Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008


Hello everyone.

"And the beat goes on....................."


For years now, Gift Cards have been increasingly popular - not just during the holdiays, but all year long. It's a simple, easy and convenient choice for the giver, and allows the recipient some control over what the end gift actually turns out to be. Everybody likes them. They have been a godsend to the merchants because, first, they increase their sales & thus income, and two, a surprisingly large percentage of the cards are never used and thus the merchant gets the income at virtually no cost. I am guessing the cost of the program is minimal. They've become widely popular and you see huge displays featuring a vast choice of cards in almost every supermarket.

This year there have been a few warnings to be careful which cards you give, because you don't want to give a gift card to a merchant that might file bankruptcy or something, but I doubt that will have but a minor impact on sales, and certainly little on cards like American Express or Visa that are good wherever their cards are welcome.

So tell, me why isn't there a regional ARTS GIFT CARD for sale? One that is redeemable at any one of scores of museums, theater groups, symphonies, dance companies etc. Simple concept, you get a bunch of arts organizations to participate, all of them include some tag line in their advertising (e.g., GIVE THE GIFT OF THE ARTS CARD) and tout the card all year long on their websites, in their newsletters etc. Every participating organization sells them, and they're sold along side all the others at supermarkets etc. You get some media coverage about the great experience of the arts and what a "meaningful" gift it is. You tell grandparents to give "the unique, life enhancing experience" of the gift of the arts to their grandchildren, and so on and so on.

It would seem a natural to advertise giving people a choice of arts experiences as a gift (i.e., museums, theater, dance, music, multicultural, etc. etc.)- and one could easily imagine targeting specific constituent groups -- young people, older people, various ethic communities, etc. Wouldn't that be good for our struggling organizations? Not only an increase in income, but perhaps new people exposed to local art. The Arts Gift Card would likewise have the appeal of being welcome at a choice of places.

Yes, yes, I know. Somebody has to organize all this and it takes time that no one has, but aren't there companies already in existence who manage a lot of the commercial cards that are out there? And if no such companies exist to which we might turn, how about a simple pilot project in one region funded by a foundation to see if it works - and if it does, roll it out nationally. (I really think this is the kind of thing that ought to be on the NEA's agenda somewhere). There are accounting challenges to this concept - how to pay each arts organization when the card is redeemed for their offering, but that's certainly do-able. And obviously there is a mark-up for the supermarket or other retailer who sells these cards, and maybe a point or two to the organizing companies, but the economics make sense or no one would do this. Believe me if there is money to be made here,(and I am pretty sure there is), then I guarantee you someone will be willing to do this. And with empty seats for most performances, what would the arts have to lose anyway?

Don't many, if not most, performing or exhibition arts organizations sell their own Gift Certificates already? Maybe there is already an Arts Gift Card program (or something similar) out there (though not where I live, not conveniently available at my supermarket anyway -- and that's the whole point: widely, conveniently available everywhere). If there is such a program, does it work? Could we replicate it around the country? Why aren't we? I just think the Arts have to be as smart as retail merchants and leave no stone unturned in our attempt to market our goods & services -- especially in this lousy economy.

I've given people Gift Cards, and frankly had there been an Arts Gift Card, I would have given that as my first choice. I'll bet there are a million people out there who would feel the same. Hell, if lots of arts organizations participated, there are easily a million of us in the arts who would give these cards as gifts. And any additional income, any new bodies in seats would be welcome.

The economy is going to get worse. Things are already bad for a lot of arts organizations and that is likely to continue. We really still aren't marketing our product as smart and aggressively as we must.
I would like to give people an ARTS GIFT CARD next year - even before Christmas - like for their birthdays, or anniversaries, or graduation. I'd like to buy these cards at my local supermarket.

Just a thought.

Have a great week as the holidays ramp up.

Don't Quit.