Sunday, June 24, 2018

Top Ten Nonprofit Arts Brands

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

For longer than a hundred years, in America and across the planet, companies, enterprises and organizations, both public and private, have been branding their goods and services to implant in the public mind their quality and value, including their accolades, and to entice that public to support them.  Recognition, familiarity, trust, and interest are the success benchmarks.

From Coca Cola to Kleenex to "Scotch" Tape, companies have sought to associate their name brand with the essence of the product.  And not just with their products, but with their companies themselves/  From General Motors to General Electric.  More recent additions to the brand success stories include the iPhone and Apple, Google, and Facebook.  Uber quickly became synonymous with private taxi service, while Airbnb meant an alternative to hotels - which hotels had spent considerable effort, time and money to brand themselves.  The New York Times has seemingly been around, and at the forefront of news gathering, forever.

Indeed, the goal is for the brand to first become widely known and recognized.  But equally important  - to be recognized for a superior product or service at a good value.  And now we have seen a ratcheting up of the importance of a company's image as a responsible corporate citizen as part of the brand.

Establishing a widely known and trusted brand usually takes time, effort and money.  While it use to take a considerable period of time to establish a brand, today the time factor seems to have been lessened - e.g., iPhones and Apple's meteoric rise in less than a decade.  Procter and Gamble took decades to really establish TIDE as the premier detergent. Google took far less time to be recognized as the search engine.  Advertising support geared to brand identity establishment still plays a significant role, but today word of mouth, social networking platforms and the internet in general can greatly speed up the process, and there is considerable effort to use those tools.  And nothing works like mass usage over time.

Still, establishing a brand it isn't easy.

Brand identity can be global as in the case of certain products or services, like smart phones, luxury cars, airlines, fashion and the like.  But it can also be localized and regional as in the case of certain supermarket chains, restaurant chains and more.

In the nonprofit arts, there are brands established at various level of recognition and in various territories as well.  Virtually every arts organization is committed to establishing and enhancing their brand.  Here then is a subjective list of the TOP TEN ARTS BRANDS -- the ones mostly widely known:

  • Museums:  The most recognized brands in the field are The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.  Both have been around for a long time, enjoy substantial numbers of domestic and international visitors, receive ample press and media coverage and offer an impressive product based on massive collections.  They have successfully achieved destination status.
         There are a number of regional museums - from the Guggenheim to the Getty - that have solid brands as well, but arguably cannot compare with these two top entries.

  • Dance:  While the Joffrey and the American Ballet are fairly well known, it is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater that seems to have the most widely recognized and powerful dance brand.  That achievement is, in part, because of the near canonization of its' principal - Alvin Ailey, and the media hype that has long surrounded the company
          Again, there are a number of local / regional companies that are widely recognized as well.

  • In music, the New York Philharmonic is probably the most widely known brand.   Having celebrity artist relationships, as in the case of Leonard Bernstein, helps establish a brand, as does length of time in existence.
          There are likely a dozen other widely known orchestras and symphonies around the county - in Los Angeles, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Houston and elsewhere - that have enviable brands as well.

  • And, of course, in Opera, is is the New York Met that dominates as the brand most people recognize.  Their movie theater offerings have helped cement their brand position.
          Note: As New York has, for so long, dominated arts culture institutions, in part because of their longevity and their media exposure, large funding streams, their major cultural institution brands are more established that those of other areas.   

  • In Theater, the company brands are all more regional and diffuse.
  • And for Performing Arts Centers, while there are some spectacular ones around the country, it is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, certainly due in part to its national Kennedy Center Honors television specials and its designation in Washington D.C. as the nation's center, that has the dominant brand.
  • We now have literally hundreds of major arts festivals in towns and cities, small and large.  But the most widely recognized festival  brand is likely the Sundance Film Festival.
  • In our own insular world, with brands limited to success within that field - that of arts managers and administrators - the two biggest brands are: 1.  the NEA - for us because of its grant program, research and leadership.  And to the public, unfortunately because of its political hot potato status as the whipping boy of the conservative right wing.  2.  Americans for the Arts - because of its umbrella housing of a number of segments of our field, and because of two of its principal activities:  advocacy in support of continually saving the NEA, and research on the economic benefits of the arts - is the most widely recognized and known arts service provider organization.  
          Again, there are a number of growing brands within our field, but none yet have the brand identity of AFTA.

  • And finally, also limited to our field, in the area of communications and publications, Arts Journal - the arts news aggregator with a substantial following - has established a solid brand.
All of these brands are impressive. All took time to build.  This list is purely subjective and not intended to diminish or exclude any of our excellent organizations.  People may disagree and support other brands as more important.  This is just meant to spur on some thinking about brand identity.

Hopefully, your organization is on its way to establishing your own solid, respected brand within your field and territory.  

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Apple Update to Show You Just How Much Time You Spend on Your Device - But Do You Want to Know

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

We are all guilty, to some extent, in overuse of our smart phones, tablets, and computers in our over reliance on social media, emails, web surfing and the like.  But to what degree, and wherein lies the harm?

In an article in Business Insider, the author previews "a new feature in the iPhone operating system which shows how much time you spend on your phone".  The feature is coming to your phone as part of the IOS 12 update this fall.

"It collects data on how many times you use your phone and how many times you pick it up. It also includes statistics on which apps you use most, and how many notifications you receive."

After using the feature, he was shocked at how many hours a day he is on his phone"

"Before I looked at these stats, I didn't think I had a phone problem. I've actively tried to limit notifications, and I try really hard not to check my phone during meetings or conversations, so I'm not being rude to people around me.
I'm still not sure if I have a phone problem, but I may simply be in denial. The fact is that I'm using my phone for a huge number of my waking hours — a way higher percentage than I would have guessed without these stats."

And he adds that even Apple CEO Tim Cook was surprised by his personal usage:

"I've been using it and I have to tell you: I thought I was fairly disciplined about this. And I was wrong," Cook said in an interview with CNN. "When I began to get the data, I found I was spending a lot more time than I should."

Being tethered to our devices, constantly checking email and feeling we have to respond immediately to everything sent us, unreasonable and perhaps even irrational addiction to the whole array of social media sites, compulsive web searching even when it's clear that the information and data we are unearthing probably has little or nothing to do with what motivated us to look for it in the first place, the distraction of wild goose chases we go on as a result of our undisciplined curiosity -- has caused us lots of lost and wasted time, stress, anxiety, and other problems.

And that time squandered has serious impact on our work, our private lives and our organizations.  It can, and does, result in:

1.  Interference with our ability to focus and concentrate on work at hand, impacting our finished product.

2.  A negative impact on our personal lives, free time and family mental health.

3.  A negative cost in terms of interpersonal relationships and the creative and positive other benefits of those relationships.

4.  Misuse of limited available time in addressing the challenges facing an organization.

Doubtless, there are many more reasons why we have been long counseled to rein in our addiction to our phones and other devices, and to install some self-discipline in the usage.  And this is seen as important for not only us, but for our friends, everybody in our families, and our work colleagues too.  For too many people, the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do at night is to check their phones or tablets.  When the internet connection is lost, we panic.  And all of this is new in just the past decade.  Clearly, some of us are in denial about having a problem.  And probably most of us have an erroneous idea of how much we use our phones and tablets.  Think about it.

So this fall, if you install the IOS 12 update, you will be able to shock yourself by knowing exactly how many hours you are using the device, how many times you pick up your phone or tablet each day, which apps dominate your usage and more.  And then, maybe, that information and the conclusions you can draw, will motivate you to do something to alter your behavior.

What can you do?  As the article indicted, there are already some apps that will allow you to discipline your usage, though virtually all of them will allow for manual overrides. Still, it will be instructive if you end up using those overrides on a frequent basis.  Even without those apps you can resolve to limit your usage to certain hours, a certain number of times, or even to forego some of the social media you use, but might be better of without.  Failure to stick to your resolutions will tell you something about your usage.

The thing is, almost everybody is likely guilty of overuse and over dependence on our devices and being tethered to the internet.  We have become the prisoners of the technology that was suppose to free us.  It is affecting our independence, our ability to relate on human terms to other people, our sleep, our work and productivity, and there are very likely small and large health impacts - from headaches to eye strain to who knows what  - all to degrees we aren't even fully aware or appreciative of.  Few of us think about our surrender of control at all.  And, of course, there is the stress that the control by our devices causes us.

I wonder what would happen to the world, or just America, if there was a national Off the Grid Day when all of us turned the devices off and didn't use them for 24 hours?  Would the world end?  Probably, the only impact would be that the demand to get back on in the first two minutes after the 24 hours ban was over, would crash the grid everywhere.

Good luck in finding ways to temper your own use that will improve your life, your relationships and your work.  I'm sure you can do it.  You'll excuse me, I've got to go check my emails.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Common Failing of Both the Utilitarian and Intrinsic Arguments for the Arts

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

Note:  I'm a little - but I hope only a little - off schedule for the next few weeks due to doctors and tests.  Once the medical ecosystem gets ahold of you, it becomes increasingly hard to escape them.  

LOGIC is no match for EMOTION:
We have debated, for decades now, whether we are better off using the utilitarian or the intrinsic value of the arts argument when seeking to expand public funding or public value.  We have embraced the economic argument as a means to convince legislators to fund us in the face of opposition.  What we are really doing is giving them a credible defense to supporting us - "Hey, I vote for arts support because it is good for the local economy and thus my constituents."

The same may be said for the intrinsic argument - the arts are valuable for their own sake as "they enhance the quality of life for the individual and thus the community."

Most, but not all of us, favor using both arguments, or whatever works.

But both the utilitarian and the intrinsic arguments ignore the growing evidence that logic arguments, of which both utilitarian and intrinsic - though a little less for the intrinsic camp - use, aren't the kinds of arguments that are the most persuasive.   Emotional appeals work best, in part, because the content of the argument is often secondary to the emotion it elicits, and often that depends on how the argument is delivered.   Click here for some quotes on why emotion works better than logic in certain kinds of arguments.

Indeed, there is growing evidence that the kind of argument that works best in all situations is almost never a logic argument, but rather an emotional appeal.  Appealing to one's logic and appreciation for data and facts, is never as effective as appealing to one's emotion.  Stories about the value of the arts economically, or the value of the arts for their own sake, if personal and compelling, and if they appeal to our emotions, are far more effective in getting whatever it is we want than trying to convince someone of the rightness of our logic.

The bottom line is that while logical conclusions, based on data or numbers or just common sense, may provide cover for decision makers, emotional arguments that tug at the heartstrings are potentially capable of changing people's attitudes and positions, and converting the nonbelievers into believers.  Logic is often merely a temporary tool and convenient excuse for supporting us.

That is not to suggest we not use either, or both, the utilitarian or intrinsic arguments.  Rather that we ought to couch those arguments in the form of emotional stories that humanize them in ways people can't help but relate to.

I have long personally subscribed to the belief that if you want to win legislators to your side, nothing is as effective as campaign contributions and support, but as we cannot mount the wherewithal to play in that league, we basically depend on arguments.  While logic arguments have worked for us, the question looms as to whether or not we have really capitalized on the emotion potential that can bulwark our arguments.  I think we need to seriously  consider just how truly effective the logic arguments have been, and reexamine the value of purely emotional appeals - at least in the circumscribed context of trying to convince decision makers and the public.  .

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Report Shows Precariously Low Cash Reserves for Most Arts Organizations

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

Earlier this month, the National Center for Arts Research at SMU released a report on Working Capital, which found, not to anyone's real surprise, that a majority of arts organizations have relatively small levels of reserve capital to handle current and unexpected expenses.  Not surprising was the finding that museums had larger working capital reserves than did performing arts organizations.  What was somewhat surprising was the finding that smaller budgeted organizations had larger relative cash reserves than did larger budgeted organizations, due in part to their smaller fixed expenses allowing them to be more nimble.

While the study found an average of five months working capital across the sector, it noted that the majority of organizations had considerably less reserves as the results were skewed by the fact that working capital was concentrated in larger organizations and especially art museums.  Moreover, and perhaps most troubling is that there has been a decline in available working capital for most organizations.  Fifty-five percent of organizations had less working capital relative to expenses in 2016 than in 2013.

"...we found that some museums exerted a particularly dominating influence on working capital. To better reflect the overall museum experience, we looked at the median (i.e., midpoint in the range) level of working capital. Here, a more sobering figure emerged: the median art museum’s 2016 working capital was only 1.5 months, compared to 13.4 months for art museums on average.
Performing arts sectors broadly exhibited a more precarious liquidity position: they held from 2 weeks to 4 months of working capital and collectively averaged just 1.7 months’ worth.  Operas, theatres, and orchestras averaged one month of liquidity or less."

This, despite ongoing efforts across the sector to emphasize the importance of adequate capitalization, including GIA's multi-year effort in the area.  The reasons vary within sub-sectors in the field, and for individual organizations, but cuts to public and private funding, competition for scarce donor dollars, economic uncertainty, and poor planning and management by individual organizations are largely the cause.  Much of this is unavoidable and out of our hands.  But not all of it.

"Overall, NCAR’s research showed that the majority of arts and culture organizations are cash-strapped. Average working capital for performing arts organizations, as well as for half of the museums, is equivalent to fewer than two months of total expenses."

So what?  Living hand to mouth for many arts organizations is the norm, and has been for some time. And many do not see what they can do to fundamentally change that reality.  The expenses won't go away, and if they are to pursue the organization's vision, those expenses are necessary.

But the White Paper accompanying the study suggests some practical and real things arts organizations can actually do to mitigate the downside of inadequate working capital.  Among those suggestions:

1.  Face the Challenge.  Organizations can't make the situation go away by ignoring it.  It is essential to figure out how much reserve capital you need for times of limited cash flow and for opportunities that arise that require extra cash.  A long term plan is necessary, and then the hard part:  you have to budget to the plan and make reserves the priority, even if that means you need to cut back somewhere else.

"Organizations primarily build working capital through the generation and set aside of surpluses. When arts leaders budget to the zero mark – often because they are encouraged to do so by board members or some funders – they unintentionally perpetuate a starvation cycle. They spend every last dollar of revenue raised or earned, making it impossible to create short- or long-term savings."

2.  Fundraising needs to go beyond the traditional budget cycle and include fundraising specifically for cash reserves.

3.  The Board must set specific policies governing the use and replenishment of savings, and insist on sticking to those policies.

4.  Unrestricted liquidity as a financial planning goal has to always come first.

Funding for the arts will likely continue to demand ever increasing time and human resources to simply stay the course.  Public and private funding for the arts will continue to be challenged by other competing causes, by economic uncertainty and downturns, and by shifting public policy priorities; all of which will be complicated by the arts ability to generate earned income tempered by the public's changing preferences for the way it accesses art and other forms of leisure activity and entertainment.  That reality is all the more reason organization survival will depend on smart money management and self-discipline which includes hard decisions, and continuous effort to generate and manage cash reserves.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit