Monday, October 25, 2010

Developing Diverse Audiences for the Arts

I recently had an article published in PRSA's Tactics publication. Here are some excerpts from that article.

Part 1-

With the country’s population expected to change dramatically within the next twenty years, arts organizations from theater to dance to opera and museums are grappling with how to prepare for the urban landscape of the 21st century.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau,, by the year 2050, the racial minority population of the United States is expected to exceed 50%, making the heart and soul of the country primarily African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other diverse groups.  Arts organizations that recognize this changing mosaic understand that to be successful they must make changes in programming that reflect the cultural interests of all of their constituents and create innovative outreach campaigns that speak to the individual needs of each group. Staying relevant to changing demographics is key if arts organizations want to continue to attract audiences and continue to play a vital role in society.

 “These are difficult times for the arts, “ said Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, “Arts organizations have limited resources and are reluctant to make the long term commitment that is imperative if they are to demonstrate that the arts are relevant to everyone.”

Between dwindling budgets and increased competition for audience attention, there is no question that there are many challenges. Diversifying one’s audience and learning to embrace the changing spirit of the country may offer some solutions if the arts are to continue to have relevance as an expression of the country’s collective cultural heritage. 

Until recently, arts organizations approached diversity outreach by hosting a handful of heritage days, presenting a few well-known productions by diverse artists and producing one time festivals, all with little or no attention to targeted marketing and public relations. Today, savvy arts organizations like the Kennedy Center and many others, are realizing that extending their reach further into targeted communities with innovative performances, and strategic marketing is having a real impact on attracting new and diverse audiences.

For Queens Theatre in the Park, (QTIP), whose primary role is to serve the borough of Queens in New York City, the biggest challenge was reaching the Latino and African American communities.  Latinos alone represent 25% of the borough’s population yet despite over 500,000 Spanish-speaking people they really had no connection to QTIP. “If you stood right in front of our building and asked Latin people where is Queens Theatre in the Park located, they wouldn’t know,” said Jeffrey Rosenstock, Executive Director of QTIP. “It was then that we truly understood that programming must reflect the target audience and give each community what they want to see.”

As a result QTIP began a month long festival providing Latinos the opportunity to see their own artists in a serious venue for the first time. A host of Latino performers from different countries were presented including a popular salsa dance company from Columbia that sold out immediately thanks to the help of buzz generated from a community outreach group made up of Columbian radio stations, newspapers, cultural attaches and others that tapped into the Columbian community both abroad and in Queens. Ten years later tactics like these and smart programming has made the festival more popular than ever year after year.

  “Infusing the work presented by arts organization with the local cultural dynamic of the community makes for a more interesting artistic profile and presents many more opportunities for growth,” said Karen Hopkins, President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, (BAM) At BAM, connecting to local constituents is vital.  One of the ways that BAM achieves this is by partnering with smaller culturally specific companies and showcasing them as part of the Next Wave Festival. Through the Sounds of Brooklyn Festival as well, BAM partners with local clubs and groups providing smaller organizations more exposure and resources under the larger BAM umbrella.  

 Many organizations across the country including Alvin Ailey, the Miami City Ballet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to name only a few, have been successful in eliminating barriers and making the audience part of the artistic process. These organizations recognize that embracing diverse forms of art and incorporating them into programs that are engaging to different communities is challenging but worth the long term effort. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New York City Ballet Seeks to Humanize Dance and Connect Better to Audiences

 In an effort to reach out beyond its traditional audience base, the New York City Ballet has just launched an innovative communications campaign intended to bring audiences closer to their dancers by projecting their human side.  Audience research conducted by the New York City ballet consisting of focus groups, surveys and individual interviews revealed that audiences want more of a relationship with arts organizations. The public today really wants to connect with the institutions they support and the people that make up those institutions. Making art more accessible today means sharing the process of creation with the public and connecting with them on a more intimate level. 
"Our research showed clearly that making a stronger connection between the audience and the artist is something that would deeply enhance the audience experience and break down the veil between the audience and the dancers," said Katherine Brown, Executive Director. The new strategy includes preshow talks with dancers coming on stage in their everyday clothes, talking about personal thoughts on the dances, humorous stories, hobbies, interests and even company insider gossip. These new informal talks are intended to make audiences feel closer to the dancers and a more significant part of the evening's event. The campaign also includes a mini Web site,, dedicated to each principal dancer. A print advertising campaign is also underway to complement the effort and will include ads in subways and in publications depicting the dancers in a relaxed casual manner intended to appeal to younger New Yorkers the company hope will become the patrons of the future. Critics fear that all this accessibility could lessen the mystique of the ballet but in today's world with everyone's desire to connect, it seems like the right move at the right time. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Has Social Media changed the Public Relations Profession?-- Not Really

On friday I attended a fascinating public relations conference on what's next for social media and social networking. The day consisted of panels, presentations and discussions on the trends and innovations that are re-shaping public relations and the communications industry. Speakers included Ray Jordan, Corporate Vice President Public Affairs and Communications, Johnson & Johnson,, Michael Bass, Senior Vice President, National Basketball Association,, Ray Kerins, Vice President External Affiars, Pfizer Inc., Bryson Thornton, Senior Manager Marketing Communications, Del Monte Foods,, Josh Stoffregen, Manager Global Communications, Prudential Fianancial, Susan Getgood, author of Professional Blogging for Dummies and co-founder of Blog with Integrity, Jacalyn Lee, Public Relations Director, The Knot Inc.

Interestingly, the take away for the day was that although companies are actively engaging in social media, social media has not profoundly changed the public relations profession. The public relations profession has always been about relationships and that has fundamentally stayed the same. The only thing that has changed says Bryson Thornton from Del Monte is that the vehicles that we communicate with have changed. "Today we need to be quicker and more nimble and we need to focus on providing interesting content," says Thornton, "Naturally, we need to include social media into our communication mix, but it has not changed the fundamental core of public relations."

While social media may not have changed the whole profession, it has certainly provided companies with a wonderful opportunity to engage more directly with customers. Each presenter shared some of the ways they are utilizing social media strategies to connect and learn from their different publics. Whether it's using blogs or web shows or twitter and facebook, it all comes down to content and relationships and understanding how different people want to be communicated with. Building relationships is still at the core of public relations but now in the digital age we need to communicate more frequently and more candidly.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Opening Doors: Developing Diverse Audiences

With the start of Hispanic Heritage Month September 15th, it is a good time to think about how much the country's population is changing and how these changes will impact the practice of public relations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the racial minority population of the United States is expected to exceed fifty percent by the year 2050. Today Hispanic's constitute 16% of the nation's population with a count of 48.4 million and an additional 4 million residents of Puerto Rico, making people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest ethnic minority. In order for today's organizations to remain relevant to this changing cultural mosaic, it is important that public relations professionals adapt their programs to ensure that they reflect the cultural interests of everyone.

A most recent example of programming that reflects the interests of a large multi-cultural population, was the opening of an exhibition at El Museo del Barrio, entitled Nueva York(1613-1945) which opened September 16th. This is the first exhibition to explore how New York's long and deep involvement with Spain and Latin America has affected virtually every aspect of the city's development, from commerce, manufacturing and transportation to communications, entertainment and the arts.  Check out the review of the exhibition in the New York Times.

Stay tuned for more on developing diverse audiences in my upcoming article in PRSA's Tactics.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Doing the Right Thing- Corporate Social Responsibility

Here are excerpts from my article on corporate social responsibility recently published in PRSA's The Public Relations Strategist:

It seems like the public has a split personality when it comes to big business. People's view of corporations keeps wavering between devil and savior as they look to big business as either the reason for their financial woes or as the solution to their problems.
After a year or more of blaming every one of society's problems on corporate greed, big companies are now being seen as potential champions capable of solving world issues from starving children to protecting the planet.
American Express, General Mills, IBM and New York Life are just a few of the corporations that continue to embrace corporate social responsibility's (CSR) power. For decades, these companies have had strong programs that have helped to build and to maintain public trust. For them CSR, is more than altruism: It is about operating a business that meets or exceeds ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations. CSR is not limited to philanthropy or mobilizing employees to volunteer; it is about a comprehensive set of practices that are integrated throughout the business and rewarded by top management.
In the next few postings I will be sharing my interviews with the leaders of four corporate foundations about their thoughts on CSR. Here is the first one.

Stan Litow, President, IBM International Foundation

Q: Why does CSR matter, and how has it changed from a decade ago?

Stan Litow: Many customers today won't do business with companies that do not demonstrate good corporate social responsibility practices. CSR is an integral part of building a well-respected brand and is critical to IBM's ability to recruit and keep top talent.
A survey from Harvard Business School has shown that people increasingly want to work for companies that are socially conscious. CSR today goes beyond generosity. It is a combination of documented performance in sustainability, strong and progressive labor practices, collaborative community partnerships, fiscal transparency, business ethics and good governance.

Q: Can you share some examples of specific CSR activities within your company?

Stan Litow: At IBM, we use our technology innovation and best people to solve critical global social problems. Our Corporate Service Corps, which we call a corporate version of the Peace Corps, takes 500 of our top emerging leaders each year and assigns them to work in teams in places like Nigeria, Vietnam and Malaysia to help spur job growth and economic development.
We created the World Community Grid to collect all of the unused computer power on individual PCs to create one of the world's most powerful "virtual" supercomputers in the world so that cancer and AIDS researchers could make important breakthroughs. And by using voice recognition technology, we created a free Web-based tool to help teach people to read. Last year it helped more than 200,000 children and adults, and over the next two years, the number will reach 3 million.

Q: What are some ways that your company demonstrates CSR's measurable impact on society?

Stan Litow: In the late 1990s, education reform in this country was deadlocked. Only 11 states had academic standards, and they were far too low. Recognizing that leadership was required, out then CEO, Lou Gerstner and and IBM team brought together by the President of the United States, America's governors and CEOs for the first National Education Summit ever to take place at a private company. It resulted in two more summits and legislation addressing the need for higher national standards, and new ways for states to collaborate. This was a perfect example of business going beyond grant-making and recognizing that business leadership was required for progress to be made on an issue vital to the U.S. economy.

Q: What CSR trends do you think we will see in the coming years?

Stan Litow: Companies are going to find that CSR is an excellent way to build skills in the work force. Today IBM, has 145,00 employees performing community service globally, doing projects where they utilize their special talents. Together, they have donated 10 million hours over the past five years alone. By integrating community service into an employee's work, you can encourage them to do something meaningful, to help communities and to improve the skills of the work force at the same time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Online Philanthropy

In March, Pepsi announced their Pepsi Refresh Project, a philanthopic program designed to allow the public to vote on ideas that they would like Pepsi to give millions of dollars to each month. With a big kick off campaign featuring Kevin Bacon and Demi Moore as spokespeople and a huge advertising campaign it seemed like this was a first of its kind.

Online voting however, has not been reserved for merely American Idol. In fact, corporate philanthropy has been exploring online ways to engage the public for the past few years. Some companies are developing new ways of taking their philanthropy online that are helping create relationships with customers by involving them in their business in a very direct way.

One such company is American Express. American Express has long been at the forefront of creative marketing initiatives. Perhaps most famous for introducing cause-related marketing in the eighties, with a program that raised $1.7 million for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, American Express has a strong tradition of community involvement, contributing money through its Partners in Preservation Program that helps preserve sites and monuments that are essential to local and national identities all over.

This program, already so closely linked to communities and identity, was the ideal selection to take one step further into the world of social networking. So a couple of years ago, American Express did just that by incorporating the public directly into the project. At a press conference held in San Francisco, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that the San Francisco Bay Area would receive $1 million in preservation grants. The added twist - the public was invited to participate in the grant selection process via a dedicated website or at voting kiosks located at selected Peet’s Coffee and Tea outlets across the Bay Area. This was the first time that the public was directly involved in helping a company decide how to spend its philanthropic dollars. The sites that received the highest number of popular votes were guaranteed to receive funding. Since that time American Express added their Member's Project a program that encourages American Express Card holders to come up with ideas that can make a positive difference in the world.

Pepsi and American Express are just a couple of companies who are getting more active in online philanthropy. Companies are beginning to understand that to retain trust with customers they must engage them in a dialogue, a conversation that in some way taps into the public’s collective psyche and then incorporates the results of that conversation into action. Allowing customers to become active partners in the choices that a company is making about philanthropy is an ideal way to do this. The traditional model of communicating outward to an audience is no longer enough. It is the age of the consumer, so organizations need to listen, interact and respond.

Whether it’s giving money to preserve treasures in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, or developing ideas to save the planet, surely helping companies better the world through online giving is at least as important as voting for the next American Idol.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Part 2 Media Relations is Re-Inventing Itself in a Social Media World

Despite citizen journalism running rampant and tradtional forms of media dwindling, the media relations specialist is still performing a much needed function. In fact, media relations has become more important than ever because the media and customer have, in some cases, become one. Since the public is actively participating, voicing opinions everywhere, it is now essential to engage both the media and the public directly to ensure that the messages they convey are in keeping with the vision that companies want to convey about themselves. In addition, creating an online presence makes it easier to pitch stories to traditional media who are now armed with more information than ever before. The hard part for some companies is how to interact in a natural organic way in keeping with an online style of conversation. For many companies changing the way they do media relations to include social media has been an evolving process.

Here are some ways that media relations efforts are changing.

Many companies and nonprofits are starting with single projects. Some are creating chat rooms and project specific websites, contests and blogs. Once they see how powerful these one time online projects are they begin to see the power of increasing their online presence. For example, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada began to notice that stroke surviviors were beginning to reach out to each other online on their own. Determined to not only be in on the conversation but to be the catalyst for dialogue, they began a chat room to host these conversations, facilitating people with information, experts and contacts. Aside from hearing and monitoring what the public was saying, it also provided them with an oppotunity to express their perspective on the issues being raised.

Creating stories that are specifically designed for online media is another way that companies are changing the way they conduct media relations. Just like media relations pitches change based on the needs of radio, print or television, the same holds true for social media. If the story would be better served as a viral story then embracing the online media community is essential. For American Express it was clear that the online world was a critical audience to reach regarding their sponsorship of Fashion Week. The key to engaging the online world was to get an influential blog like The Daily excited about the story. Knowing who these influencers are is vital and is now made easy with websites like Technorati and others that help you determine the most sought after blogs. Since digital media likes to cover stories that refect what they are all about, developing story ideas that are happening online is a another great way to reach online media. Companies are now developing specially designed programs for this community. For example, American Express Member's Project, the first program designed to allow customers to vote online for how they wanted American Express to spend their philanthropic dollars was a big feature for blogs like The Huffinton Post and The Consumerist. Pepsi is currently doing a similar project with their Pepsi Refresh program.

Perhpas the biggest change to media relations is that today media relations specialists must be content creators as well. No longer do media relations people have to just wait and hope that the media will want to cover their stories. Now, while their working developing stories with traditional media they are simultanouesly creating their own content for distribution on websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube channels. Sun Microsytems hosts a regular radio show on BlogTalkRadio where they promote products and talk about new innovations. Similarly, Walmart has a blog where they connect with other bloggers and share tips for the cost conscious.

Stay tuned for more social media ideas from creative companies......

Friday, January 22, 2010

Losing Control: Can Media Relations Specialists Get a Grip?

This is the first posting of 4 part series on media relations.

Media Relations specialists are losing control because of lightning speed changes that are impacting the world today. There is no doubt that the world of journalism is at major crossroads. According to a recent study commissioned by The Media Center at the American Press Institute, media futurists predict that by 2021 "citizens will produce 50% of the news." Given this, many say that the future of the media will rely less on how the media help shape the news and encourage the democratic process, but more on how well the media is able to stimulate conversation and create dialogue. These changes in turn, are creating new challenges for the media relations specialist.

The ability to guide the message and "own the story" traditionally had been the backbone of media relations. Today experts have to stay more focused to maintain their messages. Reporters are now not only getting their information from traditional sources but they are now getting ideas and even quotes from Twitter and other blogoshpere sources. Reporters are now looking for story ideas, trends and even points of view from people's blogs and tweets. Some reporters are even following customer service comments that are easily accessible online through corporate websites. From these comments, good or bad, entire stories are generated. If one is looking for a voice, thousands of people are ready to speak. Everything is ou there to be shared so no wonder the idea of controlling the story is a quaint and almost forgotten notion. That's why media relations must re-invent itself so that it can continue to be effective in a social media world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Bumpy Start - Media Relations Mess-ups in 2010 so far

Today I was interviewed by WRHU-FM radio out of Hofstra University about some of the many media relations mistakes we have witnessed in the last month. Quite a nice start to the New Year! Amongst the issues raised were how Tiger Woods is handling his media relations debacle, how well is NBC communicating the changes to its late night line-up, and oh yeah that steroids story again and generally what should organizations do during a communications crisis.

First and foremost, during a communication crisis - silence is not golden. Reporters need information and they will find it even if you don't give it to them. Tiger Woods should have made some sort of statement and perhaps even conducted an interview within the first 48 hours. This was the time for him to take hold of the story and steer it in the direction he wanted it to go. Instead by his silence he forced reporters to dig out sources of their own and did they ever find them. If he had come forth with some honesty, but not too much, about his marital troubles then perhaps the story would have stayed focused on his marriage and he would have become the main source of information instead of pushing reporters to rely on a host of others. Now what he needs is to disappear for a bit, which seems to be what he is doing, and then come back on the scene with apologies and try to reverse his role from offender to victim. Don't be surprised if we soon begin to hear about how difficult it was for him to grow up in the public eye and with so much pressure to be number one. He never really had a chance to grow up. I feel sorry for him already.

As far as NBC is concerned, I think for whatever reasons, the economy, the recession, pressures from their parent company, lost sight of what makes their brand so strong- really good TV programming. After all they are the ones that brought us Seinfeld, Friends, ER and the the Law and Order franchise. It's odd that at a time when choice is everything and more never seems to be enough, that NBC decided to give their viewers fewer choices and only offer one offer every night at 10pm. Ok so they made a mistake but now they should be admitting the mistake and conversing openly with their viewers about it as they try to repair it. They should be saying that we lost sight of what we do best which is creating exceptional TV programs and that's why we're going back to our strength. We're the ones that brought you in the past some of your favorite shows and we're going to do it again. This is their opportunity to talk about the new shows they have in the works and get us all excited about where they are going instead of dwelling on their mistakes. They should be inviting viewers to engage in dialogues through company blogs and other social network sites and show them that they care about what their viewers think. Instead all I see our articles in business sections of traditional media outlets providing business reasons for why these decisions were made. While there is a need for these articles too, it would be nice to see NBC communicating in other ways as well. It's not all bad. They do have some good stories to tell.