Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blueprint for Saving the NEA

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..................."

Here (IMHO) is a very brief and limited overview of what our strategy to save funding for the NEA needs to include.

We need a massive communication with Congress.  While it is important for every arts organization, whether or not they get funding, or whether or not they value the NEA, to communicate with their local Congress representative and Senator, as an organization - registering their strong support for continued funding for the Endowment - that's not enough.  Every person who is employed by an arts organization, every volunteer and supporter, and every artist (even if they are not supported by the NEA) has to likewise communicate.  And by massive, I mean hundreds of thousands of messages.  If there are a million or more people employed in the nonprofit arts, plus many times that number of artists, teachers etc., surely we can muster ten or twenty percent to take 30 minutes and communicate with their elected officials.  This kind of effort is a numbers game.  And this time around we are competing for support against a wide range of programs and funding that are all crucially important to the country's future.

If we really want to maximize our effectiveness and increase our chances of saving the NEA, we need to use social media and any other tool we have to enlist the support of neighbors, friends, co-workers, local media and businesses to join the effort in communicating with Congress.  Every single person in the arts ought to enlist the support of one person outside the arts to make that phone call or write that letter or email.

An aside to those who believe the Endowment isn't that relevant or important - either to them as an artist, administrator, or citizen - please consider that elimination of the NEA would quite possibly have a domino affect on state and local arts support and would, in countless ways, harm and injure an already fragile arts ecosystem.  Maybe this isn't your direct fight, but you are an indirect participant, and if you care about the arts, you will be affected.  And to arts organizations who haven't in the past rallied to this kind of lobbying effort, the question is why?  Are you not part of the ecosystem?

The message each individual sends to their elected representatives can include whatever arguments in the Endowment's favor that you choose - stories of how the arts make a difference in people's lives, how the NEA is important to communities, in education, or the economic arguments in favor of jobs and vibrant local economies, or the basic intrinsic value of art and culture.  It doesn't really matter.  While we can continue making the case for the value of the arts on whatever level, at this point in time we may not have time to amass a tectonic change in public will.

What does matter is this:

First, individual messages must state at the beginning of the communication that you are a registered voter in the district and that support for the NEA is a critical issue for you as a voter.

The communication ought not to be overlong, because if it is, there is a very good chance no one is going to read it - and that is another reason to state at the outset that you are a registered voter in the district (state) and that you want support for the continued funding of the NEA. 

Second, personal visits are best, then phone calls, written letters (fax them to save time), then emails.  Using a robot software program to send a template email isn't the best approach, though better than nothing.  Petitions are basically useless. Please don't think that's all you need to do, because its largely a waste of time.

Third, we need to be strategic in marshaling mass communication to Congress.  So, while it is important to communicate with every single member of Congress - House and Senate - there are target priorities:

1)  Current and past supporters.  Communications should steel the resolve of our supporters to have our back.  Don't take them for granted.  Just because you live in a district or state and your elected official is pro arts, you still need to let them know you need that support to continue at this crucial juncture.  Thank them in advance.

2)  Members of the Committees which have jurisdiction over the Endowment's budget.  These are the people with control over the budget line item at the outset.  Those who are registered to vote in these districts have a special obligation and opportunity to impact the decision making process.

3)  Representatives and Senators who are or may be opposed to funding for the Endowment who are in fact likely to be in tight races for re-election in 2018.  The greater their perceived vulnerability, the more open they are to strong voter sentiments.  That's just a political reality.  Click here for some info on early handicapping of Senate and House 2018 races.

Fourth, we need to challenge and respond to attacks on continued NEA funding that are covered in the media with facts and solid arguments as to why those attacks miss the mark.  Thus, we can ill afford to let Opinion Pieces like the flawed logic of George Will's Washington Post personal view that the Endowment should be defunded. or Budget Director, former conservative Congressman Mick Mulvaney's, absurd change that 'we can't ask coal miner taxpayers from West Virginia to use their tax dollars to pay for things like the NEA'.  
First of all Mr. Mulvaney, we're not talking about tax dollars, we're talking about 46 cents per citizen.  And we most certainly can ask West Virginians and all U.S. citizens to pay for things that make America stronger, more prosperous, improve education and job preparedness for the future, nurture creativity and add value to local communities, including in West Virginia, with programs directly or indirectly funded and supported by the NEA.  And there are West Virginia coal miner families who do benefit from the vibrancy of a strong arts and culture ecology.  Just because they voted for Trump it doesn't necessarily follow they all oppose arts funding.  

We need to counter these kinds of weak arguments against the NEA with facts and counter arguments.  Particularly in the media.

Finally, we need to follow up all our communications.  Lobbying is only as effective as your willingness to hold officials feet to the fire as it were.  A personal visit, a phone call, a letter or an email are great, but a follow up phone call, letter or email is a thousand fold more effective.

Based on past support for the Endowment, I believe the odds are in our favor to keep the agency alive and with not too substantial of cuts - BUT - we live in very different times than we've ever faced - and nothing is certain today.  We ought to mass the biggest effort in our history - for doing so not only enhances our chances to preserve federal funding and support of the arts, but it will be a foundation of which we can build the kind of advocacy and lobbying apparatus we should have cerated decades ago. And it will give us the opportunity to make a better case for the public value of the arts.

Please help.  It's worth a 30 minute to hour investment of your time to do this right.

Americans for the Arts (click here), and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (click here) are but two national organizations that provide links, news, updates, and tools to help you advocate and lobby effectively.  Start with them.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Marketing Messages - Ten Hints to Make Them Work

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

We are in a constant pursuit of trying to create marketing messages that will resonate with the target audiences; trying to tell our stories in a way that the reader / listener will find them interesting and compelling.

But for most organizations, those reader / listeners are often bored silly reading or hearing the story we are trying to tell.  Too often we present the same old presentation over and over again.  We use the same words and the same tired language that everyone in the field uses.  Moreover, we often use too many words to try to create too many images with the result that our message doesn't convey either what we want it to convey or what we hope it conveys.

It is smart to take a long, cold look at our messages - whether in our advertisements, on our website, in emails, or brochures or direct mail solicitations -- and imagine we are the intended target and ask ourselves is it boring?

Several considerations play into this review.

First, less is often more.  Try to say what you want to say in as few words as possible.  Don't make your reader or listener work too hard to get through all the verbiage.  Everyone is inundated with way too many messages competing for their attention.  The world is jammed with what amounts to noise.   And beyond the sheer volume of messages targeting us, far too many printed brochures, advertisements, emails etc. are too overloaded and busy.  If, for example, you are trumpeting a performance, you already have to provide the specifics - what, where, when and how much.  Too much additional chatter just turns people off.  People don't read things today, they scan them.  Very quickly. Better one brilliant line, than an essay.  The best messages are often very short.  Too much information drives people away.

Second, hyperbole is usually recognized as such.  Don't insult your targets by making the arrogant assumption that merely using words that promise the most, the best, the greatest experience of a lifetime.  If you are selling a performance, you need to convey what they get by attending - and very likely promising them a life transformative experience will be recognized as ridiculous - even if it happens.  You have to be more creative in making sure what you are delivering is believable.

Third, differentiate between various purposes for your messaging.  Selling people on a performance and getting them to buy tickets isn't exactly the same message you would send to people you want to donate to your organization.  Try not to confuse your targets.  Boomers and Millennials are different.  So are a score of other categories of people.  Using one single message for different target audiences is probably never a good idea.  People can easily discern what they perceive to be disrespectful marketing, and using the same old language, year after year, is disrespectful.

Fourth, craft messages that take direct aim at a desire or need for the target - be that an enjoyable night out with friends, or being part of a community that makes a local difference.  Remember the message isn't directed at you - it's aimed at people outside of "you".  What works for you is a poor gauge of what will work for your targets.

Fifth,  images are more effective than words in almost all printed materials (including emails).  The famous "GOT MILK" tagline over a plate of chocolate chip cookies was more effective than a thousand words.  The image of a battered seal pup accompanying a plea for donations to save them was all that was needed to move people to action.  But some images are better than others - and if all you do is pick some "clip art" that is somewhat related to your work, you are likely to squander this opportunity.  A generic drawing of two ballet dancers is virtually meaningless.  A photo of two of your ballet dancers in action is more memorable.  But a photo of any ballet dancer may not be the right choice.  THINK about how the image will play to the intended audience and whether or not it is likely to move that audience to do what it is you want them to do.  Do some homework.  Is it overworked?  Is it fresh and original?  Will people remember it?

Sixth, imagine you are the reader / listener.   Don't assume they are as passionate or informed about what you do as you are.  For the most part, I guarantee you they are not.  They may not even be that aware of you, and they may simply not care.  Your message has to try to make them care.

Seventh, offer something extra in return for the requested action: If you donate, your name goes on our annual honorees wall.  If you attend, we will give you a discount on the next two upcoming performances.

Eighth, play into the times.  Help Save Dance in the current era of possible political attack may hit the right emotions today for example.  You may think what you do is timeless, but your audience still lives in today.

Ninth, do some research on what fonts people most respond to, what colors elicit what reactions, what subject lines in an email increase the odds it will be opened.  There is research out there on a lot of this.  Don't just make your message choices based on what you like or what you think works.  Find out what people actually do like and what does work.

Tenth, if you don't know what works with your target audiences - take the time to ask them.  Do some surveying, get people involved in helping you figure out what will work best.  Test things.

Whatever you do, don't just keep using the same, tired old words in the same tired old messages that don't work.  You're just wasting precious time and insulting the people to whom the messages are directed.   BE CREATIVE. And being creative sometimes takes time.  Don't leave something as important as your messaging to a half hour time slot on one of your afternoon "To Do" lists.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 6, 2017

Robots and Artificial Intelligence - Coming After YOUR Job Soon?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................"

There is underway an inexorable march in the confluence of Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Software and Robotics and the future of that progress will  impact everything from jobs and the economy to the very survival of the species.

Apart from the warnings by many of tech and science's best minds (click here for that analysis) of the existential threat to human existence from the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that may progress so quickly and so profoundly that it surpasses the very ability of the human brain to even understand it, with the possible ultimate consequence that AI will at some point simply make decisions based on its calculations that may consider human beings as either part of a problem or simply irrelevant in the mix - the more immediate impact will be on the economy, jobs and the way society organizes work.  Indeed that inevitability, which started long ago on simple terms, has now gained enough momentum that there are predictions that thirty, forty or even fifty percent of all the jobs that exist today may, at the least be substantially altered and impacted by AI and its handmaidens, or even replaced entirely by machines in the next twenty years.

In the short term, the jobs that involve predictable and repetitive work will be eliminated, and other jobs will see an an increasing portion of their work done by machines and programs.  It would be a grievous mistake to think that only assembly line kinds of jobs are at risk, as many white collar, and even creative jobs, will be impacted as well.

Decades ago the automated gas pump rendered needless those service station employees who use to do that for you, and the thousands of those for whom that was a job had to find some other employment (and most of you will not remember when you drove into a gas station, and the attendant pumped your gas, washed your windows, checked your oil and the tire pressure).  Today, self driving vehicles are getting very close to putting all the truck, bus, and taxi drivers - and there are millions of them - out of work.  And beyond those soon to be unemployed people, the self driving vehicles will impact related industries as well.  As they will be safer, thus reducing accidents, the auto coverage segment of the insurance industry will likely collapse and with it those jobs too.  There is a domino effect at play here.

There are numerous reports and articles that robots, software programming and the advances of AI have already begun to erode the need for humans to fill a variety of jobs beyond the manufacturing jobs that robots are already doing (e.g., the auto industry); everything from accounting and finance jobs, to doctors to lawyers, and that in the next ten to twenty years huge segments of people now employed in various areas will lose their jobs to the machines.

Many industries will be more vulnerable and susceptible to early job elimination - manufacturing for example.  But many others are clearly in the crosshairs.  Consider the hospitality industry - smart (AI) robots and software are already managing the reservation system, checking in guests at the front desk, tending to housekeeping cleaning, food preparation and delivery and more.   Arts administration as a field will not be immune.

In the past, technological advances eliminated some jobs, but created new ones in their place, and the benefits to society as a whole were substantial.  Today, that may still hold true - for awhile.  But experts are cautioning that many jobs will cease to exist - and in just the next two decades or so.  Whether this turns out to be a boon for humanity or a disaster is yet unknown.

So how will that impact the arts, and in particular, arts administrators?  While we would like to think that as we deal with creativity, much of what we do simply cannot be replaced by machines, there is even speculation that the machines will ultimately, on a human scale, create art - from plays to paintings to dance and beyond.  And while artists and art are likely to, for a long time and probably forever, remain a human endeavor, (machines won't for some time be capable of understanding human aspirations, dreams and ideas), eventually AI may master those human facets too.  What seems clear is that many arts administration functions are in those job categories of the first to go - in whole or in part.  And I say in part, because initially we will all use more sophisticated software and programming, then robots and finally AI to help us do our jobs better and faster.  And that will mean fewer of us necessary to do even more work.  At some point, we will be less and less crucial in that mix, and jobs now filled by us - will go to the machines.

Which arts administration jobs are likely to require only minimal human oversight and involvement in the near term (next ten to twenty years)?  Any job that is predictable and repetitive is likely vulnerable.  But that's only the beginning.  Consider the following jobs in our field:

1.  Financial - Accounting, bookkeeping, reports, taxes, budgets, money management.  All of these functions can now be done more efficiently by software, and when you add in AI (especially as it develops the capacity for self-learning)  it won't be long at all before there is no need for any arts organization to employ anyone in any financial area, except maybe one person to manage the systems.

2.  Marketing -  software married to AI will be able to determine the best and most effective marketing strategies for each individual organization - everything from which approaches are likely to work best; what messages optimize results; and how, where, when and to whom to send those messages on an individual case by case basis, based on data analysis and projections - And advertising, and public relations will likely go to the machines as well.  Eventually, AI will allow for customized, individualized marketing campaigns and strategies to be developed and managed by software and AI.

3.  Fundraising - from grantwriting to donor solicitation to keeping the patrons happy.  AI advances will be particularly useful in this area and people will no longer be necessary to do much more than manage the overall systems.  The systems will identify the most likely sources of cash flow, donations and support, make the most effective solicitations, coddle and nurture the donors and keep everyone happy.  Some human contact will, of course, still be essential - but far less than we might hope.  Perhaps those providing the funding will still make the "human" decisions, but perhaps even philanthropic decisions on fund allocation will be machine territory.

4.  Authorship - including grantwriting, reports, proposals, strategic plans, evaluations, annual reports, press releases etc. - is an area that software programs can already do, and when combined with AI, these jobs will no longer need to be filled by humans.  This includes blogs, newsletters, thank you notes, advocacy communications and more.

5.  Programming - creation, management and evaluation will all eventually be something software programs and AI can do at our bidding.  It may be a conceit to think only we will be able to deal with the creative aspects of programming.

6.  Research and Data Collection / Analysis - including even formation of what questions to ask to frame the research. Software combined with AI is very likely to completely take over this kind of work, combining the ability to both manage data collection and to synthesize and analyze data results, then write reports and make recommendations.  And do so at a far more sophisticated depth and light years quicker than we do it today.

7.  Creative Functions - there is where robotics will likely come in to our arena.  From set, lighting and costume design, to staging, from curation to exhibition  - and perhaps as far as play and script writing to choreography.  Many of these creative functions might well be done (at least in part) by machines in the future - in combination with human beings or in place of them.

So if you work in any of these areas, your job may, at the very least, undergo profound changes in the next decade or two.  It's entirely possible it may simply disappear.

The impact of all this will have profound effect on our sector. - and quicker than anyone might imagine.  In some ways, we will be able to do more for less money.  And for some time employment of early AI and robotic options will likely be expensive; too expensive given that the supply of humans who can do the job will exceed the number of jobs.  But at some point the cost will make the option affordable to all, and that may entail the elimination of the jobs of a lot of people.  Even those positions not eliminated, may see banishment to the "gig" economy sector - at far less remuneration.

What do we do?

1.  First, we need to understand how the possibilities of the roll out of AI and robotics will happen and its speed, and be realistic about how it might impact us.  We can ill afford to ignore developments that will impact our ability to be competitive and to survive on limited income.  We don't yet know whether wholesale elimination of jobs in the wider culture will result in increased leisure time for people (which might be good for us) or whether those job eliminations will result in fewer people being able to afford to sample our wares and support our work.  Those are larger societal questions that we need to monitor.

2.  Second, we need to understand how partial employment of the new technology will interact with the already ubiquitous gig economy, and affect our jobs and the way we organize our work, as well as our budgetary processes.

3.  Third, as a consequence, we need to rethink professional development and arts administration degree education.  It is probably incumbent on the field to consider how quick and wide technology based job elimination may happen, and revamp and rethink our arts administration professional development and degree programs that today are very likely teaching a number of skills that will be filled by machines and programs and no longer necessary from human beings.  Training people to do what will no longer be needed from them will be an incredible waste of time and resources.  There may already be an oversupply of professionals given the demand for their services, and we need to grapple with the question of encouraging an increase in the supply of arts administrators for which there may be no gainful employment.  And as software programs, AI and machines do more and more of the work, what new skills will we need to adapt and manage that process.  What new skills will be needed to both survive and thrive.  Very likely the concept of leadership will undergo changes.  We need to be prepared.

4.   Fourth, we need to understand how other sectors that can afford the new applications of AI and its impact on the ways of doing work (which we cannot) may pass us by.  To what extent will we be able to afford to be on the cutting edge, and to what extent will our competitiveness in the marketplace suffer if we are left at the starting gate?

5.  Fifth, we need to understand the potential opportunities for art and possible new jobs as AI becomes increasingly threatening and there is a backlash.

6.  And finally, we need to imagine how art will play a role in how AI is developed across the spectrum.  Artists will have a major role to play in the vision of the future, and we will have a role to play in nurturing and facilitating that vision.

For the future, the entire relationship between the arts and our sector and the intersections art has with technology, science, education and work ought to be a subject around which we organize conferences, summits, dialogues and thought sessions.  Conversations at those tables will happen, and we need to have a seat at them.

I don't pretend to know the future, but despite the warnings of those who fear the existential consequences of unbridled growth of AI (and I, for one, am alarmed), that genie is out of the bottle and will likely now continue to grow at frightening rates.  It will impact jobs, and some of those jobs will be ours.  It may also be an existential threat to our future.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit