them to assess the medium-term (quarterly) effects of advertising and promotion as well as their long-term (i.e., over an infinite horizon) effects. Their results are consistent with the hypotheses that consumers become more price and promotion sensitive over time because of reduced advertising and increased promotions.
Explores the development of the marketing public relations (MPR) concept examining the arguments advanced concerning MPR’s emergence and legitimacy to be a separate marketing or PR discipline. Some marketing academics suggest that MPR should be incorporated into the marketing discipline whereas the majority of PR academics argue that MPR represents a further attempt by marketeers to “hijack” PR, incorporating it into the promotional mix. Indeed, certain academics claim that MPR may evolve into a new marketing or PR discipline separate from corporate public relations. The research is compared with the findings from a review of pertinent literature. Exploratory findings indicate that what MPR represents is merely a new term for PR applied to marketing promotion. However, the fact that a new label has been applied does not amount to the emergence of a new marketing discipline. MPR would appear to enjoy a growing importance in the expensive world of marketing communication activities.
Nonprofit museums and performing arts organizations have become subject to closer attention in recent years, following the collapse of some seemingly stable cultural organizations. These events have stimulated a renewed interest in accountability and technology in nonprofit cultural organizations, as they are put under pressure to provide value for money. At the same time, technology has an important role to play in the extent to which nonprofit cultural organizations utilize available resources efficiently and effectively. Consequently, this study examines nine nonprofit museums and performing arts organizations in Victoria, Australia and establishes that while technology is used to increase viability and to some extent promote vitality, it does not solve all the problems for museums and performing arts organizations.Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that the notion of accountability has been hijacked by accountants and economists, enabling some to forget the true mission of these nonprofit museums and performing arts organizations, which are vitality-oriented.
This study provides useful new insights on attendance behavior of theater subscribers over time. The results are described and their implications explored—both for attracting subscribers and obtaining contributors.
Cut Management, Not Programming -An open letter to Senator Richard Alston, Federal Minister for Communications and the Arts
  • P Davis
Davis, P. (1996). Cut Management, Not Programming -An open letter to Senator Richard Alston, Federal Minister for Communications and the Arts. The Melburnian.
Live Theatre...or condemned to die
  • John Derum
Derum, John (1995). Live Theatre...or condemned to die. Paper presented at the Phillip Parsons Memorial Lecture, Sydney.